The New York Times published a story today about racial divisions that are springing up around the Women’s March on Washington, the progressive event scheduled for the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. At the core of the story is Jennifer Willis, a white woman from South Carolina who was planning to attend the march with her daughters. But after reading something online which she found off-putting, Willis decided to cancel her trip. From the NY Times:
Ms. Willis, the South Carolina wedding minister, had been looking forward to the salve of rallying with people who share her values, a rarity in her home state, where she said she had been insulted and shouted at for marrying gay couples.
But then she read a post by ShiShi Rose, a 27-year-old blogger from Brooklyn.
“Now is the time for you to be listening more, talking less,” Ms. Rose wrote. “You should be reading our books and understanding the roots of racism and white supremacy. Listening to our speeches. You should be drowning yourselves in our poetry.”
Willis felt offended at the assumption that she wasn’t already aware of her advantages but told the NY Times, “The last thing that is going to make me endeared to you, to know you and love you more, is if you are sitting there wagging your finger at me.”
For her part, ShiShi Rose tells the Times she wasn’t trying to discourage anyone from attending the march, but adds, “I needed them to understand that they don’t just get to join the march and not check their privilege constantly.”
The last word in the piece is given to Willis who asks, “Can you please tell me what that means?” I think she already has an instinctive sense of what it means, which is why she was offended. It’s progressive code for: Shut up! Here’s the original Instagram post that convinced Willis to change her plans:
For some people, their outlook of this country deeply changed on November 9th. For the rest of us, this is how it has always looked.
I want to remind you that that is a privilege.
It’s a privilege that white supremacy wasn’t at the forefront of your reality, because you benefit from it.
I want to remind you that no ally ever got very far, in any movement, without acknowledgement of their own privilege daily. You do not just get to join the efforts that people of color have been working for their entire lives to both teach and survive, without doing work, too. You don’t just get to join because now you’re scared, too. I was born scared.
Now is the time for you to be listening more, talking less, spend time observing, taking in media and art created by people of color, researching, and unlearning the things you have been taught about this country. You should be reading our books and understanding the roots of racism and white supremacy. Listening to our speeches. You should be drowning yourselves in our poetry. Now is the time that you should be exposed to more than just the horrors of this country, but also the beauty that has always existed within communities of color. Beauty that was covered over because the need to see white faces depicted was more important.
Now is the time to teach your children, to call out your family, to finally speak up. You have been silent for long enough. Now is the time to realize that you should have joined us sooner. But since you’re here now, it’s time to get to work.
Why would anyone want to join a march after being told they haven’t done enough, don’t know enough and need to shut up even if they show up? And all of this coming from a 27-year-old. Willis is right to stay home.