White women’s innocence, oppression and a can of Pepsi

Capitalism and white saviourism

Kendall jenner, the new face of white saviourism according to Pepsi, has faced global criticisms over the brand’s recently released (and recently cancelled) new advert. In the commercial, the young woman is seen handing a peace inducing can of Pepsi to a police officer during a protest troublingly evoking police brutality and more sinisterly, police brutality against black bodies. Actually, it may be more accurate to write that it is Pepsi which, by and large, has faced the backlash. Messages of support and words in defence of the reality TV star’s innocence are readily available.

Pepsi who was quick to respond to the negative feedback, accepted it had ‘missed the mark’and pulled the plug on the commercial hours after it was released. In a rather neoliberal move though, the corporation went on to include Kendall in its public apology. That is to say, the brand issued an apology to both those offended if not distressed by this output, and the person who delivered the output, or the final blow. The hurt feelings of the person who was the vehicle literally, for the whole fiasco were coddled. Imagine. An apology directed at both the accomplices of a ‘crime’ and its victims. Some apology indeed.

This PR disaster is a perfect opportunity to stop and think, for a few moments, about the continued social construction of white womanhood and its role in the oppression of both people of colour and, of women of colour. A social construction Pepsi thought it could capitalise on without consequences. On the back of black pain. On the back too, of all those who have suffered violence and death at the hands of the state.

To be fair, I have had an earlier opportunity to consider these issues when I was asked on national television whether I could empathise with Rachel Dolezal’s position or claim to Blackness since she reportedly has experienced abuse and neglect as a child.  So I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on white womanhood and the impact it has had on my life. I came to this conclusion. I am scared of white women. There, I said it. I am scared of white women. I am not scared of white women for I believe they are monsters or necessarily more dangerous or violent than any other group of women or human beings. I don’t believe so.

I am scared of white women as a group, for what they can do to me and get away with. I am scared of what society allows white women to do to black women and to other women of colour without ever being held to account. Without losing an ounce of that socially presumed innocence, or suffer any dent in the credibility of their sisterhood claims. And in truth, I’m scared because in this white patriarchal society, it is white women who have inflicted the most harm onto me. 

The unspeakable harm

As a feminist I can’t tell you how difficult this is to write. But nonetheless, this is the truth. A truth I am not expected to speak of. But white women have done harm to me. Serious harm. Probably more harm than all the men I have come across in my life. White men and men of colour combined. In my adult life. Whenever I reflect on the times I have experienced racism and discrimination related distress, it is the faces of white women I repeatedly see. Soft speaking and smart looking white women. Smiling. 

When I contemplated writing this piece, I  thought twice. In truth, I thought more than a few times. I was afraid. In fact, I still am a little. I know all too well the potential for my words to be twisted and convoluted so that they can tell the same old stories of that angry black woman with a chip on her shoulder, of reverse racism, of white women persecution. I know that if any white woman was to shed a single tear over these words, I could face structural violence or accusations of violence. Ironically. I know that some will invariably attempt to weaponise this reality, a reality which is not even only mine alone, and try to turn it against me looking for pathology or deficiency. But I am writing. And today, I am smiling.  Knowing fair well, no amount of sobbing from me and/or my Black sisters would ever get us the compassion I am asked to show or shift the gaze onto those who do us violence.

I chose to speak. I have an equal right to. I am tired of being asked to show kindness to those intent on not seing the harm they inflict onto me and others who look like me. I think I am getting too old for this. I have my own self-care to do.  I do not exist to serve the egos of violent white women or to protect their presumed innocence or claims to benevolence at the cost of my own sanity, because society will not recognise violence if it not obvious, male or gun/knife wielding. It is not in my interest to pretend I do not see the expectations of self-sacrifice here. They always find their way into my life… But I will not reproduce the very social hierachies which do violence to so many.

After the Pepsi scandal, Kendall relatives wanted us to know, ‘she  would have been absolutely mortified about the backlash anything offensive is just not her’ and that, ‘she means well, always’. And I have no doubt by the time I post this, liberals of all creeds will ask me to consider wether the harm white women inflict finds its source in patriarchy. Wether Jenner was used. Wether it is fair or intelligent even, to hold white women to account given they also suffer oppression and exploitation within these very social systems and, perhaps wether my words might cause me lose ‘allies’ and support when there’s so little of these around.  

All while the Jenners and Dolezals of this world sponge off Black pain and trauma maintaining that lucrative proximity to Blackness so many of us feel flattered by. So often dating or fantasising on Black men whilst treating black women with absolute contempt. Claiming benevolence whilst being unable to take responsibility for or reflect on any hurt occasioned since they are so clearly above racism. So no. I don’t need support and allyship that are contingent upon my silence. I don’t need a pat on the back in exchange for my empathy. Nor do I need my intelligence confirmed. I need for white women to quit weaponising innocence, their gift from white patriarchy, to navigate capitalism or to avoid accountability. Ultimately, I need for white women to stop being oppressive. That is what I need. So, it is what I am asking.

Thank you for reading.

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8 comments

  1. This was a very insightful post! I admire you for sharing your honesty about white women. Some people are scared to share those feelings. Here’s a post by an amazing black woman. I found her post on this issue very eye opening. I think you’ll like it.

      1. Without the author’s authorisation I would probably be breaching their copyrights…I am cautious with things like that because I expect people to take my rights seriously. Possibly a little overcautious though ☺️

  2. I am a White woman and I am so glad you found the courage to write this. After I ended up in the position of defending a series of men of color falsely accused of rape or violence against young white women, I know just how dangerous white women can be, especially when their innocence is (even presumably) attacked, and the lengths that white people, including men, will go to defend that. It is interesting that we have the Rose character from Get Out who so perfectly represents the dangers of white women in our collective consciousness right now. Your column and others, Get Out, the failure of the Pepsi commercial even with the problematic apology should help to convince all of us to work as hard as we can to dismantle the destructive innocence privilege white women exploit. And it shouldn’t always have to be Black women pointing this out.

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