White womanhood, protectionism, and complicity in injustice for Trayvon

I couldn’t watch the juror who signed (and then lost) a book deal speak on Anderson Cooper last night because I couldn’t stomach it (that is privilege). To know that the reason George Zimmerman walks free is directly related to the cowardice of white women leaves me no choice but to acknowledge the failure and violence of people just like me.

Before the verdict came down I tweeted in the #standwithtexaswomen hashtag conversation: “#Justice4Trayvon, it is all connected.” I saw the furor and outrage that my white feminists peers were expressing over the disgusting infringement on human rights by a small few in the Texas legislature–despite an opposition to the bill of over 80% of the Texas populace. Surely the fear of having your teenage child killed by a stranger for existing as black and male in America is at its core also a reproductive justice issue. Surely, this same group would cry out for justice for Trayvon. Right? No. There was strange silence from many. I felt discomfort myself, not wanting to be a white woman taking up space in inappropriate ways. But reading the transcript of Juror B37 last night, knowing her audacity to SIGN A FREAKING BOOK DEAL after she has colluded in the devastation of a nation that will reverberate for years to come, and finally seeing Brittney Cooper, a woman I admire immensely, call on white feminist women to speak, made me want to speak out. I thankfully do NOT live in Juror B37’s America–at least the one in her head.

I don’t think everyone deserves a gun. I don’t think people have a right to be suspicious of a child for existing because he is black. I certainly don’t want my neighborhood watch to be comprised of men who have a history of domestic violence charges. In fact, as a survivor of domestic and sexual violence, these are exactly the people I believe should NEVER have access to owning firearms of any kind. 

I live in South Philadelphia. In my neighborhood, black children were playing at the playground last night and I found myself feeling ashamed for the world they have lived in for years but is now that much more publicly apparent. These are people in my community. These are people I live with, organize with, and work with. When I read Juror B37’s statement on television last night that she felt sorry for “these people” and how “they live,” I realized that the people who really don’t live well are people like her. People who are governed by fear and hate. White women who support and uphold the belief that a young black teen is a threat in a neighborhood just for existing. Who see nothing wrong with signing a book deal to bank on their time in the trial, who plead that there was nothing else they could do to the letter of the law, who got tired sitting through jury deliberations and didn’t hold any kind of conviction for clear-cut justice.

If my staunch, conservative Republican father can get it on this case, lady, then how the heck can you not?

Anyone who has been stalked or predated upon should recognize the violence in every single aspect of George Zimmerman’s engagement of Trayvon Martin. There is one person in the situation who acted in self-defense and he is now dead, and his blood is not only on George Zimmerman’s hands. It is on the hands of the white women who handed down this verdict. Who don’t have the courage to show their faces but instead hide behind anonymity even while appearing on national television.

This follows a lineage of white women crying rape (yes, I said it, I said it because that was often what happened–unjustly, untruthfully, when there really had been no rape–I say this as a survivor who believes survivors and finds this an affront) by black men who were lynched. Black men who were slaughtered in protection of white womanhood and its purity. The collusion of white womanhood and white supremacist patriarchy is clear–but let me be clear about something. The violence I have experienced–domestic and sexual violence–has been at the hands of multiple WHITE men. I don’t see white men being shot for that, nor do I want them to be.

But I am ashamed, and women like these women on the jury ARE white women’s problem.

They are our mother’s friends. They are our neighbors. We are in social circles with them. Many of them may be reading this now and think I’ve taken it too far. But we should be ashamed at our core.

We shouldn’t be too afraid and ashamed to act, though. We shouldn’t be afraid and ashamed to speak. We will misstep. We will mess up. And perhaps we can hold each other accountable for that so that once again feminists of color don’t have to bear the burden of teaching us the ways in which we hurt them.

Do not be the safe white woman that people can talk to about their racism. Strive to be something better. Follow the lead of people of color. Stand up. Even when you don’t do so perfectly. And above all else, listen.

I hope Juror B37 does try to speak in public about her ideas some day. And when she does, I hope that the confrontation she receives comes directly from the mouths of white women who do not stand with her. Because that is one place white feminists need to be loud and present.


Read more about Katy

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/katyotto/ Katy Otto

    For what it is worth, I know that protectionism refers to economic policy. In this piece I am using it to mean the practice of assuming you have the authority to “protect” from dark, evil forces. Infantalizing garbage. Not in my name. And yes, sometimes we can use words as we want. I just did.

    • http://feministing.com/members/wgwii/ William White

      ok, I can accept “protectionism” since that is actually a word…but “predated”? what is wrong with preyed?

      • http://feministing.com/members/katyotto/ Katy Otto

        I would argue both work in that case.

        • http://feministing.com/members/wgwii/ WG White

          I’ll admit to this being nit picky up front….but both do NOT work. Predate does not work because it is a word that means to precede chronologically and has nothing to do with predation. I’m not particularly a prescriptivist when it comes to language and can accept people “making up” words when there isn’t a handy one available. But here we have “preyed” which mean precisely what you seem to want to say with “predate”. Using “predate” is simply a mistake…and entirely understandable…however, defending your mistake now by saying both your made up word and the acutal word are equally acceptable, is…silly.

          For what it is worth, i enjoyed the substance of the piece…which is significantly more important than this…

  • http://feministing.com/members/moviemeister76/ Dorcie

    From the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU! Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for stepping up. Thank you for being honest about the history of white women and black men in this country, especially when it comes to claims of rape. The silence from so many white feminists on this in the past few days has been deafening. As a white feminist myself, I am ashamed of those six women, every single one of them. A child was murdered, the killer was set free by women (5 of them mothers themselves), and yet the vast majority of essays and words I have read have been from men and women of color. It has been crazy to sit here waiting for white women to engage on this topic, and seeing absolutely nothing. I am fast becoming ashamed once more of so many white feminists, I guess.

    • http://feministing.com/members/shasty/ emmie

      Actually other feminist sites such as Feministe, and Shakesville have talked about their disgust with the outcome of the case, and those sites are mostly run by white women.

      • http://feministing.com/members/moviemeister76/ Dorcie

        I actually read this before I made it on over to Shakesville, which has always been great, so I was mainly responding to the fact that a lot of white feminists I follow have been dead silent. We should be able to name a heck of a lot more than just three names, though, when it come to white feminists. I would actually say that this essay is far more honest than even anything I saw at Shakesville was in terms of the history between black men and white women in this country.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jennifer1972/ Jennifer

    AMEN!! Since three of the six felt Zimmerman was guilty I can’t help but wonder why they caved to the other three.

    “Until we are all free, we are none of us free. ” ― Emma Lazarus

  • http://feministing.com/members/selinaalethia/ Selina

    I am disgusted by the outcome of the trial of Zimmerman, do i think there was racial profiling? I do 100% on Zimmerman’s part. Do i also think the laws are gender/color/Orientation biased, I do.

    I am rather shocked that I have see many ” feminists” call out the color of these jurors color then justifiably feel they are not “racists”. I had this frustrating debate earlier today. I am a feminist there fore I support equality for all. I also know racism is alive today just as there is gender inequality, and prejudice against sexual Orientation. I call myself a feminist because all of these behaviors are unacceptable.

    With all that said, I am appalled at your need to say: “women like these on the jury ARE a white women’s problem” are you suggesting because these women are white, they are my problem? Do you actually consider yourself a “white” feminist? Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman these women are my problem because I happen to be light skinned? I am not sure what drives you to think I have responsibility over another based solely, their skin and gender. Is it not everyone’s responsibility to make this world a better place? It is unfair of you to make such correlations because they only prove to separate us further.

    • http://feministing.com/members/moviemeister76/ Dorcie

      I think what the writer meant was in reference to how segregated we really are in this country. Those white women exist in the circles of white women more than anything else. And we all know that we tend to be more honest with our views when we are around people we feel most comfortable with than anyone else. So I think it is fair to say that white women do have a duty to make sure that when we are just surrounded by white women, which is probably fairly common, that we don’t let anything slide.

      To take it to another level, I have noticed that the number of white feminists who are even writing anything about this issue is miniscule to the number of people of color who are. It is that silence on a national level which allows women like those on the jury to live their lives in a bubble.

    • http://feministing.com/members/tmaple55/ Tiffany

      I took her comment regarding white women as a problem to mean that they make us look bad. They undo all the morals we strive for. They make it look like white women are complicit. It becomes our problem because on the media nad in the public eye they seem to speak for all of us even though we know they don’t.

    • http://feministing.com/members/alectimmerman/ Alec

      Many folks believe that privilege is really a problem of the dominant culture. Maybe that is what the author was referring to. I believe that if we are ever to dismantle privilege it will be up to the privileged to make some dramatic changes. In that respect, privilege is a problem of the privileged.

      So, I would agree with the authors premise that it is imperative that we recognize we are best positioned to dismantle privilege. It is not the underprivileged responsibility to dismantle our privilege.

  • http://feministing.com/members/shelly/ Shelly

    I find the fact five white women (and a Latina one) let a racist arse get away with murder disgusting. And I’m a white feminist woman, too. (Hi, privilege!)

    Meanwhile, Marissa Alexander — a black woman who hurt no one, yet fired a warning shot into the air to ward off her abusive husband and protect her children, acting under the exact same Stand Your Ground law that George Zimmerman invoked — got sentenced to twenty years.

    If this whole thing isn’t about race (or even gender, for that matter!), I must have missed the memo.

    Also: Any white woman* who reads this and claims “this is reverse racism!” (which, of course, does not exist) or spouts out the famous “but I’m not racist!” epithet needs to shut up and look in the mirror. You need to realize you DO benefit from this bullshit. You benefit from institutionalised marginalization of black people and other people of colour. You benefit from racial profiling, from stop-and-frisk. You benefit from every damn thing that works against people like Trayvon Martin, Marissa Alexander, CeCe MacDonald, and a host of others like them, and the sooner you realize how privileged you are, the better.

    • http://feministing.com/members/arteconsobras/ arteconsobras

      First of all, (to the OP): thank you. A strong post that reflects everything I haven’t been able to express myself about all this BS.

      @Shelly: it’s been explained to me (and please, understand, I in no way endorse or believe that this is the way it should be) that the woman who got 20 years for the warning shot wasn’t able to use stand your ground as a defense because she didn’t kill the person. So, in Florida, you’re better off to just shoot the person (yeah, in front of your mutual kids and all) than to fire harmlessly into the air. That this is a law/in the legal code reinforces my lack-of-desire to ever live (or perhaps even step foot into again) in Florida.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mojw/ Melanie

    “Do not be the safe white woman that people can talk to about their racism. Strive to be something better. Follow the lead of people of color. Stand up. Even when you don’t do so perfectly. And above all else, listen.”

    This speaks to me above all else.

  • http://feministing.com/members/laurelhermanson/ Laurel Hermanson

    I’m not sure the outcome would have been different had five white and one Hispanic men comprised the jury. Are you saying that white women are inherently more racist than white men? I agree that the jury’s homogeneity was problematic from the outset, but I’m not convinced the jurors’ gender was as relevant as their race.

    • http://feministing.com/members/helsabot/ Zoe Leverant

      White women are taught to fear black men in this country, to see them as scary and a threat to our safety. We are taught to fear them more than any other type of person. And so this is the most biased possible combination of gender and race for a jury on this trial, because white supremacist patriarchy has ingrained in these women the ideas that young black men are inherently violent, that their deaths keep us safe, and that their murderers are our protectors. It’s why white women lied about rape to get black men lynched, as Katy mentioned, and it’s why a jury composed almost entirely of white women forgave a white-identifying man for executing a young black man. So race may have been the primary influence here, but gender cannot be ignored.

  • scottishtanningsecrets

    “Do not be the safe white woman that people can talk to about their racism. Strive to be something better. Follow the lead of people of color. Stand up. Even when you don’t do so perfectly. And above all else, listen.”

    Thank you many times over for this post. Like many I was shocked by the verdict in the Zimmerman case, one that in my mind seemed like an obvious example of racism in America and how far we still have to go as a country. However, as a white woman who benefits from all the privilege of being one, I have been unsure about how to show my support. I do not want any missteps or mistakes I make to
    stop me from doing good where I can. Thank you for sending a clear reminder to feminists with white privilege that we not only have a role to play here, but a vital one.

  • http://feministing.com/members/duncannichol/ Duncan Farthing-Nichol

    A juror isn’t allowed to decide a defendant’s fate based simply on her own morality – she has to follow the law. The Onion explains it well: http://www.theonion.com/articles/in-our-defense-these-were-some-pretty-fuckedup-law,33126/

    Imagine how much more deeply racism would permeate the jury trial system if jurors were permitted to just make it up as they went along.

    • http://feministing.com/members/amale/ a male

      Despite its often spot on take on the issues facing the US, you realize the Onion is a humor and satire publication, right, as in fiction? You also noticed

      “Just Once I’d Like To Make A Hotel Reservation Without Hearing About Someone’s Relative Surviving The Holocaust” by “one of the world’s most renowned Holocaust scholars, novelists, and human rights activists”

      “I Think People Could Have Been A Little More Sympathetic About My Broken Nose” by “George Zimmerman” and

      “If You Think You Can Talk To Your Mother Like That, Then You’ve Paid Attention To The Way I’ve Subtly Degraded Her For Years” (I seriously just had this talk with my own son two days ago)

      Right underneath that alleged piece by an alleged member of the jury? What is reported in real news about Juror E6, is the State *tried to keep her off the jury*. She’s been arrested herself, and “WAS DESERVING OF IT,” for “a domestic violence matter.”


      She, her husband and son have guns at home. You know, for self defense under Florida law.


      Juror E6 has used this case as a “teaching moment” in the words of another site, and

      “Notably, when she first heard about the shooting she used it as a cautionary tale for her children, warning them to not go out at night, and not to conduct themselves in dress or manner so as to give a ‘false impression.'”

      A “white woman” teaching her 13 year old son, how to NOT be suspicious. I guess her kids shouldn’t wear hoodies, or walk alone at night. Or in a group. Or walk down the sidewalk. Or next to houses for shelter, even in the rain, even where they live. Young black men do not have that same opportunity to avoid “false impression” or to not be suspicious to police or white people.

      That Onion piece is right on. But I doubt it is real. And I wonder if the real life Juror E6 can be fair about about a self defense issue, involving shooting a young black man who allegedly looked or behaved suspiciously.

      I am a gun owner, for the purpose of self defense. But I’ve been warning my son repeatedly in the past few days that George Zimmerman had no business following or confronting Trayvon Martin, and in the state of Hawaii, if you kill someone, by law you will be arrested, and most likely be indicted for murder. Even a federal agent (white) who was in Hawaii to provide security for an international summit is currently on trial for murder for shooting a local man who called him a racial term in a McDonalds, while the agent claims self defense.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mast/ My Name

    Not sure if this thread is till active but…

    It seems to me that there are a lot of reasons that the verdict might have came out the way it did. As many have observed, there was a definite lack of evidence in the case, TM being dead and so forth, there were certain things that hypothetically, the prosecution might have done otherwise, and the defense did a solid job.

    Now, I know white women have privelege, in the aggregate, some more than others, and would never deny that. But, why, of all the reasons available, say that it was the cowardice of white women? Is there any evidence that the women were deferring based on that? Nothing really, and what little there would be is just speculation. So if there is no real evidence to make that claim, other than that the women are white, then the author is calling them cowards because of their race. Thats the worst kind of ideological projection. And frankly, how paternalistic is it to reduce the difficult decisions that these women had to make to prejudice, how dare the author judge these women, who she knows almost nothing about, when there are so many other obvious reasons they might have made the choice they made. How utterly dismissive of these women, the author is, to have determined the secret struggle in their hearts and minds to be nothing but prejudice. I find nothing feminist in this article, its a broad brush smear of real women, easily dispensed with by the author. If I’m wrong, please don’t hesitate to point it out. The author can explain, how, just based on the fact that these women are white, that their perspective was the unfortunate whimsy of their sad, inability to think for themselves. Please give actual evidence. And no, one juror wanting a book deal, however upsetting that is, is not enough to prove that these womens perspectives were irrevocably determined.