White women like Pelosi pave the path from covert racism to audacious racism.
White feminism is insidious, and that fact has been markedly demonstrated by Nancy Pelosi and her relentless criticism of a few progressive members of Congress — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib — all women of color.
White feminism is also often not named for what it really is — racism. It is relatively easy to brand Trump as a racist; his racism is obvious. To many liberals, it is more difficult to label a white woman like Pelosi as a racist or at least as having exerted racist behaviors because she is a Democrat and a so-called feminist — supposed safeguards against the label of “racist.”
To uplift and benefit from a white supremacist system, one does not have to remark “go back to your country” to people of color after each breath. One can also be actively racist by engaging in reductive comments against newly elected non-white members of Congress, as Pelosi has — reducing historic wins by women of color over incumbent candidates to “they’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.”
This is not the first time that Pelosi has openly attacked this “squad” of women. She was quick to organize a resolution to condemn Omar for her criticism of Israel, but of course, this resolution came only after a Black, Muslim woman expressed her disdain for an apartheid state. It did not come after numerous Republican members of Congress brazenly spewed antisemitic comment after comment.
Trump’s racist “go back to your country” decree was precipitated by Pelosi’s incessant disapproval of the “squad” for not preserving antiquated, centrist ideologies and structures of governance in the House. It was also precipitated by a bizarre tweet that came from the House Democrats account, which singled out Saikat Chakrabarti, AOC’s Chief of Staff — placing his two-week-old tweet out of context to vilify Chakrabarti and, by extent, AOC.
Many who saw the tweet were rightfully perplexed as to why the House Democrats Twitter account, which is representative of the Democratic Caucus, was launching an open attack on a staff member of a prominent member of congress. Why did the same account not tweet when Omar, one of their own representatives, had been subject to death threats? Why had the same account not been as quick, as impassioned to condemn the blatant anti-Black racism accompanying the denunciations of Omar?
Washed down, palatable white supremacy looks like centrist Democrats who refuse to take meaningful action against a racist president, who instead seek to “work together.” The choice, the privilege of “working together” with a racist is one afforded to those who benefit from white supremacy to begin with. It is a choice and a privilege that is easily propositioned because it is significantly easier to enable a system that is favorable to you than it is to dismantle the very system that is destructive to non-white people.
Trump has seen a bevy of backlash for his recent racist remarks, but Pelosi has not witnessed the same extent of reprieve for her respective marginalization of four women of color in Congress. White women like Pelosi pave the path from covert racism to audacious racism. The silent acceptance of a racist system by Pelosi, and in some cases fighting to uphold oppressive aspects of that very system, is a relative to the type of racism Trump propels forward. White women enable white supremacy. You do not need a KKK cape and a burning cross for your racism to be more poisonous than that of Trump’s.
Some people find it difficult to label a white woman as a racist when she continuously positions herself as a victim, when her tears are weaponized to silence BIPOC voices, when her goodwill and positive intentions are valued far more than the pain that she inflicts upon BIPOC. Washed down, palatable white supremacy also looks a lot like white feminism. It looks like Nancy Pelosi, who time in and time out, aligns with her whiteness over any form of intersectional feminism.
bell hooks wrote, “…the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.”
I marched beside three white women at the 2018 Women’s March. That evening ended in one of the white women explaining that I am “too hard,” that I need to be “kinder” as they unlearn their racism. Especially because this white woman had a “Hispanic gay best friend” who was nice to her, in her mistakes — some of her mistakes included saying the N-word as Cardi B played (more than once). They also foster a very real fear of Eastern Harlem — “it feels unsafe,” she confided. The other white woman asked the number of Black men I had slept with. To speak about anti-Black racism, in her mind, I must have slept with Black people. The next white woman remained silent — “What could I have said?”
These women are self-proclaimed feminists. They consider Donald Trump to be an epic villain. But, they engage in the same behavior as him. Their racism, their white feminism is just as, if not more, commonplace than the racism of Trump. Those who condemn Trump must also be willing and able to equally evaluate your own position in the oppressive systems at play, not conjuring excuse after excuse to exclude white women like Pelosi from that same condemnation.