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 Ames – Kirsten Anderson – Anne Braden – Marilyn Buggey – Marilyn Buck – Robin DiAngelo – Bernardine Dohrn – Virginia Foster Durr – Ruth Frankenberg – The Grimke Sisters – Heather Hackman – 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 – Peggy Terry
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.
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.
In 1916 she organized a local women’s suffrage association in Texas and helped the state become the first one to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. In 1919, she was the founding president of the Texas League of Women Voters. She also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1920, 1924, and 1928. In 1929 she became the director of the women’s committee of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC).
In 1930 Ames founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, which obtained the signatures of 40,000 women to their Pledge (see below) Against Lynching. Despite hostile community opposition and physical threats, they conducted petition drives, lobbying and fundraising across the South to work against lynching. Pledge:
We declare lynching is an indefensible crime, destructive of all principles of government, hateful and hostile to every ideal of religion and humanity, debasing and degrading to every person involved…[P]ublic opinion has accepted too easily the claim of lynchers and mobsters that they are acting solely in defense of womanhood. In light of the facts we dare no longer to permit this claim to pass unchallenged, nor allow those bent upon personal revenge and savagery to commit acts of violence and lawlessness in the name of women. We solemnly pledge ourselves to create a new public opinion in the South, which will not condone, for any reason whatever, acts of mobs or lynchers. We will teach our children at home, at school and at church a new interpretation of law and religion; we will assist all officials to uphold their oath of office; and finally, we will join with every minister, editor, school teacher and patriotic citizen in a program of education to eradicate lynchings and mobs forever from our land.
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.
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”.
Anne was involved in work led by people of color, mainly in the Southern Organizing Committee (SOC) and the Kentucky Alliance against Racist and Political Repression. She is the author of The Wall Between (1958), a book about the sedition trial and campaign against racism. Up until her death, Anne continued “to work eighteen-hour days as an activist and writer in Louisville, teach college courses on racism, and speak widely on antiracism and social justice.”
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.
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.
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.
“I grew up poor and white. While my class oppression has been relatively visible to me, my race privilege has not. In my efforts to uncover how race has shaped my life, I have gained deeper insight by placing race in the center of my analysis and asking how each of my other group locations have socialized me to collude with racism. In so doing, I have been able to address in greater depth my multiple locations and how they function together to hold racism in place. I now make the distinction that I grew up poor and white, for my experience of poverty would have been different had I not been white.”
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.
While attending law school, Dohrn began working with Martin Luther King, Jr. She was the first law student organizer for the National Lawyers Guild, and was organizing against the war in Vietnam and in conjunction with the Black Freedom Movement. In May 1970 Dohrn recorded and sent a transcript of a tape recording to the New York Times, the statement was a “Declaration of a State of War” on behalf of the Weathermen. On October 14, 1970, Bernardine Dohrn was added to the FBI’s list of the 10 most wanted fugitives, for her involvement with the trial of the Chicago 8 and leadership during Chicago’s 1969 “Days of Rage”. Co-author of the subversive 1974 manifesto “Prairie Fire”, Dohrn and other Weathermen went underground in their battle against the government and use of strategic bombing of symbolic sites to “bring the war home”.
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”.
Blacks and whites were breaking the rules of segregation, and on the second day of the conference infamous police chief “Bull” Connor showed up to “enforce the city ordinance that banned racially mixed meetings. Black people would have to sit on one side of the central aisle and white people on the other”. When Eleanor Roosevelt arrived soon after, she insisted on sitting on a folding chair exactly in between the two segregated groups.
Durr revealed in interviews at age 87 that “she did not experience herself as a lonely nonconformist, or even as a radical. She knew that racial integration and the right to vote, the two things she especially worked on, were commonplace in almost every other developed country in the world.” Durr stated, “I did know what was right, and I felt that denying anybody the right to vote was wrong. I felt to segregate was wrong. I never had any doubts about it…When things get rough, if you don’t believe in what you are doing, then you might as well give up. That’s the one thing that keeps you going.”
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.
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.
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.
Naomi 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”.
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.
In 1972, James’ publication, Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, launched the “domestic labour debate” by spelling out how housework and other caring work women do outside of the market produces the whole working class, thus the market economy, based on those workers, is built on women’s unwaged work. In this same year she founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign which demands money from the State for the unwaged work in the home and in the community. The 1983 publication of James’s Marx and Feminism broke with established Marxist theory by providing a reading of Marx’s Capital from the point of view of women and of unwaged work.
Since 2000 James has been international coordinator of the Global Women’s Strike, a network of grassroots women, bringing together actions and initiatives in many countries. The Strike demands that society “Invest in Caring Not Killing”, and that military budgets be returned to the community starting with women, the main carers everywhere. She has been working with the Venezuelan Revolution since 2002.
In 2012 PM Press published Sex, Race and Class–the Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952–2011, which offers pioneering intersectional and revolutionary analysis from a span of six decades of this influential political thinker and activist.
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.
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.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, but with credit for time served and good behavior could be released on parole after eight years. Assigned in 2009 as an intelligence analyst to an Army unit based near Baghdad, Manning had access there to databases used by the United States government to transmit classified information. The material included videos of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike and the 2009 Granai airstrike in Afghanistan; 250,000 United States diplomatic cables; and 500,000 army reports that came to be known as the Iraq War logs and Afghan War logs. Much of the material was published by WikiLeaks or its media partners between April and November 2010. She is one of the most courageous whistleblowers in US history.
Manning was raised as a boy, Bradley, but in a statement issued the day after sentencing the soldier identified herself as female, having felt female since childhood.
A selection from the transcript of her statement read by her lawyer David Coombs at a press conference after the sentence, the longest ever handed down in a case involving a leak of United States government information for the purpose of having the information reported to the public:
I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.
In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.
Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown our any logically based intentions [unclear], it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.
Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the Japanese-American internment camps—to name a few. I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.
As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
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.
The essay set forth the concept of white privilege, a theoretical construct that has since significantly influenced anti-racist theory and practice as well as other activist movements. “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.”
McIntosh is the Director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, she is founder and co-director of the National S.E.E.D. (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project on Inclusive Curriculum. The transformational SEED Project helps teachers, counselors, and administrators create their own year-long, site-based seminars on making school climates, curricula, and teaching methods more gender fair and multi-culturally equitable.
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.
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.
She has over 25 years experience as a trainer and organizational development consultant specializing in creating inclusion, team and organizational effectiveness, conflict resolution, and change management.For over a decade she has passionately worked to help social justice educators and diversity practitioners respond more effectively when they feel “triggered” so they navigate difficult dialogues and triggering events with greater competence. She additionally leads workshops on how to dismantle racism as white women. Earlier in her career Kathy worked in Student Affairs at several colleges and, since 1987 when she started her consulting business, she has given speeches, facilitated training sessions, and consulted to top leaders at hundreds of universities, human service organizations and corporations across the United States and internationally to increase the passion, competence, and commitment to create inclusive, socially just environments where all members can thrive. Her articles include “Best Practices that Address Homophobia and Heterosexism in Corporations,” and “Navigating Triggering Events: Critical Skills for Facilitating Difficult Dialogues,” The Diversity Factor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
She also coedited The Third Wave: Feminist Essays on Racism (1997). During her six years with NCARRV, Segrest dealt with many acts of violence perpetrated by the Klan. Many times she articulates the costs to her physical and mental health. The memory of past violence and the threat of future violence was always with her. Segrest states, “I had become a woman haunted by the dead…I was what the murderers would call a ‘n_____ lover’ and what they’d call a dyke.”
“The racism, the homophobia, the hatred of Jews and women, the greed accelerate, and they sicken us all. But we do not have to accept it. There is a lot to be done, but how we go about it is also important. Because all we have ever had is each other.” (Memoir of a Race Traitor, 1994, p. 80).
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.
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.
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.
*all information comes from online biographies, memorials, and Wikipedia.