I remember the first time I heard the word “privilege” used to describe my whiteness.
I remember the feeling of discomfort that bubbled and boiled inside of me. The momentary denial. “No, not me…” The onset of shame, guilt, embarrassment. “Maybe I have been granted a few legs up based on the color of my skin…maybe.”
I learned the word from another white woman; at the Harvard Social Enterprise conference in Boston in 2017. I learned it at a panel with a name something like “Activists, Advocates & Allies: Creating a Movement.” I learned it sitting in a room amongst other millennial women, mostly white, aching to “save the world.” (Hey, white savior complex.)
I learned the word from panelist Bob Bland, original co-founder of the Women’s March, the iconic feminist march that swept the nation in response to Trump’s election in 2016. Bob Bland - what a cool feminist name I remember thinking to myself. I was itching to hear from her, learn from her, absorb her movement-making energy.
She used the word “privilege” to describe her state in relativity to the other panelists she sat alongside. The other speakers on that panel - those speakers whose names I can’t seem to remember - included a leader at a local Cambridge advocacy group focused on Black rights and a founding member of the Black Lives Matter movement.
I can’t remember their names. I have a hard time really remembering what they talked about. Sitting there, soaking up the sunshiney rays of feminism and life-saving activism by Bob Bland, I completely bypassed the knowledge being imparted by the incredibly successful, intelligent Black women sitting and speaking right in front of me.
These two Black women called Bob out for the Women’s March not having Black representation at the start. I remember that. I remember feeling slightly attacked by the Black women that called her out for that.
I don’t have a nice ending to this story. That’s it.
I tell this story because it’s one that makes me feel sick to my stomach. It’s one that I’m ashamed of. But I have a hunch that I’m not the only white woman with a story like this. I’m just one that’s willing to admit my racist notions, habits and behaviors.
Each of us is on a personal journey to becoming more accepting, encouraging and supportive of the Black folx* in our communities. It’s okay not to be right at first. It’s okay to make mistakes. But it’s not okay not to admit it. We have the opportunity - every day - to change our minds, to check our biases, to improve our behaviors. White privilege is real. Check yourselves and do better, sisters.
Oh and when I say sisters, I mean all wxmen**. Intersectional feminism is where it’s at.
P.S. Bob Bland made her exit from the Women’s March nonprofit in 2019 under allegations of anti-semitism and other internal controversies. The irony...
*folx: The spelling has been adopted by some communities because it can be used to indicate inclusion of marginalized groups. "Folx" vs "folks" indicates inclusion of other marginalized groups including people of color (POCs) and trans people. https://forfolxsake.com/what-does-the-term-folx-mean/
**wxmen: The "x" in "wxmen" vs. "women" welcomes those who identify as genderfluid, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, or https://www.dailydot.com/irl/womyn/#:~:text=Womyn%20is%20a%20term%20often,a%20trans%2Dexclusionary%20radical%20feminist.
Photo taken by Natalie at the Women's March Boston in January 2017.
There’s so much talk about women’s equality: but the truth is, it doesn’t matter how many policies are put in place, how many women have gone before us, if we don’t take the time to value who we are and what we have to offer the world with conviction and pride, if we don’t take a leadership role in our own life, nothing will change.