We White women have been making headlines lately. I’ll start with the embarrassing ones.
By now, we’ve all heard the story and maybe seen the video of Amy Cooper and her Cocker Spaniel in Central Park on Memorial Day. Bird watcher Christian Cooper (no relation) asked her to put her dog back on the leash as the park rules required. She refused.
As their conversation continued, Ms. Cooper responded with over the top hysteria while Mr. Cooper recorded their interaction.
Ms. Cooper asked him to stop recording and when he refused, she opened up her own telephone: “I’m going [to call the police] to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
I typed the word “hysteria” above then deleted it then typed it again. I’m sorry to use the word but unfortunately it’s exactly the right word to use here.
And what is behind and beneath all the hysteria? We can only posit our theories. My theory: I think she knew what she was doing when she threatened Mr. Cooper but maybe – in this moment of panic – she only knew it subconsciously. I think her reaction came from a deep hidden place; a place of gut reaction.
She felt threatened (“why” is not my discussion here) and so she threatened in return. She called the police, using Mr. Cooper’s Blackness to amplify the imagined threat. She was trying to use the police to prove she was right: that Blackness is a threat.
She used the tactics of a bully to get her way: demeaning others in order to give oneself desperately needed meaning. Putting others down in order to put oneself in a position of greater power. It’s a time honored tactic.
“I’m not a racist,” Ms. Cooper kept insisting in the following media spotlight. Maybe not in her head, in her consciousness. But clearly her gut and her subconscious hide another reality.
It’s sad really. Ms. Cooper lost her job and lost her Cocker Spaniel. She was her own worst enemy.
Here’s another embarrassing headline.
Ms. McEnany is the latest White House press secretary (the third in three years) and in the push back after Trump’s stunt at St. John’s Church in Washington D.C., she said two things that give us some important insights.
First, she defended the fact that Trump used a Bible as a prop in his photo op by saying: “holding the Bible up, is something that has been wildly hailed by Franklin Graham and others…”
“Franklin Graham and others” were the intended audience here. Not the nation reeling in the chaos of pandemic, shut downs, police violence and protests – both peaceful and not so peaceful. Trump could have manipulated the moment to better purpose, at least pretending to offer words of comfort and courage using these symbols of faith.
But no. He didn’t even pretend to be there for the nation. Trump’s target group was White christianist voters. He continues to use them to his own political advantage, while Ms. McEnany enables him.
She may even be using them – and him – for her own agenda as well (my theories again). This brief time in the White House spotlight is quite a unique platform that allows her to increase her own fame. (Or infamy, as the case may be.)
The other thing Ms. McEnany did was to defend how the space at St. John’s was cleared out just before Trump’s bold, bossy walk. She did this with bald-faced lies.
She repeatedly claimed that “no tear gas was used, and no rubber bullets were used.” This claim is demonstrably false. She also said the purge was justified because protesters were throwing objects at police officers. Actual witnesses who were present in Lafayette Square deny this claim and insist the protesters around St. John’s Church were calm and orderly.
One of those actual witnesses is a White woman pastor and priest. I will believe Rev. Gini Gerbasi over Kayleigh McEnany any day.
Here’s the last headline I want to share. White women at our best.
“This is a line of white people forming a barrier between Black protesters and the police. This is love. This is what you do with your privilege.” (Kentucky National Organization for Women Facebook page)
White Women and Black Women
The women’s suffrage movement from the mid 1800’s – 1920 and then the feminist movement in the 1970’s are a mixed history. Sometimes we were at our best; sometimes at our worst.
Our suffragette mothers did some fearless and far reaching work and we all stand on their shoulders. But while we White women get to celebrate the centennial of our voting rights this fall, our Black sisters will have to wait until 2065 to celebrate theirs.
Despite all the important work by Black suffragists, the mainstream suffrage movement continued its racially discriminatory practices and even condoned white supremacist ideologies in order to garner southern support for white women’s voting rights…
Too many white suffragists in the South and the North continued to choose expediency over loyalty and justice when it came to Black suffragists.
This painful and shameful betrayal breaks my heart.
That mixed bag has continued as too many of us White women have been blind to the ways some of our own advantages have come at the expense of our Black sisters and brothers. Even we Woke women have our blind spots.
This must stop.
This year, right now, would be a good time for us White women to finally shed those blinders. Right now we have a prime opportunity to finally build a future of equity for everyone; a New Normal of basic fairness for all our sons and all our daughters.
Right now we can finally, actually and practically join forces and maximize the immeasurable strength of women. ALL women.
It’s not enough for us to say we’re not racist personally. It’s not enough to be nice to Black people and to have some Black friends.
It’s time for us to be explictly and noisily ANTI-racist. It’s time for us to be actively and creatively PRO-reconciling. It’s time for us to use the power society gives us to break down barriers and build bridges across the many divides that keep us apart.
This is what White women can do with our privilege. This is what All women will do when we are at our best.
Then we surely will be a force to be reckoned with.
African American Women and the Nineteenth Amendment by Sharon Harley. Posted at the National Park Service website.
St. John’s photo op Photo-by-BRENDAN-SMIALOWSKIAFP-via-Getty-Images
White Women in Louisville photo credit to Tim Drucker
The Rev. Jennifer Butler is CEO of Faith in Public Life, a network of 50,000 faith leaders united in the pursuit of justice and human dignity. Here is her recent essay: A call to conscience for white Christian women
Watch this video of strong Black women voters telling Joe Biden how to win them over.
My own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) holds as one of its Four Priorities of the Church: “to become a Pro-reconciling/Anti-racist church”