Is Our Allyship an Act of Service, or a Performance?
We women are are riding a sea change.
There is an emerging awareness amongst my peers, white women who share my beliefs and social values, that we should focus on issues that concern us. Issues that newly concern us. Issues affecting women that don’t look like us – women of color. How they live. How they birth. Where their voices are heard. What space they are allowed to take up. What resources they are able to use, to achieve their own visions for their lives and communities. How THEY will tell their stories.
The true work of advocacy for women of color — black women, hispanic women, indigenous women — has been done BY women of color, since the earliest days of our country’s oppressive history. Read the origin stories of Native American women. Listen to an indigenous womb healer tell you her lineage. Track down a Southern grandmother who watched her siblings born into the hands of a granny midwife. Meet your neighborhood herbalist.
White women are not agents for women of color. This will not help anyone heal.
I’m embarrassed how far behind I am. I believe all white feminist women should be. Six months of passionate activism cannot remove a generational wound of looking the other way. Face it: my grandmothers, and mother, and I, all turned from our sisters’ trauma, for generations.
I am complex, a woman of contradictions. Yet my story is the dominant one in our culture. The one that is easy to share, because it is easily heard. I am white, raised more or less Christian, the third generation in my family to attend college. I am married, heterosexual, experience no physical disabilities, have been able to be employed since the age of 15. I enjoy living in the body / gender of my birth. I have private health insurance. I gave birth to a healthy child. I have never had to file for bankruptcy. I speak English.
Those ways my story diverges from the norm … my exceptions, are not immediately apparent when someone looks at me.
As a registered nurse, I have served many diverse populations of women for over a decade. Yet, I have served them in willful ignorance. I went to one of the most highly renowned academic institutions in the country. I have worked in the most prestigious hospitals. “Evidence-based practice” did not protect me from delivering racist healthcare to black and brown women. I, like my colleagues, have immediately dismissed young black mothers who arrive on ambulance stretchers, because they are pregnant with their fourth baby at age 25. I’ve struggled and scoffed at using the interpreter line, to explain a procedure to a terrified woman in her Native Somali. I’ve caught myself checking on my white, privately insured patient first, and treating her pain more attentively, than I did my Spanish-speaking, Medicaid insured patient in the room down the hall.
I went to NYU. I got my first passport in junior high school, my second one in college. I traveled to Europe, South Africa, to countries whose citizens are forbidden from entering my country, whose women and children are deprived water and shelter when they try to find refuge in my country, who are arrested and deported for trying. I traveled for pleasure. I studied world religions. I chanted sanskrit in yoga class. I bought a dreamcatcher. I had black boyfriends. I learned to speak Spanish. Not because I wanted to serve Spanish-speaking communities, but because it would look good on my college application.
I was wrong, and I’m sorry.
I’m selfish, and I’m sorry.
I am part of the problem.
Saying I’m sorry, over and over, will not be enough. I have to show up.
I have to stop thinking I deserve more space because my grandfather went to MIT. Because my mother was a white liberal feminist. Because I went to a good school. Because my father had good credit.
I have to stop acting as a savior for women of color. I have to stop inviting them into MY spaces, instead of helping to create spaces that belong to us both. I have to be tender, humble, and careful. I have to shut the fuck up and listen.
I am not ashamed of who I am. But I am responsible. And I must be accountable.
It’s not a social media account. It doesn’t have a deceptive, exotic logo. It does not boast images of beautiful women of color, to justify its feminist credibility.
Accountability shows up, day after day, and does the work. Accountability admits when she fucked it up. Accountability does not turn her head away. She asks the deeper question, she wants to know more, she wants the truth.
She comes through.
She’s donating money.
She’s sending people to school.
She’s raising funds for the non-profit.
She’s doing the work.
She’s telling the truth about where she’s at, and who helped her get there.
This conversation is about me, so I will ask myself right now:
Am I serving, or exploiting?
Am I sincere, or am I selling something?
Am I trustworthy? What’s my motivation?
Am I ready to do the work?