The hard truth is that white people who refuse to listen to black critics are the ones setting torches to bridges of allyship and slicing apart coalitions.
Unremarkably, some white activists of all genders have reacted negatively to the criticisms of black organizers that racism partly motivated the white feminism that put bodies dressed in pussy hats on the ground during the Women’s March on Washington.
They turned a loud, deaf ear to any citation of historical data, to the bigoted baggage white feminism has not dealt with. Because what’s the use of history if doesn’t flatter you?
They say, “You’re making a lot of assumptions about what Scarlett Johansson meant when she said ‘me.'”
They accuse constructive critics, who still acknowledge the empowering moments of the events that unfolded over the weekend, of aiding the enemy — Trump and his acolytes — dissolving unity and instigating divisions.
They label our critical estimation a load of “racist bullshit.” Apparently, diagnosing a system of society or political ideology with structural racism is the equivalent of infecting human institutions with it — or so they believe.
It’s easy to mistake the diagnosis of a disease like racism for the thing itself. It’s easy to believe that in matters of curing the race problem in America, silence is Prozac, that if we just close our eyes tightly enough and keep quiet enough, it’ll just go away, like some bad bogeyman lurking under our bed. It’s easy to accost and assault the black critics who, in all honesty, and for all intents and purposes, are rooting for the large-scale, anti-patriarchal, pro-woman values that white women espouse but downplay why and how the legacy of racism within the long tradition of white feminism has made it difficult to construct a world where those values will be embedded and honored.
Accusing black critics of stirring up divisions when they call out racism within feminism or any other ideological position is like blaming black victims for their own murders by the state, or black protestors for their own injuries and imprisonment because they dared to march the streets of American cities stained with the blood of black bodies and publicly express their grievances over the premature death of another loved one.
I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. famous and much-quoted response to white critics who had the temerity to harangue black activists who were fearful of living out their mortal days in segregation — white affirmative action — for practicing civil unrest and intentionally disturbing the peace.
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice,” King explained. And white people grow extremely tense at the mere mention of race and white supremacy.
Quelling black criticism won’t resolve that feeling, but only serves to offer more evidence of white flight, of white people refusing to take accountability for the horrible atrocities many of their ancestors and idols committed to institute and preserve a racial hierarchy in the name of a capitalist “democracy” while obliging themselves to the myth of colorblindness.
The hard truth is that the white people who react this way, who are quick to judge and slow to absorb and understand, are the ones setting torches to bridges of allyship and slicing apart coalitions. Their refusal to listen and learn and implement the insight of black feminism suggests a stubborn unwillingness to deal with the racist history of this country.
Calling out racism is first of two of the most transformative, loving, and unifying actions any person can take to foster a genuine cross-racial coalition. Possessing a willingness to be called out is the other.
Which is why, given this white backlash, on this issue at least, I think I speak for many black women by saying that if unity means appeasing white fragility; if unity means remaining quiet in the face of injustice, indignity, and unaccountability; if unity means reconciling your emotional labor power to the kind of peace and togetherness that’s filled with tension derived from not alerting white allies of their racism, then give me division any damn day of the year.