Unblocking Myself as an Anti-Racist
If you’re anything like me, as a white person you know that femme is a political identity. You know that we wouldn’t be anywhere without the activism of trans femmes of color who we have to thank for Pride because they fought back against police who continually harassed them as they were trying to survive through sex work. You know that to only credit white working class lesbian femmes of the 1950s for building up our identity erases the femmes of color who have been integral, too, and for whom femme is an identity of decolonized femininity. You know that the Black Lives Matter movement was started by black femmes and that’s not a coincidence.
You know that black trans femmes are arguably the most marginalized people in our society because of the criminalization of sex work, the criminalization of poverty, femmephobia, and transmisogynoir. You know that the struggle of black trans femmes is because they carry the brunt of our society’s white supremacist issues. You know that therefore they are best positioned to have the knowledge and skills to lead the revolution we need.
You know that while femmes as a whole are oppressed that not all femmes have the same lived experiences of oppression. You know that your positionality as a white person within white supremacy, and, as in my own case, your class privilege, your able-bodied privilege, your cis privilege, your educational privilege, and your privilege within Western beauty standards, results in your increased access to resources, a safety net, and social capital that other femmes don’t have. Even your complicated privileges of being straight-passing and not being ostracized entirely from your family of origin. You know that your lack of intersecting marginalized identities mean everything to your access to job security, healthcare, education, freedom in your self-expression, and so much more.
You know this, you know all of this. In this era of front-and-center white supremacy and fascism Martin Luther King Jr.’s words “no one is free until we are all free” circles around in your mind. You think about what side of history you want to be on. You know the conversation is not about whether or not you’re racist as a white person in our society but rather what it means to be anti-racist.
You feel it in your core, and yet you struggle with what to do. You avoid confrontation. As a feminized person, your role as a caretaker has taught you to be agreeable, to keep the peace, and even though logically you understand that keeping the peace amongst racism is an illusion, it’s still really hard to break these patterns. White supremacy functions this way, it’s meant to be perpetuated not questioned, and your awareness of this just makes your head spin more. You feel powerless to the systemic changes that are needed. You have a complicated relationship with activism. You wish you had more role models. Your guilt feels like something you don’t quite have the language for. You’re a perfectionist whose afraid to make mistakes, fail, or be judged. You understand that when you make mistakes in your anti-racism work it will be black femmes who are most harmed, not you as a white person. You feel like an imposter in the anti-racism movement.
Inevitably, your work to unlearn micro-aggressions, unlearn colonialist white saviorism, not appropriate other cultures, step back, and be humble is no longer enough. You’ve focused on not taking up space in relation to POC, particularly in QTPOC centered spaces. This is the never-ending work of not being racist, but Angela Davis’ quote rings true: “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.”
Clearly these experiences are my own and ones which I hope and believe other white femmes can relate to. I know many white femmes with political analyses but what I don’t know as much of is a larger conversation happening about them. I feel a pull to participate in a larger conversation, perhaps even create one where there isn’t one accessible. All of the thoughts I’ve described here are painfully true in my struggle to answer what it means to be anti-racist today. And yet this pull towards anti-racism work isn’t going away. It’s telling me to journal about it, talk about it, stop avoiding my fear, and most of all, get out of my own way.
As a therapist, there is one thing that I know about resolving conflicts, be they internal conflicts or larger scale ones; their answers are surprisingly simple. Over-complicated answers are often forced and short-sighted. Answers are just the genuine, honest truth, the kind of truth that when you get in touch with it, creates ease in your body. If you’re of my generation and grew up with your white suburban mom religiously watching The Oprah Show, they’re the “aha” moment. My self-doubt, self-judgment, and guilt have blocked me quite literally for years. I expect they will always show up in some form and I will approach my own anti-racism work not from a place of having it figured out but from a place of disclosure about my process. I also expect this phrase I keep telling myself lately, to get out of my own way, will continue to help unblock me, because with it I’ve come to a simple truth I’d been over-complicating otherwise; white femmes have a responsibility to act on behalf of BIPOC femmes, and particularly black trans femmes.
Where the work of not being racist is about what you’re not doing, anti-racism is about doing. As white femmes, we have a responsibility to make our decisions based on what will benefit black trans femmes. The way we invest our money, the way we engage in politics, where we live, the media we consume, and the friends, family, and community members that we confront all must serve the interests of black trans femmes. Rather than being immobilized by guilt about our privilege, we must lean into what we can do by being white.
The next question is what does this look like? Again I hit a block, anxious about needing to know the answer. Yet here is another simple truth: femmes of color are already doing the work of saying what change is needed. As white femmes we don’t need to reinvent the wheel and in fact doing so causes harm. Our role is to show that we’re listening. I’ve often thought about what it means for me to stay in my lane as a white person. I’ve also heard black people express that white people need to do work with each other because it’s going to take white people to dismantle white supremacy. Our role is amongst ourselves.
What this looks like specifically is unique to each of us. Your own privilege, experiences, and the communities that you’re a part of shape how your anti-racism work manifests. There is no one right way. Your own actions should be personal. Collectively the potential created from listening to BIPOC femmes and showing that we’re listening is endless.
Image reads: “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” - Angela Davis