So, you are a Southern, white, female who hates racism and genuinely wants to do something? Congratulations, you just signed up to be a target. There are some folks who will not get past this sentence without commenting “centering whiteness” or “fake martyr.”
In reality, challenging white family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors, especially down South, is not easy. It is painful and it is dangerous. You will be confronted by everyone from multiple directions. Your motives and methods will constantly be questioned; prepare for accusations of crocodile white woman tears, threats, harassment and exclusion.
There will be days when you sincerely wish you had Rachel Dolezal’s phone number so you could ask her to do your hair and makeup. You too will want to be orange and give up the fight in the skin you are in.
Welcome to Outsider-Ville.
You always have the option to simply stop. That is the true definition of white privilege. Women of color do not have that choice.
If you do it anyway, then you are acting from the heart. You are not exceptional. You are not the first and you will not be the last. You cannot solve systemic racism. You can however tackle it one person, one town, one moment, one action, one comment and one issue at a time. In that process, you will meet sisters of every color who in fact share a common vision–and you will find your tribe of women.
Know this–in a diverse region where the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement were born, Southern has been coded to mean “white.” Definitions of Southern womanhood are explosive and monolithic representations make my white skin crawl.
And it’s not just women who are complicated when defining Southern identity. We now live in a world where Jefferson Davis’ white great-great-grandson argues for folks to retire the Confederate battle flag while “the Black Rebel” Andrew Duncomb organizes a flag rally to greet President Obama in Oklahoma.
Who are Southern women? We are a diverse, complex tribe with different opinions, experiences, heritages and perspectives who refuse to be easily defined or defeated. We are Bree Newsome in South Carolina fearlessly and sheroically removing the Confederate battle flag. We are also Karen Cooper in Virginia flying the same flag proudly and daring anyone to call her Thomasina. We are Hayle Franke in Texas cleaning racist graffiti off of the family vehicle for simply having a black guest in her home. We are Angela Bell in Arkansas writing about what it means to love a black man in America.
By now, some are agitated I even listed those women in the same paragraph. That is the issue though. We are black, brown, white, liberal, conservative, wealthy and impoverished. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and friends trying to figure out where we belong in this web of Southern womanhood that was defined for us and without our consent. By choice or by circumstance, we keep at it because we are regional sisters.
In the wise words of Dr. Maya Angelou, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” In this home called the South, we have to deconstruct it, recreate it and live in it in a way that turns the myth of Southern hospitality into a reality. Spoiler alert–driving around in convoys of jacked up trucks wrapped in Confederate battle flags isn’t it.
Your heart may say heritage, but to most who lived through the Civil Rights Movement it says hate. Complaining about water bottles thrown at trucks and those pointing a gun at a family gathered roadside for a little pride party? Try viewing iconic images of peaceful protestors hosed down in the streets and attacked with dogs; patrons at a lunch counter having food dumped on their heads simply for sitting; six-year old Ruby Bridges being spit on by a white mob as she is escorted into school by federal marshals; four beautiful, precious little girls murdered in a church bombing.
This too is Southern heritage and until we start having real conversations about it, the healing will never happen and the old wounds will continue to fester.
Those of us who put the “free” in freelance are tired of simplistic, blanket answers to complex, individual and systemic questions related to identities and what role everyone needs to play in fighting racism. We don’t have a brand to protect. We are willing to piss anyone and everyone off to get the message out there and encourage people to have painful conversations. We have learned to argue and love simultaneously. We challenge you to do the same.
Five Things You Need to Know:
(1) The first thing white anti-racists are accused of is white guilt and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Personally, I don’t have white guilt. I had no control over the color of my skin. Evidence suggests it was the result of my people moving to colder temps. End of story. And yes, I always quote Dr. King on this: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I also quote Malcolm X (el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz): “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
(2) White is right was sold to everybody by a select group of male, elitist, white, wealthy English men who had to divide and conquer to maintain what they owned. I am so sick of these articles, however well-intentioned, that suggest we all need to own it. The bottom line is whiteness was profitable. They sold it to the Indians–stand with us or we will call you “colored” and refuse your tribal designation. They sold it to “white” indentured servants, Irish, German, etc.–you can be adopted as white as long as you don’t join forces with the “other” have not’s.
They sold it to black folks–colorism, free vs. enslaved African-Americans, house versus field, North versus South. They sold it to those who feared “race mixing” which would make it very difficult to hold people down based on the color of their skin. They sold it to poor white people in the South who didn’t own slaves and poor black people (free and slaves) were promised freedom and equality so they would fight for “heritage.” How long until ALL of us wake up and say enough is enough? Anyone buying and selling it is part of the problem.
(3) Real conversations involve everybody stepping up and saying this is crazy. We aren’t selling out anymore. Not for whiteness, not for blackness, not for anything. Our identities are complex and in this country, we understand they have been reduced to skin color. What music you like, how you prepare food, what region of the country you are from, what belongs to you and what you have appropriated–all reduced to the amount of melanin in your skin. How long–truly, how long??
(4) We are becoming a nation of complete idiots. As an analyst, mother and human being, I am less concerned about your opinion than about how you decide to defend it. News flash: most of the historical questions you have can’t be answered by memes or blogs. They require real work, personal introspection and analysis so you can form an opinion based upon facts rather than feelings–or marketability. Want to really learn something? Form an opinion and then passionately try to prove yourself wrong. It forces you to read every other perspective you can find, validate sources, think critically and sometimes even change your own mind.
(5) The belief that talking about white privilege has made one bit of difference is laughable. The exceptions are articles like this that drive it home beyond class and region. You know why? Heart and real world experience.
Regardless of the issue, challenging strangers has minimal impact and it’s the safe way out. Give up anonymity and go at it with those closest to you who at least value your opinion at some level. If you decide to do that, be prepared to “argue” with an arsenal of facts and primary sources. Also, you better wear your big girl panties because getting your feelings hurt is a guarantee. Get over it and keep having the conversations.
If we stop talking at each other but rather to each other instead, we will figure it out. Maybe over a beer and a BBQ–that is true Southern heritage. Of course then we will argue over which kind is best.