An Open Letter to the White Women in My Life

You know those hypotheticals you run by little kids, in order to make sure they know how to stay safe?

“If you were walking down the street, and a stranger in a car pulled up and asked you a question, what would you do?”

“If you were home alone and something caught fire, who would you call?”

And then you listen to their response and decide if you’ve done your job as a guardian in their life, based on how satisfied you are with their emergency plan.

Yesterday, I walked out of my house to get some fresh air. I waved at the black mother and her teenage sons who live across the street, but they didn’t see me. They were deep in conversation. Her voice was quivering angry, but it was that scared-angry when you’re trying to get a critical point across and you know you can’t afford to miss your mark.

“If you were out at the park, and someone called the police about you, what would you do?”

I’ve never had to run that hypothetical by my children.

It’s never even occurred to me to do so.

Black parents have to have the “what would you do if something catches fire” conversations with their kids just like we white parents do. And they also have to have the “what would you do if you’re driving and a police officer pulls you over” conversation. And the “what if you’re shopping and the store clerk asks to inspect your backpack” one. And the “what if you’re walking down the street and the person walking towards you crosses to the other side” one. And the “what if you’re in Starbucks and they don’t let you sit there” one.

And so many other conversations that I don’t even know about because I am a white woman.

Growing up, and even now, white people haven’t always seen me as white. Whatever combination of ethnicities I am has created a skin tone that often gets the question, “What *are* you, anyway?” I’ve been mistaken for Latina and Asian. I’ve been called “exotic,” which is just a white person word for “not like us.” My father, even darker than me, was known as “Black Joe” growing up. In school plays, he was forced to play the butler or the hired help. He was white, but not quite white enough.

But make no mistake. I’ve reaped every privilege possible from having a skin tone that is closer to white than not. My backpack has never been questioned in a retail store. I’ve never been told that I’m “surprisingly articulate.” I know I’m white enough because when I am in a group of only white people, they feel free to tell jokes and make snide comments about BIPOC in my presence. I know I’m white because instead of objecting to those jokes, the comments that shock me and nauseate me on the inside, I remained silent on the outside. Because I wanted to be polite. Because I was worried what they would think about me if I spoke up. That’s privilege.

Here’s the thing. All white people, including me, are racist. All of us. I know you think you’re not racist. I know you’re telling yourself and the screen in front of you that you’re not racist. You’re different. You have a black friend and you love her so much. You don’t see color. You marched for Black Lives Matter. Your kids have black friends and you live in a neighborhood with a few black people in it and you treat them exactly as you would everyone else. You barely even notice they’re black.

You’re still a racist. I’m still a racist.

Not seeing color is a privilege we have by not being the color that others oppress. Having a black friend but not actively participating in anti-racist work is not honoring her struggle. It’s looking the other way. It’s convincing yourself that she’s fine because you love her.

You and I have been raised inside a culture built on patriarchy and white supremacy. It’s that simple. And inside that culture, we have been raised as racists. I know you’re not a torch-carrying neo-Nazi. I know you, like Amy Cooper, adamantly consider yourself “not a racist.” I also know the stereotypes you have been programmed to know. I know what white people think and the system we have created and live quite comfortably in. And I know we are racists.

White men in history have been appropriately called out for establishing and perpetuating ideas of white supremacy and racism through the centuries. White men started the slave trade and they wrote the Jim Crow laws. White men were the ones under the white hoods and they are the ones kneeling on necks.

White women have gotten an unfair pass on this.

The only reason white women haven’t been called out on our racism and white privilege is because we never had a voice in history to make our racism known. We weren’t in Congress to write the segregation laws. We didn’t have the economic authority to buy the slaves. Instead, we beat those slaves. We cried for help when a black person dared to defy the segregation designed to keep us comfortable. We called the police. We crossed the street. We held our handbag tighter to our sides.

It’s time for us to get uncomfortable. Anti-racism work is uncomfortable. It’s nauseating. It’s hard. It’s demoralizing. It will crush every comfortable thing you’ve ever thought about your comfortable life. It’s emotional labor like you’ve never had to do before.

It’s emotional labor like every black person you’ve ever known has to do on a daily basis.

So please don’t ask your black friends what they think about all this or how you can help. Black people are tired. They’re weary and they’re wary. Their nerves are shot. They’re busy having conversations with their sons that you don’t have to have. They’re freaking exhausted from living in this world that we put them in. Don’t go bother them right now.

Google “anti-racism” for ideas on where you can start. Follow anti-racist educators and activists on social media. Rachel Cargle, Leesa Renee Hall, and Layla Saad are good places to start. You will be uncomfortable in their spaces. You will be tempted to say something to contradict them. You will want to cry out: But not ALL white people!

Yes, all white people. Yes, you. Yes, me.

Be quiet and listen. Educate yourself. Take action. Show your sons and daughters how to educate themselves. Advocate. Use your voice in white spaces to question the system. To point out our privilege. To own up to our racism.

Because until we own up to it, we will never get rid of it.



Life strategist, spacemaker, professional problem solver, owner of The Solver Space.

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Amy Strong

Life strategist, spacemaker, professional problem solver, owner of The Solver Space.