Are White women hypocrites in expecting Black women to support white women gender initiatives

By Jean Mavrelis - 11.11.2016

Last night I couldn’t sleep, and was texting with a Black woman friend who is an attorney.  I asked if I could quote her:

“As a professional, I regularly hear white women question black women about why we are active in black professional associations and less so women’s professional associations. We are scolded for seeing ourselves as Black first and women second. They treat our point of view as disloyalty to them…. The hypocrisy of the situation is what is so maddening”

I agree.

I was conducting a women’s retreat for the federal government when a Native American woman asked, at the beginning of the session, “What about women of color”?

A white woman replied, “We’re talking about gender here, not civil rights”.  That exchange offered the group an opportunity to sort out who they were.  Sadly, most of the white women in the group assumed sexism could be compartmentalized from racism.

When we say “Women and people of color”, where are women of color?  They can be in both categories, but when white people say “woman” they generally mean a white woman, otherwise they mark the category: Black women, Asian women, etc.  We talk about our Black friends and are Latina friends, but we don’t mark “friend” if the person is white.  White is normative for white people.

Black women hearken back to Ida B Wells’ famous saying, “Ain’t I a Woman Too” when white women tried to get the vote without joining forces for Black suffrage.

Whenever we do a social mapping exercise in our sessions, we ask people to break into groups.  If there is only one Black woman, she will invariably prefer to be her own group, or join a group of Black men, because for Black women, race “trumps” gender.  They, as well as their co-workers, see themselves as Black before seeing themselves as women.

White women did not vote to protect immigrants from mass deportation, including children who were born and acculturated here in the U.S.

We didn’t vote against potential return to “stop and frisk” laws even as we watch police abuse of young black men. Race isn’t on white women’s radar.  White women have to see racism and xenophobia as our issues, too. Until that happens, Black women will see white women’s gender initiatives and issues as too one-sided–basically just theirs.