Role Models

In all of our struggles, it is important to know who came before us; to see the footsteps that tread the paths we walk. White supremacy and patriarchy in media and mainstream culture often invisibilizes the long history of resistance to injustice and oppression, including resistance that takes form at the intersection of white privilege and gendered oppression. So many we meet in this work feel they are working in isolation. Yet we are not alone. There are so many individuals, working from every intersection of identity, who commit their lives to fighting for racial, gender, economic, (dis)ability and other forms of social justice. Below is a budding list of role models and political ancestors who work (or worked) from or with a lens on the intersection of white/light-skin privilege and gendered oppression, to show us possible paths. While who you will see here are primarily people who work from this intersection (i.e. white women), we have recently decided to include others who have worked at or with a lens on this particular intersection. We’d love your suggestions for who else to add.

Margo Adair – Jessie Daniel AmesKirsten Anderson – Anne Braden – Marilyn BuggeyMarilyn Buck – Robin DiAngeloBernardine Dohrn – Virginia Foster Durr – Ruth Frankenberg – The Grimke SistersHeather HackmanHeather Heyer – Naomi Jaffe – Selma James – Frances E. Kendall – Chelsea Manning – Peggy McIntosh – Juliette Hampton Morgan – Kathy Obear – Minnie Bruce Pratt – Adrienne Rich – Eleanor Roosevelt – Ann Russo – Mab Segrest – Ricky Sherover-Marcuse – Lillian Eugenia Smith – Fay StenderPeggy Terry

Margo Adair (1950 – 2010)

Margo’s work in politics, spirituality, and applied meditation touched the lives of thousands of people. For more than three decades, she was both a theoretical leader and practitioner, exploring the intersections of political change and personal transformation. Along with her writings on meditation and spirituality, she helped define the work of people of European descent in the uprooting of racism. read more

 Jessie Daniel Ames (1883-1972)jessie-daniel-ames2

She was one of the first Southern white women to speak out and work publicly against lynching of blacks, which were often done by white men as a misguided act of chivalry to protect their “virtue”. She bravely stood up to them and led organized efforts by white women in protest of its brutality, helping to bring about the decline of lynching in the 1930s and 1940s. read more


Kirsten Anderson joined White Lightning, a radical community organization in NYC founded to support residents in drug addiction recovery, recognizing that in the US the drug trade, and by extension, recovery programs had become some of the few places where people of various races and classes regularly mixed. White Lightning organized to transform the dilapidated Lincoln Hospital, serving predominantly Puerto Rican and Black communities of the South Bronx, and formed a mutual aid society, providing legal aid and radically minded drug recovery groups.
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Anne Braden (1924 –2006)

Always “favored the more radical course of action on the question of segregation. She simply could not see the argument of being prudent and going slowly”. During the 1970s, Anne wrote two open letters to southern white women, in which “she urges white women to build a women’s movement that is not at odds with the Black liberation struggle”.read more

Marilyn Buggey was one of the founding members of the October 4th Organization (O4O), which organized laid off employees of Goldman Paper Company, uniquely combining labor activism and community organizing. When Italian-American Frank Rizzo was elected mayor of Philadelphia in 1971 with tough-on-crime rhetoric and campaigns criminalizing the Black Power and New Left movements, O4O began organizing white working class people to think critically about the fallacy of Rizzo’s racialized logic and to recognize shared class interests with people of color.
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Marilyn Buck (1947-2010)

A Marxist revolutionary and feminist poet, who was imprisoned for her participation in the 1979 prison escape of Assata Shakur and the 1983 U.S. Senate bombing.  Buck received an 80-year sentence, which she served in federal prison, from where she published numerous articles and poems.  She was released less than a month before her death.  Buck was involved in organizing against the Vietnam War, as well as anti-racist activities.  read more

Robin DiAngelorobin-diangelo_0

Dr. DiAngelo teaches courses in Multicultural Teaching, Inter-group Dialogue Facilitation, Cultural Diversity & Social Justice, and Anti-Racist Education. Her area of research is in Whiteness Studies and Critical Discourse Analysis, explicating how Whiteness is reproduced in everyday narratives. She has been a consultant and trainer for over 20 years on issues of racial and social justice. read more

Bernardine Dohrn

Currently a professor of law and the recent director of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center, Dohrn was a former leader and founder of the anti-Vietnam war radical organization, Weather Underground.  As one of the leaders of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, the radical wing of Students for a Democratic Society, she and her comrades advocated for communist revolution, and for a white radical movement to work alongside the Black Panthers. read more

Virginia Foster Durr (1903-1999)

As staff of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW), the Durrs helped organize a four day conference in Birmingham, Alabama. The year was 1938, and the conference was the first of its kind in the South — “interracial and including all strata of society.” In attendance were “all the groups working for the democratic and economic development of the South”. read more

Ruth Frankenberg (1957- 2007)

The British-born sociologist Ruth Frankenberg, did groundbreaking research on how race shapes people’s lives in the US. Her first book, The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters (1993), focused on the advantages that whiteness carries for women rather than just the disadvantages suffered by non-white women, and so changed the approach of American social scientists to the ways racial inequalities endure even when white people regard themselves as anti-racist. Perhaps most importantly, Ruth illuminated how white women sometimes change their racial consciousness and action in promising individual and collective directions.

The Grimké Sisters

Sarah Grimké (1792-1873) and Angelina Grimké Weld (1805-1879), known as the Grimké sisters, were 19th-century American Quakers, educators and writers who were early advocates of abolitionism and women’s rights. read more

Heather Hackman

Dr. Hackman has been teaching and training on social justice issues since 1992. She has taught courses in social justice and multicultural education (pre-service and in-service teachers), race and racism, heterosexism and homophobia, social justice education (higher education leadership), oppression and social change, sexism and gender oppression, class oppression, and Jewish oppression.  In 2005 she founded Hackman Consulting Group and consults nationally on issues of deep diversity, equity and social justice. She has published in the area of social justice education theory and practice, racism in health care, and is currently working a book examining issue of race, racism and whiteness in education through a model she calls “cellular wisdom”. Her most recent research focuses on climate change and its intersections with issues of race, class and gender.

Heather Heyer

Heather Heyer was a waitress, legal aide, and racial justice activist who friends described as a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised who was often moved to tears by the world’s injustices.  Heather was killed by a vehicle driven into a crowd of counter-protestors at a white supremacist rally known as the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina on August 12, 2017.  To learn more, hear her mother’s tribute to Heather at her memorial, and read the University of Virginia Graduate Student Coalition Charlottesville Syllabus.

Naomi Jaffe 

Naomi_JaffeNaomi Jaffe founded a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1967. In that year she also joined Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH). In the late 1960s, Jaffe joined the Weather Underground and went underground from 1970-1978. Jaffe’s analysis of that period is that in the Weather Underground she faced sexism, and with white feminists she “missed an anti-imperialist, antiracist analysis”. read more

Selma James

Selma James became the first organising secretary of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination in 1965, and a founding member of the Black Regional Action Movement and editor of its journal in 1969. read more

Frances E. Kendall 

Is a nationally known consultant who has focused for more than thirty-five years on organizational change, diversity, and white privilege. Author of Diversity in the Classroom and Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race, Kendall was recently named a “Pioneer of Diversity” by Profiles in Diversity Journal.


Chelsea Manning

Private Manning is a United States Army soldier who was convicted in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses, after releasing the largest set of restricted documents ever leaked to the public. read more


Peggy McIntosh
Peggy McIntosh consults with higher education institutions throughout the world on creating multicultural and gender-fair curricula. She is the author of many influential articles on curriculum change, women’s studies, and systems of unearned privilege. She is best known for authoring the groundbreaking article “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies”(1988). This analysis and its shorter form, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (1989), have been instrumental in putting the dimension of privilege into discussions of gender, race and sexuality. read more

Juliette Hampton Morgan (1914-1957)

Juliette Hampton Morgan, a Montgomery librarian, was among a small group of white liberal southerners who advocated for racial justice in the 1940s and 1950s, a time of great social and political upheaval in Alabama. In letters to the Montgomery Advertiser, essays, and private correspondence with friends, family members, and colleagues, Morgan made some of the most insightful observations in the historical record about Montgomery’s racial crises. read more

Kathy Obear

Dr. Kathy Obear isPresident of ALLIANCE FOR CHANGE Consulting and Founding Faculty of The Social Justice Training Institute, a five-day intensive professional development program for social justice educators and practitioners focusing on dynamics of race and racism. read more


Minnie Bruce Pratt

Pratt has been active in organizing that intersects women’s and gender issues, LGBT issues, anti-racist work, and anti-imperialist initiatives.  read more

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

There are few writers of comparable influence and achievement in so many areas of the contemporary women’s movement as the poet and theorist Adrienne Rich. Over the years, hers has become one of the most eloquent, provocative voices on the politics of sexuality, race, language, power, and women’s culture. read more

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

From 1934 to 1940 worked with the national president of the NAACP to secure a federal anti-lynching bill. For a decade served on the Board of Directors of the NAACP. Resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution because they refused to allow Marian Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall. Sought opportunities for Black Americans in defense industries and an end of discrimination in the military.

Ann Russo

Antiracist feminist writer, educator, and activist who is currently the Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at DePaul University. Her research, teaching, and activism over the past 25 years has been embedded in the social movements organized to address the pervasive sexual, racial and homophobic harassment, abuse, and violence in women’s lives. read more

Mab Segrest 

Born in 1949, and grew up in Tuskegee, Alabama. While Segrest’s parents were working to set up white private schools, she was fighting segregation. For six years, Segrest coordinated the work of the North Carolinians Against Racist and Religious Violence (NCARRV). She is the cofounder of Feminary: A Lesbian-Feminist Journal for the South and is the author of My Mama’s Dead Squirrel (1985) and Memoir of a Race Traitor (1994). read more

Ricky Sherover-Marcuse (1938-1988)

Ricky is best known among a generation of political activists from the sixties and seventies as the initiator of workshops in “unleaming racism.” She developed this form of consciousness raising, and conducted workshops all over the United States, Europe, and the Middle East until her death. read more

Lillian Eugenia Smith (1897-1966)

Was a writer and social critic of the Southern United States, known best for her best-selling novel Strange Fruit (1944). A white woman who openly embraced controversial positions on matters of race and gender equality, she was a southern liberal unafraid to criticize segregation and work toward the dismantling of Jim Crow laws, at a time when such actions almost guaranteed social ostracism.

Fay Stender (March 29, 1932 – May 19, 1980) was a lawyer and prison rights activist from the San Francisco Bay Area who represented clients included Black Panther leader Huey Newton, the Soledad Brothers and Black Guerrilla Family founder George Jackson. In 1970, Stender edited and arranged for Jackson’s prison letters to be published as Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, and established a legal defense fund with the proceeds from the book. Stender eventually had a falling out with Jackson over his requests that she smuggle weapons and explosives into the prison.  In 1979, Stender was brutally attacked by a recently released member of the Black Guerrilla Family, resulting in partial paralysis and chronic pain.  She committed suicide a year later. While the death of Fay Stender is indeed a tragedy, and is a sobering reminder of the imperfect world in which we struggle, she remains a role model for the life she led and the ways in which she gave herself completely to radical causes.

Peggy Terry was a white working class organizer in Chicago’s up-town neighborhood with JOIN Community Union, pre-cursor to the Young Patriots (which formed part of the powerful multi-racial Rainbow Coalition) and successfully organized neighborhoods and communities around welfare rights, tenants rights, unemployment, and police brutality; while continually bringing an explicit civil rights and anti-racist message to their white working class organizing.
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*all information comes from online biographies, memorials, and Wikipedia.

23 thoughts on “Role Models

  1. First of all I am a gay white male who is a graduate student in Women’s Studies and has focused alot on white people and racism/anti-racism particularly white women and white gay men. You guys are AMAZING! I have a question though. Why is Adrienne Rich not included in your list of anti-racist white women? It seems she is often forgotten in discussions of anti-racist white women and I find that odd because her writing was so influential in my undrrstanding of racial identity and anti-racism. Thanks and keep up the good work!

    • Hi Caleb! Thank you so much for this response, and sharing your enthusiasm, insight, and suggestion. Just want to say, as one of the co-creators of this list (and perhaps we should state this clearly at the top), it is very much an ongoing work-in-progress, by no means meant to be a closed, definitive or exhaustive “list”. Much appreciation for your contribution in our attempt to honor and make visible these historic rivers of white female anti-racist resistance, lives, visions, legacies.

  2. Fantastic idea. I LOVE Adrienne Rich. We will discuss amongst ourselves (the White Noise Collective and bloggers) and most likely post. Would you be interested in drafting a paragraph for us to use? You could send to I’m also really curious about your studies. What connections are you focusing on among the race and gender experiences of white women and white gay men (as we are both hanging out at the same or similar intersection that this blog focuses on)

    • I would be honored to develop a paragraph. Minnie Bruce Pratt is also an excellent anti-racist feminist. Do I email a paragraph on Rich to the email you gave?

      • Caleb, did you ever email the paragraph(s) to us? We’d love to add it/them as we’re doing some general website expansion right now..

  3. Hi Everyone.. I was born/raised in California and moved to Alabama 10 years ago, YES, I was not fully aware or faced racism like I am doing now. I am a Hispanic male, which I feel I must carry a resume with me when trying to meet new people… can anyone advise me of different websites about dealing with these types of attitude in public.


  4. How about a reverse racism site Isnt this society sick enough. Look at hollywood. and the cities. They are worse then ever.

  5. Pingback: No Justice, No Peace: Time to #StandOurGround #AgainstRacism - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education

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