Dear White Women
I see you. I hear you. I read your comments. I know what you think because you make it clear.
If Mike Brown had never gone into that store, if Eric Garner had just done what he was told, if Tamir Rice hadn’t been allowed to play with a toy gun, they would all be alive now. What happened to them was sad, but they brought it on themselves, right?
You show no sympathy for Mike Brown or Eric Garner or the other black people killed by the police. You show no empathy for me, as a fellow woman, as a black woman who has once again watched her country fail.
(OK, fine #NotAllWhiteWomen. I get that, but if you’re not doing these things then I’m not talking to you.)
I, on the other hand, have empathy for you. I get where you’re coming from. I do. I am female too and I live in the world and in this country. It has been made clear to us from the beginning of our lives that we are not valued either. Further, it has been made clear to you, White Woman, that Black Men are the greatest danger you could possibly face.
Now that isn’t true but the lie is hard to overcome seeing as it has been repeated so many time and in so many ways.
Like I said, I get it. I do.
But it’s not OK and you need to stop it. You need to reach down into yourself and find both sympathy for the dead and empathy for those still living. You have to. This is not optional. You have to do it for your own mental and emotional health. You have to do it for your spiritual health, assuming you believe in such a thing. You have to do it because to do otherwise is to ally yourself with your own enemies.
Does this surprise you?
Nope. Sorry. The people who most benefit from things like this, not just to police officers that are killing people but the politicians and regular citizens who see violence against the people they don’t value as a tool of control? They hate you too. They hate you and they hurt you.
It’s not like the people who are defending the Darren Wilsons and Daniel Pantaleos of America are respecting and valuing women while they disrespect and devalue People of Color.
That doesn’t happen.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that at least some of the people reading this have been in abusive relationships. Because, you know 60% of women have.
I need you to remember what that was like. Remember being in the thick of it. Don’t look back on it from a place of (what I hope is) improved mental health and physical safety. That’s who you are now.
Remember who you were then.
Remember the person who defended and made excuses for her abuser.
Remember the woman who explained away bruises and tears.
Remember the first time.
Remember the tenth time.
Remember the hundredth time.
Now remember what your abuser said to you.
If you didn’t make me so angry.
If you did things right.
If you were more respectful
That person convinced you that you were responsible for your abuse. They convinced you that you were to blame and that only you could improve the situation. They convinced you that if you acted in a specific way, which they defined and changed at will, you would be safe.
They did. That’s why you stayed.
Please don’t think I’m blaming you for staying. I’m not. I am one of you, not a White Woman, but a survivor of abuse. I stayed too.
I stayed for a lot of reasons but the primary reason was gaslighting. I bought in to the idea that my understanding of relationships; that they should be based on shared respect and autonomy, on valuing the basic humanity of your partner and working together toward a better life, was wrong. I allowed myself to be convinced that I was misremembering every snide remark, every deliberately hurtful action, every dollar spent to keep us poor and desperate.
And I stayed, just like you. Not only did I stay, I tried to be less provocative. I tried to be what he wanted me to be because I believed that it would stop if I could just figure out the magical formula that would make me acceptable and respectable.
Because gaslighting fucking works. It’s horrible if you are subject to it, but it’s effective. That’s why they keep doing it.
You dressed like a slut. If you had just worn clothes that were decent you would have been fine. You deserved it.
You didn’t have my dinner on the table. If you could just keep house properly you would have been fine. You deserved it.
Why are you crying? Words don’t hurt. You’re so emotional. You’re overreacting. If you would just stop being such a crazy bitch you would be fine. You deserve it.
And you know what? America has been gaslighting our black citizens since about 1619.
Taryvon was just a thug. He wasn’t a kid walking home who was attacked for walking while black. If He deserved it.
Mike Brown stole! He attacked the officer! If he had just not committed a minor crime, if he had just been respectful to the officer he would have been fine. He deserved it.
Eric Garner was illegally selling cigarettes. If he had just accepted the three police officers surrounding him and aggressing against him after he broke up a fight and helped his neighborhood, he would have been fine. He deserved it.
Black people are just thugs.
Black people deserve it.
It’s not true.
You know it’s not true, just like it wasn’t true when your abuser tried to gaslight you into responsibility for your abuse.
Remember, as well those moments when you had taken so much that rather than staying silent and accepting the abuse in the hopes it would lessen the duration of each incident, you let your pain show through.
Remember what happened? Either your abuser showed what you couldn’t admit at the time was satisfaction, because that’s the point of abuse, for your abuser to feel their power over you, or they doubled down on the gaslighting.
They made it about them. They told you how much It hurt them to hurt you. Or maybe they didn’t even admit that they were hurting you. Maybe it was just another example of you being “crazy.” Oh how good they were to you that they would stay and put up with that kind of “insanity.” Aren’t you grateful? Don’t you feel sympathy for their pain?
You know what is true? Not only did you not deserve to be abused, you deserved a healthy and respectful relationship.
Not abusive is the absolute minimum that a person should be able to reasonably expect from an interaction with another human,. This applies to relationships between individuals and interactions between the society and the citizens that make up that society.
I mean, clearly it isn’t, but it should be.
Now I want you to remember something else. Remember the moments when you felt like you couldn’t take any more but did.
Not the moment you decided to leave, that is coming up. I mean the moment you kind of got through to your abuser for a minute and convinced them, somehow, that maybe they should not abuse you so constantly and overtly.
The abuse didn’t stop, of course, but you may have had a moment or a week or a month of respite. You had a period of time wherein maybe instead of screaming in your face that you are a cheating slut and punching you, your abuser just checked you text messages and stalked you.
It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been, so it felt like good. You forced your abuser to step back and mitigate the worst of the abuse and that made you feel powerful and in control. It also created a situation where you were more accepting of “lesser” abuse.
Yeah, abuse skews your perceptions. Because what the fuck is lesser abuse? I typed it and I don’t really know what it is.
It skewed to perceptions of black Americans to the point wherein lack of respect and recognition of our basic humanity felt like good as long as we had access to lunch counters and didn’t have to sit at the back of the bus.
We convinced ourselves that not being overtly abused was the same as not being abused at all. But we were wrong.
Just like you were wrong when you believed that being stalked was the same as not being abused.
We, all of us were wrong.
Why? Because we were trapped in the idea that this relationship, be it personal or societal was the best we could do.
And that’s not our fault. It’s an extension of the gaslighting. It’s what they told us and told us, over and over again, in shouts and whispers, with fists and bullets, until we believed it.
Now I want you to remember the moment when you were done.
Whatever it was, whatever thing or thought or feeling that led you to get out and first I want to say that I’m glad. I hope you are healthier now. I hope you are happy. I hope you are safe.
Second, I bet that the moment we knew we had to leave was very similar for all of us. No matter the actual form it took, at its core, that moment is the one wherein we stopped buying in to the concept that a little bit of not abuse is the same as healthy and happy and safe.
It is the moment you knew that you had value, that you have a right to respect, that you deserve better.
Let me say that again:
YOU DESERVE BETTER
And so do we.
You deserve to live life happy, healthy, and safe.
So do we.
You woke up and valued yourself enough to step, or run, away from that unhealthy, unsafe environment.
We woke up too but we can’t really just dump our country. I mean, some people can but those people have already moved because they had the money to do so.
For the rest of us, while we appreciate the fact that we don’t have to sit in the back of the bus anymore, that America has stopped the larger, more visible abuse, the more insidious “lesser” abuse continues. It is American society reading our texts and stalking us. It’s not healthy. It’s not safe. It’s not the kind of life we all deserve.
We deserve better.
We deserve not to be criminalized for existing.
We deserve the same basic steps that our justice system says are our right.
We deserve to not be summarily executed because we have been accused of a crime.
We deserve to be able to adjust our waistline or reach for our phone and not have the whole world respond as if that is a threat.
We deserve that, just like you deserved not to be abused.
Everyone deserves to live a life free of abuse and when you White Woman, person I can usually count on to be my ally in struggles against the 1% and misogyny or for Gender and Sexual Minority rights and marriage equality, refuse to stand with me on this issue of race and the value of black people in America you ally yourself with my abusers.
You become just like the person who hurt you.
You hurt us through your indifference and your willingness to gaslight us.
You hurt us with your colorblindness and you insistence that our pain, black American’s shared pain has so little value that we cannot name it. You hurt us when you tut and wag your finger and tell us that all lives really matter and I shouldn’t concentrate on “just” black lives.
You hurt us when you shake your head at the violence in Ferguson and ignore the 100 days of peaceful protests that preceded it and when you ignore the blatant provocation of the authority figures in that community.
When you do this, when you devalue our pain, when you try to co opt it and make it about you, when you tell us that we deserve the abuse that is heaped upon is, it chokes me. It chokes me with anger. It chokes me with disappointment. It simply chokes me and I can’t breathe.
It chokes me, because I know that you can do better than this. I know, as a fellow survivor, that abuse is not an easy thing to live through. It’s not an easy thing to leave behind. I know that you can do better than this, in your everyday life, in conversations and online.
I know that you have both the fortitude and the integrity to shut down other people when they start to act like the people who abused us both.
I know that you have the ability to look silently outraged at someone until they stop trying to convince you and everyone who is listening that Tamir Rice deserved to be killed for playing with a toy gun.
I know that you have the strength to ask why it matters that Mike Brown may have stolen some cigars and to point out that petty theft isn’t actually a crime that one can be executed for in this country.
You have the responsibility to speak out in spaces where my voice, and the voices of the people who look like me and are most directly impacted by the issue of racism will never be heard.
I know that you can do this because to think otherwise lessens you as a person of strength who survived so much and I won’t do that to you.
I believe that you will do this because to believe otherwise brings back that choking sense of disappointment and righteous anger and I can’t breathe.