In our struggles to take down white supremacy and patriarchy, we must each heal the ways we have internalized these systems of oppression. Otherwise, we end up recreating them — even in our liberation movements. This healing means different things to different people. We write this piece in particular for those of us who identify at what we often call the intersection of race privilege and gender(ed) oppression. The two primary authors of this piece identify as white, queer women (though those labels never seem sufficient), but we recognize that people invested in this conversation might identify elsewhere on the spectrums of race and gender. We write this in hopes of starting a conversation that we think has been missing. We write it because we need to acknowledge that not having this conversation is causing real harm to our mental health, to our resilience, and to our ability to sustain hope. We write it specifically for ourselves and for those who will benefit from it. We write it not to re-center whiteness, but to create more space for #BlackLivesMatter and other movements for racial justice by dismantling some of our barriers to showing up more fully in the movement.
What we want to talk about is shame. Some have argued that a certain amount of shame is healthy. What we’re talking about, however, is a sense of complete worthlessness that we, the authors in particular, have internalized as we have become politicized about our whiteness. While we can only speak to our own experiences, the longer we do this work, the more we hear stories from our comrades that mirror ours. And the more we hear about how this self-doubt and self-hate negatively impacts our ability to show up as whole humans to the struggle to dismantle patriarchy and white supremacy. We believe this self-doubt and self-hate is actually weakening revolutionary movements by requiring people of color to invest their time, emotional labor, and energy to validate and take care of broken white folks (thereby re-centering whiteness).
The source of these feelings is somehow simultaneously simple and exceedingly complex:
White people, and people who identify with white or light-skinned privilege, perpetuate violence in many ways–from direct, overt, modern-day racism to denying or simply being ignorant to centuries of slavery, colonialism and the exploitation of people, land and resources that have accumulated wealth and maintain systems of racial inequality. White people benefit from countless economic and personal privileges on account of our whiteness, and thoughtlessly express micro-aggressions and support racialized stereotypes, cultural appropriation, and derogatory images of people of color. As white people engaged in struggles for racial justice, some of the ways we resist white supremacy are to follow leadership of people of color, step back, create space, elevate voices of people most impacted by injustice in our movements for justice, and work with our white families, colleagues, and neighbors to build an understanding of white supremacy and a commitment to dismantling it.
Women, and people who identify with gender(ed) forms of oppression, experience direct violence in many ways–from the genocide of women in witch hunts across the globe to the rape and slaughter of women during imperial wars and in conflict zones to sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape, and gender-based murder during times of peace. Women also experience constant forms of violence through objectification in the media and reproductive control. Feminism, throughout its various waves and forms, has sought to push back against this violence. Some of the ways we resist misogyny, patriarchy, rape culture, and other forms of gendered violence and oppression are to raise our voices, get louder, push back, celebrate our existence, strive to believe deeply and fully in our self-worth, and contribute to movements that impact our bodies and minds.
Essentially, whiteness enacts violence and femaleness endures violence. People socialized as both white and female, therefore, are simultaneously perpetrating and experiencing violence. And we are not being taught how to hold this juxtaposition. Whiteness, as a concept, and white supremacy, as a system of racial oppression, are terrible, destructive forces that have been used to justify centuries of violence, genocide, enslavement, disenfranchisement, and colonization. Whiteness is a thing worth hating. And there is mounting evidence of the strong relationship between violence and shame, which often means that people socialized as women are experts at self-doubt and self-hatred.
Many of the manifestations of feminist and queer liberation movements we have witnessed and participated in, and even some of the racial justice movements, seem to be in conflict with our efforts to resist white supremacy. We see these patterns, and we want to change them. But, if we are going to make meaningful and sustainable change, then we need to dive deeper into the causes and do something both about the ways we show up in these movements as well as about the deep shame and self-hate we often feel about our whiteness and our value within these movements.
There are white women and gender nonconforming people who are making important contributions that illuminate our role in overcoming white supremacy–inviting us into the movement, creating amazing analysis of the role of white womanhood within systems of violence, and creating models of accountable action. But who, among those socialized as both white and female, are effectively role modeling a radical, feminist, anti-racist version of self-love and self-care that heals the shame, fear and self-hatred that contributes to our continued role in systems of oppression?
While it feels vulnerable and scary, especially in the intense world of online call-out culture, we’d like to step into radical self-love and self-worth. We offer these big, painful questions in hopes of inspiring answers that will generate healing:
How do we hate the ways our white supremacist culture has socialized us to behave, hate white fragility, and yet believe deeply in our right to exist and our value to the world and our movements? As people bearing whiteness, how do we simultaneously love ourselves completely and not enable white supremacy? How do we effectively fight the entitlement, the taking up space, and the violence of internalized white supremacy without giving in to the shame that we are taught to feel as people socialized as women? In what ways can we be present and show up, in our white bodies, that don’t cause harm, violence, and perpetuate white supremacy simply through our existence? How can we find a courageous voice that acknowledges both the ways that female voices have been silenced and the ways white voices have been used to silence others? Who are our role models, and if we cannot find the role models we are seeking, how can we become them?
We know we have left many questions unanswered and there is so much more to explore. This piece is intended to be a springboard, and we invite those who identify as having experienced socialization as white and female to join us in continuing this conversation. We will be meeting, writing, and posting about connected themes in the coming months. Be in touch if you would like to join our community conversations, or if you have something to contribute to the next parts of this writing series.
We are indebted to the participants of our May 2015 dialogue, at which we discussed Internalized Worthlessness, Radical Self Love, and How Not to Throw Each Other Under the Bus. The questions, themes, and resulting writing pieces stem from the contributions, lived experience, and insights of this group.