White Women and the Power Paradox – background, accountability, and other FAQ

May 19, 2020

Hi all,

I’m getting some great questions about our webinars and class called “White Women and the Power Paradox.” Keep asking! Here are some initial thoughts for you:

Why are these sessions for white women led by white women? Can I really learn anything about racism from other white people?

I’m doing work with white women because, in short, Black women asked me to. One beloved colleague often asks, “Can you please go collect your people?” My Black friends and colleagues who do racial justice/DEI work are tired, especially now. They want more space to heal and less space to explain basic stuff to white folks.

Madeline and I have been doing racial justice work in our workplaces and other parts of our lives for a few decades. We learn new things every day. There’s so much we don’t know. But we believe deeply in the power of white people learning together and holding each other accountable. White people’s learning can be messy, full of fear, anger, and sadness. We have “aha!” moments that would make our POC friends say, “Really? You’re JUST NOW getting this?” And we need to have all of those moments. But we don’t always need to exhaust the people of color we love with those moments. We can do some of our own work. As Madeline says, “this work is completely insufficient, but it is critically necessary.”

Also, as you likely know, we can’t ONLY learn about racism from white folks. More on that down the line. 

What do you mean by “Power Paradox?”

We named these conversations “White Women and the Power Paradox” because women must grapple with the fact that we get to pick and choose how and when we really use our power. And there’s a whole range of meaning here. I mean anything from befriending women of color at work, then only speaking up to support them when it’s convenient for you, all the way to Amy Cooper in Central Park (a professed liberal woman, mind you) who laid bare the fact that white women have quick access to deadly power at all times.

I also believe that white women accessing and using their power for good (carefully and in collaboration with people of color they’re accountable to) can be an amazing thing. In the series, we talk about what gets in the way of that, namely internalized sexist crap. All the messages we’ve absorbed about how girls and women “should” show up in the world. We’ve got some unlearning to do.

Who are you accountable to? How do Black and non-black people of color weigh in on this?

Over the past several years, Madeline and I have both been asked by women of color in our personal and professional lives to “collect our own people,” and these sessions are part of that mandate. But we also know we can’t do this work in a vacuum. Whiteness, white privilege, internalized white supremacy – they skew your worldview to say the least. We’re having both formal and informal accountability conversations with women of color about what happens in these sessions. Some of our colleagues and loved ones want to hear about our approach and curriculum in detail and give feedback, some just want to monitor what we’re doing, and others have declined because it’s yet another piece of unpaid work focused on white folks and that’s just not a priority right now. All of these make perfect sense. 

What do you mean by “women?”

We use “women” in our title because we started off with a particular interest in talking with people who were socialized as girls in early life. We’re interested in talking with folks, like us, who have been on the short end of the sexism/misogyny/patriarchy stick. This includes plenty of trans and non-binary folks. Also, to state the obvious, trans women are women. However, you describe and express your gender today – it’s all love here. Join us. 



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