In school, college especially, I always dreaded group projects. Each time I heard a professor’s standard instruction to find a way to work together, my eyes rolled in the back of my head. It never failed that there was always one person in the group who wouldn’t carry their own weight — missing deadlines, ignoring group emails, skipping meetings, etc. — but would be front and center when it was time to present the project the rest of the group worked hard to finish. Then after weeks of sacrificing my time and effort, tolerating people I usually didn’t care for and compromising, I was expected to stand before the class feigning solidarity with one or two people who didn’t do the work to ensure the entire group didn’t fail but were all too eager to show up and be counted.
That’s what navigating womanhood as a Black woman feels like to me. Black women are always there doing the laboring, making the sacrifices and delivering what we said we would, only for white women to swoop in when it’s time to present the final project as if they were there all along and have equal stake. It’s the reason feminism is the group project for which I have refused to accept my assigned partners. White women won’t push past me and my sisters, who’ve done our work, to once again stand at the podium while Black and brown women play the background as if we’ve all arrived at this place by the same journey.
So Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington, will surely be short at least one woman. The New Yorker credits a retired attorney, Teresa Shook, with coming up with idea for the “somehow controversial” march on election night after Hillary Clinton’s loss. According to its website, the march seeks to “send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.” Acknowledging that “rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many,” its mission is to “stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”
As rhetoric goes, they got it right. Were I not all too familiar with white women’s penchant for employing language ideal for giving the appearance of a sisterhood not divided by the very real boundaries of race and class when the support and labor of Black and brown women is useful to their agenda, I would have been moved to join them. But actions speak louder than words, and as the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” White women won’t pull me into their demonstration under the guise of standing for mutually-invested causes only to accuse me of being divisive and combative when I make known the struggles unique to me as a Black woman.
And the former — the accusations of divisiveness — began almost as soon as the idea was conceived. The New Yorker’s piece details how disputes over the march began “sprouting like daisies in Facebook’s horrifically fertile soil.” The event’s other founder, Bob Bland admitted that “the women who initially started organizing were almost all white,” yet they had initially chosen to christen the event the “Million Woman March—a name originally claimed by the enormous protest for Black women’s unity and self-determination held in Philadelphia, in 1997.” After some Black women voiced their concerns over the appropriation of the name, one saying she would not “even consider supporting this until the organizers are intersectional, original and come up with a different name,” the name was changed to the Women’s March on Washington, an obvious nod to the legendary 1963 march for civil rights lead by Dr. King (confirmed by the claim that the organizers of the event “follow the principles of Kingian nonviolence”).
To satisfy the demand for intersectional organizers, a Black woman Tamika Mallory, “a gun control advocate and board member of the Gathering for Justice,” an Arab woman, Linda Sarsour, “executive director of the Arab American Association of New York,” and a Latina woman, Carmen Perez, “executive director of the Gathering for Justice,” were brought on to help bring the event to life. Admittedly, that effort, to bring the racial diversity often absent feminist movements led or founded by white women, is somewhat inspiring but not enough, especially when Black and brown women raising issues of race is labeled “contentious dialogue.”
A piece in the New York Times making that very claim details how one white woman who had “looked forward to taking her daughters to the march” canceled her trip to the march after being “stung by the tone” of a Facebook post from one of the events volunteers, a Black activist who “advised ‘white allies’ to listen more and talk less.” The woman questioned, “Why is it now about, ‘White women don’t understand black women’?” Another woman was “starting to feel unwelcome” when confronted with Black and brown women who expected white women to accept their own role in the oppression of non-white women.
Apparently, the organizers intended to push the difficult conversations, making “a deliberate decision to highlight the plight of minority and undocumented immigrant women and provoke uncomfortable discussions about race.” That is most certainly what I expect from a panel of Black of brown women. They should be demanding that their labor be repaid by willingness to hear the truth. But two and half months of this necessary dialogue is not enough to drive me to march.
And what I really want to hear, what I need to fucking hear before I ever consider uniting with white women against Trump’s regime is an acknowledgement that Black women, more than any other group of women, and nearly exclusively, showed up for Hillary Clinton. White women, who couldn’t stop reminding anyone who’d listen that they were with her, didn’t. It was Black women who voted at 94% for Clinton while not even half of white women, just 43%, voted for the women they had exalted.
Now in every school I’ve ever attended in this country, 94% is an ‘A’. So despite Clinton’s pandering, her too-little-too-late apology for the infamous “superpredators” comments, and her convenient exploitation of the Black mothers of victims of police brutality, Black women still did their part for the “sisterhood.” White women on the other hand, couldn’t even muster a collective half to support the candidate whose election would have been the most advantageous for them.
But I yet have to see outraged white women placing the blame where it lies. I have yet to see mainstream white feminists taking their fellow white women to task for not doing their part to preserve women’s rights. Their anger has instead been laid at the feet of white men, third party voters, and Black and brown people who elected to opt out of participating in a election that asked them to choose between the devil who wears his horns and the one who hides hers.
That is typical, though. White women never want to hear how they collectively are often willing to sell Black and brown women out to bargain for their place beside white men in administering the racist system. They don’t want to dismantle the system that places them just outside the apex of privilege so much as they want to ensure their ascension to that apex. Blind sisterhood is their way of retaining their positions standing on the shoulders of non-white women while taking no responsibility for their complicity in a racist system. And a march thought up in a moment of passion after they realized that most of them would rather further cement the marginalization of Black and brown people than vote in their own best interests, even with Black and brown women partially navigating, just isn’t my idea of extending an olive branch.
When white women own their shit, and I mean OWN THEIR SHIT, then we can start the healing necessary to forge a bond. Until they are willing to show their commitment to deconstructing all systems of oppression, and not just the ones that prey on them, I’ll continue sprinting further away from any movement they create. And until they are willing to place their bodies in harm’s way the way they have been content to place those of Black and brown women, white women can’t ever expect me to sit at any table or hold hands with them.
I’m a native and lifelong resident of D.C. The commute to the march’s site would take less than a half hour. The Metro card for transportation would run me about $5. But the mental and emotional labor I would have perform to march with white women who will retreat back to their semi-sheltered lives after the march forgetting about me until the next time they need bodies to send a message would be much to inconvenient and far too costly.
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