6 Ways To Really Support Women Of Color

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 
photo credit: Thomas Barwick | Getty

I love this season of women supporting women that we’re currently in. It seems like ladies have gotten the memo that we can crack the glass ceiling so much faster if many women bang on that shit together rather than tapping on it by ourselves. Whether we’re empowering each other to feel good in the skin that were in, or making sure we all have the tools we need to be financially successful, sisters are doing it for ourselves!

Of course, it’s not all a fairy tale. Is the fight for equality ever a fairy tale? Remember how the suffrage movement mainly focused on ensuring white women got voting rights and disregarded women of color? Not much has changed. Yes, there are definitely more allies helping to uplift women of color these days, but there’s still much more to be done.

Let’s be very clear. White women benefit the most from the power of sisterhood in solidarity. Women of color are used to doing emotional, and sometimes physical, labor of moving us all through the struggle, and yet we still lag behind. Why is that? Well, because when a lot of women join the feminist movement, they do it without any thought of intersectionality. Instead, they approach the fight from their perspective and are most concerned about what’s in it for them.

There’s a long history of that in this country. Years ago, way back in 1866, suffragist Susan B. Anthony said, she’d rather “cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work for or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” I’m sure the black women and the Native American women who were marching with Susan and her sisters felt some type of way about that.

So, you know what happened? White women got the right to vote around 1920. Native American women waited several more years for that right. Chinese women could vote in 1943, Japanese women in 1952, and black women? Oh, black women had to wait until 1965 — 45 years after white women. Did our white sisters forget about all of us? They didn’t forget. After they got what they wanted, they didn’t need us anymore.

Unfortunately, that same belief system has made its way through the generations and I can tell you as a black woman, I deal with it frequently. I can’t tell you how many allies I have in my inbox. Or supporters who left me to stand up for myself (and in most cases, other women) at company meetings, but “totally see my point” once we’d adjourned.

You can be friends with women of color, good friends, like sisters. Maybe you’ve done some work in understanding racism and in recognizing your privilege. You’re safe. You’re woke. Until it’s not convenient or comfortable for you. If you can’t call someone out in the moment that they’re being racist, or showing signs of microaggressions towards your sister, then you aren’t as much of a support as you think you are.

If you don’t use your platform, your connections, and sometimes your money to help advance marginalized groups, without looking for public accolades, then you’re not doing all you can do.

Never fear, though. We’re friends, right? So, I got you. Here are some real ways that you support your women of color friends:

1. Stand up for them publicly.

It’s hard work being a woman of color. We are fighting so many battles. If it’s not asking folks to not touch our hair, it’s trying to convince our delicate coworker that “I’m not yelling. I’m not even raising my voice.” If you are an ally, and you really want to help, step in and stand up. Don’t wait for us to ask, and definitely don’t stay quiet and then wait until the moment is over to tell us how much you’re on our side.

2. Educate yourself on the discriminations that they currently face.

I’m willing to answer questions about my black experience in this country, but there are a tremendous amount of resources available on that topic. Books, articles, movies, blogs, social media threads created by women of color are incredibly easy to find. There’s even information created by white folks to educate you if that is more comfortable to you. Your non-white friends shouldn’t have to do the heavy lifting for you.

3. Educate yourself on the discriminations they faced in the past.

If you really want to be supportive, do what you can to understand exactly why women of color in this country need help. For example, you know that when the country was growing that many places didn’t allow for non-whites to buy homes. That house your parents passed down to you that their parents passed down to them? Or the equity your dad borrowed from to pay for your college? That wasn’t an option for many of us. The Trail of Tears. Internment camps for Japanese (and Chinese) citizens. The Bracero program. We didn’t do this to ourselves.

4. Introduce them to your network.

We all know it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. If you have friends in high places with the ability to help make dreams come true, you should be introducing them to your women of color friends. Think about how often your WOC friends are there for you, empowering you, making you feel like the queen that you are. Or how they’ll give you their last without expecting anything in return. Help them reach their goals by making sure they’re in the room.

5. Support them financially and intentionally ask your community to support them, too.

If your WOC friend is an entrepreneur or an artist, or any other profession where you can give her money, do it. If she’s starting a business, give her money. Less than 1% of black women founders of tech companies receive funding. In a world where white men are receiving millions of dollars for ideas that fail, women of color have a much harder time getting capital to grow. After you support her financially, let your friends and family know that they should support her and why.

6. Be conscious of not using your perceived fragility as a weapon against her.

I know that white women are not weak. You know that white women are not weak. But as soon as a white woman starts to cry or throw around words like, “I feel attacked,” or “You’re scaring me,” or “Please stop yelling,” the white knights will come out to save their damsel in distress. Nowadays the white knights are cops, and who knows how things will end with people of color once the police get there.

You aren’t scared, girl. We’re not yelling. Nobody is attacking you. If you have a disagreement with a WOC friend, don’t pull out your tears to center yourself and your feelings in order to pull focus. Be the brave and strong woman you know you are, and that so many of us non-white women have no choice but to be.

We need you, sisters. And you need us. If we could all come together and pull our weight, the men will have to watch out.

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