I usually give a little more time between Spellbook Saturday posts, but after the events of this week, I wanted to share a text specifically with my white friends and followers.
In case you somehow missed it, this week saw Amy Cooper (a white woman) call the police on Christian Cooper (a black man, not related) in NYC, and white police officer Derek Chauvin murder of George Floyd (a black man) in Minneapolis. Very quickly my social media feed erupted with graphic images of Floyd’s murder… and little said regarding Amy Cooper. Why is this, particularly when her actions could have had such similar results?
Police killings of BIPOCs in America are sadly not rare. A 2019 study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), confirmed some dire statistics:
“Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States. Over the life course, about 1 in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police. …Black women and men and American Indian and Alaska Native women and men are significantly more likely than white women and men to be killed by police. Latino men are also more likely to be killed by police than are white men.”[source]
I don’t think it’s in any way unreasonable to condemn Amy Cooper. Her actions were despicable. And yet right away, there seemed to be a general pushback among white liberals, first falsely suggesting she must be a Trump supporter [source], then self-congratulatory distancing: “I’m not like that, I’d never do that,” etc.
And here I’d like to ask my fellow white women a few questions. Sure, you might not viciously gamble with the life of a BIPOC out to enjoy some birds, but are you being actively anti-racist? Are you confronting racist friends and relatives, and do you vocally condemn inappropriate behavior and comments? Are you continually working to address your own actions and implicit biases (because we all have ‘em!)? And are you elevating marginalized voices?
I’ll be the first to admit these are difficult and uncomfortable questions, and I have been labeled a “killjoy” and a “libtard.” These are titles I’ll gladly hold if it means the other option is “complicit.” For a bit of context in the work of anti-racism, my reading recommendation this week is by activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis. In her classic Women, Race, & Class (1981, available on IndieBound), Davis offers readers “a powerful study of the women’s liberation movement in the U.S., from abolitionist days to the present, [one] that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders.”
Indeed, while the failings of early suffragist “icons” Susan B. Anthony and Eliazbeth Cady Stanton are particularly striking, there is a long history of white women obstructing the movement towards equality, right up through white women voting for Trump in droves. As beneficiaries of white supremacist systems, this information is unsurprising. However, it is something that must be addressed, and the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of me and my fellow white folx to dismantle these systems, for as the great Audre Lorde once said,
I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is anyone of you.
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