If You Can't Handle Feedback From Black Women, Your Activism Is BS

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

I’m running errands with my toddler son. His older two sisters are at school. We spot an acquaintance who remarks how much my son has grown since she last saw him. I tell her he is a big boy, and she says, “He’s a cute little thug.”

My girls are riding bikes in our driveway while I check my work e-mail. They’re four and six years old. Their baby brother is napping. I hear a loud truck cruising down the road and look up just in time to see a young male lean out the driver’s window and scream the n-word at my daughters.

Every time I share these stories, I’m met with gasps and empathy. How terrible. How sad. There are so many unashamed racists.

The same people who are appalled that someone would have the audacity to verbally assault young children are the same who claim to be non-racist. You know, we all are one race—the human race. Slavery was a terrible thing, and thankfully we had MLK and Rosa Parks to help us ditch Jim Crow laws. And then there was the election of President Obama—someone they helped elect.

But here’s the thing—you can claim to be “woke,” to be a white ally, and a progressive, but if you’re clapping back at black women when they share their truth, you are part of the problem. You might consider yourself to be non-racist, but are you anti-racist?

Bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi shares in his newly released book How to be Antiracist that there are distinct differences. He told NPR, “I define an antiracist as someone who is expressing an antiracist idea or supporting an antiracist policy, policies that yield racial equity, while antiracist ideas talk about the equality of racial groups.”

Many white women have told me that they “don’t have a racist bone in my body,” and they adore my kids. When I’ve shared racist incidents, including when white people reach out to touch my girls’ beaded cornrows, I’m usually listened to. I meet some denial that occurrences have anything to do with race, such as, “Oh, I had curly hair as a child, too. I totally get how your girls feel.” They insert their whiteness into experiences that are strictly about the collision of white privilege and blackness.


But when a black woman chooses to share her experiences and feelings, she’s often met with clapback that is anything but anti-racist. In fact, she’s often categorized as being angry, divisive, and overly-sensitive. She needs to stop “playing the race card.” (FYI: there is no card. This isn’t a damn game.)

Sa’iyda Shabazz is a black woman who shared with Scary Mommy that she’s dealt with white women’s fragility on countless occasions. “I’ve had lots of white women lecture me about civility, and try to tell me that me calling out their white feminist shenanigans is a turn off,” she said. “I was recently called ‘childish’ after a FB post I wrote calling white women ‘exhausting,’ and told that my post sounded like a ‘temper tantrum.’”

So we like black women when they are our “one black friend”—ahem, tokenism—and as long as they don’t discuss any race-based topics, we’re cool with them? But when they speak their truths—calling out toxic white feminism and sharing difficult stories of discrimination, violence, and microaggressions—we shut them down?

If white women are going to be anti-racist instead of merely race-tolerators who prefer neutrality, we need to listen—like, really listen—to what black women are telling us. We cannot be real allies unless we are able to reign ourselves in, unless we can stop using our white privilege to talk over black women and proceed to tell them how they need to respond to racism. We have to tame our white fragility—not taking every single “call out” as an invitation to cry white tears in a spiral of self-pity.

Because when we take a black woman’s pain, digest it, and then turn around and make it about us, we are centering whiteness. Again. It’s like, “Enough about you. Let’s bring it back to me, OK?”

If we are going to reject black women because they are upset about racism, we’re no better than a stereotypical racist. And FYI: not all racists wear confederate flags on t-shirts, MAGA baseball hats, and throw around the n-word.

Racists can be people who post peace-and-love MLK quotes—but never speak up when yet another black person is unjustly killed by police. Racists can be those who never tell their racist uncle to shut-up at Thanksgiving. Instead, the uncle gets a pass because he was “raised in a different time.” Tolerating another person’s racism is racist.

When a black woman shares why #AllLivesMatter is hurtful and harmful, we need to say, “Tell me more.” We don’t need to clap back that “the real problem is black-on-black crime.” No pity responses either—like, wow, “That’s so sad.” And then you move on to that hilarious viral cat video your friend posted. How about you get empathetically pissed and take your commitment to racial equality to a #BlackLivesMatter rally and the voting booth?

We need to stop praising grown white women for their performative allyship. Instead, we need to fight alongside black women and listen when they speak. We need to listen even when we feel uncomfortable and called out. Especially when we feel uncomfortable and called out. We need to go to the board meetings and the protests. We need to be willing to give our time and money to these causes.

You might be thinking, why even bother? If I’m going to risk offending someone, why should I engage in race conversations at all? If my whiteness is going to get called out, why would I participate?

My answer is this: It is our obligation and we all need to be committed to anti-racism.

I’m a white mom of four black kids, and I don’t get a pass. I’ve screwed up many times and been reminded that I need to get back into my lane. That I need to stop, listen, learn, and get back to anti-racist work. Austin Channing Brown’s book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness sits on my nightstand next to my Bible. Because I need constant re-calibration and forgiveness—and newsflash: Christians are among the worst race-offenders. But Lord knows, I am willing to set my own bruised ego aside because my kids deserve a mom who doesn’t play when it comes to racism.

My point is don’t give up. Instead, show up. Show up by listening, and by handing the microphone—the one you are so used to holding—over. And not yanking it back.

The fact that you’ve gotten this far, reading my words, shows that you will listen to me–a white woman–talk about racism. But will you listen to those who are impacted by it the most? Those who live in melanin-rich skin every day and cannot escape systemic racism, stereotypes, and microaggressions—whether they present themselves in real life or online?

Or will you choose to clap back and invalidate the black woman who is detailing her lived experiences? Is listening and accepting the realities that black people face too difficult for you? If hearing their truths makes you uncomfortable–as it should, because racism is evil—then think about how much harder it is to live those truths every single second of every single day. And the worry you would have for your kids, if you were in their shoes.

Yeah. So, it’s time to stop talking, stop getting defensive and start listening.

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