Join host, Lisa Sharon Harper, in conversation with the women of the Pantsuit Politics Podcast, Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland. On this collaborative extended episode, released on both platforms, listen in as Lisa, Beth and Sarah talk COVID-19, sci-fi movies, canaries in mines and wrestle over one tough question: What will alliance with women of color require of White women in 2020? Be prepared to hear all of the things that need to be said. The times we are living in require it.
COVID-19 statistics by race were released after the taping of this podcast. The recent Coronavirus statistics make three things clear: media reporting has been white-centered; the impact of COVID-19 is racialized and the response to COVID-19 is being politicized.
To understand what happened in the Wisconsin primaries, check out this fabulous thread by Pantsuit Politics. It’s a classic example of De-Facto voter suppression. These tactics date back to Jim Crow. We knew early on that COVID-19 was more likely to kill people with other comorbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma. All of these conditions are more prevalent in communities of color—especially Black communities because of environmental racism.
Environmental racism looks like highways cutting through Black neighborhoods and leaving particulates in the air that cause higher rates of asthma. It looks like fewer supermarkets in Black communities, offering less access to vegetables and healthy food. And it looks like targeted fast-food restaurant zoning in our communities, offering an over abundance of fried and sugar-laden foods.
New statistics are clarifying the racially disparate impact of COVID-19. The result of the disparate prevalence of comorbidities in Black communities is astronomical rates of death.
And then there is what is happening in jails and prisons across the country. Some states are releasing non-violent offenders, but many more are NOT.
We recorded this episode on March 19, before the racialized impact of Coronavirus was clear. Now it is. The virus itself does not discriminate but the virus’s impact in Black communities is clarifying the reality and impact of decades of targeted structural racism by local, state and federal governments.
The alarm is ringing. The 2020 Election is an existential question of survival for our families and communities. As Lisa Sharon Harper said in this episode, the question remains: Will Black people find enough allies among White women?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Coming to you from Washington D.C., I am Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. Welcome to the Freedom Road Podcast.
Lisa: Each month we bring together national faith leaders, advocates, and activists to have the kinds of conversations we normally have on the frontlines. It is just that this time we have got microphones in our faces and you are listening in.
This month we are partnering with Pantsuit Politics on this episode. We will say all the things that need to be said because these times require truth. With love, but truth. It is necessary. Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland are the hosts of Pantsuit Politics, a podcast birthed in the wake of the 2016 election. I have asked Beth and Sarah to come talk with us on Freedom Road about what alliance with women of color will require of white women in 2020.
We would love to hear what you think. I have been thinking about this for a long time, talking with a lot of white women about this, and I really want to open up this conversation across the country. So hey, would you help me, would you actually tweet about it? Would you tweet your thoughts? Would you tweet back to us and let us know what you think? You can tweet to me @lisasharper or to freedom road @FreedomRoad.us, and keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think. We love it, we love the back and forth. We love the feedback and we really do ask please keep it coming.
Ninety-four percent of Black women and 68 percent of Latino women voted for Hillary Clinton 2016. But 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, not the white woman running for President. The majority of white women voted for the man who bragged about grabbing women’s private parts, who was accused of raping multiple women including his own wife, 53 percent.
I will never forget sitting around the conference room table in Sojourners when I worked there the morning after the election in 2016. The white women around that table wailed. So did I. But there was something in their voices that held another level of grief. One woman actually named it, she named it, well, she said she felt betrayed. Not only by their white fathers, pastors, and brothers who demanded sexual purity from them. But then 63 percent of them voted for a rapist. No, these white women were also wailing because they were betrayed by their mothers. They were betrayed by other white women. Let us talk.
Alright, so Beth and Sarah, thank you so, so much for agreeing to do this. I am so excited to share this podcast time with you and when we first started thinking about this, the world was different, right? [laughs]
Beth Silvers: Very different.
Lisa: This is so crazy. Oh my– I am still—I feel that– I literally feel like with the coronavirus, we are living inside a sci-fi movie. Yeah, I do not like sci-fi movies. I do not like them. I really do not, I do not like sci-fi movies because there are scary, like scary.
Lisa: I have enough scary in my life, you know what mean? Like…
Lisa: Yeah. Black folk that is the thing. [laughs] Black folk are always looking at white folk, especially white women who always go down into the cellar, and we are always like, “Go back! Go back!”
Sarah Steward Holland: Does not she know what is about to happen?
Lisa: This is a sci-fi movie, do not you know?
Lisa: You are in a movie, you need to do not do that, do not go check. You are gonna die! Anyway, so this is literally how I feel. I am sorry, we are kinda getting off topic. But hey, in some way it is actually, in some ways it is not off topic. You know, this is how I feel when I see the pictures of white evangelical women and men worshiping at church on Sunday after everybody has been told to hold up in their houses. And they are like, “No, no.” You know – Jesus is strong enough for the coronavirus. You are like, “Do not you know we are inside a sci-fi movie?” My God! You are gonna die!
Lisa: And not like that, but you are gonna pass it onto Black people on the way because you are gonna stop at like, you know, McDonald’s or you are gonna stop, you are gonna stop at Starbucks and what about those—never mind, that is kind of crazy because they are all closed. So, anyway.
Lisa: Yeah, so…
Sarah: I mean, I think that that is a most interesting addition to our conversation, because if we are talking about allyship, and we are talking about the challenges that have faced our country and the changes that the twenty-twenty election could bring, in many ways, the coronavirus is the great equalizer, right? I mean it does not, it does not care how much privilege you have. It does not care how much money you make. You cannot pay yourself into a ventilator if there is not a ventilator available, right?
Lisa: Yes, that is exactly right.
Sarah: Uhm, so I think that that in many ways, you know, it is a challenge, it is a unique challenge that we have not faced in a long time of this level.
Sarah: And it does present an opportunity to think through so many of the ways that we interact and so many of the challenges facing our society, and the way that we sort and group and oppress or soak up our privilege or opportunity-hoard, or whatever the case maybe, this is a game-changer.
Beth: And your point about the cellar and the sci-fi movie, I think is so connected because the story of how governments respond to coronavirus is really one of our capacity to heed warnings.
Beth: And there is so much privilege in not heeding warnings, you know.
Lisa: Well, I will roast it, buddy. Yes! And Black folk is warning white folk for a long time. Well, what I remember when I first started to become kind of conscious about race and the hierarchy and white supremacy, I was actually taught, I mean explicitly by the person who led the very first pilgrimage I ever went on. He said, “You know, people of African descent in the United States always have the canary in the mine.”
Lisa: And whatever happens to us is actually bound to happen to everybody else because of its toxicity in the systems. Its toxicity in the structures that we have. And up to this point, structurally, it has been contained in our communities. But the fact that it exists, actually shows that our structures and systems are not setup to serve everyone. Well, somebody.
Right now, the pressure is being felt on all of us because this coronavirus, it feels like a 10-ton elephant on top of our chests. Like, we are feeling the pressure of it in all of the structures and systems. The weaknesses that already existed in them, what they were setup to do, which is really just to serve those who are in the… and I … have a whole analysis of this. But in the noble class, in the class that we setup in America, that would be the equivalent of England’s noble class, right? And then and everybody else is the serfs. But in America, what we did was we racialized that system.
But now, with this coronavirus, we are realizing, “Wow! We actually do have a healthcare system that is only really setup to serve the few. The few with cash.” It is a pay-for-play system as opposed to one that cares for the image of God in all. And so, we are seeing that. We are definitely seeing that.
Sarah: Well, and I think the canary in the coal mine to Beth’s point and to shift it ever so slightly, it is it reminds of the first time like I really learned about the work of James Baldwin and this idea that like racism is a cancer on everybody.
Sarah: You know, just because you think that you are at the top of the pile, it is toxic. It is toxic for everyone. And so, what happened when you have an administration that proudly claims this sort of, “We are all white guys. See us all up here, we are all white guys.”
Sarah: You know, that is the toxicity of privilege: you do not heed warnings because your whole life you have got given the benefit of the doubt and second chance, after second chance, after second chance, based on your privilege. You think it is based on your merit or ability, and that is a dangerous situation to be in when you face something like a global pandemic. That is when people ask, “Why is it so important to have diverse representation?” Well, this is why, this is why because one perspective is limiting. And … as our planet grows and our populations grow and our challenges grow, having … one particularly privileged outlook, ugh, so true. It is just they just cannot heed the warnings, man.
Lisa: They cannot heed the warnings. That is so deep. And I think that that, I mean, we just got finished with a major democratic primary run, where Black women in a particular, backed Elizabeth Warren, and we had this situation where … Black women had really come together. A lot of very, very high-powered Black women activists and advocates and leaders of organizations and institutions came together and analyzed which candidate serves our community the best. And we said Elizabeth Warren, out of all of these primary candidates.
But instead of voting for them throughout the South, instead of voting for her rather, throughout the South, Black women and men and young people voted for Joe Biden. And the reason why they did that was because they did not trust that white women were going to vote in their own interest. Because when they looked back at Hillary Clinton and the reality that 53 percent of white women had voted for Donald Trump in 2016, they said, “Oh, no. We cannot risk this. We cannot risk voting for another white woman because we cannot, we do not believe white women are gonna vote for themselves”. I am wondering, how did you feel the morning after the 2016 election when you heard the news that Donald Trump had won 53 percent of the white women’s vote.
Beth: Well, I will go first he first because Sarah has probably a lot more to say about this than I do, because she has such a personal connection to Hillary Clinton. I just felt really disoriented the morning that Donald Trump won.
Beth: I remember laying in my bed, like two in the morning watching returns coming in, and it almost felt like if I kept vigil, if I kept watching this it would change the results.
Beth: Uhm, you know, if I turned the TV off, it was done. But if I stayed with it, maybe it was not. And I walked into my workplace the next day, I remember seeing my boss at the time for the first time that morning and we both looked just dazed. And we sat down and talked for a while about how there must be a lot in the country that we truly do not understand, because we could not believe that this country had elected Donald Trump. And I just stayed in that state for a while. “Okay, what am I missing?” Because I had really thought there was no way this would happen. I spent months on our podcast telling people, “Do not worry, America will not do this.” [laughs] And America did this.
Lisa: Wow! Wow. Wow!
Sarah: Yeah, I think my reaction was not that different. I mean, I felt a lot of just real personal devastation, because I had worked for Hillary Clinton, because I already have my tickets to the inauguration of the first female president. It was also a very intense time because I was running for office myself. And so, I figured out that I was gonna win and she was gonna lose at about the same time that evening. So, I did not even get a like a sort of a pure moment to celebrate my victory, which I worked very, very hard for. And I just remember collapsing on the ground in my living room when my husband was like, “He is gonna win”. And like it kinda hit me.
Lisa: Oh, my God.
Sarah: And just sobbing because I was scared. I was so scared.
Lisa: Aww, yeah.
Sarah: I mean we have spent, you know, I thought at that point everybody saw who he was.
Lisa: Yes. That is the thing. … Hold on, can I just say real quickly, that is the thing. We had all already seen who he was and yet 63 percent of white men and 53 percent of white women voted for him.
Sarah: I think what I did not realize until, [and] it took me a long time to realize this because I, because I had worked for Hillary Clinton and I had personal experience with who she was as a human being.
Sarah: It was very disorienting to see and hear how people were talking about her. Like, I was used from 2007. Like, I was used to, “She is not a great speaker or she is not that warm. She is a little too—she is too ambitious. She should really stayed with her…” I was used to the sort of run of the mill issues.
Sarah: Like I got it. I thought I had like a good lay of the land.
Sarah: And then it just became, well, she traffics in child sex slaves and she kills people.
Lisa: What? I know–
Sarah: And it is just like–
Lisa: That was out of little like out of a diner. [laughs]
Sarah: It just became so out of control. And afterwards, I realized like, “Oh, well, the more he revealed himself, the worse she had to be for it to be okay.”
Sarah: And that is why it shifted from, “She’s a feminist” to “She just traffics in child sex slaves,” you know what I mean? Like that is why it had to get so much worse to justify him. I do not think I understood the political villainous – is villainous a word? Yeah, of Mitch McConnell.
Lisa: Villainy? Yeah.
Sarah: Like, villainy. Just feel like how smart that was to put the Supreme Court in play so people could use that as a justification to vote for somebody who they had seen clearly who he was. I just do not think I have put those pieces together and I was devastated for her. I was devastated to not have a woman president. And I have felt whatever remained of me believing that people vote based on some sort of logical calculation or policy examination was gone. I did not have much of that left at that point. I kinda knew people made really emotional decisions, but that erased whatever remained. I have got like, “Okay. Now, this is just, this is people making emotional decisions. They are busy. They are working hard. You have social media coming into play. You had the watch of the electoral college over the top of that and it is septic.”
Beth: How did you feel, Lisa?
Lisa: And then of course, do not forget, do not forget Russia. [laughs] It is like, “Oh, yeah, that is right.” How did I feel? Oh, my lord. Like so when you said that you collapsed and you started wailing, I was, I am literally sitting in the place where I was when I heard the news that Hillary had conceded. And I mean, I am feeling it even right now just talking about it. But I was standing by my couch, and I grabbed the edge of the couch, and I looked at the TV as Donald Trump was… and they were, they were podium where he was gonna rise to the podium and accept his election results [to] become president. And my whole body literally shook.
This has never happened to me before that moment. My whole body – I lost control of my actual body. Like it actually started to shake uncontrollably. And I said to myself, “Why am I shaking?” And I said, “What is going on with me?” And I, I consciously knew, it was like a flash, you know, a flash of like ‘aha’ came and it said, “What you are feeling is you are feeling the permission for you to thrive, go from your body,” because we had just had eight years of the very first black president in America, and under his Presidency he did not—actually, he was not, liberal. [laughs]
I do not care how who you talk to. That man was not a liberal and I loved him. I loved me some Obama. I really, really do. But we were, I lived, I worked at Sojourners for most of the time that he was in office and we were fighting some of the policies that he was putting forward and pushing him to go further, you know.
As because of our faith, like his drone policy and also the way that he never like really had the energy after healthcare to really push for immigration reform, although he did. But he made so many concessions because he was … the guy who tried to work with everybody in the beginning that he got played by the GOP. They said, “Okay, we will work with you on immigration if you do this, if you deport people.” So, he became the deporter-in-chief. And then they said, “Psych.” [laughs] And like, “Never mind,” you know. “We are not, we are not, we are not gonna work with you, period. We are not gonna put this bill that has, I mean, on the floor that actually did have the support of most of the house and it had already been passed by the Senate.”
So, you know, Boehner held onto it and, and Obama got played. And so, you know, I, but during that time still even in that context, there was permission, and not just permission, there was opportunity to thrive. There was access. Maybe that is a better, even a better word. Access to thriving. There were programs that were specifically setup to deal with the legacy of four hundred years of oppression. My Brother’s Keeper and other programs like that, there was attention given to the issues that impact our communities and many times our men with their mass incarceration and police brought violence. But it was in no way limited to men.
And so, as a Black woman, what I know about the way that we fight for Black women’s rights, and not just Black women, it is not, it is actually all women of color, when you look back at the way we have—women of color have fought for women of color’s rights. It is never just been for their rights as women. It is always been for their whole community, because we literally live in the intersection of our communities’ oppressions.
So when you look at Dolores Huerta, and Francis Harper, and Ida B. Wells, and Fanny Lou Hamer, you just name them all, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman. Whenever we have fought for women’s rights, it has always been in the context of freedom for our people, all of our people. And so, when I look back at that Obama era, I know that Black women, by far, were the most who voted for him. And when I look at Hillary Clinton, I know by far Black women were the ones who voted most for her, because given the choice, we knew that this was an existential, this was an existential choice for our thriving or not, and we lost. We lost our thriving. And that is what my body felt on that day.
Sarah: Mm-hmm. Ooh, you need some space for that.
Beth: I have to sit with that for a second, yeah.
Lisa: You know, I, I think the thing that I wish, wow, I just suddenly got three thoughts as I said that. But the thing that I wish that white women understood—okay, I will say all three thoughts.
Lisa: I will say all three thoughts, I hope we have time.
Sarah: No, no, we got time.
Lisa: Okay, cool. So, I wish that first of all white women understood that their thriving is tied up in the thriving of Black women.
Lisa: Ultimately, because we are all fighting the same oppression, the same demonic force that is on earth. And that, I believe, is white male dominance. That white male dominance that the literally the legal structures from the very beginning of America, from the very beginning of the colonial era, the first– Did you know this? I had, in my research for next book, I learned this. I am just looking at out my own family history, which traces back to Maryland 1682, 1686. Those were then, when the first two people of my family came to American shores. And they happen to, one was Ulster Scott from the Ulster Region of Northern Ireland. They were Scottish. They were people who were brought to Ireland by the English in order to [make] plantations, basically, colonize Irish land for the English. And then, the Irish rose up so they said, “Ooh, we are getting nick[?] and a dodge.” And what they did is they went to Maryland.
And then, there was a Senegalese man who was from the region that intersects with Senegal, Mali, and Guinea. And his name was Sambo. In Senegal, his name was Sambo. That, that is actually a Senegalese name. It means second son. And so, this second son was boarded onto a ship that carried enslaved men and women across the sea and lost hundreds of them in on the way. But he survived and he arrived in Maryland in 1686.
And Maudlin Magee had already been here for four years, a white woman, again from Ulster, and they met and somehow in the next year, they fell in love, had an affair and had a baby. And that baby’s name was Fortune. And they, yes, they named her Fortune. How about that, huh?
And but that baby, because she was a mixed-race baby born of a white mother, her life was forever shaped by the laws that have been created and were still being created for like the last forty years in Maryland. The race laws, the original race laws in America. And those race laws were created in response to sexual politics.
Lisa: Those race laws were created to decide what would the status, slave or free, be of the mixed-race children of white women who were having affairs and marrying enslaved black men.
And so, it was in that context that Maryland created, and also Virginia, created their first, and they were the first two colonies, remember, their first slave codes, their first slave laws. And they were gender-bound. They were intricately connected to gender. And it is through the, the procession of those laws over about fifty, sixty years that you begin to see the privilege of white womanhood over Black womanhood and over, over women of color-hood. And so, uh, I mean, so I guess what I, what I am really, really fascinated by now is I am asking the question of how does this all still play out today and it really, really does.
I wanna ask you, as white women, what were you taught about what it actually means to be white? Like, what were you and I, and I do not mean explicitly though sometimes people were taught explicitly. But what did you pick up about what it means for you to be white in this society? And then, my next question would be what it means for you to be a woman in this society?
Beth: I do not think I was explicitly taught much. I think that I picked up, you know, I lived in a place that was not diverse. I grew up on a dairy farm in rural western Kentucky. And when I heard things about people of color, they were often dismissive. It came up in our very complicated context of Kentucky basketball a lot, where everyone in Kentucky is in just obsessed with basketball. But we had teams that were filled with people of color and everyone was both, uh, celebratory of the team while being kind of frustrated at how few white players got to play on the team.
And so, it was just a lot of subtle cues that there is difference here that it is important to keep our family white. When my aunt came into a serious relationship with a black man and had a baby with him, it was very altering of that perspective. I was really surprised by the embrace of my family around that relationship. It took a minute, but after that minute, everyone became very loving. And, and I could see it softening them elsewhere.
And, and so it sort of introduced me early on to the fact that, “Wow, we missed something by living in a place that is not diverse,” because when we have that proximity and that family connection, everything changes.
And so, those were the lessons that I really learned until I got to college. And even my collegiate experience was a very white one. So, it has been, uh, a long journey in my life to even think about, even to label myself as a white woman. It just was the default for me and almost everyone else that I grew up around.
Lisa: Yeah, okay. So, so I am sorry. I know, I know that you also wanna hear from the other person.
Lisa: But I just wanted to say I grew up in Cape May, New Jersey, uh, for high school and junior high. And I was, our family was the only black family within like a fifteen-mile radius, literally surrounding our house. [laughs] And it was really disorienting because I came from Philadelphia, which was a like 60 percent Black city and thriving. I mean, we had it really, really well-off Black folk there, at the same time, a thriving middle class and you also had folks who were poor and struggling and working. And my experience of Blackness was never just poverty. And, but when I went down to Cape May, oh my, gosh like, yeah, it was striking how whiteness was normative. Whiteness, whiteness was the norm. So, it sounds like that is one of the things that you kind of learned and then had to unlearn. Yeah, I get it.
Sarah: I think, you know, I learned a sort of more insidious narrative which was that we are all the same, but because of historical situations and culture, culture is the word I used. I think, you know, after reading the, the work of Ibram X. Kendi, I was taught a very assimilationist form of racism. That is what I was taught. This is culture where, you know, we are all the same but because of culture, there is some lack. And we need to really make sure that we keep standards and everybody, everybody, no matter what quote-unquote “culture” they came from reaches these standards.
Sarah: So you know, it is just in my main, like my mother’s family, I think that is the message. And, you know, my relatives still use that word that it is, culture is different. It is not a culture talk. The other side of my family was more just overtly racist and continues to be. My beloved, uh, grandfather who just I worshiped, he was, he was so loving and wonderful to me and he was also incredibly racist. I grew up hearing that Martin Luther King was a troublemaker, like he could not keep his mouth shut.
Sarah: I heard my father that he would use, I, I remember hearing him one time very specifically when I was watching Family Ties use the n-word. And it is stuck with, so that was not normal.
Sarah: I knew that that was, that was a word we did not use and like– but I think that was reflective of like the history of that that side of the family.
Lisa: Where were you guys? Like where were you in the world?
Sarah: We are not, we did not grow up very far apart. I was also in western Kentucky.
Lisa: Oh, wow. Do you all know that I actually have ancestors who were in in western Kentucky for like a hundred years?
Sarah: Oh, my God!
Lisa: Like they were, like they were really there for, uh, well maybe not a hundred years. It is more like sixty years, [chuckle] sixty or seventy. But they were there before the Civil War all the way, you know, through the turn of the next century. And then they ran, they literally had to escape Kentucky. They had to run into Indiana, which is really ironic. They were run out of Kentucky, I think, by the Klan. I am not really sure. And, but it is funny because they ran into Indiana, which is the birthplace of the Klan.
Sarah: Of the Klan, yeah. Seriously.
Lisa: Really, people do not understand that. They ended up, they did. They ended up landing in Philadelphia but, [laughs] anyway, keep going about that.
Sarah: And that, you know, there is a part of my family history that I think about a lot. You know, I did the research, I looked through the slave census and figured out which of my family members owned slaves. And you know, in my particular history, it was, it is the sort of a more common experience. You know, I grew up with a lot of Gone with the Wind, a lot of Gone with the Wind memorabilia and watching the movie. I mean, they showed it my husband’s school growing up. It is just bananas when you think about it.
Sarah: But, uhm, he grew up in Atlanta so it is a big deal there, obviously.
Lisa: Oh, wow.
Sarah: Uhm, and so, but that is the story we hear when the reality is a lot of families had less than ten enslaved people, right?
Sarah: And that is what the situation in my family. And so, there is always a part, I, I have never found really good sort of historical text. I would like to find out about sort of that experience, since you get a lot of stuff about people who owned plantations and you get a lot of stuff about people who did not have any enslaved people. But you don’t get that middle ground I think when I would imagine the relationships had to be very different. Not more caring necessarily, just but more, just different in when you are living in such close proximity with a smaller number of people.
And I wonder, it is like that where that sort of more assimilationist, insidious narrative came from? Like, it is getting, it makes us feel better to talk about it like this. You know, I know and I heard a story of my family once that there was, uh, an enslaved person who stayed past the Civil War and was like a part of the family for many years afterwards. And so, like sort of that narrative was really common in my family.
Sarah: And so, I felt like that we are good people. We are caring. We are not racist, but there are just differences in the quote-unquote “culture” that we need to be, that we are aware of and we just cannot turn a blind eye to. That was the narrative that I grew up hearing.
Lisa: These are our stories. You are listening to the Freedom Road Podcast where we bring you stories from the front lines of the struggle for justice.
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Lisa: So, Sarah, this is funny because it reminds me of the conversation that I had once in downstate Illinois. I was there speaking for a Christian college and I spoke on the Very Good Gospel and I was speaking on the reality that we are all made in the image of God. And as such, we are all created and called by God to exercise dominion in the world. And I ended up afterwards, we had a Q&A, and this in chapel, right? Like, so we had a Q&A with students and I mean, white male after white male stood up and tried to undercut what I was saying. I love that stuff. But actually, I was like, “Okay, here we come. Let me take out my double-edge sword off the Bible and let just go with this.”
Lisa: And then also, the history, the actual, what actually happened and, and we had, we had fun. Well, I had fun because I actually enjoy going to battle for this stuff, right? Like I think, I really do think, that my—In fact, I know that many of my ancestors were actually soldiers and I think that is where I get if from, right?
So, but afterwards when I was not in that mode, I was sitting down, you know, we were—I was so ready to go. I was so tired. And this older white gentleman sat next to me and he said, “Can I talk to you?” And I said, I said, “Oh, I am so tired, but okay, sure. No problem.” And so, he said, “You know,” he started to, to give me compliment, “Oh, you know, you are so smart.” [laughs] “You are so smart. You are so intelligent and, and what you are saying is so, well, just it sounds so smart.” But he said, “Um, how do you think that makes us Southerners feel about ourselves?” And I said, “What?” [laughs] And he said, “How do you think it makes us feel for you to talk about slavery and things like that?” I was like, “I am sorry, sir. How do you think it made us feel to be enslaved? How do you think, how do you think that felt?” But even more than that, the next thing he said was, “But we were good to our slaves.” He literally said that to me!
Lisa: I know, I get this stuff all the time. So, this is actually—and it’s funny because I think most white folks think that, that is, that conversation is held around their dinner tables and that does not escape the dinner tables, so black folks do not know. But the black folk who have interaction with a white folk, get it a lot, we get it. We do get it, and I hear that. And I have heard that a few times. I have heard, “Why do not you just get over it? Slavery only happened for fifty years. Why, you know, why do not you—literally, somebody, literally a college student said, “Slavery only happened fifty years, get over it.”
But this man said exactly what you said that is kind of that we were benevolent slave holders. We were benevolent slave owners. And what, it literally is, [laughs] I literally rose from my seat, [laughs] and I, you know, we stood nose to nose. I mean, literally, nose to nose. And in the most powerful, and I meant to be powerful, you know, tone that I could muster, I said, “There is no way to be kind to someone that you are enslaving. It is just not possible. It is not possible.” And so, you know, I think so, what you learned about what it meant to be white was benevolent, normative and advanced, I think.
Sarah: Yeah, right, right, right. Right, absolutely! That is it. That is the narrative. And it was just—and it is like I said, it is just, it is so insidious, right? It is sneaks right in there. You do not have to claim anything ugly, right?
Sarah: You do not have to be–and I, I was thinking before when you were talking about, and when you said the double-edged sword of the Bible that made me really think about it which is, when you grow up and you in a sort of like you are in evangelical setting, and you learn all the stuff about the Bibl,e and you learned like, “Oh, well.” I always think about the example of circumcision. It was not some just random religious instruction. There is some evidence that you know, it helped with hygiene or whatever by during that period, so there was some like good motivation. And I think, “Yeah. That is true of everything.” [chuckles]
That is true, all of those stuff. Like love your enemy as yourself. Take care of the least of these, is in the terms of 2020, it is self-care too, y’all. Like, that is what is so hard to convince people is, you know, this other way that we think that like—I think about hierarchy all the time since your speech at Evolving Faith. Like, this idea that of hierarchy and that’s really the best way, and that is how we protect ourselves. We just cannot get it through that, no, it is like I said, it is toxic for everybody.
These ethics of love your enemy as yourself and care for the least of these, and there is something deeper there than just, “I wanna make you do hard things.” [Laughs] “I wanna make you be able and do things that you don’t wanna do. It is for your own good.” The canaries in the coal mine, what is happening to most oppressed people, the people like that, that we can only thrive and survive and succeed based on how the least among us are doing.
Sarah: And if we cannot see that in the midst of a crisis like the coronavirus, then I wait for the future because this is, this is it. This is how we can see.
Sarah: We are in this together and they are gonna try even harder to do the same bullshit they always do which is, “Be afraid. We are not the enemy. They are the enemy.” This is a, you know, “a war for resources.” This is, “you need to be afraid. You cannot thrive unless another person,” and that is what is so hard about flattening the curve is that, we are in this together. You are dependent on other people. Suck it up, face the fact.
Lisa: Yeah. Do you think that that is why people literally like, do you think that that is why, that is what—okay, so… Wow, this actually, it is kind of going a little bit from where I was thinking I wanted to go, but at the same time, it is actually right now, right? But do you think this is why a lot of white Evangelicals, white Pentecostals are not socially distancing? They are still doing, going to work. They are still going to church and they have not shutdown. They have not shutdown.
Sarah: Right, because it is, it is the theology of hierarchy, not a theology of slavery.
Lisa: Yes. Yes! So, they do not understand, or they just do not believe that we are all connected. They really do believe that they are protected from the stuff that hurts …the lesser people. The non-normative people. The non-benevolent people.
Lisa: Do you think that that is the case? I mean, I am asking a real question, because I mean I am like, what would make people go to church when the entire world—I mean, I am really for real. When the whole world is on fire, and is dependent on people, like the fire can only stop if we go inside our homes and it is not much.
Um, I heard, uh, a man who is on CNBC, like, weep last night. Um, literally he was weeping saying. “It is not hard. We are not being asked to go to the frontlines of World War II. We are not being asked to go get out of the boat on D-Day. Like we are not, we are not being asked. We are asked to stay home and hang out with our families. Is that really so hard? Is it, is it so hard for thirty days to go home and stay home? It is hard, but is it that hard? Can we not figure out another way?” But yet it is white Evangelicals, in particular, who are defying that order. Who are saying, “We are stronger than this virus.” And really have no sense of responsibility to their neighbor even though it was Jesus who said, “You will go to heaven based on how much you love your neighbor.”
Beth: You know, I think that there are people within that sphere who benefit from that hierarchy, who do adopt on some level, the idea that they are just invincible because of the status they have created for themselves. And I think that there are probably more people who have lost all sense of power in their own actions.
Part of living with the sense that being white is, is the norm, it is the default position. It gives you permission to decide that most things happening around you just are. You are not creating them. You are just in the flow of them, right? And so, I cannot be that responsible for the history where my ancestors have been incredibly cruel. I cannot be that responsible for the present. It just is, and I am not that responsible for the future.
And so, that means, I think, what? That God has ordained to this, because some people need to suffer? That is the history of the world ,and I am just, I am just a bystander in it. And even if I felt an inclination toward action, what difference would my action make? I mean, hierarchy does not work, right? Unless a lot of people within that hierarchy are made to believe that they are on the bottom because they are supposed to be on the bottom.
Lisa: That is right.
Beth: And I think that happens to so many women in evangelical culture for white people.
Sarah: My grandmother, who is very evangelical, you know, sent me, uh, “You need to read your Bible and not be afraid.” There is also a sort of a side narrative they, they can tap easily which is, “This is of this world. We are not meant for this world. Do not be afraid. None of these really matters anyway,” you know, all that, “This is the gospel of sin management to get you to heaven and that is what you really need to focus on.” That is another sort of side story that gets told a lot, too.
Lisa: Yeah, and I think it has—does not it have also to do with like Christian nationalism that or Zionism, the reality that—I have been thinking about this a lot. You know, the reality that, you know, it is us who are gonna be the ones taking in the rapture. This is probably premillennial cray-cray, and you know, we are all, we are gonna be fine. This is a test of our faith, you know. And so, we have to keep going to church.
But in that, there is just such a lack of care for neighbor. And sometimes, it is actually, it is funny because I, I do not think it is always like a conscious lack of care or even an intentional lack of care. I think most times people, neighbors are not even on people’s minds, they are just thinking about going to heaven. But there is a lack of care. There is not a carefulness about whether or not you become a carrier. Not even when you die, but just you become a carrier who then when walking through the supermarket the next week, gives it to somebody else or ten other people who then give it to three more people, and you then create this web. That is actually—and it is not, this is not just about whiteness. This is about, I think it is, it is in the—it is something in our, in that, in that evangelical, Pentecostal strain of the faith, which we also saw in Korea, you know, or I am sorry, is it in Korea?
Sarah: Yup. Sounds right, I think it is in South Korea.
Lisa: Right, patient 31, right? Who the pastor knew that he was being told to, to shut it down but he did not. And he did not because, you know, we need to prove are faith by showing up. And so, patient 31 showed up and she ended up giving the virus to a thousand people in just two visits. One thousand people, um, retraced back to her.
The first time she came, she did not know she had it because she was just a carrier. She did not, she had, she had no symptoms up to that point. And the second time, she had symptoms. She had already been at the hospital, and she still went and sat in that, in that crowd and gave the virus to others. So, here is—so, okay, I wanna move it a little bit forward and I wanna ask the question, as women then, as women in alliance with women of color. In that situation, why do you think about women, white women do not think to ally with women of color?
Sarah: So, you and I have this conversation, started this conversation late at night involving faith. I have been thinking about it ever since.
Sarah: Now, I spend a lot of time thinking about this after the 2016 election and I have watched my friends and had conversations and added some layers to my in initial instinct, which is being a white woman and participating in this particular hierarchy, requires not only an oppression of other people but that sort of toxic self-delusion that works on your own soul, right?
Sarah: And so, let us say, on the altar of white patriarchy, you have sacrificed your career identity. Maybe your sexual identity. Your children, you turned away children that were LGBTQ, family members, because maybe they married outside the race. Let us say that you, you just, you swallowed all, whatever has been asked of you, because this, this is your, you know, especially if you are talking about your economic independence, right? So if you have said, if what you been told is, “This is your only path, is through this man, and you must follow his lead because everything else depends on that.”
Lisa: Right, right.
Sarah: And that is very, very toxic, vulnerable position to be in, and so you are gonna make lots and lots of sacrifices, including relationships with other people you love. Relationship with yourself. Relationship with the wider world. Relationship with the–you know, the list goes on and on.
Sarah: And I think what you see is the bigger that pile gets, the harder it is to turn from it, right? The, the bigger the things you sacrificed, then any moment of pivot require for you to say, “I did that for nothing. I did all of that for nothing. It was a lie you told me.” And that, depending on who you are and where you are in life, that is a big, hard emotional ask. I am not saying it is not the right ask. It absolutely is. And the other way is death. And so, I do not know any way to address that up.
Lisa: When you say death, what do you mean my death? Because that is a deep word. What do you mean the other way is death?
Sarah: I mean, I think death because when you are a part of a system like that, you cannot live and love in connection and fully as yourself when you are a part of a system that asked you to make levels of sacrifice to oppress other people. Again, just, I do not think that is okay. I do not think they live simultaneously together.
Lisa: I think it is so funny because, I mean, I think that the reality is that most white women are not aware that they are doing that, right? Like, most white women do not have a clue that they are in that system. I was talking with another friend of mine about this, and actually, we are gonna be talking about this publicly later on this year. But that white women are reared by white male dominance. They marry white male dominance and they rear white male dominance. And so, there is a way that you are taught literally from the womb to survive it. And so, it is like this is the milk drink from, from the get-go. And so, most women, most white women, are not aware that that is the system they’re in. I am just, maybe a good question will be like, what, what, what was your aha moment when you realized it?
Sarah: I mean, I think they realized it or I, I do not know if it is conscious awareness, but they are aware because watch what happens when another white woman gets out of line?
Sarah: Watch how quickly they react.
Lisa: Okay, so talk about that. Tell me about it. I am not aware. That is what is hidden to me. As a Black woman, I do not see that. What I see, this is what I see as a Black woman. I see white women propped up and protected by their white men. But white women are telling me, “No, that is not it. We are not protected, we are controlled.” So tell me about that other side that we do not normally get to see.
Sarah: Well, and I tell you, it, it goes, it does go with my, with my ‘aha’ moment, because I have really, I do not fall in line so well. It is just my personality. There is nothing superior about my moral character.
Sarah: I think a lot of it is just, uh, I mean I grew up, I, all my friend’s parents were married. My parents were divorced. I was an only child. Everybody had siblings. I had red hair and glasses. Everybody else was tan and blond, okay? I just was an outlier. And so, there, if there was no way for me to fit in, then the other option was just to lower, sort of lean into the ways that I did not fit in.
And so, the pushback was and continues to be, especially some, from many of my female relatives, which is you, you do not need to make people so uncomfortable, you know. You wanna are trigger me, use the word, abrasive. You are being abrasive. You need to be quiet. You need to calm down. You need to think about other people more. You need to …and like especially if there is a co-conversation about, “Why should I have to do that when the men in our family do not do that?” There is a lot of, “That is just how it is.” A lot of, “That is just how it is. What do you want, what do you want me to do it?”
Lisa: Really? That is just how it is.
Sarah: Yeah. That is just how it is. There is a lot of debates in my family about food preparation. [laughs]
Sarah: I mean, when my mother married into my father’s family, the men sat around the table and the women reached in between the men to fill their plates, and then went go just purged wherever they could, for the food they prepared. And my mom was like, “Hey, you know what, we are not gonna do this anymore. Let’s do a buffet.” Um, and they did to their credit and they moved to buffet. But it is just stuff like that like it is, it is a million different ways that you, you should pick up the message. And if you refuse to take that message, then it will become more and more explicit.
It is like Oprah always says like, “The universe will first kind of like that nudge it with the feather and if you do not listen, you will gonna brick upside of the face.” Well, the patriarchy works the same way. “You know what? We’ll give you a polite warning. Step in line.” “Okay, you did not take the warning? Well, it is going to be harder for you this time. Until then, we are telling you that there is something wrong with you.” I definitely got that message. “What, what—there is something wrong with you. Why do not you think about these things? There is something wrong with you, why do not you just shut up and do what’s asked of you?”
I also have incredibly strong women in my family. Women who sort of sent me—but you know, I would be lying if I said some of those messages did not came from, come from the same, same women, that, “You are special. You should be able whatever you wanna do.” But also, in social settings, follow the rules. Like, it was a very mixed message. And what I heard from the men in my family, and I think you see this a lot of white men who have daughters, you know? I realized that my, my stepfather, what was happening was he was so upset that I was not actually being treated fairly. He was trying to talk me out of that experience. Like, he just did not want to accept that maybe people were just treating me differently because I was a woman. And so, he was all trying be like, “What about this?” But what I was hearing was–
Lisa: [laughs] I hear that, too. I am laughing because as a Black woman, as a person of African descent in America, regardless of my gender, I hear that all the time from white people. So, it is interesting. It is funny because it feels like, well, maybe the source of that, that line of thinking is actually white men who say it to white women. And now, white women and white men say that to people of color, “Well, maybe it is just this. Well, maybe it is just that. Maybe it is not about race you know?” It is interesting.
Sarah: So, I mean, I think that is what—and I was very lucky to be, I did not experience any sort of major trauma as a child that I had to overcome, I had. Because I am white and because I am privileged, I was able to get an education. I met my husband who is, is a good, good ally, best ally, very, very good ally, who had once never, not one asked me to tone it down and be different than exactly who I am. That was a real gift to me, him, at the age of nineteen.
Sarah: And so, I think just all those things. But I mean, and so I, you know, I try to remember like because I got those, I have those really important spaces where I am comfortable and supported. It is, it is important for me to push really hard in other areas. And again, it is my personality, so it comes naturally to me. But you know, I do not mind being in a group and being like, “No, that is–we are not gonna say that, even in a group of even all women. That’s racist. That is sexist.” You know, I think that I get the eye rolls, the, “Oh, here she goes again.” But you know, it is got to happen.
It is gotta–and I think it, it is getting better. I think people are becoming more aware of, um, the ugliness. And I think, for better or for worse, the Trump administration forces people to face it in a way that they could not just sort of roll their eyes and think it is just some, some of extreme situation, not reflective of the mass about mass of I. So, I think that is what I have seen as far as–and I think that is particularly true of sexism with the Me Too movement. And like just some really hard realities sitting a lot of people for the first time and women speaking up and saying, “Oh, this happened to me.” So, I mean, I think that, that is just the beginning, obviously, but it is hard.
Lisa: Yes. Yeah.
Sarah: Always, always hard to say, to make people look at—they do not wanna look at.
Beth: I probably have a different lens because I am, by personality, calm and compliant. And someone who, uh, really prioritizes the needs of others in a way that is unhealthy that I spent a lot of time working on in therapy. But I think, I do not know that I have one ‘aha’ moment about either sexism or racism. I remember as a first grader having a boy look at me and say, “You know, you would be really pretty if you were not so smart.” And so, I understood early on–
Speaker: Yeah, that there was a choice to be made and kind of what kind of girl am I going to be. And so, I picked smart. And I think that I picked smart probably because my mom is an incredibly hard worker and grew up in a family that was quite poor. And her deepest wish for me was to have an easier life than she had had growing up. And so, I worked for that, and, and I worked—my focus all through school was, “How can I get scholarships so that I can go to college.” And in college, “How can I get scholarships so that I can continue my education?” And that is what I did. I was an RA so that my parents would not have to worry about room and board for me. You know, I really just had that sense of the American dream that I have now come to understand was available to me because I am white. That in fact, if I did work hard enough, a lot of things would work out for me.
And so, my awareness is sexism deepened when I, when I came into the workforce as a lawyer and I had experiences like showing up to court and being asked if I were like a nurse there to testify instead of a lawyer, you know? Thing, things like that that I just kind of understood that I was always going to be seen as—especially, young and, and because of my quiet demeanor, I did not fit what people’s vision of a professional was.
On race, it has been an even more gradual unfolding. I was having a conversation with a church group that just read our book last night, and they asked me, “Where do you really struggle in political conversation in your life?” And I said, “You know the, the biggest struggle for me is talking about race and about the LGBTQ community, because I still live in an area that is by far majority white. It is much more diverse than where I grew up. I live right outside the Cincinnati Ohio, but it is still a very white culture.
And because of what Sarah and I do and this gift we have of, of having relationships all over the United States and world with people we have never met, but who share with us very personal experiences, you know, I know that you have this experience too, Lisa. You wake up to you know fifty heartbreaking emails a day about, about experiences that I’ve never had. It puts me in an alternate information universe to the people in my community. I know so much more about what it might be like to be the mother of a transgender child than almost anyone in my immediate sphere of influence, because our listeners share those stories with me.
And so, so that has been the lens through which I am kind of awakening to the limitations of my own perspective. And I am trying to figure out because we have this gift of an opportunity to share our thoughts with other people.
How do I walk alongside other white women as they come to that realization as well, instead of saying like, “Oh, I have crossed over here to the other side. Now, let me pull you with me,” because I think my particular personality lends itself to being more the, “Let, let me hold your hand and let us go together.” Wow, this is, this is surprising. This is hard. This makes me question a lot of things that have always seemed normal to me. My therapist calls it, the spell of solidity. When you have thought you have been standing on this really firm ground and you realize all the fault lines on it.
And so, how do I just help, help you and myself navigate that breaking of the spell of solidity around both how we are treated as women and how we particularly function in a world as white women.
Lisa: Walking Freedom Road from coast to coast and around the globe. This is the Freedom Road Podcast.
Lisa: The role of writers is to make seen what usually goes unseen. The role of faith is to help us connect with what is usually unseen. The world needs writers of faith to step up with extraordinary skill and connection to God’s heart now.
We need to speak truth and speak it in a way that brings clarity and aids discernment. Freedom Road is launching a seven-week online writing course in faith-rooted writing for justice. This seven-session course will cover introduction to writing for social justice, how to tell a great story, how to write a non-fiction book proposal, how to get the right agent to negotiate a great contract, how to identify your audience and get your book in their hands, how to build a platform and an audience for your writing. And finally, we are gonna talk about diversity, equity and inclusion in faith publishing. Facilitated by Lisa Sharon Harper and Marlena Graves, follow the link in the show notes on our website at FreedomRoad.us to register today.
Lisa: I am grateful for your journeys and the way that you have been mindful about your journeys as white women and maybe even are gaining in mindfulness about that. The thing that is striking to me, and I think maybe it is the next step, I am not sure. But if—let us put it this way. Since the 1990s, I have been working in the arena of racial reconciliation, racial healing, racial justice, you name it, like, race. [Laughs]
And I was explicitly taught by white man at that time that when I spoke about oppression, racial oppression, that I had to do it in terms and in ways that white people could swallow. That they could accept. And so, I actually did not talk about oppression. I never said the two words, white supremacy, those never came out of my mouth.
Ironically, it actually was after Trayvon Martin that I wrote those, those two words for the first time into, in my experience. They were the first time, when I wrote these two words publicly, and that was the first time I ever saw them actually written in a blog and, and said, “This is what this is.” I am sure others were saying it, but for me, that was like breaking glass. And it was, uh, it dangers, and I was even told, the [inaudible] Turners, “You cannot write that. You cannot write white supremacy. You know, you have to write racism,” which is ironically, like, more acceptable. I was like, “No, no, no, because what I am talking about is white supremacy.”
So there was a sense that you have to center whiteness and white sensibilities, and in particular, white male sensibilities when trying to free yourself of oppression. And I think that the shift that happened for me, and I think for the universe, quite honestly, with the assassination of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri was the decentering of whiteness. Young people who eventually rose up into the Black Lives Matter movement said, “Hell, no! I am not centering whiteness anymore. It does not work. It has not worked for us. Why would we continue to do this stuff?” right?
And so, it just reminds me of so many of the profits who– of the profits from our community that people of African descent and, but also Latinos, Latino community like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta. The people, and the Filipino community who actually were among the first to begin to organize the Latinos and collaborate with the Latinos in the, in the Farm Worker movement in, in California, and the Chinese Workers movement. Like, there has always been a sense of why we cannot wait.
We cannot wait for white folk to come around because we are literally dying. Like we are, like the thing that has really struck me about the last few days, and this, of course is giving away the timing of this recording today is that we are on the frontend of what is going to be a multi-month journey. And most likely by the time this airs for us, it may be later than that, but I have seen white folk, you know, I have seen Mitch McConnell. [laughs] That is like the thing that blows my mind. I saw Mitch McConnell stand in front of his—of, of the podium and tell—sorry, this is my urban neighborhood imposing
Lisa: Um, it is like I have police person that just went by, a police officer. So, um, Mitch McConnell stood in front of a podium and said that he told his white GOP, almost all male senators to just swallow this, the bill that, that came through the House that actually basically gave money to poor people and gave money to people who—they would never normally decide to do that. But now, they are doing it.
And I have watched the President, like, the same guy who actually has been all about, “Now, make America great again.” And what they are really– and I asked GOPers at the 2016 convention standing outside with a clipboard, “What are you dreaming of when you, when you think of when was America great?” They named pre-New Deal.
So, they are thinking about the, the age before there was any social net. That is when America was great, before the social net. And yet, that same President is actually, you know, is saying, “Okay, so, you know, yeah, we are gonna give, we are gonna give thousands of dollars out to each person, like, in America, each taxpayer.” Well, why? Why is it happening? Because white people were impacted. Again, it is the canary and the mine and it is, “Y’all are going doing down into the cellar.”
Lisa: You are actually seeing what we have all been seeing. We know, we knew what was coming and we have been saying it for so long. We need a safety net, because we are dying out here. We are dying. So, the same, in the same way that now the whole country is in danger, like, literally. We are in danger of having up to 2.2 million deaths in the United States as a result of coronavirus. And those deaths will not be racialized, and they will not be classicized. They will not be according to gender. White men, white women, white children will die just like everybody else and probably at faster rates because y’all are not going inside. Y’all are going into the cellar.
Lisa: And so, we have been saying for a long time, we need a safety net, and now white folks are granting it because they are centered, because they are experiencing it. So, because they are centered because whiteness has been centered, now we get to actually have a safety net.
Beth: Yeah, all of that, I mean on a much lower stakes level but I think in a way that is related, takes me back to my sort of corporate experience. And the way that I learned to talk about the issues I really cared about, in terms of making the workplace better for women and people of color in that, like, business case for diversity language where we were bringing forward “we should do this powerful, white, wealthy men because it will make you even more powerful and wealthy,” right? That this will end more to your benefit and that is the reason to do it. And look, I participated in that because everything in my life experience told me that was the smartest way to get it done. And now…
Lisa: That was—I am sorry, let me just say it really quickly. You learned that is how you survive patriarchy.
Lisa: That is how you work around it. That is how you deal with it. That is how you thrive within it, is you center it.
Beth: That is right. And I think that is why as I have stepped away from that corporate environment into whatever the, you know, the wild landscape that podcasting is, I am realizing that as a white woman, I am probably a particularly bad leader on some of these issues because it is so ingrained in me to center the white male experience. And to talk about these issues in terms that make white men feel really comfortable as we are talking about them.
And maybe there are places where that work is good and important, but it probably does not put me in a leadership role, and I think that is another reason that sometimes you do not see white women stepping up because we think to ourselves, “Gosh, am I ready? Maybe I am not ready to step up. Maybe I have so much more to learn here. My whole view of the world is being upended, and so maybe I need to be…”I mean I, I feel myself in this space now. “Maybe I need to be a student before I can be a teacher on this.”
Lisa: Well, the thing—here is the thing. It is that I think– first of all, yes, you do need to be a student, but I do not think anybody is asking you to be a teacher. I think people are asking you to act. Nobody is asking any white woman to teach anybody. People are asking white women to walk, to march, to vote for the least of these. That is what people are asking. And that does not require you to teach anybody. If anything, it requires you to invite your other white women friend and white male friend allies to come and march and vote and let us—we are here to teach and we agree that. You know what I mean? We kinda got that down.
But it is, so, I, I, because I have heard that, what you just said, I have heard from really powerful white women who, Iike, who are, actually, who are beginning to stand up and beginning to say, “You know what y’all? We have been duped, like, this is for real. We have to take the cloud off our eyes. We have to, we have to read the script, and we have to take the red pill. We have to take the pill that is gonna give us eyes to see and begin to, to get out of the matrix.”
And so, this actually, this is—one, one more question that I have for, for both of you is, you know, what is the cost for you? What is the cost of alliance with women of color? I mean, I will tell you what I said to some white women who asked me that question in Brazil, and it was very soon after Bolsonaro won and of course, I mean a lot of people, you may not know this but, uh, you have probably know about a lot of—listeners may not know that Bolsonaro was elected mostly on the vote of white evangelicals and Pentecostals in Brazil. And he was, he tapped Bannon, Steve Bannon.
Steve Bannon flew to Brazil and actually served as Bolsonaro’s campaign adviser. And so, he is the person who got Bolsonaro elected and he is on the, on three promises that the first people that he would, he would make sure that, that he attacked, that he contained, that he eliminated were LGBTQ people, Indigenous people, and people of African descent. And the people of African descent make up 53 percent. Talk about that number, 53 percent. But it is true, 42 percent of Brazil, and then he won based on that promise.
So I was sitting in a room full of black and white women in Brazil, and all the rainbow in between, because I have like 50,000 racists in, like, there are enumerated racists in that country. But the white women, one more—white woman raised her hand and said, “What will, what will alliedship require of us?” And this is what I said to her and I wanna know what you think of this. I said, “It will require that you renounce your whiteness.”
Lisa: “It will require that you, when given the opportunity to take cover under your whiteness that instead, you align with all the other women in your country, the women of color in your country and their needs”. So, what do you guys think of that? Is that—how does that feel, like literally, even to hear that for you? What is the, what is, what does it press– what would you lose in doing that?
Sarah: Well, I think there is a lot of facets to this. So I was, I was thinking about earlier is that I think it is—when we are talking about we need the change now and what is our role to play and, and what has history taught us, I mean, I think there is an important moment, especially, if we are facing a new crisis to realize that, you know, we have made progress. We have the most diverse Congress, House of Representatives in history. We have more women, more people of color, more people with the ability, particularly in media. I think media is never to be underestimated.
Sarah: I always think about there is a beautiful moment around of Rebecca Traister’s early books where she talks about Katie Couric could ask Sarah Palin what paper she read, because she was a woman and it sounded different coming from her. She could push her in that way. And she was able to do that because she was the first female anchor. And Tina Fey and Amy Poehler could make fun of her in that very biting way because they were the first female comedy writers.
And we have people of color in positions of media and positions of influence in greater numbers, and that culture angle cannot be underestimated. And I say this a lot and sometimes it is flippantly, but only because I say it so much I do not want people to get bored, I mean it seriously. The other voice in my head through my entire childhood was Oprah Winfrey.
Sarah: It is like, it is not to be under—I call her Momma Oprah. I watched her every single day at four o’clock.
Lisa: Oh, my gosh. Wow!
Sarah: Every—yeah, I do not remember the first time I watched Oprah. I always watch Oprah.
Sara: And so when you say what does it cost to renounce whiteness and I am like, “Nothing. Not for me.” You know what I mean? Like to me, that is just my Momma Oprah calling me to do what I was meant to do. You know what I mean? Like I have got that language in my head. I am ready, you know what I mean? Like that narrative – there is two narratives that Americans get. The one that is twenty years ago that is in our government and the one that is twenty years into the future that comes from culture and media. That is like you have turned on a commercial and you are like it is not the same country being run by Donald Trump. Like it is like so disjointed. It is this multiracial like, you know, because they know, they understand. They are in the future. They see what is the future of America will look like.
And so, I think just it, it is multitasking, right? Because the truth is sometimes we have to renounce our whiteness and be a student in some environments. And some environments, like home and family, we are gonna have to step up to be teachers and say, “No, this is what I have learned and you are all gonna listen to me now, because you love me and because I am, I have more safety in this space than other people.” You know, I have three sons. I think about white male patriarchy a lot.
Lisa: Yes, yes.
Sarah: And what I teach my sons is you were born into safety and you are called to be uncomfortable, so other people can have that same position. I am sorry if you get made fun of, I am sorry it is scary, but that is your responsibility. And you know, I think that– so it is just, we have to be adaptable and we have to understand when it is our place to sit back and listen, and we have to understand when it is our space to touch up and stand up and push.
It is difficult because a lot of– you know, people shut down in the face of shame and that is just the psychological reality.
Sarah: But you can hear more… when I am pushing my stepfather, I can, I can get into some pretty shaming language, because he knows I love him and he knows I do not think he is a bad person. So, I can push him really, really hard. You know what I mean? But like I cannot just walk up to a stranger on the street that I do not know. It is not all about I got connection and relationship and understanding. How hard can I push this person? Because everybody needs to be pushed hard. It just depends on where that is coming from, how – that’s what I learned from Beth, and you know what I mean? Like it has to, there has to be a foundation of trust and connection whether it is in a community setting or a class or a church or a family or a personal intimate relationship, so that you can use the currency of that trust to push people, help people, guide people, stand with people as they face some really hard truths.
Lisa: So, you just—but you said that there is no cost. It does not cost you anything. Is that …really?
Sarah: I mean from– that is again, that is just my personality. I like complex, Lisa. I thrive on it.
Lisa: No, I get that. But here, but here is the thing, I am wondering, Sarah, I am wondering if it is actually the reality that in many ways you already, like you already had to renounce white patriarchy or at least the expectations the white patriarchy put on you as a white woman to be contained, to be small, to shrink your voice, to shrink yourself, to make more room for the white male. And so, you already had said no to that. So, in some ways, it makes you more already trained in saying no and already …and not really craving[?]
Sarah: I was sacrificing less, right?
Sarah: I was earlier in the process. That is not as big to ask. It is not as big to ask for a college student or a woman in their twenties to start renouncing that bit by bit, because I was not giving out that much yet.
Lisa: Right. You know what I wanna see? I wanna see Suzanne Collins renounce it.
Sarah: Word. Word up.
Lisa: I wanna see Susan Collins renounce it, because …word up. Because what she did last year with Brett Kavanaugh – what she did was she literally made it all clear, because this white woman betrayed other white women in order to keep her power that was given to her by white men. And so, she literally, literally aligned, allied with white men against white women.
And at the end, ultimately Black folk and people of color, because shifting the balance of the court, going back to the court from earlier. Ultimately, what that really does, it does not only put Roe V. Wade in peril, which is literally not many of us saying is almost dead because of the court and court rulings. But it also puts Brown v. Board of Education in great peril because never in the history of the Supreme Court in the 129 years of the history of Supreme Court ever has there ever been a majority conservative court that ever protected the rights of people of color. Not even one time. Not once. So, Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment, which was orchestrated by Susan Collins was also a betrayal of people of color for her own power.
Beth: I think that Susan Collins so encapsulates a lot of the experience of white professional women, because you know what I internalized as I went into my corporate law position, was that I had sort of a bank account of credibility. And I started out with a really low balance compared to all of my male colleagues. And every time I made a decision to advocate on behalf of other women or just for myself, I was losing, you know, I was spending those dollars in my bank account. And every time I did not do that or, or stood up and made a decision that benefited the patriarchy at the expense of other people, I put more dollars on that bank account. And it got really easy to convince myself that what I was always in the process of was building that bank account for the day when it was really the right time to spend it.
Beth: And so, that is why I think it is difficult to come out of that teacher-student dichotomy and just go with action because, because everything I am wired for in my life is hierarchical. I am always one or the other. When have I experienced just being an equal at something? I have not.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah.
Beth: In the context that I have been operating in. Now, are the stakes of all of that much lower for me than for people of color? Absolutely. It is also why I am still not great at this and why I still have so much to learn and why I do need to be led by a woman of color ,because my upbringing puts me in that Susan Collins bank account space. I know so many women like Susan Collins. I have been Susan Collins. We say, “Okay, I am gonna go along this time because I need to be at the table for the one time it really matters.” And you lose track of when it matters.
Believing that you are doing – you believe that you are doing this for other people and it, and you just lose the grounding that, you know, at some point, I am just filling my bank account and there is no purpose anymore.
Sarah: Yeah, and that is exactly what happened in that moment because what she did was she literally, it was literally her voice that tipped the scales of the court for the next two generations.
Beth: Yeah, and it is something that I will never get over. The Kavanaugh situation, it makes my stomach churn every time I say his name or read his name on a Supreme Court opinion. And I also feel like I have a very profound understanding of what she did and why she did it. I wish she had not. I think it was wrong and I also get it because of my life experiences.
Lisa: Wow. Okay, you all so, so what do you imagine then alliance with women of color will require of white women and Susan Collins-y kind of white women in 2020 specifically?
Beth: You know, I think it will require a willingness to put some of our most treasured personal relationships at risk, because white men really struggle. I think of my husband listening to this conversation. He will struggle. He is a loving, caring person, far along the path of understanding privilege, and still that question that man ask you when you stood up and powerfully explained to him that it feels worst to be enslaved than it could feel to hear about other people being enslaved.
That is, that is a pervasive reality in marriages, in friendships, in father-daughter relationships, in pastor-parishioner relationships, and so being willing to introduce some incredible tension into those relationships through the way we vote, through the things that we teach our children, through the way we participate politically, through where we put our family’s dollars, I think that that is, I think that is the cost for a lot of white women. And, and I think in Sarah’s terms, you would say that does not cost anything, and in a way though that is right, you know. If you have a perspective on the entire world that is a very, very small ask. And it is an emotional ask and we all experience those emotional asks to different levels of intensity, I think.
Sarah: Here is the thing to the positive spin I would like to put on it as we face a sort of a whole new crisis going into 2020 is, you know, it is hard to exert social pressure. It is. I agree to that. You know, I leave conversations crying, I get so mad, I cry. I cry a lot so that is just my default. But you know, it is hard to push people. It is hard to have tensed conversations even if you are a person like me who just sort of thrives off those kinds of things. It is – I get it. I do get it.
And the good news is social pressure really works. We are highly evolved that when people we know and love and care say, “That is not gonna work. That is not the right thing.” I have watched it happen with social distancing. I have watched me, when people and I looked in the eye and say, “No, that is dangerous, you have to stop right now and then fall in line.” You know …it is a whole thing about like if you just put on people’s dang power bills, how they check up to their neighbors, it affects them, right?
Sarah: We are highly evolved to live in groups and pay attention to whether we are on the inside or the outside of a group. Now, the bad side of that is we have seen over and over again, racism, sexism, in the groups we create based on those classifications. But it is that, you know, it is this sort of thing I have been talking about a lot. You just turn at ever so slightly and it looks differently, which is also once we get past the sort of critical mass of like, “Oh, no. Well now the group is doing this. You better fall in line,” and it is gonna take a lot of us pushing that critical mass saying, “No, now the group is – we do not do that anymore.”
So, you wanna be on the inside or do you wanna be on the outside? Because the group now is, we do not treat people like that and we think carefully and we talk about race in this way in this household. I think about Nancy Pelosi with I do not – we do not say hate in this household. That was just the reality.
Lisa: Yeah, I love that. [chuckles]
Sarah: We are saying do not talk about hate. I mean, it is just gonna have to be very intense values, but if, you know, we are capable of this. We are capable of this and it does not take 100 percent participation to make it work, right? Some of us will carry the load at other times and some of us will need a break …and then somebody else will pick up the load.
And I think that is, you know, you can see evidence of that throughout history and it is not – it is gonna be a back and forth. It is not a straight line. We are just, we are gonna keep with all our might trying to – I would say stir the cruise ship, but cruise ship is a really bad thing to think about right now, but there is a pandemic. But we are just gonna keep moving it a few degrees at a time and it is gonna …it is these small acts that add up, though.
The small acts feel more risky, because they are the ones that add up and have the most impact, right? And to keep continue working on those attitudes and advocating for the policies, we need the policies that actually have impact. So, we need to change voting habits and we need to help educate those we love about what that power exchange looks like. And you know I, I believe that we will continue to make progress. I really do.
Beth: I think coronavirus is an accelerant to everything you just said, Sarah, because there is a norm of social pressure right now to take on a cost on behalf of your neighbors, to pay for a service that you are not receiving right now.
Beth: To, you know, to, to really to stay home, to not do things you wanna do, to not go places that you wanna go, to not interact with people you wanna interact with. We are in an ethic of sacrifice for the first time in my life, um, as a whole. And because of that, I do think that there could be a dramatic acceleration of our ability to truly care about one another in both our household conversations and on that broader policy-oriented level.
Lisa: And let me just say that the stakes are high. They are incredibly high. Like when you talked about, you know, the Susan Collins woman who is, you know, storing up her bank chips, storing up her, her deposits for the time when she is gonna use them and make that big withdrawal. Now is the time, like right now.
This year, 2020, is the time, because we are facing both an existential crisis, a physical crisis in our nation. But literally, the imagining, imagining four more years of the kinds of policies that have been passed and the impacts they have had on communities of color, this is an existential moment for us. We literally, there is actual belief and literal talk within our families of if Donald Trump wins again, what nation do we wanna move to because we probably would not be able to be here for very much longer. Like I, I have literally had that conversation in my family a few times, a few times. So, this is an existential moment that is the moment for white women to lay their chips on the table.
Beth: Well said. We want you to stay here, Lisa Sharon Harper. Do not you go anywhere, we need you here.
Sarah: All of my children need you here.
Lisa: I have been saying I am gonna stay. I am staying, but my momma – I want my momma to be fine and I want my, I want my nieces to actually have a life, and I am not sure that they literally can for four more years.
Sarah: Well, here is the thing I will say about particularly evangelical white women, which we have a lot in our community, really, cashing in those chips and having a hard time. I think that, you know, the fundamental miscalculation of the white patriarchy, particularly, sort of in the Christian moment is sort of that, um, the fundamental miscalculation that happened with abolition. It is just there is just parts of the Bible that are really hard to argue with. [chuckle]
Lisa: Yeah, man. [laughter] It is so true.
Sarah: He is always a compliant soldier and they have been teaching these women that your main source of value is caring for the family, in this mother-child, this is where all your chips are. And then, they separated families at the border. And that was a real breaking point for a lot of evangelical women who have been, who were believing with sincerity the things they were taught.
Sarah: And then when they tried to tell, to say, “Oh, we are just kidding. We did not mean it for this time.” And it is not going over real well. So, I think, you know, that is another real source of hope as I see going into 2020.
We get messages constantly. I thought good Christians voted Republican. I now understand that is not true. I am paying attention for the first time. I voted Democrat for the first time. I changed my registration to Democrat for the first time. You know, just I think there is a real awakening of you tell—I, I believe these things, these teachings, this Jesus has served me, and I am gonna follow Him, not you, because that is what you taught me to do. And those teachings are pretty clear. The least of these could not be more clear. And so, you know, I agree, I think social cost, many of them are putting their chips on the table.
Lisa: Well, let us pray. We can all pray. And actually, no joke, I am praying hard. [laughs] Thank you, ladies. The conversations leaders have on the road to justice. This is the Freedom Road Podcast.