From one white woman to another: do better
I was shocked when I first heard that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump. My immediate response was to doubt such a statistic, considering how I fervently disagreed with his policies, to the point of personal offense. This shock, however, was counterproductive. This statistic, give or take a few percentage points, accurately reflected the attitudes of many white women in our country. They are our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends. They are the family friends our mothers might not agree with on every point, but who make pleasant conversation with us in our kitchen. They are our aunts, who smooch our cheeks and bring small snacks whenever they visit. It’s hard to believe these are the women who buy into the racist rhetoric that actively undermines our non-white peers. Yet, it is our responsibility as white women to believe it. We can no longer sit in silence and allow women of color to suffer because we are too afraid of uncomfortable conversations.
On the days leading up to Tuesday, Nov. 6, I felt greatly disillusioned. After Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, a lifelong position, I felt there was nothing in my power that could change the great system of inequality that exists within our nation. Yet, I was so grateful casting my vote, as many firsts were won during this election. Michelle Lujan Grisham from New Mexico became the first democratic Latina governor. Sharice Davids from Kansas and a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Deb Haaland from New Mexico and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe became our first Native congresswomen. The list of victories in this election goes on, and I can’t imagine the excitement of women of color to see and hear of the success of candidates who will hold the white members of our party accountable. We cannot, however, let this act of accountability rest solely on the backs of people of color within our country. This election proved to be a great stride in progress for the Democratic Party. We cannot attribute this victory to white women as 50 percent of us still voted Republican, and even if we had chosen differently, voting is not enough.
We, as white women, must do so much more than take credit for the work of women of color. We need to also be the ones to have these uncomfortable conversations with our male, white contemporaries, as well as within ourselves and other white women. We are the ones who need to step back and realize we are often speaking over our non-white counterparts, whether it be in academia, in the workplace or just in casual conversation among friends. We are the ones who need to begin thinking: why are so many spaces at Hofstra dominated by white people and how can I incorporate new, often unheard voices? How can I support my peers of color? How can I accept criticism when I may have overstepped boundaries? If you find yourself surrounded by only white people, ask yourself why. Ask yourself how to change that. Support your peers of color in uncomfortable situations, especially considering the multiple reports of Hofstra professors utilizing racist language in and out of the classroom. Question why you label certain things the way you do. Credit the language and slang you steal from marginalized communities. Address your own white privilege.
While we may struggle, these struggles will never amount to those of a black woman who has to hear white professors toss the n-word around in class as if the act is not loaded with violence. We are not reminded of how our school system failed to teach us about our founding fathers’ involvement in slavery on our walk to the student center. When passing the statue of Thomas Jefferson, we are not reminded of the University continuing to compromise the safety of students of color for the feelings of white students. The campus itself is located on the land of the Lenape tribe, yet the University has shirked admitting more indigenous students.
Initiatives to make people of color feel welcome on this campus have been neglected since Hofstra’s creation. Let’s change that. It’s easy to ignore the discomfort of non-white people at a predominantly white university. Yet, these issues must and will be addressed – with or without white women – as we have seen in the elections. We can show up and support candidates of color in the party, allow people to address the racism present among Democrats and incorporate voices that are usually silenced or we can continue what we’ve been doing for years: allowing people of color to do the work within the party and only coming out to support in the end when it benefits us. We, as white women, need to do better.