by Kristin Chang
When fellow first-year Jordan Valerie Allen and I organized a group of 50 students to attend the Women’s March on Washington (with the absolutely invaluable help and guidance of Natalie Gross), we hadn’t quite anticipated that we’d be drowned in a wave of cisnormative white women wearing pink “pussyhats.”
And after scanning the signs bobbing above the crowd (after having spent an anxious day deliberating mine before finally deciding on “Immigrant women are here to stay!” for a slogan), I realized immediately what kind of protest this would be. Contrary to the platform of the march, developed by queer Muslim women and women of color, the attendees were overwhelmingly white and cis, and even worse, both seemingly unaware of and far too vocal about their whiteness and cisness.
Somehow, every pussyhatted white woman shouting about rebellion against the regime seemed to have conveniently forgotten one fact: that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump. The March and its platform was overwhelmingly the work of women like Tamika D. Mallory and Linda Sarsour, who opened their mission statement with a quote from Audre Lorde – and yet, white women co-opted the movement by repeatedly centering themselves as the resistance, and by yelling over the very women that the organizers recognized as the most “insulted, demonized, and threatened.”
And so I began to conduct an open letter to all cis white women:
DEAR WHITE WOMEN,
YOU ARE NOT THE RESISTANCE. PERHAPS YOU MAY HAVE FORGOTTEN, BECAUSE YOU CERTAINLY BEHAVE LIKE YOU’VE FORGOTTEN, BUT WHITE WOMEN VOTED FOR TRUMP. THERE CAN BE NO “SISTERHOOD,” NO “UNITY,” SO LONG AS YOU CONTINUE TO CHOOSE WHITE SUPREMACY OVER US. YOU HAVE LONG PROVED THAT YOU VALUE YOUR WHITENESS OVER OUR LIVES. YOUR FEMINISM KILLS TRANS WOMEN OF COLOR. YOUR FEMINISM KILLS.
DEAR WHITE WOMEN,
HOLD YOURSELVES ACCOUNTABLE. YOU ARE NOT A FEMINIST UNTIL AND UNLESS YOU PROVE YOURSELF AN ALLY TO WOMEN OF COLOR. DEAR WHITE WOMEN: AS OF TODAY, YOU ARE BAD ALLIES. AS OF TODAY, YOU ARE NOT A FEMINIST. YOU ARE NOT CHALLENGING SYSTEMS OF POWER UNTIL AND UNLESS YOU CENTER WOMEN OF COLOR IN EVERYTHING YOU DO AND SAY. YOUR FEMINISM IS TRANSPHOBIC AND SO IT IS NOT FEMINISM. YOUR FEMINISM IS RACIST AND SO IT IS NOT FEMINISM. YOU ARE NOT ANY FORM OF RESISTANCE. YOU CLAIM TO STAND UP FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, BUT YOUR METHODS AND MESSAGES REVEAL THAT ALL YOU WANT TO REPRODUCE ARE SYSTEMS OF POWER.
DEAR WHITE WOMEN,
DO NOT FORGET. DO NOT FORGET WHO YOU VOTED FOR. DO NOT FORGET WHO YOU CHOSE. WHEN YOU LOOK AT ME, DO NOT FORGET YOU CHOSE YOURSELF OVER ME.
DEAR WHITE WOMEN,
WHEN YOU BRAG ABOUT HOW THERE WERE NO ARRESTS AT THE WOMEN’S MARCH, ABOUT HOW NON-VIOLENT IT WAS, DID YOU REALIZE IT WASN’T BECAUSE IT WAS A MARCH OF WOMEN, BUT BECAUSE IT WAS A MARCH OF WHITE WOMEN? DID YOU KNOW THAT THE POLICE DON’T DARE TO TOUCH WHITE WOMEN, BUT THAT WHEN BLACK AND BROWN AND INDIGENOUS WOMEN PROTEST, THEY ARE CONSTANTLY IN DANGER? THAT A “PROTEST” BY WHITE WOMEN IS NOT CONSIDERED THREATENING TO THE STATE? YOU CHOSE THE WHITE SUPREMACIST STATE. YOU CAST YOUR VOTE.
YOU ARE NOT THE RESISTANCE.
Needless to say, it was a frustrating march. I’m glad to have been there, if not to confirm that this resistance cannot be lead or owned by white women. But it does need white women to confront their whiteness now, to criticize each other, to put down their signs and ask if they deserve to be here. Understand what they have done and why and how.
White feminism clings hard to the idea of a female “unity” and “solidarity” precisely because white women are terrified of acknowledging our differences in power and privilege. A chant about how “refugees are welcome here” devolved into a chant about how “everyone is welcome here.” When my friends and I started to chant that “America was never great,” the white women around us didn’t dare join in. And one marcher held a sign that said “We are all Muslim.”
We are not all Muslim. That is a fact. Muslim women face disproportionate violence and discrimination on all levels, and that’s the problem. White women proclaim “unity,” but their unity is a white-liberal fantasy of sameness. Their unity is just a poorly-disguised attempt to avoid addressing the ways in which we are not equal and have never been. The ways in which white women have been an active part of this perpetual inequality. Sisterhood, when proclaimed by white women, is a kind of gaslighting, an erasure of their past, present, and future violence against women of color.
One of the most popular sign slogans at the women’s march was: “For most of human history, anonymous was a woman.” I hope every white woman touting that proudly remembers that for most of human history, “unity” has meant abandoning the rights of women of color and trans women in favor of self-centered white and cis “womanhood.”
So, white women: I refuse to be your sister. Fix yourselves, and then we’ll talk.
It was even more surreal to return from the march on Saturday and return to class on Monday, where I am the only Asian woman (Asian person, for that matter) in two of my three classes. The only class where I am not the only woman of my race is the one that’s specifically about Asian Americans. I hoped that all the white women who had shouted about sisterhood two days before would be particularly conscious of my (lack of) presence. I hope white women notice my absence everywhere they go.
At the DC March, most of the women who looked like me were service workers, the one making the hot dogs for hungry white women, the ones selling scarves and tchotchkes in tents at the edges of parks. Their tape-wrapped “cash only” signs made me smile with recognition.
But as I was preparing to leave the march, a middle-aged Asian woman – not carrying any sign or wearing any hat – passed by the tree I was leaning against, glancing furtively at my sign. She had hands that reminded me of my mother’s, webbed with scars; my mother, who had begun working in factory sweatshops when she was 14, helping my grandmother sew collars onto shirts for white girls a city over. The woman’s eyes widened, and she looked up at me and smiled, so briefly I mistook it for a grimace. But then she smiled again, and this time it held. I wanted to shake her hand, but she was gone. I wish I had watched her more carefully, seen the exact point on the far side of the park where she became an absence.
Kristin Chang is a Staff Writer for EvenIfYourVoiceShakesSLC. She is from California. She studies languages, cries over poetry, and invents alter-egos-of-color for Wonder Woman. Read her previous contribution to the site here and here.