Dear White Women: A Letter from a Black Woman with Questions about White Women’s Politics
Dear Liberal white women,
What happened to your sisterhood? Exit polls suggest 46% of white women voted for Donald Trump. This number varied by level of education, with college-educated white women supporting Hillary Clinton at a rate of 51% and those without a degree voting for Donald Trump at 62%. By contrast, 94% of Black women voted for Clinton. The space between these levels of support infuriates me.
You may not remember giving me hell for supporting President Obama instead of Hillary Clinton in the 2007-2008 presidential election campaign season, but I do. As an Obama volunteer, I spent more time talking about identity politics when I encountered you than I did with any other voters. You expressed confusion about why I would support Obama. You judged me harshly because you thought gender considerations should have superseded race in my politics. Your political standard bearers, including Gloria Steinem and Geraldine Ferraro, said terrible and tone-deaf things about Obama’s potential fit for presidency.
“Forget race,” many of you suggested, “and let your gender be your guide.”
I remember trying to help you understand the idea of intersectionality by explaining how being both Black and woman gives me special exposure to discrimination in America. I shared that in the course of daily life, I feel more oppressed by race than gender. I clarified that not all Black women feel like me. You still questioned my decision-making and ability to understand politics.
It is 2016 now and I am questioning your ability to understand politics. This election was your turn to lead the coalition. Instead, Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States. Black women showed up for you as we have done for the past 20 years, but your sisters skipped the party.
Commentators explained away white women’s lack of support for Hillary Clinton by saying party supersedes gender. In 2008, another group —Black, Republican men— was in a conundrum of intersectionality similar to the one white women faced this year and I faced during President Obama’s campaign. In interviews, high-profile Black Republicans noted they disagreed with Barack Obama’s policies. However, they endorsed Obama and cast Democratic votes because they wanted to support a Black man’s bid for the presidency more than they wanted to support their party. They wanted to be on the right side of history. They demonstrated how it’s possible to cross party lines when history and legacy are what matters most. Did you impress upon your sisterhood that electing the first woman president would demand they go to historic lengths to push through their doubts about what their friends or husbands might think of their votes?
Another line of reasoning is that economic interests were more important than gender. However, working-class white people are not the only ones suffering to cope with changes in the American economy. During the Great Migration, millions of Americans left the south to take jobs in northern factories. In fact, Black Americans moved at higher rates than white Americans. Today, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show Black Americans are objectively worst off, with an unemployment rate of 8.6%– double the number for white Americans at just 4.3%. Did you explain to your aunts or your cousins that Black people have been more negatively affected by the problems of the rust belt economy than their white neighbors?
Women who voted for Trump tossed aside physical and verbal assaults on their gender as well as perfectly good policy reasons to support Hillary Clinton. Instead, they did what many have done over the course of American history: reject a gender coalition with non-white women in favor of white supremacy. They opted to try going back to a “great” America, which– because of irreversible changes in technology and demography– can only really exist in the imaginations of disaffected white people and old history books.
In 2007, you worked hard to convince me to look past race politics and take a stand for my gender. In 2016, I’m questioning whether you talked to your sisters-in-law or mothers with the same force and enthusiasm you had in our conversations. Further, I’m questioning what this means for the collective struggle to defend women’s rights in a Trump administration. Will you retreat from the tough conversations with others like you who, in a broader coalition, may be able to defend our rights? Or, will you motivate other women to stand with us if attacks come from the new Presidential administration that begin to roll back the clock on women’s rights?