The Senate just voted to advance legislation that puts women’s lives at risk. The President was recently embroiled in a fight with MSNBC talk show host Mika Brzezinski that led to him tweeting that she had a “low IQ” and was “bleeding badly from a face lift,” words that fall in line with his other attacks on women, people of color and immigrants. Last month, Philando Castile’s killer was acquitted—just the latest in a long pattern of police acquittals after killing Black people. Within days of that decision, 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen was murdered on the way back from Ramadan prayers, and afterward one of the memorials erected in her honor was set on fire.
Can’t I just go back to bed?
Actually, yes. I can. As a white, cisgender male, I am able to tune out the injustices happening to women, people of color, LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups. I can do this because it doesn’t affect me as directly as it does others. To “go back to bed” is usually not an option for people who don’t look like me.
I know many of you—many of US—don’t want to hear this, but that’s called white privilege. That’s called male privilege.
And because white males benefit from and perpetuate systems of sexism and racism—even when we do our best to challenge systems of societal power—it is our responsibility to speak out, now more than ever. Fellow white guys: let’s stay engaged. Sustainably. Accountably. I want to join the chorus of voices urging white males to speak out against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and all other forms of hate and discrimination.
Specifically, I’d like to ask my fellow white guys to stick to these 10 do’s and don’ts in the era of Trump—and beyond. (I use the phrase “white males” and “white men” in this piece as a shorthand, realizing that gender is a spectrum. Perhaps “male-identified” would be more accurate.)
#1: DO listen to and learn from feminist women of color.
“Women of color have been doing this work for a very long time,” says Cynthia P, who describes herself as “a woman of color who deals with white men regularly.” “They most certainly know more about this than (white men) do. So this is the perfect opportunity for (white men) to sit back and…give (women of color) the lead, because they are the ones who are going to lead all of our liberation.” We white males need to know when to speak up, and when to shut up and listen. When in doubt, we should probably listen. When we aren’t sure who to listen to, let’s listen to feminist women of color.
#2: DON’T silence, speak for or correct women of color about their lives.
We don’t get to mansplain sexism to women, or whitesplain racism to people of color. “Don’t assume you know what it feels like,” says SAR Foundation founder Rupande Mehta. “Please don’t explain to us what it means to be a woman of color…if you don’t know, please ask.”
Cynthia P adds: “Just let a woman say what her experience is and don’t try to recast it…and don’t call me emotional…me showing annoyance or passion for something doesn’t mean I’m being ‘hysterical…’ It happens enough that I have to change how I say things to white men, in order to get things done…And stop talking over us! Just stop – stop interrupting us and repeating the same thing that we did and taking credit for it.”
#3: DO support feminist women of color.
“Hire women of color!” says Cynthia P. “Give them power…women of color are not making the kind of money that we need to be making. White men are disproportionately able to affect that.”
Follow and retweet individuals like Soraya Chemaly, Kimberle Crenshaw and Alicia Garza. Financially support groups like the Women of Color Network. Read bell hooks and other feminist and womanist authors, and recommend and discuss those readings with fellow white males.
#4: DON’T automatically unfriend all your white racist friends.
Unfriending someone is an understandable response for self-preservation, but it benefits us rather than working to end racism and sexism. “There are some things that you can say to your white male friends that I can’t say,” says Cynthia P, “even if it’s the same exact thing. When I say them, I’m dismissed as radical, as biased, as having an agenda. When you say them, you’re given more wiggle room because of the intersections of your privilege.”
If some white males will only listen to other white males, it’s essential that we speak to them—while also urging them to listen to and value other voices. “Educate your family members,” says author and activist Zoe Flowers. “Given the fact that everything is so polarized right now…if that education doesn’t happen, then things are not going to change.”
#5: DO speak up, show up and be visible—as an accomplice.
“I’m uncomfortable with the word ‘ally,’ because at some point people are going to have to lay down…they’re going to have to risk something,” says Cynthia P. “Lend your support visibly, not just in the private messages of someone who is going through (racist and sexist attacks)…You’re the one who has enough privilege to actually stand up to the vitriol that women of color are absorbing…You could lighten the load by being visible.”
Flowers adds: “Make your voices heard…when you look at Black Lives Matter, or any number of police shootings – where are the white male allies? Be present—optically present. Write articles, organize on college campuses.”
Be an accomplice, not an ally.
#6: DON’T remain silent.
“By your silence and inaction, you are actively and passively holding up an oppressive power structure. The least you can do is try and neutralize that effect,” says Cynthia P. “If you’re in a meeting, and a woman is contributing, then a man is speaking over her—you as a white man have an opportunity to say, ‘Oh, isn’t that what she just said?’”
A recent Black Lives Matter article also urges white people to stop remaining silent. Women in the Obama administration committed to echoing and supporting each other’s ideas in meetings—“Imagine if the men got in on this, too!” Cynthia P. said.
#7: DO realize that it’s in our best interest to confront racism, sexism and other forms of hate and discrimination.
“White men shouldn’t be active because they care about women,” Flowers said. “They should be active because this is going to affect THEIR lives—THEIR children’s lives…We are all connected. It’s like teen pregnancy—nobody cared about teen pregnancy when Black and Latina girls, when poor girls were getting pregnant. Since nobody cared, it traveled out to the suburbs…then suburban girls started getting pregnant, and it becomes a show on MTV. Communities of color are like the canary in the coal mine. If it’s happening to us, sooner or later it could be your child.”
Cynthia P adds: “Even if it never gets to white people, it is still a drain on your soul–it is still a debt that you have to somehow pay. It is still an injustice that you are contributing to, and benefitting from.”
#8: DON’T take the focus off confronting sexism and racism.
Right now is not the time to defend the President by pointing out the things he’s done that you agree with. When other white men are accused of sexism, racism, violence against women—don’t play “devil’s advocate” and say there are “two sides to every story.” Don’t say they are a “pillar of the community.” And for goodness sake, don’t say “All Lives Matter!” When we say that, it’s a slap in the fact to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Sure, to us it seems more accurate, but that’s because in general, our lives HAVE mattered more as white men.
#9: DO stay engaged sustainably and accountably.
“This is a long, slow burn,” says Cynthia P. “Women of color have been in this fight at the expense of their lives forever. You have got to be able to do more than just speak up at a meeting once in awhile.”
Let’s pace ourselves so we can stay engaged in a sustainable manner. If you work in the feminist anti-violence movement, join the “Self-Care for Advocates” Facebook group.
#10: DON’T give up.
If you have to take a self-care break, come back. Flowers: “As a white male if you want to disengage, you can,” Flowers noted. “If you are feeling overwhelmed, if you want to tap out, you can just be like, ‘I’m good.’ But realize there is a consequence to that…people’s lives are at stake.”
It is our choice to get involved and stay involve. Let’s make that choice, and support one another to do the right things.
Ben Atherton-Zeman lectures and performs a feminist one-man play on college campuses and in communities. He lives with his amazing wife Lucinda in Maynard, MA—they have no children except for themselves.
First posted on the Ms Magazine blog (at http://msmagazine.com/blog/2017/07/25/10-dos-donts-white-guys-era-trump/). Reposted with permission.