The only way I can write meaningfully about Black Lives is if I don’t write about it.
The only thing that comes close to me understanding white supremacy is if I look at my experience as a feminist.
It’s too late for me to say “This isn’t right” or, “This should have never happened.” So, I do what I think all white folks should do. Look around, look within, try to understand, support, and be prepared to come short.
Before you come on this journey with me, one little note. It is my journey. I don’t think it is the only, or best, way.
This personal reflection serves to create a bridge between MeToo and Black Lives Matter, and provide fuel for future movements against oppression.
But first, a detour
I posted #MeToo without any knowledge of what it was to become. I saw a post, resonated, and shared.
In just under a year, 19 million tweets echoed globally with #MeToo (Pew Research). Meanwhile, I unraveled. I began grappling with reopened wounds, looking at gender inequality statistics, wondering, ‘How did I not see this?’
(The answer: gaslighting. “It’s all in your head, lighten up, babe!”)
Before 2018, I had experienced sexual assault, rape, coerced touch, and hundreds of harassing comments on my physical appearance.
Spelling that out is a handful. Imagine what it’s like for it to dawn on me that all of it had seemed okay. It’s like watching a tsunami slowly approach you while your feet are stuck in the sand. You don’t know if you’ll survive the impact, but you don’t exactly have a choice.
I needed to hear the voices of millions of women to begin listening to my own. At first, the voice was not hopeful. It was sad, deeply hurt, and angry.
With time, the voice got resilient.
One year post-MeToo.
#BlackLivesMatter had been alive for 5 years, with increased exposure after #OscarsSoWhite in early 2015.
I paid attention to it for a few seconds, minutes if I’m being generous. But it didn’t affect me. I wasn’t fearing for my life if I heard a police siren. I’d never been stopped and searched.
I was the “I don’t see color” chick in College Humor’s satirical sketch.
I called myself a feminist, but not an intersectional feminist. In my head, it was all getting a bit complicated, and who wants complications when it’s not their problem?
‘Let the gays fight for gay rights, let the Black folks fight for Black lives,’ I figured. ‘I will fight for women’s rights. There’s enough on my plate.’
To confront white supremacy would have meant confronting my guilt, my upbringing, the privilege I had labeled “luck” or “hard work”.
That was my first lesson. If it doesn’t happen to you, your incentive to learn and provide allyship is below the threshold to act.
Which, ironically, is what annoyed me about guys who said things like, “oh now I can’t even flirt anymore!”
Fork in the road
The Year When It Happened (you’re welcome, Lin.)
My own dreams and obstacles were blinding me to the struggle of people not born white. Witnessing the pain of Black communities across the world, I realized I was living in an airy-fairy world.
My adoptive country hangs on to its colonial roots. Westminster men in suits acted surprised that Brits “borrowed” the Black Lives Matter protests from the States.
But during one protest in Tottenham, London, it was clear that racism and police brutality in Britain was alive and thriving.
Mothers, brothers, and survivors. Fighting tears to tell their stories. Passing the microphone like a baton of power. Sharing tales of loss, injustice, and alienation.
A 14-year old: stopped and searched by the police in their underwear in broad daylight, then kidnapped for 4 days without informing parents or siblings.
A 12-year old with a toy gun: handcuffed, with an actual gun to their head, while their mother was watching TV in the next room.
“The police are not above the law, but they act like it,” said the mother of Siyanda, imprisoned after defending herself against racist attackers.
Black organizers going around puffing sunscreen in white people’s hands.
People arriving in wheelchairs having been tazed by police.
I saw love and I saw anger.
I chanted even though the words didn’t belong to me.
Facebook is racist.
But you already knew that, didn’t you?
One day, I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed, looking for a specific influencer. I’ve drawn a blank on the name.
I head to my “Following” list and I scroll. And scroll. And scroll.
Some activist accounts pop up in the first half, predominantly feminist, mainly white. The sorting is set to “Default”. (What is Default?)
In the bottom 30%, the majority of the BIPOC accounts crop up.
Tarana Burke, Sadiq Khan, Jameela Jameel, Adwoa Aboah, Nyome Nicholas-Williams, Bernadine Evaristo, Mindy Calling, Viola Davis, Ilhan Omar, Munroe Bergdof, Kwame Kwei-Armah.
Scroll, scroll scroll.
Finally! The name I’m looking for — Rachel Cargle.
Why are my “Following” list and my news feed pushing content from non-BIPOC accounts? Instagram knows my penchant for activism. But it also knows I’m white, so it assumes I don’t want to see Black voices in my feed.
“If there is not the intentional and action-based inclusion of women of color, then feminism is simply white supremacy in heels.”
- Rachel Cargle
Without the BLM outcry of 2020, details like this would have passed me by.
White people problems are unlike Black people problems. Ditto white women problems.
From a solution-oriented perspective, I believe this to be true. From an emotional perspective, all humans are able to feel grief, shame, rage, and sadness.
Shared pain, of whatever source, enables us to help those who are different from us.
This is why I see MeToo and BLM as intrinsically linked. Both are social justice waves. Both erupted when enough was enough (goddamn it). Both spoke to the inner pain felt across millennia, miles, and cultures. Both asked for equality in an unequal world.
Their intersection has been well-documented, though not widely distributed.
Moya Bailey christened the word “misogynoir” in 2008. A blend of misogyny and racism, Moya explains it as a “uniquely synergistic force of these two oppressions amalgamating into something more harmful than its parts.”
Rachel Cargle created poignant parallels between racism and misogyny (especially constructed for white feminists). “When you seek to not be lumped into the conversation about oppressive systems against marginalized people, because you view yourself as woke, you are essentially screaming ‘not all men.’”
Most importantly, under the eye of the law, intersectionality can save lives and livelihoods. The coiner of the term, Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, explained its importance in advancing legal work. “Intersectionality was a prism to bring to light dynamics within discrimination law that weren’t being appreciated by the courts,” she said in Vox, referring to the DeGraffenreid v. General Motors case in 1976.
Finally, Tarana Burke said about #MeToo that it’s “essentially about survivors supporting survivors.”
Is the movement for Black lives about that too?
If so, survivors of MeToo have a responsibility to survivors of Black oppression.
It falls upon those who benefit from this oppression to take a critical stance and ask, “What can I do?”
Misogynoir and Kamala Harris, by Moya Bailey
Talking About Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, by Linda S. Greene, Lolita Buckner Inniss, and Bridget J. Crawford