Friday, April 15, 2011

What can white women do?

Daisy is a hippie grandma, feminist, vegetarian and lifelong activist, living in South Carolina.  She blogs at Daisy's Dead Air

Years ago, I was being followed by some guy.  On a public street.  I was in my 20s, looking good.  And he kept whistling and trying to get my attention from about a half-block behind, "Hey!  Hey!"  and I didn't turn around, because he was *so* pushy and I was getting scared.  He was getting faster and was obviously quite determined.

Came to the red light,  Oh no, I thought,  he will catch up to me, waiting for the light to change.

"Hey!" he was yelling, "Hey! You gonna talk to me!?"

And a hippie appeared, looking predictably clueless and stoned.  When the guy following me yelled "Hey!" again and I pointedly ignored him again, the hippie walked behind me and inserted himself between the guy and me,  "You lost, man?  What?"  and gave me the necessary few seconds I needed to scurry across the street and down the block.
I have never forgotten that act of kindness, from someone who didn't even seem to be paying attention.  But he was.  More to the point, some feminist women undoubtedly told him that women were street-harassed and he had to the power to simply (as he did) put his physical male body between women and harassers.  It was like he had just been to some workshop, and he certainly *looked* like the type of man who would have attended.  He never looked at me.  He never expected me to do shit, or thank him, or anything.

He inserted himself into the situation,  He USED HIS POWER.  Of course, he first had to realize he *had* this power, even as a clueless stoner.

Years ago, I went to a demo about the police mistreatment of a black man in custody, who died under suspicious circumstances.  I was one of maybe 3 white people who attended.  At one point, the rally participants burned a confederate flag, which is still flying on State House grounds in my state.  The TV cameras suddenly ZOOMED IN; they obviously wanted the inflammatory footage of a buncha black people burning the flag.  I knew it would be the lead-in.  NOPE, I thought, and remembered my dear stoner, and I inserted myself into the shot, right up front.  I clapped and clapped when they burned it.  I'll mess up your shot, I thought, and ruin your racist-set up for the news.

And I did!  They didn't use the footage!  I messed it all up.  It just looked like a buncha liberal democrats burning it, not like a purely racial thing, which would have had the unfortunate result of targeting the black people in this small southern town, where everyone knows everyone else.

That is just an example.  I had the POWER to mess up their little racist news coverage.  But first, I had to realize it.  If I had been acting like a shy white woman, out of my league in this majority-black political demonstration (which I *did* feel like, BTW), well, I wouldn't have seen what the white news-guys were doing.  I wouldn't have acted.  I would have stayed back.

I do not know if the people in the demo realized they were being set up or not, but I did, and it was therefore my responsibility to act.

And there are lots of other times we can act... when the rich white ladies are getting snooty with my Mexican co-workers and their limited English, I jump in and take over.  (amazing how their tone of voice changes immediately!)    And now, my Latina co-workers specifically come and get me, since they know I will handle it and not tell anyone about it.  (I think that is called "being an ally.")

I take the stoner as my role model,.  He helped me, anonymously, when he didn't have to.  He showed me that yes, men can take responsibility for the actions of other men.  And I can do likewise; I can take responsiblity and act, when whites are being their whitest.

But first, I must *admit* and SEE that I can.

Editor's Note:  This post has generated some controversy.  Please see Iced-Chai's posts Well-Intended but Slightly Mistaken and Incidentally, this is part of the reason why I sometimes feel ashamed to identify as a white feminist. for rebuttal and additional perspectives.