I had a white male mentor once early in my career. For reasons unknown to me then, but which are much clearer to me 20 plus years later, he took a liking to me and voluntarily took me “under his wings”. He helped me a lot and I appreciated it. But I also helped him a lot, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I guess his mentoring was his way of showing me that he appreciated it too.
He even felt comfortable enough to “come out” to me. No, he wasn’t gay. But, by his own admission, he confessed to me that he was a “recovering racist”. At that time, I was completely unprepared for how to handle that admission from a white man 20 years and about four corporate job titles ahead of me. So, I just listened and was his sounding board for crazy questions like “why do all the blacks sit together in the cafeteria?” He posed that question before the book of nearly the same title was ever written.
Anyway, among the many nuggets of wisdom he passed onto me, only one has truly stuck with me verbatim:
“Truth is Elegant”.
His point was that no matter the circumstances, “truth” will always beat out manipulating and outright lying. Truth is always more sophisticated and more graceful and more highly exalted.
I haven’t seen or heard from this mentor in over 20 years, but his quote has always stuck with me.
So, with this thought in mind, let’s examine the elegance of this truth:
Contrary to what journalist Rebecca Griffin thinks, white women feminists are not responsible for giving black women rights.
How’s that for elegance?
Griffin’s arrogance is so profound, it almost took my breath away. But not only is she arrogant, she’s wrong. The truth is that most of the women’s suffrage movement excluded women who looked like me. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. But the result was the same.
When women finally scored the right to vote, that victory was largely for white women. Black women were fighting for the right to breathe. White women fight for equal rights vis a vis white men. Black women, then as now, have never had the luxury of that focus. Black women have always had to fight for our right to just be recognized as a human being rather than white people’s property. Our humanity, our sexuality, our individuality, have always been a struggle.
Black women primarily identify with the civil rights struggle. We’ve never gotten an opportunity to connect to the women’s rights movement. Nor have white women been particularly inclusive in their efforts, since we’re talking about truth. The feminist movement was all about equality for white woman, who have never faced racism and systemic oppression of not only their bodies, but their entire family structure as well. White women did not include black women’s right to be equal in the eyes of the law and society. White women did not go one step further to ensure that their right to vote included my right to vote either. It was only 50 years ago that my right to vote was secured. And that is to no credit of white women. In fact, white women benefited from the marginalization of black women. Have you seen the movie or read the book The Help? I rest my case.
Black women carried the torch in the struggle for black women’s rights. Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, and so many other dynamic black women who have battle scars to prove their fight for black women’s equality are who black women pay homage to. That’s truth.
And the truth is, if anyone owes anyone recognition and thanks for a movement, it is white women who owe black women a debt of gratitude for our role in the civil rights movement since white women have been the largest beneficiaries of affirmative action and EEOC laws, on top of benefiting from their fathers’ and husbands’ supreme status on the food chain. Just as black women are “double minorities”, white women are “double majorities”, with all of the rights, privileges and benefits accorded thereto.
White women were largely silent about issues that mattered to black women then, and they are largely silent about those matters now. Where are all the white women fighting with black women to demand that the police stop killing black men and women? Where are white women fighting with black women to denounce the prison industrial complex that imprisons more black men now than were slaves in 1860? Where are all of the white women demanding the dismantling of white supremacy and institutional racism?
Anecdotally, these white women show up at #blacklivesmatter rallies and protests. But as a feminist movement? G.H.O.S.T.
White women: I’m calling for you. There is room for you in the movement for the recognition and valuing of black women and those we love. Join your voices with ours calling on your husbands and fathers and sons to stop their madness. Recognize and use your white privilege to someone’s benefit other than yours. If black women win, then everybody wins.
And that’s the truth. And it’s elegant.
Shout out to Syncrenicity for the truth graphic.