Dear Black Women,
Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for holding me physically and emotionally. Thank you for checking in on me even when I’d only known you a few days.
Thank you for smiling at me across the room while we were stranded in a sea of white faces. Thank you for giving me the hair advice I needed and for teaching me in person and through Youtube and Pinterest how to do things to my hair I could never have taught myself. Thank you for seeing me when no one else did.
Thank you for writing songs that made me feel less alone, less disconnected to Black culture than I sometimes felt living in small, mostly white towns. Thank you for writing songs that made me feel like there might be a place for me in the world as a Black bisexual woman. Thank you for every poem, story, novel, and memoir that has shaped and validated me. Thank you for continuing to create art that challenges and restores.
Thank you for being so damn beautiful. Thank you for disproving every standard of ideal beauty that centers whiteness and for not letting the haters take away your ability to slay. Thank you for making me feel like I can sometimes be beautiful too.
Thank you for showing me how to get over. Thank you for showing me how to be strong and vulnerable – how to be compassionate but intolerant of foolishness. Thank you for showing me how to side eye the mess out of someone.
Thank you for speaking up and speaking out. Thank you for teaching me how to hold onto my own voice when the world would rather I shut up. Thank you for challenging me to be more than I thought I could be. Thank you for showing me that I am enough.
Dear Black Women,
Thank you for being you.
When I enter women-only spaces that are predominantly white, in person or online, small or large, I remember moments like the time a white woman asked me whether I thought the challenges Black female leaders in the military face were due to racism or sexism or both as if I could neatly divide the effects of racism and sexism on Black women. I remember white women in a class on human diversity and social interaction co-opting a discussion on racism with sobs about their guilt over their privilege while the handful of Black students in the room sat silent and impassive watching the Black adjunct allow it to happen. I remember growing up in small, predominantly white Christian schools where white girls who called themselves my friends told me directly and indirectly that I wasn’t Black enough to enjoy Black culture or alternatively that Blackness was something that anyone could put on to add entertainment to a space and thus shouldn’t be an important differentiating factor between my view of the world and theirs. I remember, and I am immediately fatigued at the thought of being in a space where any of those moments (or similar moments) could happen again.
That is why women’s spaces are not inherently safe or healing for me. Too often, generic women’s spaces (i.e. spaces not specifically for women of color/Black women) have been draining and silencing. They have made me fear speaking my truth because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or ruin my interracial friendships. And when I have dared to speak my truth despite my fears, they have made more space for white women to speak out of their entitlement than for me to speak out of my personal experiences.
I wanted for so long to believe that intentional women-only spaces, especially feminist ones, were near utopias where regardless of race, class, ability status, sexual orientation, etc. women could bond in universal womanhood and be protected from the oppression of mainstream society, especially in the form of patriarchy. But the more time I’ve spent in predominantly white women’s spaces, the more deeply I’ve understood how unjustified that belief was. White women are just as likely as white men to put their interests, wants, and needs ahead of the needs, wants, and interests of Black women. In the past three years, I’ve seen white women turn the aftermath of almost every racism-based tragedy in America into a moment to prioritize their feelings about race relations over Black women’s (and honestly Black people in general). I have seen numerous white women discuss feminist issues without making even a small space to consider how race plays into those issues. And each time these things happen, I have found myself alternating between staying silent or treading ever so carefully with my words lest I shatter the glass cage of white fragility protecting women’s spaces.
That is tiring work, and I am finally fed up with it. I have been disappointed by predominantly white women’s groups too many times to keep hoping for the best. At least, for now. Which is why I’m taking a break from these spaces in person and online. Not because I hate white women or because I don’t think I can form any honest, deep emotional connections with them. Not because I don’t believe any good can come from predominantly white women’s spaces. But because I’m at a point in my life where I can neither be silent in the face of white entitlement nor waste the precious emotional resources I have fighting white privilege in spaces I sought out for rejuvenation.
God truly bless the Black women who have the energy to fight that fight. I don’t expect to be joining their ranks any time soon.