Saturday, February 19, 2011

White Women: On the Daily

It's 5:34 and I am awake. I am overwhelmed with the love of being an academic, an activist, a Black woman, a friend, a girlfriend on vacation with hers, and a deep, deep lover of music. Yes, I have been at the Women Who Rock conference organized by my friend and colleague, Mako Fitts, and new friends and colleagues, Michelle Habell-Pallan, Sonnet Retman, Quetzal Flores and many others. This post (and more I will write later) is because of the deep love for that work and being around other women like Kehaulani Kaunanui, Daphne Brooks, Alice Bag, Maylei Blackwell, Tiffany Lopez, Sherrie Tucker, Leisette Rodriguez, Carrie Lanza, Martha Gonzalez, Lara Davis and men like Garry Perry and George Sanchez, speaking on and embodying our passions about music, feminism, This Bridge Called My Back, community, and our lives. 

I have much more to say about all of these things and these wonderful, wonderful people but, truthfully, what woke me up this morning was thinking about my response to something that happened during a panel I was on this afternoon. And, as Maylei reminded me at dinner, it needs to be called out. 

A group of us were invited to sit on a panel and provide feedback, "do the work," as Mako said of talking about the feminist community organizing and organizers that came to the conference. We participated in breakout sessions during the day where women and men talked about the incredible work that they do/have been doing for years ranging from: organizing and living as out, queer women in Mexico, publishing a print feminist  'zine in this technological age, creating a safe and empowering place for women and girls via Home Alive, Willie Mae Rock Camp, Ladies First, Fandango, and Riot Grrrl. These were amazing sessions and people, and a group of us sat for two hours on a stage giving our perspective, interweaving our lives and experiences into a discussion about these groups. After we talked (a panel of five women of color and one white ally), Mako opened it up for dialogue. The first person to step up to the mic to offer feedback, ask a question or make a comment, was a white woman, an activist who works for Planned Parenthood, which is currently under attack.

Let me just back up and repeat. 

The first person 
to step up 
to the mic 
to offer 
a question
or make 
a comment 


I can't tell you how many times this has happened in my academic/activist/personal life. I. can't. tell. you. how. many. times. this. has. happened. I can't tell you, collectively, how many times this has happened to the women on the panel who have been carving out our lives with This Bridge mapped on our bodies in punk music scenes, feminist spaces, and academic circles. I can't tell you how many times this happens in the conferences where I present papers, places I'm asked to give a talk, the classes I teach in my department, in faculty meetings, and when I'm, you know, getting coffee. I really can't, I'm not being facetious. I can't count the times. It's too many. We talked for two hours about various topics related to the woman of color space that was created this weekend by women of color and our allies. White women were mentioned twice during that time, one a story of a personal friend and ally, and the phrase "not a white woman's issue" with regards to reproductive rights. Twice, for less than five minutes. And the first person to step up to the mic was a white woman whose statement began with, "I need you to clarify" and then later, "because I'm a white woman who works hard." Can't. tell. you.
And I can't tell you how much it takes to sit on a panel and not begin to take my earrings and heels off because it feels like the shit is about to go down. And I have never been in a fight in my life. How much it takes to try and frame a response on top of the pushed down anger, betrayal, and distrust of working with, being friends with, and organizing with white women. Try to frame a response that doesn't start out with, "Look, b*tch, Ima 'bout to...." 

And I wasn't even asked the question. The need for clarification was not directed at me. 

And, I think it needs to be clarified that I don't even know this woman's name, didn't really hear the question, because this happens so many times. I couldn't hear you. The demand to clarify even though you point out that we're the educated ones, not you. Making clear that, effectively "we hold the power in the room," because of our academic status (like the shit was easy), yet your privilege and entitlement to step up to the microphone first, with demands, doesn't enter into your understanding of what's going down. I only remember bits and pieces of your question, your interruptions when measured responses were being given. The compassion that a couple of panelists used when trying to "reach you." The explanations given of what kind of academics we are and what we're trying to do as a group of younger women. The brushing off because mustering up an answer was too exhausting. The clarifications that, actually, what you heard is not what was said. And then the number of women who stood up in the community to say, "look you need to check yourself." That shit takes work. And it takes a little bit from our lives, our spaces each time. Women of color create these spaces so that we can celebrate, see each other, remember, be rejuvenated, dialogue, eat with one another, dance, sing, and tell our stories in various form.  Not to clarify for you. And you need to remember that. Print this post out and carry it with you if you need to. But, recognize that I, we, are not here to clarify for you.


lafitch said...

Simon is already ahead of the game since you taught him his new favorite phrase. His Mommies are still working on their own shit. You are not responsible for the latter. The former..that's all you.
<3 you LF

Anonymous said...

Thank you Andreana! It just had to be said and you said it --beautifully.

It was really great to see you and break bread with the both of you. So thankful for your presence at the conference and the work that you do in the world. You are inspirational and a fierce warrior/rockera/chingona!


Ktrion said...

can I just say, THANK YOU

Anonymous said...

So don't clarify, and don't ask for the support of other women, white women in your struggle - why work together for change, when you can do what men have always done? Split women apart, make us doubt each other and not trust one another. Good luck with that.

queerblackfeminist said...

thank you, "anonymous." you've just proved the point of my post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this piece. As a white women who witnessed this, I was shocked and embarassed. Her anger changed the feeling of the entire conference. And it was not productive anger, and it was not well-placed anger. It was anger in response to perceived threats to her own privileged spaces. Thank you for eloquent response. It needed to be said. And to anonymous, the person who created division here was the white woman, and the women of color in this space reached out to her, even though they didn't have to, and it couldn't have been easy. It is time for white women to take responsibility for educating ourselves, examining our own privileges, and stop creating division with our anger.

queerblackfeminist said...

thanks for your words, anonymous. i'm glad you there, the rest of it was so phenomenal. in solidarity.

Noralis said...

Great insight of that situation...I was in the registration area when the roundtable was going on, but I feel you, this happens everyday...the things that women like her do in conferences and in spaces like that don't surprise me anymore, their ignorance is extreme, they don't want to move from the comfort zone...

Petra said...

Hi. I've been wanting to leave a comment for ages, but didn't want to be the white girl who speaks first!

I wanted to thank you for writing this and say that it's been a productive thorn in my side for the last week or two. I'm fortunate to have been included in QPOC space on many occasions, and as a white Irishwoman have often identified with much of the experience related there. In those spaces I've frequently been aware of class and education privilege spurring me to speak, to interrupt, to clarify, or to nitpick, but I've never really internalised what it's like for QPOC to experience that, what it costs QPOC activists to keep people like me on board, to train us as allies, to deal with our tendency to deny or downplay our privilege. Thanks for saying it so clearly and angrily - I'm really grateful.

The post has also helped me to see my privilege as white privilege in a clearer way than I have before. Because of my Irish heritage that's always been really challenging for me, since I don't identify with prevailing White British culture and my family has been decimated by colonial struggle. Again, thanks for your clarity and the strength of feeling expressed so publically here: it's driving me to find ways to be a better ally.

In solidarity and gratitude,


queerblackfeminist said...

Thanks Petra, for your words. "Productive thorn," I like the sound of that:). In solidarity.

Felicia Monique said...

"...on the daily." I like that!

kndr said...

Oh hey! I know both Dr. Fitts and Dr. Perry, they are both my FAVORITE professors. They are awesome. I just graduated from Seattle U and am regretting not attending that conference. It's so weird that I stumbled upon this blog and here some of my favorite people are mentioned in a post! Definitely means I should stick around :D