I’ll pass on “Unity” and the Women’s March

This Saturday, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to arrive in Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington, a rally meant to send the new Administration a bold message that “women’s rights are human rights.” Over six hundred “sister marches” are taking place the same day across the world, making this event the largest anti-Trump demonstration to date.

The March bills itself as intersectional. Its national committee, which includes Angela Davis and Dolores Huerta, is certainly diverse. And it’s platform highlights the experiences and needs of many genders and women of color. Yet, there is a large gap between the organizers’ “radical” policy platform and how the march is unfolding on the ground. The responses by attendees after one event organizer posted a diversity statement on Facebook are telling: one woman wrote, “No woman, no matter what race you are is ‘privileged’ in this culture … This division has to stop;” another white woman chimed in, saying, “I will march. Hoping that someday soon a sense of unity will occur before it’s too late.” Even abortion has been a source of division.

These conversations are just a small sample, but represent how calls for “unity” at this march may again silence the most vulnerable women. Rather than proving our doubts wrong, it suggests many of the white women marching will dismiss them and gaslight women of color into thinking we are the problem. Judith Butler’s book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, is one of many straightforward critiques of unity; as Butler explains, assuming a pre-existing “unity” among women fails to acknowledge the power relations and systems of oppression that separate us.

Rather than “Unity Principles,” I propose a set of “Dialogue Principles” because the Women’s March should be the beginning, not the end, of a conversation. As Jamilah Lemieux rightly asks non-Black women at this March: are we willing to give a formal apology to Black women for our crimes against them? Are the March’s organizers willing to address their failures, such as the erasure of a line in support of sex workers from their Unity Principles? Before I consider “uniting” with white women, I also need answers:

  • I need to know that when Trump comes for my undocumented family, these women will literally put their bodies on the lines for us.
  • I need a contract. A declaration. A signed statement that assures me when shit hits the fan and our Black, Muslim, undocumented, Native, queer sisters’ lives are in jeopardy, white women will be the first ones there.
  • I need to know that white women understand that they (and their mothers and their grandmothers) voted in Trump.
  • I need white women to recognize that many of us have been struggling our entire lives. Racism is not new to us and resistance has never been optional.
  • Beyond marching for a day, I need white women to commit to the lifelong struggle against hatred and oppression in all its forms.

Unity, if it is to be achieved and if that is even a goal to be sought, can only happen if these conversations take place first. Women of color are entering this conversation from a place of anger and betrayal, hurt by the recurring violence we face at the hands of our white “sisters.” We will be the ones who suffer most as a result of the choices a majority of white women made on November 8th. This is a painful process and before the topic of “unity” can be broached, we need proof that white women have our backs.

Unity cannot take place until that promise has been demonstrated. Without that, I’m left to wonder whether women taking to the streets on Saturday are doing so out of real solidarity or just for some self-congratulating ally theater. And because there’s a really good chance of the latter, I’ll be sitting this Saturday out.

Header image via Women’s March on Washington.

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

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