How to Support Racially Marginalized Women
Community care is self-care. When we look out for our most vulnerable groups in society, we create and reinvent a new world – one in which our collective mental health is recognized as a priority rather than a subservience and prospers so flourishingly that we lift the burden off future generations fighting redundant battles against racism.
Where do we start?
We begin by acknowledging the dominating presence of racism that encompasses us all. Centuries of systemic oppression has enabled racism to insidiously seep into the cracks of almost every aspect and social arena of our lived experiences. More specifically, the intersection of race and gender create a nuanced oppression for BIWoC (BIWoC stands for Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color. It is a term used to undo native invisibility, dismantle anti-blackness, and build an enduring solidarity between ethnic minorities by centering their stories and experiences.
BIWoC emphasizes that distinct effects of racism remain predominantly unique to specific cultural groups).
Of the 31 million people living in poverty in the U.S. in 2018, 74% come from culturally ethnic backgrounds. The feminization of poverty makes this even worse for women. Latinx women are still paid 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Black and Indigenous women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts, considering that most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Asian-American women are severely underrepresented in professional arenas due to discriminatory practices.
Devastatingly, the list of how BIWoC are disproportionately affected by societal issues goes on and on.
Check your privilege.
So, what kind of active support can allies provide? First, check your privilege and use it for the betterment of society. Many are quick to meet this phrase with disdain and dismissal, but what lacks is a comprehensive understanding of what privilege really means. In the social justice discourse, a privilege is an advantage you have that others do not. There is privilege based on gender, race, class, ability, and other areas that you may not have considered, such as neurological differences and sexuality. Checking your privilege is an opportunity to engage in self-reflection, to truly consider how the advantages in your life have contributed to your beliefs and opinions and how the absence of disadvantages in particular areas have kept you from gaining a thorough understanding of the struggles of others.
For example, I march for the Black community. I am able-bodied, cisgender, college-educated, and grew up in an environment that supported my success. Without being mindful of my privileges, my efforts to fight racism might leave out many of the women I claim to support and advocate for, such as disabled, trans, and incarcerated Black women. Being conscious of your advantages helps to better empathize and understand others’ disadvantages. Does your privilege mean that you are more likely to be invited to your supervisor’s meetings? Bring up why there are never any women of color invited to pitch in their ideas. Does your schedule allow you to attend your child’s PTA meetings where you discuss important issues? Suggest moving meeting times to hours where working parents can attend. Everyday you are given chances to make this world a better place, by tolerating a little discomfort and asking, “What I can do to help those who are disadvantaged to enjoy the same freedom I’m enjoying now?”
To be an ally is to take an active part in challenging microaggressions and racist remarks.
Microaggressions, often stated unintentionally, are comments and behavioral indignities that convey demeaning, hostile, and overall negative beliefs towards culturally marginalized groups. Microaggressions have far-reaching social implications that go beyond the emotional and physical effects that are felt by the person they are being perpetrated against; they normalize racism.
The assumption that poor Black women are bad or inadequate mothers places them in a position to be heavily monitored by the state and be treated with unwarranted suspicion, and in many cases, even by the teachers of their children. The assumption that Asian women are submissive, docile, and incapable of leadership keep them from securing positions of power, causing them to be extremely underrepresented in many professional arenas. The assumption that Latinx women only speak broken English keeps them from promotions that render financial stability. When you hear someone say statements that communicate harmful stereotypes, practice asking uncomfortable questions. Make the person examine their motives with simple questions such as “Would you say that about a white person?” or “Can you explain that? I don’t get it.” Depending on your relationship with them, this may be a chance to spark productive dialogue.
Don’t tone police.
Meaningful conversations require active listening from all parties involved. If you are confronted by a BIWoC about a harmful comment you made, it is imperative that you do not tone police, because whether you meant to do it or not, the damages are detrimental. Tone policing occurs when someone (usually the privileged person) switches the focus of the conversation about oppression to the way it’s being talked about. It prioritizes the privileged person’s comfort in a conversation over the difficulties and disadvantages of the oppressed person. Statements such as “They should be less angry so more people want to help them” and “You should be nicer to white people if you want their support” are both acts of tone policing.
When BIWoC speak on systemic oppression, they are not simply talking about one specific event. Years worth of pain, anger, and fear attributable to the enduring and life-long abuse of an inherently racist and sexist society is nearly impossible to leave behind when entering discussions about race. By tone policing, you are asserting that BIWoC must meet certain prerequisites, such as prioritizing your comfort, before their cries for equity and justice deserve to be heard and valued. You must build a tolerance for discomfort – a necessary skill if you want to advance the work of social justice.
Donate to anti-racist causes.
Financially support organizations working to fight racial oppression. Educators, activists, and researchers have put in years worth of tremendous effort and knowledge to help guide us in the right direction in achieving social justice. Organizations that fight for BIWoC are all around us – they give legal advice, provide psychological and medical services, fight workplace discrimination, advocate for sexual assault survivors, and so much more.
Planned Parenthood, the Native American Disability Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the NAACP are good places to start. Local grassroots organizations are also in need of your support. Oftentimes, they rely on direct community donations in order to continue their operations. If you are unable to support financially, volunteer when you can. Dedicating your time to a mission that is committed to fighting systemic racism is a valuable, useful, and appreciated effort.
Teach your children to be accepting of diversity.
A “colorblind” approach is neither optimal, nor helpful. Historically, this approach has been adopted by those who claim to be not racist as it centers its focus on treating individuals equally, or in other words, not seeing color. It might sound acceptable in theory, but in practice, it perpetuates an ideology that is counterproductive at best and violent at worst. To claim to not see race is to deny the lived experiences of BIWoC, to ignore the realities of systemic racism, and to reject the grievances that BIWoC have been fighting against for generations.
It is not in any of our genetic make-up to be naturally born knowing how to discriminate and be biggotted towards people of different skin colors – it is taught. This is not to say that it’s absolutely necessary for you to sit your 4-year-old toddler down and say, “We have to talk about racism.” There is a myriad of approaches to expose your children to anti-racist work, with appropriate strategies for different age groups. Younger children (ages 8 and under) can be introduced to different cultures by eating ethnic foods, reading books and watching movies with characters from diverse backgrounds, and seeing you model behaviors that convey acceptance of those who are different from you.
Older children (ages 9 and up) are typically more equipped in handling conversations about race since most will have a concrete idea as to what is fair and what is not. In an era dominated by phones, tablets, TV screens, and computers, it is more likely than not that your child will encounter an event difficult to adequately understand without your help. For example, if a protest comes on TV, have open and honest conversations about why protesters are marching by using apt language that your child understands. This is especially important for teens as they are beginning to cement the foundations for their sense of identity. Although these conversations may cause you discomfort, we need to teach past what is easy and teach what is critical and meaningful.
Maintain hope for a better future.
It is possible to reinvent a world where our collective mental health prospers and thrives. It is possible to reconstruct our society to one that sincerely values the lives of each and every individual no matter where they are positioned in the differing junctions of their identities. The flawed rules we have created for ourselves in this world are never set in stone, and there is remarkable and extraordinary power that comes in realizing that the structured systems and social constructs that have hurt, demoralized, and dehumanized those for too long, can be undone.
This blog was written by Victoria Dagdag, intern at CaliforniaWomen’s Therapy.
So you want to talk about race? Book by Ijeoma Oluo