Why I Think White Girls Can't Step
The Women’s March and White Women’s History of Exclusion Within Protests
In explaining white feminism, I often refer to the women’s suffrage parade of 1913. Created by Alice Paul and her Congressional Union, it was the first suffrage parade to occur in Washington D.C. White women bustled down Pennsylvania Avenue, eager to be loud about their rights, and to walk in the direction of change. In this march, black women were specifically told not to partake.
I like to think about the steps of an angry Ida B. Wells, who, in a reasonable spite, walked in the parade anyway. The Saturday after the Presidential Inauguration, the country watched white women in D.C take to the same road. Their steps appeared as a loud echo, marching down Pennsylvania now in a condemnation of Donald Trump. All of a sudden, it was 1913 again, and white women were angry. However, as I looked at their signs, these women seemed to write themselves out of the blame.
Trump is the orange creation of the same hands I watched pinch those poster boards through the crowds. Their resistance, though undeniable in its numeric appearance, is not one of accountability. Like the parade of women a century ago, this march was one rooted in oblivion, exclusivity, and whiteness. Thus, black women are left to wonder whether we should protest Trump, or the very hands holding the signs we saw throughout the country, making their way through streets they have never sought to protect in the first place.
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Although I wish to be preaching to a choir that is red, restless, and ready for a Sunday meal that lasts forever, 53% is a jarring and potent number. It is a number that a lot of Americans seem to disregard. The number of white women who voted for Trump is dangerous.
The 53% lives in my tiny Chicago suburb; it is squeezed between the fences of my neighbors, and it lounges on their drying lawns. The 53% is enough for me to stop waving to the families across the street, knowing how they punched the ballot, and how much riper my blood is to them now.
As I scroll down my Instagram feed, which is blooming with faces of white girls with pictures of ovaries and the like, I do not feel resistance. To me, they are a party of women who have yet to lend their hands. These same women, who bragged about making history, did not ride the train with me in August, as I began my commute to protest the unjust killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.
I did not see the girls and their anger as the summer buried a 25-year-old Jessica Hampton, a black mother who was stabbed in the neck on the CTA Red Line. To these women, the train still rattles, and the police are still a safe network of open arms.Thus, in the midst of talk about a divided nation, I offer this division as a testament to how divided we have been for centuries. The orange man and his bloody rhetoric are not the division: the 53% is and has been since Alice Paul’s stride.
Despite my disdain for the march and its lack of holding white women accountable, it would be unwise of me to forget Ida and her steps beside white women who excluded her. To challenge the baffling 53% percent, 94% of black women voted For Hillary Clinton. Our numbers were strong and omniscient; we knew what an orange president could do, and how it would be our blood first. In the election, we wearily handed our fate to an unreliable whiteness, and on November 8th, we watched it obliterate. Still, as the sun rose, and the trains began to move, we moved with them. We held our signs next to the same women who were the reason for their making.
The morning of the march, I watched my mother rise from her place on the bed and walk to the Green Line. It was her obligation to march bright and early, and with a pool of white women, she did, holding her sign towards the sky. It is unclear whether this march will act as a pivotal moment for a segregated history of feminism. I do not know if white women will sweep up their own mess and clean up our blood in the process. I am unsure what solidarity means now to the cat hats and the “nasty” women T-shirts.
But Ida B. Wells, in her marching, taught us how steps echo for decades; how black women show up in inconceivable ways. No matter how the sun fails to reach us, we leave the shade and take the darkness in a stride to Washington. The largest protest after a Presidential Inauguration had a white face, but it is our steps that gave it its momentum. In protests to come, I urge marchers not to forget Ida and her stomping. The next time a woman steps, remind her of the history of stepping and that activism is never still: it is a perpetual walking.