Opinion: A (second) letter to Southern white women

Posted on Oct 5 2018 - 5:50am by Jaz Brisack

At his rally in Southaven on Tuesday, Donald Trump attacked and ridiculed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her when they were both in high school. Trump called Ford “really evil” and said that the women in attendance should consider that their own loved ones may be subjected to sexual assault allegations: “Think of your husbands. Think of your sons.”

The white women in the audience, holding “Women for Trump” signs, cheered, laughed and chanted, “We want Kavanaugh.” More chillingly: “Lock her up.”

As a Southern white woman, I’m not shocked. This behavior, while abhorrent, is nothing new. These women are not aberrations. We, like them, exist in a system designed to make us complicit — a system where our own privilege as white women is dependent on our subservience to white men. Women who challenge this system often incur the hatred and anger that Ford now faces.

In 1972, the Alabama-reared civil rights activist Anne Braden wrote “A Letter to White Southern Women,” a pamphlet in response to the Thomas Wansley case, in which a young black man was falsely accused of raping a white woman. Braden’s words are as relevant today as they were then.

“I believe that no white woman reared in the South — or perhaps anywhere in this racist country — can find freedom as a woman until she deals in her own consciousness with the question of race. We grow up little girls — absorbing a hundred stereotypes about ourselves and our role in life, our secondary position, our destiny to be a helpmate to a man or men. But we also grow up white — absorbing the stereotypes of race, the picture of ourselves as somehow privileged because of the color of our skin. The two mythologies become intertwined, and there is no way to free ourselves from one without dealing with the other.”

Good ole boys are still expected to defend white womanhood, despite the fact that we women are perfectly capable of defending ourselves. But good ole boys are not defending Christine Blasey Ford. Why? Because white womanhood comes at a price. We are expected to be fragile and weak — dependent on white men for protection and financial support. In exchange, we are to be their servants, playthings, objects. We are not to challenge or fight the system that grants us privileges over our sisters of other races or ethnicities.

Braden quotes the poem “A Black Woman Speaks of White Womanhood,” written by actress and Vicksburg native Beulah Richardson. In it, Richardson writes, “He purchased you. / He raped me. / I fought! / But you fought neither for yourselves or me. / Sat trapped in your superiority / and spoke no reproach.”

So, when white men — those husbands and sons we’re supposed to consider — can rape with immunity, what exactly are we being defended from?

The fact is that we are not being defended as individuals but, rather, as ideas. This “defense” is, in reality, the defense of white supremacy. It seems hypocritical that Trump could simultaneously announce his candidacy by declaring that Mexicans are “rapists” and talking about grabbing women by the genitals. It seems hypocritical that a fundamentalist preacher would explain away Kavanaugh’s assault by quoting Deuteronomy 22:23-24, saying that because Ford didn’t scream, it wasn’t rape. But it is not the integrity of white women’s bodies that concerns these men. Rather, it is who has access to them.

Even understanding and condemning this system does not exempt us from its pernicious effects because we are not people, but objects. Two white men in a pickup truck chased me and a black coworker when we were canvassing for the United Auto Workers union in rural Mississippi. They couldn’t have known why we were there or what we were doing. My wishes certainly didn’t matter. The only salient fact was that I was a white woman with a black man and was, therefore, in need of “protection,” intimidation or both.

This cult of white womanhood robs us of our individuality, our intellect and our agency. Along with the magnolias and the convenience of outsourcing our thinking comes internalized misogyny and overt racism.

We must resolve to fight this system. We must not be complicit in allowing it to continue. We must believe survivors like Christine Blasey Ford and “lock up” women like Carolyn Bryant, whose false allegations led to the death of Emmett Till. Our feminism must be intersectional. As Beulah Richardson wrote, “I would that the poor among you could have seen / through the scheme / and joined hands with me. / Then, we being the majority, could long ago have rescued / our wasted lives.”

We must declare, in the words of Anne Braden, that “We are women, we are human beings, we will no longer be used as things, as tools of white supremacy.”

Jaz Brisack is a senior general studies major from Oxford.