I’m skeptical of white liberals, and it goes back to the moment I knew Donald Trump would win the presidency.
It was election night, and the polls just started to close on the East Coast. “Madame President” was on the tips of our tongues, and we had bottles of champagne ready to be opened to celebrate the certain victory. But then I started to doubt the historic moment would happen after a friend made a casual joke.
My friends were discussing how they believed a reporter made a journalistic mistake in a cover story for the Daily Emerald. And the reporter happened to be Asian.
“You can’t trust Asians, am I right?” a white friend said, laughing, without missing a beat.
As an Asian journalist, and the only non-white person in the room, I was stunned. However, it was not by her remark, but rather by my white, liberal “friends” and their silence, that shocked me.
There was visible discomfort in those white faces, but I could also see in those same white faces that they were unwilling to challenge one of their own. The person who made the remark left the room shortly after, and she remained unchallenged until I posed a simple question to the room: What the fuck was that?
Although it may be difficult for white liberals to challenge their own, it’s even harder as a person of color to challenge white people. I’ve been met with accusations of being hysterical, aggressive, divisive or even racist when I challenge them, but it’s only when a white person joins me that my feelings are validated for other white people. But nobody joined me this time.
Their silence was a backstabbing betrayal I could never truly forgive, and one friend didn’t even know why I was so upset.
My friends may have voted Clinton that night — and would have voted Obama for a third term if they could — but their silence voted Trump. At that moment, I knew “Madame President” was no longer a certainty. And I was right. But I also learned counting on friends to stand up with me was no longer a certainty.
White liberals may believe their politics are inclusive as long as they see people of color and LGBTQA3 people as part of their movement. But it’s important that white liberals recognize intersectional liberals — people who aren’t white and have different experiences, aspirations and political beliefs that are modified by how their identity affects how they live.
This silence and lack of understanding of intersectionality isn’t new. It has long been white liberals’ tacit sign of approval of America’s racist legacy.
White liberals have a long history of turning a blind eye to the injustices that have plagued marginalized communities and continue to plague them: the whitewashing of the long-term effects of slavery, the racial gerrymandering that dilutes the power of minority voters, the voter disenfranchisement of felons that are disproportionately minorities, the racist origin of Oregon’s non-unanimous jury decisions. White progressives often fail to understand how deeply racism is ingrained in our country and view it as a relic of the past. But it’s not.
This lack of understanding is one of the driving criticisms of the Women’s March. Although the women wearing the pink pussy hats may have had good intentions, the event largely ignored the intersectionality of women — trans women, women of color and low-income women — and how it leads to different forms of oppression compared to the white middle class that seems analogous with the word “woman.”
Instead, it is often people of color, particularly women of color, who have been the true liberal heroes for all Americans.
Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, led the Stonewall riots and ignited a revolution of queer liberation. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi formed the Black Lives Matter movement, an organization that fights against the oppressive forces of intersectionality that is imposed on all Black Americans, in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Grace Lee Boggs, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, worked closely with Malcolm X in the fight for civil rights and fought for labor rights in her home of Detroit. Dolores Huerta led the labor rights movement for farmers, co-founded what is now the United Farm Workers and continues to fight for workers, women and immigrants.
These activists likely didn’t act to promote progressivism. They did it to protect themselves because they couldn’t count on white progressives to stand with them.
White progressives can vote the right way and believe the right thing — that love is love, Black lives matter and Dreamers are American, too — but they should also do the right thing: listen to us, believe us and stand with us.
Racism isn’t just refusing service to someone based on their appearance. Racism is also ignoring the people of color who have been warning you about it and doing something about it for centuries.
Racism doesn’t always manifest itself as people wearing white hoods and chanting “You will not replace us.” Sometimes, racism manifests itself as people wearing pink pussy hats and chanting “I’m with her.” Or chanting nothing at all.