I have been observing for a long time that our shared gender does not assume we share perspectives or similar life experiences. And I spent time studying this to understand the nuances of how our respective races experience different realities. But now I see this is much less an academic interest and a compelling need for action. The recent analysis of the voting patterns for Roy Moore told me we are not there yet. Our political order is in peril now, and history warns us that the expansion of global trade produces expectations of progress but also the apparent helplessness of democracies to address inequalities and fascism. It is time for us to learn from our experiences, act together, and preserve the ideals of our democratic society.
Here are some ways White women can work to create a unified political force with women of Color. There is more complete coverage in an article I co-wrote with a colleague of Color (Geiger & Jordan, 2014). As a White woman I am imperfectly working on everything written here, and have chosen to only focus on those of us who live in “the bubble of privilege” because I think we have the most work to do. I hope this stimulates cross-race conversations including reactions and challenges for you.
For those with societal privilege:
1. Make privilege a problem. Our narrative often focuses on the hardships created for the recipients of racism, not on the practices of those with privilege that create those inequalities. We can change this narrative.
2. Become an ally for social justice. This is a big one: it means seeking critique from others about our unconscious racist behaviors, paying attention to our public interactions with other White people, trying but knowing we can never truly succeed in seeing and hearing other vantage points, respecting and appreciating cultural differences instead of simply erasing or ignoring them, challenging each other assuming that change is possible even when it seems overwhelming, and creating discomfort for other White people.
3. Redefine what it means to be White. We can redefine our identities in ways that don’t depend on the subordination of people of Color, and explore how race has affected us before engaging in building cross-race relationships.
4. Use empathy cautiously. White women often want solidarity without realizing they haven’t really listened to how racial power dynamics have affected their partners of Color. Relationships across race by definition include dynamics of power in them and cultural difference is at some level unknowable. Therefore, empathy and this unknowing must be moderated – we can have a common purpose without understanding the complete experience of the other and should resist saying “I understand” when we may not.
5. Create a “third culture”. We can create a new space between us called a “third culture” Casrnir (1999). This is when we create interactions that benefit all involved (and check to be sure that’s the case), that focus on communications between human beings instead of racial bodies, and that assumes this third culture is continuously evolving vs. achieved quickly. This will be new and unfamiliar but is important work.
6. Balance our individual, social and organizational identities. There is a tension that emerges in cross-race relationships: our individual need for identification and our need to identify with the group. We can notice our discomfort with being excluded from conversations about the experiences of women of Color and also welcome the expression of difference. This requires time, trust, and faith.
So, creating an alliance of women means that we seek to know, respect and commit to women who are in essential ways different from us, but whose interests are in essential ways the same. For White women, alliance is a process of sharing power and resources with others in society in order to create structures equally responsive to the needs and interests of all people. This process requires giving up our tendency to be politically correct, avoid conflict, and perpetuate dominance. It requires us to experience disequilibrium and expect resistance, demonstrate patience and courage, manage our emotions, negotiate agendas, surface and manage power dynamics and hold the paradox of belonging and uniqueness.
We can do this and it may mean that our society survives as a result.
Casrnir, F.L. (1999), Foundations for the study of intercultural communication based on
a third-culture building model, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Vol. 23
No. 1, pp. 91-116.
Geiger, K. and Jordan, C. (2014). The role of societal privilege in the definitions and practices
of inclusion. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, Vol. 33, No. 3. pp. 261–274.