It’s an interesting paradox. There are so many white women that I consider to be more than allies but my dear friends. Still somehow, despite the fact that I’m able to discuss race with an entire community in this monthly Wednesday Journal column, having conversations about race with my white female friends, at times, makes me feel uncomfortable.
I vividly recall one close friend, who is a white woman, discussing a verbal altercation she had with another woman. She described the woman’s angry response toward her as, “going all ‘black girl’,” implying that the woman’s anger, aggression, or confrontation were somehow inherently tied to race. I wondered if she had forgotten that I was a black woman.
Why didn’t she realize her statement was offensive? I consider my friend to be a very progressive woman. Yet at that moment she made a racist comment and was completely unaware of it. Here was the perfect opportunity for me to have a meaningful dialogue with her. But instead of transforming that conversation into a teaching moment for both of us, I didn’t say anything in response. I just nodded my head and went along because I was afraid to have a difficult conversation with a friend. I did not want her to feel judged, uncomfortable or like she was a bad person by pointing out that she made a racist comment.
This is a habit I am trying to break. I don’t want to be inappropriately accommodating to white progressive women by not pointing out the moments when they make racist comments.
Overlooking the micro-aggressions of white liberal progressives is a decision some make because they fear white fragility. I personally hate making people cry or uncomfortable and will even avoid doing it at the cost of my own comfort. But as I reflect on Women’s History Month and the progress made by women of all races, I realize that correcting our white female allies when they are, knowingly or unknowingly, racially oppressive should never be avoided because it is a step toward unity.
Women as a collective cannot prosper if some women do not reap the benefits of equity, especially when those benefits were attained by the collective effort and hard work of all women. White women can no longer accept being the sole beneficiary of the progress that all women have worked for.
Discussing my white female allies’ white privilege can be a sensitive topic because some feel that pointing out their white privilege dilutes the oppression they experience as women. But I believe we can point out the white privilege of white women while also acknowledging that all of us as women have shared the experience of oppression because of our gender.
However, we must acknowledge the sliding scale of that oppression. We must recognize that women of color experience a greater level of oppression than our white counterparts because of our race or ethnicity. Confronting that reality should not divide us. In fact, not confronting it perpetuates the system that we are all trying to combat, an oppressive system that thrives on women being divided.
Embracing intersectionality is one of the strongest forms of unity. Recognizing that the oppression and inequality we encounter as women is exacerbated when coupled with various other identities is a critical component of our movement toward equality.
Equity’s ladder places us on different rungs according to our race, LGBTQ status, disability, religion, and socio-economic status, with the most privileged women at the top. It is the duty of the women at the top to acknowledge their place in this country’s hierarchy and work together to ensure that we all make it to the top together.
Michelle Mbekeani, 27, is a lifetime resident of Oak Park. She is an attorney at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. She is the mother of an energetic and loving 2 year old boy. Michelle enjoys singing and volunteering thoughout the community, supporting Oak Park public schools, and the Oak Park Festival Theatre.