This may be a tough message for some of you to receive, but please read to the end.
On behalf of too many folks in rage, tears, or paralyzed numbness, I am asking white women to reflect on how many frontline people of color you are actively supporting in our current and historical reality of state-sponsored racial terrorism. (I’m not even bothering to talk to white men by now, because why bother?) Giving thumbs up on Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez memes does not count. Sticking to a purely feminist angle, please reflect on how many times you have received direct compassionate support from women of color when you were momentarily in the fire. Then ask yourself, when was the last time you proactively reached out to see how your non-white friends are doing? In case you don’t read the news, many of us turn up dead while you are watching Netflix or enjoying vacations that we can’t afford. The reign of terror is even heavier on queer, trans and Indigenous bodies, hearts and souls.
You may have occasional crises, but we are in the line of fire pretty much all the time. This is not our personal fault, but a set of structural conditions caused by centuries of horrific history. At this point, many of us are scared into near constant adrenaline cycling, reacting from personal and epigenetic trauma, remembering slave ships, lynchings, burning crosses, gang rapes, tribal boarding schools, forced marches, smallpox blankets, hunting dogs, police beatings, church bombings, “whites only” signs (and the price for defying them), Texas Rangers, massacres, the Exclusion Act, historical and current deportations. Writing that list makes me want to spew but it’s none too distant history that continues to haunt us.
If you care at all about social justice or our shared humanity, are you actively offering to hold copies of our passports and ID cards, to be a contact or fundraiser in case of legal or medical emergency, or to even ask what form of support we most need at the moment?
For those inclined to say, “Why don’t you just ask for help?,” my response is that it is a cruel and unusual lack of emotional empathy, personal reciprocity and social solidarity to expect us to simultaneously deal with personal trauma, family and ancestral trauma, racist interactions at work, fear of getting shot at the grocery store or while at worship, nightmares about getting caged after visiting family across the border, and still reach out to you. This is doubly true if we have lovingly checked in during your times of personal or community crisis. Having to beg for your emotional reciprocity would reinforce our victimhood and we are done with that role. We’d rather fight this battle without you, which is a really fucked up place to be.
A Xicana elder said to me today, “I feel hunted.” Hunted. A retired school teacher feels HUNTED. If that doesn’t make you want to vomit and then DO SOMETHING to help her and people like us, then I don’t know who you are and frankly don’t want to know any more about you.
Liberation is collective. Do the joint work or prepare to get left behind. Once you read this, please do not contact me or any other woman of color unless you have self-examined, self-educated and can hold space for our pain without using us as a dumping ground for your own personal problems and collective white fragility. I’m naming it because if you are white in this country, you have to face your white fragility before you can be a real ally. We love you, but we’re not here to protect you from evil, just like we’re not here to scrub your toilet, nanny your children, or wipe the asses of your discarded elders. We and our ancestors have done all of those jobs in the past but no more. Personally, my last act of proactive engagement is to drop this #PuraChingona tough love message in your feed.
Every day I field calls from one or more woman on the edge of unraveling. They do the same for me. Yesterday brought me five straight hours of providing upliftment for two different women of color on opposite ends of the country, then a half hour talking with a racially denigrated man who offered to cook me dinner as a reward for the informal empowerment counseling that I do every day. I’m one of the lucky ones because I have people like him and woke supporters all over the country, because my cousin and his girlfriend checked in on me yesterday, because I’m already having these conversations with supportive listeners in my white-dominated spiritual community, and because I receive occasionally awkward but consistently authentic support from a local domestic violence organization. I know how to do that cultural translation. Most women of color have no reason at all to trust white women even as far as we can spit.
We all need clear boundaries. Which white women are available to hold me and other women of color community leaders so that we don’t break under steadily increasing pressure? I honor and acknowledge the women who have given me an hour or more of their precious private time over the past few weeks. You know who you are. A fraction of that time is provided by white women. The best support comes from those who habitually offer it. White women who are committed to this practice offer compassionate listening without sharing the genetic burden of racial traumas. These friends don’t get as triggered when we need help to overcome racist, sexist, homophobic violence. Yet most of my mental health care hours are with other women of color. The reason for this is that we actively check in with each other because we know we’ll go down if we don’t lift each other up. Still, this is too heavy of a load and many of my sisters are cyclically imploding. I’m one of the ones who won’t even try for a full time job again because the stress doesn’t match my personal and social justice needs, but that creates poverty as yet another pressure.
It’s outright unjust that white women as a whole are not carrying their fair share of the historical and social bullshit burdens that this country has to offer. Come pick some up from our doorsteps. I’m happy to sell you my extra portions at a discount just to get them off my hands.
It’s past time to examine which side of history you want to be on and take appropriate action. Know that many who have expressed love for you are in crisis or are at constant risk of crisis. What are you prepared to do to make sure that we don’t go down? Are you only invested in saving your own skin? Are you willing to hang us out to dry? The human and planetary rights movement is happening right in front of your eyes. What role are you brave enough to embrace? Which people actually matter to you? If we aren’t on your list of folks that you would die for, then stop preaching feminist solidarity because it’s a lie.
We may love your humanity, but if you don’t value ours just as much, then we are past racial reconciliation and are approaching people’s liberation armies in the streets. I may be a pacifist (at least for the past 46 years), but not all people of color are. Nor should they be if all you do is keep wringing your hands while others shoot us down, cage us and deport us to die. This country is on the edge of uprisings of Black Panther, Brown Beret and American Indian Movement proportions, not because we want violence, but because we are at the end of tolerance. Maybe that’s what it will take to get your attention. If that’s the case, you can’t claim ignorance in the vein of “What’s our country come to?” performances of woe when open revolution hits the streets.
In fact, I’m declaring this missive a People’s Executive Order outlawing passive-aggressive pandering to political power-brokers. Deal with ugly reality now by providing fierce loving support – just like we do for you – or all will soon face the consequences.
You may find this crude (which would be a glaring sign of your active white fragility), but it’s time to grab back your own pussy power, woman up like the badass bitches that you are, and do the human scale work of supporting, at the very least, women of color in your circles on a daily basis. Healing this delirious #AntiLife destruction of humanity and the Earth itself will take nothing less.
I have no idea how many people will give a shit about this message but I’m past the point of no return. I can’t contain any more of the collective pain that I’m witnessing so I’m writing it out because that’s the gift that I have to share. This letter may be addressed to white women, but it’s really for all my sisters and allies who have struggled to find words in recent weeks, months, years, our whole lives, the entire history of our lineages since Europeans arrived on this continent.
Any white person who doesn’t like what I have to say in this eloquently worded wake up call can feel free to get on a leaky boat and go back to where their ancestors came from, i.e. across the Atlantic. I’ve heard that European nations are suffering population decline and are worried about the post-colonial surge of dark-skinned immigrants hitting their shores, so I’m sure they’d be happy to have you.
As an authentic bruja mestiza, I’m perfectly within my rights to declare that only people who are willing to do the necessary work can stay on my mixed up ancestors’ homeland to help collectively heal this big, fat, racist, sexist, classist, supremacist mess. Everyone else is gonna burn in perfect cosmic timing. For those now clutching their pearls, this is not a curse. It’s an observation of earthly reality and deep awareness of heavenly law. Do with it what you will.
For collective liberation & universal love,
Wild Womanista, Dr. Ramona Lee Pérez
4 thoughts on “To white sister-friends & with pure love to WOC in the trenches”
Dr. Perez, I really appreciate what you’re saying in this article. Is there a national organization that can lead women of any color to organizations where they can help on a local level?
I read your article because another white woman asked me if I knew what she could do. I am an adult educator and do what I can. I did not have an answer for her.
She has an atypical white female experience because she was not born in this country, but she lives in an area where there aren’t a lot of people of color.
How can she find groups that do what you’re asking?
Honestly, as good of a person that she might be individually, she can’t change a culture just by being a good person. I know that she’s been searching for a group that she can participate in for several years. Please give me some direction so that I can pass it on to her. Thank you.
Thank you for this Ramona! For Melh227: For white people who may be interested in educating themselves, Robin DiAngelo’ s White Fragility is a place to start.
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This is tricky because most WOC organizations do not want to expend energy to educate outsiders. If I had a dollar for every time a woman of color daid, “I’m not dealing with white women because I’m focused on my own community,” I’d be filthy rich.
Practically speaking, contacting local organizations, which can usually be found with a Google search, and asking what support they are willing to accept from allies is a potential strategy. However, I’d only recommend this after the woman in question is fruitfully engaged in self-education and has gathered some skills in how to be a good ally. For example, trainings such as Undoing Racism and/or Upstander certification, plus perusing relevant readings on the history and impact of racism and the pervasiveness of white privilege and white fragility are excellent preparation.
In all honesty, nothing will irritate women of color more than well-meaning people who end up creating more work for us. Outright racists we will dismiss from the get go, yet many of us have had too many time-wasting experiences with liberal white women who haven’t done their own internal reckonings. It takes work to distinguish who can be an effective ally versus who will unwittingly impede the community transformation to which we are committed. All of that requires energy that we urgently need for ourselves and our work.
My best recommendation is to all is to do the necessary internal work, encourage others in your community to do theirs, self-educate about relevant issues and learn allyship skills, and only then approach women of color run organizations to offer direct support. Be prepared to have your overtures rejected until you find a good match. Remember that we are addressing our own traumas, navigatingbstructural inequalities, working on trust issues, and facing down external and internalized racism. My hope is that if everyone does their share of the necessary transformational work, eventually we’ll reach collective healing.
An excellent beginning is Googling readings and websites like Layla Saad’s book Me and White Supremacy https://www.meandwhitesupremacybook.com and attending workshops like Undoing Racism with The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond https://www.pisab.org/programs/
After unpacking your own internalized racism, consider direct action allyship training like the Upstander course through The Center for Anti-Violence Education. https://www.caeny.org/upstander-training.