Dear White Feminists: Fixing the Aftermath of Election 2016 is On Us

Dear White Feminists,

Earlier, I wrote about how to talk carefully to our kids about what happened in the election last night. But now, white feminists, it is time for some #realtalk for our adult ears.  This is on us.

Why is it on us, you might ask?

Because it is white people, white communities, and the white places to which we have better access by virtue of our skin tone who elected Donald Trump.  These headlines? The ones that suggest that black and brown voters are to blame?  They are bullshit.  People of color turned up and out for Hillary in record-breaking numbers and dramatic uniformity.  It was white women who elected Donald Trump:

In case you missed it, 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump.  Across every age group:

So it is on us, dear white feminists, to take it upon ourselves to have the conversations and take the steps to reach out, educate, bridge those divides, and DO BETTER.  White people we know and love who still saw fit to vote for Donald Trump.

And white people we may have been too complacent about, or polite about, or cautious about engaging?  We are responsible for them too.

So what are we supposed to engage with white people about?

Well, systemic injustice for starters.  Because we also learned things like this from the exit polls:

Do you have any idea how crazy that is?  That 74% of Trump voters think the criminal justice doesn’t treat black people unfairly?

That’s probably partially because 75% of white people don’t have any non-white friends.  So they aren’t naturally thinking about, worrying about, crying about, and mourning the experiences of actual human beings who are singled out, overpoliced, harassed, and sometimes even killed by the people we have empowered to protect us and are overprosecuted, overcharged and otherwise pushed into plea deals and longer sentences.  And we, dear white feminists, aren’t making them think about it, worry about it, or understand it.  We are letting them ignore it and we are letting the alt-rights and fox newses of the world tell them untruth after untruth about our black and brown neighbors.

Some of us have equivocated about supporting the movement for black lives.  But however many of us may have seen a movement for racial justice as distinct from our feminism, what happened on November 8, 2016 should have disabused us all of that misconception.  If you couldn’t get behind the movement because it was the right thing to do before, in this post-election dawn you can’t ignore that the systematic marginalization of black and brown people and the denial of the legitimacy of the voices calling for reform has far reaching consequences.

Oh, and by the way, in the first election since the Voting Rights Act was struck down, Hillary lost the election in Wisconsin — a traditionally blue state.  At the same time that we saw major obstructions being imposed to inhibit black and brown votes voting in Wisconsin.  When Barack Obama took Milwaukee county — the largest black voting county in the state — in 2012, there were 492,576 votes recorded.  But in 2016, when urban areas were generally recording record turnout but in the wake of the new voter id restrictions in WI, only 415,077 votes were recorded in Milwaukee.  That’s a difference of 77,499 votes.  Even assuming that some of those lost votes would have gone to Trump, applying the proportion at which Hillary won (69%) or even the rate at which Barack won (67%) Milwaukee, that represents a missing 52,00-54,000 votes.  Hillary lost the entire state by only 27,000 votes.  Racism turned Wisconsin red.

This is an Obligation with a capital “O.”

If you call yourself a feminist, if you believe in the goals of feminism – however you might define them – you have an obligation to make your feminism intersectional and to take it upon yourselves to change the racial divid in our country.  An Obligation.  A Big One.  That starts now and isn’t going to end for the foreseeable future.

I know. We don’t like words like obligation. You don’t win fans by running around using such bossy language. And we don’t like being told we should do something.   It makes our insides bristle. Even when it is something we might have been planning on doing in the first place. So, let’s acknowledge that. Being confronted with compulsion can get those hackles up, those defenses in place. But try and soften that tightness inside and open yourself up for a minute. Can you accept as a premise that there are times when things become compulsory on a moral, human level? Because we are so there, deep in that time when things become compulsory on a moral, human level. DEEP in that time.

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different than my own.”
~Audre Lorde


However scared or sad or disappointed you may be, dear white feminists, it is so much scarier and sadder and soul-crushing-er for those who are black, brown, queer, muslim, disabled/differently-abled, or just more “Other” than you are.

So now is not the time to  just make promises of solidarity.  That time is over.  We can’t just hug our friends and tell them we have their backs.  WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO HAVE THEIR BACKS.  By taking on the work of fixing this.  Not for them, but with them.  And we have to be willing and ready to take the laboring oar.  Again, not necessarily the leading oar, but the laboring oar.

So, my dear white feminists, are you ready and willing?  Are you up to the task?  It’s time for us to come get our people.



Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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