A Trump Era, Post-Midterms Examination of White Women
#METOO SURGES AND WHITE WOMEN STILL VOTE AGAINST THEIR OWN INTERESTS
*Trigger Warning* This article discusses triggering topics such as genocide and rape. Additionally, this article talks about gender/sex identity within the binary of male-female that we are primarily socialized, even though that is not a decolonized understanding of gender/sex.
ON FISH AND LAKES
During my work at the Racial Equity Institute, we used the analogy of fish and lakes to help workshop participants understand the connection between human behavior and the environments in which humans live.
The illustration goes like this:
If you came upon a lake one day, and you saw a fish floating belly-up-dead, you would likely ask some questions to yourself about that particular fish — What happened to that fish? Did it swim too low? Did it eat the wrong food? Was it depressed?
However, if you came upon that same lake the next day, and you saw tens of thousands of fish floating belly up dead — What is it time to do? Unanimously, workshop participants will answer with a chorus of “It’s time to examine the water.”
Unfortunately, we are almost never trained, licensed, hired, or paid to examine water. We are trained, licensed, hired, and paid to examine fish.
Fish-fixing is exactly what I was trained, licensed, and paid to do as a trauma therapist and clinical social worker. I went to one of the most esteemed clinical social work programs in the nation at UNC Chapel Hill because I wanted to help change the systems that created poverty.
It still haunts me today that I did not question the fact that our curriculum and training included only one introductory course on oppression, and one other course on systemic advocacy. The rest of our training, I would estimate about 95% of the curriculum, field work, and testing, was on examining fish, monitoring fish behavior, diagnosing fish, and trying to fix fish with psychotherapy. The implicit belief at the root of my psychotherapy training (which was sometimes more explicit than implicit): The fish are to blame for their own condition, not the system.
This belief keeps us from solving root problems. Even if we could heal every single fish swimming in toxic waters it would do nothing to solve our problem as new fish each and every day are being born into that same toxic environment. We need to channel our energies to a lake analysis, so that we can figure out how to clean up the lakes.
EXAMINING THE LAKES WHITE WOMEN SWIM IN
“Social clubs, churches, and entire neighborhoods have been built around loyalty to conservative ideals” - Christina Cauterucci, What the Exit Polls are Missing About White Women
If we want to understand why white women continue to vote against their own interests, we need to do a lake analysis of the environment in which white women live. I am a white woman, so I am particularly interested in this. To understand our voting patterns as white women, we need to review some history that set-up our role here in the United States:
1452: The Doctrine of Discovery
“… invade, search out, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods and to convert them to his and their use and profit.” - Pope Nicholas V, Papal Bull 1452
Paganism and earth-based practices threaten the ruling class, who co-opt the Jesus movement into an Empire of Christian Supremacy and give a moral mandate for European male Christians to colonize the Indigenous Peoples of the world, including European women.
It is within this ‘lake’ of European Christian Supremacy that white women swim.
~1500 to 1800: European and U.S. Witch Hunts
“I want to acknowledge that some of the first Indigenous Peoples that were forced into hiding were the medicine women of Old Europe. They estimate that 6-9 million women were raped, beaten, tortured, and burned alive for being ‘witches’.” - Lyla June, organizer of Diné and European heritage.
It is within this lake of European Christian Supremacist Patriarchy that white women swim.
~1600s to 1787: The Colonial Role & Constitutional Position of White Women
White women become ‘white’ for the first time in 1691. Prior to this time, the identity of ‘whiteness’ in the U.S. had not yet been constructed. In becoming ‘white’, white people are given advantage over native and black people with the goal of dividing their labor solidarity. A primary role of white women in the colonies is to birth heirs for white men as a white empire is built. (For more information on how we became white, click here.)
Article I Section II of the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that white women, economically poor white men, and people of color are not included in the conceptualization of “We the People”: white women and poor white men are omitted, native people are explicitly excluded, and it counts black people as three-fifth of a person. The purpose of the U.S. Constitution was to protect white, land-owning men.
It is within this lake of European Christian White Supremacist Colonial Capitalist Patriarchy that white women swim.
1800s-1900s: Masses of White Women Forcibly Committed to Asylums for ‘Hysteria’
White women forcibly institutionalized for resisting their subordinated colonial roles as dutiful housewives and bearers of white children.
It is made clear to white women, that to resist the European Christian White Supremacist Colonial Capitalist Patriarchy is to put your livelihood at-risk.
There’s a lot more history we could unpack, and I’m by no means a historian, but this brief overview of history should inform how we understand the present-day behaviors and decisions of white women. In sum, we white women have been brainwashed by a toxic European Christian Colonial Supremacy since at least 1452, that dehumanizes women and people of color and convinces us that to be right with God is to blindly obey white men and the genocidal systems they create and/or uphold. The traumatic memories of witch hunts and asylums remind us, either consciously or subconsciously, to stay in-line with the status quo. To be white and to be a woman in this world is a particular kind of systemic advantage, and a particular kind of trauma. We must unpack both. We need to hold together that we as white women are complicit in violence against people of color and we are operating in a state of trauma.
WHITE WOMEN: TRAUMATIZED FISH IN A TOXIC LAKE
“In her book ‘Right Wing Women’, the feminist Andrea Dworkin wrote that conservative women often conform to the dominant ideologies of the men around them as a part of a subconscious survival strategy…It doesn’t work, she says. They suffer sexist oppression anyway… Participating in racism does not exempt white women from sexism…It merely corrodes their souls in the process.”
- Moira Donegan, Guardian US Columnist, from the article Half of White Women Continue to Vote Republican: What’s wrong with them?
“Women know, but must not acknowledge, that resisting male control or confronting male betrayal will lead to rape, battery, destitution, ostracization or exile, confinement in a mental institution or jail, or death.” - Andrea Dworkin, Right Wing Women
When our white sisters vote for white male republicans, including white men who flaunt explicit racism and sexism, it is a trauma response. In fact, there’s a name for what white women are experiencing: Stockholm Syndrome.
“Stockholm Syndrome: a psychological response wherein a captive begins to closely identify with his or her captors as well as their agenda and demands.”
- Encyclopedia Brittanica
Trauma responses, like what we refer to as Stockholm Syndrome, necessitate trauma treatment. For this reason, if we actually want white women to start behaving differently, we cannot simply keep yelling at them for their voting patterns and other racist behaviors. We need to zoom out and look at the waters us white women are swimming in. We need to hone a fish-lake analysis for white women. We need to develop a psychology of liberation for white women — A psychology that moves beyond fish-fixing, into examining and cleaning up the lakes that us white women swim in, while simultaneously detoxing ourselves from the lake toxins we’ve ingested. We need to help white women learn how to survive in the toxic waters of the European Christian White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy* as they join the intersectional movement for collective liberation.
*This is not to say that Christianity in all forms is wrong or evil. It is to say that our current Christian practices are heavily entangled with oppressive systems of empire.
THE GOOD NEWS: POSITIVE CHANGES & A LIBERATION PSYCHOLOGY FOR WHITE WOMEN
“The good news is that some combination of progressive organizing and the Republican party’s strengthening association with white nationalists and woman-abusers seems to be getting through to white women who are still persuadable. Since 2014, and even more so since 2016, there’s been an increase in white women voting for Democrats. For the first time in a long time, on Tuesday, they voted equally for each party. And since the mid-2000s, college-educated white women have increasingly moved left: Sixty percent currently identify as Democratic or Democratic-leaning, compared to around 48 percent in 2004.”
- Christina Cauterucci, What the Exit Polls are Missing About White Women
We cannot let ourselves miss that the tide is in fact turning. White women are getting curious about race, gender, and class. While the Democratic Party will not save us, white women’s move left is an indicator that our radical organizing for collective liberation is working. We can leverage this momentum to usher more of us white women into deepening alliances with people of color and other peoples on the margins of the European Christian White Supremacist Capitalist Colonial Patriarchy.
Stay tuned for more information about a Liberation Psychology for White Women. To receive new blog posts and other free content straight to your inbox, sign up for my mailing list below (approx. 1-4 emails per month on average).
Also: to learn more about a trauma framework for understanding the internalization of whiteness & white supremacy, I highly recommend the work of: Mark Charles, Resmaa Menakem, and Tada Hozumi. Their work has heavily influenced mine, and I am very grateful for their words and work.