Editor’s Note: Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is executive director and co-founder of MomsRising.org, a nonprofit national organization that supports policies to improve family economic security. She is the author of the recently released book, “Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action and Change Our World.” The views expressed here are solely hers.
Did you hear about the white woman who called police in Memphis earlier this month because a black man who wanted to buy a house was trying to take a look at it first? What about the white people who called the police on black people simply for sleeping in their own dorm lounge at Yale, barbecuing at a park, shopping at Nordstrom Rack, waiting in a Starbucks or … the list goes tragically on and on.
White women like me, we need to have a talk. Enough is enough and we need to make ourselves part of the solution. You. Me. The woman next to you in the grocery store line, at the bus stop or on the soccer field. The writing is on the wall. We’ve got to stand up and speak out because right now, we’re part of the problem.
I have some thoughts on how we can do it:
1. Stop calling the police on black people simply for living
Too many white people in America aren’t pausing to check their own implicit bias before calling the police on black people simply for living their lives. As my colleague, Dream Hampton, said, “Calling the police is weaponizing a bias we already know exists.” Think I’m exaggerating? Young black men are, according to a ProPublica analysis, 21 times as likely to be shot and killed by police as young white men.
Further, even though there are countless data points showing that racism is still rampant, only 39% of recently polled white people thought racism was still a problem. Many white people like me are out of touch. Just because we don’t experience racism every day doesn’t mean it isn’t happening every day. The burden of stopping discrimination should not be on only people of color. It’s time to carry our own weight.
So roll up your sleeves and discuss this openly with your white friends, family and neighbors. Take time especially with people who don’t fully agree with you. Share facts. Ask questions. Check yourself before you call the police and don’t let casual discrimination go unchallenged. Handy phrases include: “That’s not necessary.” “Have you thought about what you’re saying?” “Where is that coming from?” Remind people that the advancement of one group of people absolutely doesn’t come at the expense of other groups of people. That’s not how our nation works. In fact, it works in the opposite way.
White people in America also need to talk to themselves before calling the police. That conversation should start with this question: “If this were a white person, would I call the police on them?”
2. Remind friends who look like you that white women experience far less discrimination than women of color
This is a conversation you should have with other white women – and men too! Here are a few quick discussion points to have handy:
The pay gap is much wider for women of color, by a shocking margin.
Women, on average, earned just 80 cents to a man’s dollar in 2017 for all year-round full-time workers. That being said, both moms, particularly moms of color, and women of color earned less: White, non-Hispanic women are earning only 75 cents; black women only 63 cents; Native American women only 58 cents; and Latina women only 54 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.
Implicit bias often gives white people in America an (actual) free ride.
One recent study found that when a bus rider didn’t have money to pay the fare (or their fare card was empty), bus drivers let 72% of white testers, but only 36% of black testers, ride free.
There is rampant discrimination in our criminal justice system.
Black women are eight times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, and Latina women are four times more likely to be incarcerated, according to Amnesty International. There’s evidence of this disproportion across the criminal justice system, including an analysis from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board that found black Missourians were 66% more likely in 2013 to be stopped by police “even though the likelihood of finding contraband was higher among whites.”
3. Follow and support women of color
Find women of color leaders who are doing great work (and there are many). Follow and support their work, agenda and vision – on social media and in real life. Solidarity is laying it on the line and following, as well as advocating for fairness side by side. Find out who is leading on racial justice and immigrant rights advocacy efforts in your community and find a way that works for you to get involved.
4. Look up from your phone
When you’re working or hanging out in a group, look up to see who has a seat at the table. If everyone sitting at the table looks close to the same, then that’s a problem that needs fixing. Don’t stay silent about it. Say something to your leadership and be part of efforts to make your work diverse from start to finish.
5. Mistakes are inevitable, but keep going
Many white people fear talking about racism and xenophobia. I know I do. As a white woman, I know I live in a culture that’s packed with implicit racial and gender bias. I know that I’m bound to absorb and replicate that negativity, whether I intend to or not. I know I’ve messed up in the past, and that I will continue to mess up in the future. Messing up isn’t a fun experience. It will expose you to criticism and anger from others. But white people need to get over that and keep trying anyway – because the embarrassment of messing up is nothing compared to the experience of living each day with the fear, internalized stress and inherent risk that come with living while black or brown in America today.
Finally, progress is possible. What happened to Michael Hayes, the black man in Memphis whose white neighbor called the police on him for entering his own new home earlier this month? Well, the officers arrived, confirmed that he’d done nothing wrong and told him that if he had any more problems, they’d come back to intercede on his behalf. And they told the woman that if she did anything to try to stop Hayes, they’d be taking her to jail.
Hopefully, she and other white women will ask themselves the question, “Would I have called if s/he were white?” – and be honest with themselves about the answer.