What’s Next?

Anna Tennis (courtesy photo)

I saw a video of a white woman in North Carolina verbally and physically assault two women of color in a parking lot. The white woman approached them, clearly drunk, asking them why they were standing in this parking lot. The white woman announced that she knew why she was in the parking lot, because she was “white, and hot, and white” and made “$120,000 a year.” As though she was in a bathroom mirror argument with herself, she began responding to aggression that simply wasn’t there, escalating her own argument until she began shoving the women (by the face)while sloppily repeating her macabre and hateful assertions. 

I’ve watched horrifying videos over the years — of boys gunned down in neighborhood streets, and crushed under the weight of police officers. So why did this video of a 50-something.year-old white woman, drunk and belligerent, disturb me so much?

I don’t relate to her, but I am related to her. I know, deep down, that this is what is underneath a disturbing majority of the group of women that are truly my peers: middle-aged, middle-class white women. We are proving ourselves to be a hateful bunch, and we remain very powerful, for women.

In 2016, 53 percent of white women who voted chose Donald Trump. Women know oppression. Women know bias and mistreatment. We know bigotry and violence. So what does the ongoing support by these women for people like Roy Moore and Brett Kavanaugh represent?

In the last two years, I’ve watched women I knew as politically and personally conservative don pussy hats and march in sub-zero weather to object to the overt bigotry of the Trump Administration and the systemic racism it represents. I’ve stood side-by-side with women I otherwise would have had no intersection with, chanting slogans — real and sincere intentions — about love and solidarity. 

If we’ve learned anything from #MeToo and #TimesUp, it’s that the individual stories of women are essential. Understanding the experience of each woman and collective women is critical in seeing the whole picture. It feels like it is time for women to apply this same discourse to race. 

Recently, in Duluth, there has been what feels to me like potentially transformative friction between “well-intentioned white women,” and passionate women of color. Many community leaders stood in opposition recently around the best ways to educate kids about race, using literature as the vehicle. One group described the merits of classic works like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Huckleberry Finn.” The other, women in the local NAACP, explained in patient detail that the use of racial slurs in those books makes students of color feel unnecessarily “humiliated and marginalized.” 

Both groups are good people. Both would dive into rivers to save the others. Both share more ground than they don’t. But still — still — white progressives practice racism, with no deliberate malice, delivered with near-surgical precision. I speak from personal experience when I say that goodness and ignorance are not mutually exclusive. 

It has never seemed clearer to me than now that progressive white women and progressive women of color have, because of deep systemic racism, been growing simultaneously, sharing ideals and goals, but disconnected from each others’ experience. 

Intersectional feminism needs the intersection to happen not just in diverse neighborhoods, government representation, and workplaces, but in meaningful conversations. 

We are not going to change or heal unless we are more than just inclusive. We need to be connected. That is complicated. 

White women have had the luxury of avoiding the hard parts of this conversation for a long time. White women like me always have had the power and privilege of walking away from the stories of “others” — able to claim a cultural language barrier. 

There’s probably a right way to weave ourselves together. It won’t happen where we are. We need to stand closer. 

How do we talk about this? Because it feels like the conversation could and should start — has already started — with women.

So what now? 

Anna Tennis lives in Duluth. She has worked as a freelance writer for 16 years.