What Can the Women’s Movement Do Right Now to Combat Racism?

Painting by Iris Boncales-Strauss

The revolution is at our doorstep. It’s time to answer Audre Lorde’s call for feminists to struggle through racial divisions in sisterhood, or face a future where “women’s blood will congeal upon a dead planet.”

White women are often the most visible face of white supremacy in the daily lives of Black, indigenous, and women of color (BIWOC) in the women’s movement. We are blessed to organize alongside a number of white women who are principled accomplices against white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. However, some white women’s inherently racist behavior is taking a huge toll on us personally and threatens the strength of the women’s movement. While white men benefit off of all of us, it is often white women who act as luna to the plantation boss. Therefore, it is important that white women and BIWOC gatekeepers be willing to shake the table and make real structural change beyond talk and optics. Otherwise, it is just performance arts, not activism:

  1. Do not ever say “we don’t have a race problem.”
  2. Acknowledge that many popular white-led solutions to women’s oppression such as crime control, arrests, police, individual rights, inclusion, and work as liberation are not working and are holding back transformative change. A new strategy is needed.
  3. Acknowledge that you do not know the lived experiences and historical trauma of BIWOC. White “expertise” and theory does not trump the lived experiences of BIWOC. There are varied ways of knowing.
  4. No all-white or majority white panels.
  5. Commit to multi-year, highly participatory training on anti-Blackness and patriarchy, and the ways its intersection privileges white women uniquely.
  6. Fund organizations projects and research for and led by Black, indigenous and immigrant women without strings and conditions.
  7. Connect to and fund Black and indigenous women leaders and projects that are locally-led and organized.
  8. Leadership change. Be willing to give up your seat. Our issues should be led by our people. The belief that there is no woman of color available or qualified who can do the work, or that it is appropriate for a white person to lead on issues that predominantly affect people of color in a “minority-majority state,” is rooted in the notion of white superiority.
  9. End the strategy of hiding behind BIWOC when you are called out for your behavior. This tokenizes women of color and pits us against each other to justify racism. This is no different than what the what slave master did on the plantation using Black mediators and go-betweens, treating them a little better and letting them handle the Black people who complain about ill treatment and wanting to revolt.
  10. Do not weaponize white academics against women of color organizers.
  11. Do not “call the manager” (executive board, supervisor or boss) on BIWOC to complain about our politics, style, or strategies.
  12. Learn to read the room and know when you are taking up too much space.
  13. Practice deferring to BIWOC.
  14. Learn how to not waste BIWOC’s time in meetings, in emails educating you on our issues (which emotionally exhaust us), spoon feeding you analysis just for you to ignore us, our advice and expertise while promoting yourself as knowledgable.
  15. People of color, not the actor or white bystanders, get to define when an act is racist.
  16. Do not take credit for people of color’s work.
  17. Cite Black women and women of color. Often Black women’s intellectual property has been taken or coopted without giving credit to the original source. Many of the thoughts, sayings and quotes used in the movement come from BIWOC yet are spouted out of the mouths of white women who sideline BIWOC in their spaces.
  18. Stop discrediting women of color leaders and stop siding with the “white victim.”
  19. Design meetings to ensure white attendees do not dominate. Ensure white women do not shout down, interrupt or disrespect women of color. Practice revolutionary silence and call for women of color to speak first.
  20. Do not force intimacy or ask women of color to share personal information to justify a political position that we take.
  21. Women of color are often exhaustively vetted while white women are given the benefit of the doubt. Do not ask women of color to show our credentials.
  22. Do not assume the white woman in the room is the authority or expert.
  23. Understand that you can still be part of the problem even if you believe you are doing the work to end the problem. Make sure you are always checking yourself. Be an accomplice to BIWOC at all times.
  24. It is, in fact, a problem when there are no Native Hawaiians, Micronesians, Black and immigrant *working class* women in a space speaking for ourselves. The majority of women are working class people of color.
  25. Do not engage in the ways that women of color are attacked in highly personal, sexist ways when they do not agree with someone’s political stance.
  26. Be an ally offline, off social media, when the cameras and mics are off, and beyond the Opeds.
  27. Understand that supporting BIWOC who you are deem are non-threatening to your status quo is tokenizing.
  28. To the BIPOC gatekeepers in our communities who rush in to vouch for white folks, particularly white women: We are hip to the game. Stop this. BIPOC have been used as tools of white supremacy for hundreds of years. This may help you as an individual but it does not get us free. We are all in this together.
  29. To the lone BIPOC at the table: advocate for there to be more than just you. If your organization feels there is no need for more BIPOC voices at the table, then you are being tokenized. Bring an army of BIPOC with you.