While sitting on the bus returning home from the D.C. Women’s March, I have been obsessively scrolling through today’s news and social media feeds, hungry for political news and international coverage of the protest marches. As part of this, I have seen many POC post about how the Women’s March in D.C. was really just a white feminist love fest. And, no joke, I did think to myself a few times yesterday, “Damn, there are so many white people here. Where is everybody else?”
I must have read at least five of these “white feminist focus” links before it dawned on me that I was very much a part of the problem yesterday.
Mary Schmich, a Tribune columnist, recently posted about how she always has a “Word of the Year.” She has done this for several years and, each time, I reflect on what I would want for my own WOTY to be. I read Mary’s column this morning, and I realized that I don’t need a word for 2017. Instead, I need an abbreviation.
My 2017 Abbreviation of the Year is “STFU.” As in, “Lori, seriously, stop talking when POC are sharing their perspectives. STFU right now. This shit is not about you.”
While at the march yesterday, one of the young ladies in my group, Alex, was stopped by a Spanish-speaking television station for an interview. Alex had been carrying a stark and powerful sign that said “Latinas Unidas.” The sign, combined with her determined demeanor, may have been why the journalist asked her why she was marching.
Alex told her how important it was for her community’s perspective to be heard at the march and how both documented and undocumented folks were deeply concerned by the new administration’s anti-immigration rhetoric. Another bilingual woman in our group, Aive, shared her opinion on the importance of Latina voices and how we needed to work together towards meaningful change.
As they both spoke, I leaned in and carefully listened to their comments. I love it when I hear native Spanish speakers conversing. The language is so melodic and I still get a tiny shiver of pleasure when a phrase is used that I haven’t heard in awhile. I always make a mental note to up my own game and try to work it into a future conversation.
So there I was, smiling and nodding while Alex and Aive spoke. And then I did the wrong thing: I said that I agreed. In Spanish, of course.
And here’s the flat-out truth of the situation: I wanted to speak and direct the attention to myself. It was briefly satisfying to see the journalist’s face register surprise that the tall, glow-in-the-dark, whiter-than-white lady was understanding the conversation and had responded appropriately.
And, really, this is what is bothering me today. I jumped in because I wanted that small ego boost. I wanted the “oh, that white lady knows Spanish?” look. I wanted to indicate that I understood their conversation and, somehow, their experiences too. How self-indulgent. How ridiculous. How pathetic.
I should have listened carefully to Alex and Aive’s interviews....and that should have been it. It was not my place to say to a Latina journalist why it was important for “us” to be marching. My “us” is not her “us.” My “us “ is steeped in white privilege and entitlement. I have never in my life had someone tell me to go back to my own country. Or had someone tell me that I should speak English when conversing with someone in Spanish. Or felt worried that I wouldn’t get something I deserved because I was a white woman.
As I ponder the activist momentum generated by the march, I need to remember that it may be most beneficial for me to simply be silently present. To be there in silence and solidarity. I need to more actively participate in the Black Lives Matter movement. I need to listen carefully when all POC are speaking about their concerns. They do not need to hear my whitesplaining about an issue that I will never truly understand. (And, sheesh, I hope I have never whitesplained any of you. I just felt my ears get hot with embarrassment at the very thought.)
However, I will continue to use my voice when I am advocating for my students, whether they are white or POC. I will do my best to guide them in conversations about social justice and tolerance. I will gladly continue to write their letters of recommendation and connect them to resources that have popped up on my white lady radar. It is my professional responsibility and greatest joy to help them, and I will gladly continue on that path.
But, truly, in the adult world, my white lady voice is a distraction and an annoyance. It is. One of my favorite aphorisms is, “Those who are the loudest have the least to say.” It is time for me to walk that path more deliberately. I will show up. I will quietly support and, only if asked, will I say what I think.
In short, it’s time for me to shut the fuck up and focus on listening to the POC around me. They don’t need my voice. I’m not even sure they need or want my presence. But if they do, I want to be there with them.
Silent and in solidarity.
And, by the way, here's Mary Schmich's article on her Word of the Year. It's a nice read.