OVER THE LAST six months, I’ve spoken with multiple white women across the country about something I am beginning to understand: why white women have, historically, made disappointing allies to women of color.
These words feel dangerous to utter. I risk alienating women I love and admire. But they must be spoken in a year when the actions and votes of white women will impact the lives of women of color and their families more so than any time since women gained suffrage. We must lean into this hard conversation—and, in the doing, place our hope in the power of the resurrection, asking brown Jesus to illuminate what an alliance with women of color will require of white women in 2020.
An early race law in the colony of Maryland, where Harriett Tubman was enslaved, mandated that any white woman who married an enslaved black man would herself become a slave until her husband died. By the antebellum era, it was established that white women could not be enslaved but that ownership of their property (including their bodies) transferred to their husbands upon marriage. They could not sue. They could not make a legal contract. And they could not vote.
White patriarchy’s rule, and the ever-present threat of being shunned, gave white women incentive, when push came to shove, to choose their whiteness over their womanhood.