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"What is the White Woman Syndrome?" someone on Racism_101 asked.… - Zer Netmouse
March 27th, 2009
07:12 pm

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"What is the White Woman Syndrome?" someone on Racism_101 asked.

Those Tears, others gently explained.

(go read the poem).

(15 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:mishamish
Date:March 27th, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC)
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The poem did explain alot, but this last bit confused me:

No matter how sensitive you are
if you are white
you are
No matter how sensitive you are
if you are a man
you are

You are... what?
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From:mishamish
Date:March 28th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I actually discussed this with my fiance last night and my basic refrain was "I want to understand, I really do, but I am white and male (and hetero and right-handed and American and middle-class), and I think that excludes me from understanding." At times, I feel it excludes me from the dialogue. I understand the need for a safe space, but I do think if any progress is going to be made, there has to be common space as well.
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From:rmeidaking
Date:March 28th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)
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You're excluded from their club. Because they can.

The world needs to be more about inclusion than exclusion, IMO.

The person who wrote this really doesn't get it; she's feeling that she can feel empowered only in a group of people "like herself" and that doesn't include some sub-categories of humanity. It's sad, really.
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From:netmouse
Date:March 28th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
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As I commented, I think this is a mis-read of the poem, to isolate these lines. I think they are meant to be interpreted partially based on the line following them. Here's that whole section:

No matter how sensitive you are
if you are white
you are
No matter how sensitive you are
if you are a man
you are
We who are not allowed to speak have the right
to define our terms our turf


I believe the author is expressing how hard it is to have space and time to speak even in a group of people like herself. Your comment sounds pretty blithely dismissive to me. Did you follow the link to the racism_101 discussion as well? There were a number of voices raised who had seen or experienced an effect like this. I'm an integrationist, myself, but I think you're oversimplifying. It is easy for us to include people because we are automatically included most of the time. Just as it is easy to chafe when we do not feel included some of the time, because we are used to being included most of the time. But these people aren't saying "Don't come in here," they're saying "If you want to come in here, respect those around you and listen, and find out what this space and time is for, why people need it, why they are here." This request definitely means "let this be about someone other than you" and it's easy to read that as exclusion, especially when, as in the poem, it's expressed as "we will ask you to leave and fight for our space and time if you won't give us our square inch."

But give them their square inch, she says, and they will give you a hanky.
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From:rmeidaking
Date:March 28th, 2009 03:06 am (UTC)
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No, I disagree. I think the author is leaving out specific words:

No matter how sensitive you are
if you are white
you are [racist]
No matter how sensitive you are
if you are a man
you are [sexist]

It's labeling and name-calling.

The author is defensive because a white woman invaded what she perceived as her space. That space was supposed to be a White-Woman-Free Zone. Clearly the *author* is acutely aware of race - which is the definition of "racist". She has chosen her club, based on the fact that it's non-inclusive of white women.

Does she really need to be this defensive about it? I guess so. Maybe she was feeling that she was race-neutral, and having a white woman show up - and having to post guards to keep her out - made her recognize the inherent hypocrisy there.

She wants one hour a week when its acceptable to be a Black Female Supremacist. She wants to exclude certain classes of people. Is that a good thing?
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From:netmouse
Date:March 28th, 2009 12:34 pm (UTC)
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A supremacist believes a race is (on the whole) inherently better than another race. Do you really think that saying "people who are like me are more likely to listen to me without trying to dominate and control the conversation" and "people who are like me are better than people who are not like me" is the same thing?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 28th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
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In a word: Yes. She apparently feels personally inferior to white women, and empowered when they aren't around. She therefore wants to have a secure zone, without those other threatening beings in their presence.

This is the same sentiment that has given rise to the Sons of the Confederacy, the John Birch Society, and any number of religions who promote themselves as Chosen People. All of these -isms, are, in my opinion, based on the idea that if there were a level playing field, the people in the subjugating group couldn't really compete with folks in the subjugated group. Therefore, the ones who feel threatened band together and exclude those they feel threatened by. It's kind of paradoxical, but they get their power through denying power to others, and finding safety in numbers.

That humans are fundamentally a tribal race, and clump into little groups of similar-traited individuals spontaneously even as toddlers, only encourages this. (They spend a lot of time in pre-schools forcing the kids to play with *all* of the kids, and not allowing these groups to form, because they become cliques and then mean to other children very fast.)

The real cure is to teach that life is a game of SET, where color is only one trait among many, and one needs to consider age, gender, educational background, personal interests, etc., before picking one's "tribe." I like to point to FoxTrot, where Jason and Marcus are both the same age, like the same subjects in school, and share a love of sci-fi and blowing things up. They have a *lot* in common, and only their skin color is different. That attitude needs to get around more in the real world.
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From:netmouse
Date:March 28th, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC)
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How do "She apparently feels personally inferior to white women" and "Black female supremacist" not contradict one another?
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From:dr_memory
Date:March 28th, 2009 01:04 am (UTC)
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Read it out loud: "If you are white, you are." The implied meaning: "If you are white, you are white." There's some fancy technical term for this that I've long since forgotten.
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From:netmouse
Date:March 28th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
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You are... what?

You are allowed to speak.

(by default, you are, so you should give space and time to those are finding a chance to speak, a space to speak, time to speak, who are not, by default, given it, so that they may do so. --Is my reading, going from the line that immediately follows the lines you quoted.)
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From:cathshaffer
Date:March 28th, 2009 12:26 am (UTC)
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I'm not sure why this is "white woman syndrome" as opposed to "obnoxious nutbar syndrome." :-)
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From:netmouse
Date:March 28th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
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If you click through to the racism_101 discussion, it might make more sense. This is apparently something historically seen in feminist discussions, where some liberal white woman is confronted with her own racism or privilege, and spends time in the group conversation arguing that she's liberal, she can't be racist, or she's a feminist, she can't be racist, or just dealing emotionally with the messages she's hearing from others, only she speaks it and takes the stage with it, and this is time *she* needs, and processing or debating that *she* needs to do, but could possibly do in another space, perhaps with some subset of the group or a separate support system helping her, instead of drawing away from the group, making her reaction to colored women's voices louder and more time-taking than what the voices were starting to express, which is in oblivious disregard of what *they* need.

I think this phenomenon happens partially because the topics being raised are so close in with a person's definition of her self that she really is blinded and confused and stressed to the point where focusing on anything other than resolving or understanding her own cognitive dissonance and upset is really really hard, and plus I think it may also be an educational/cultural point, that those of us who are white and activist are used to questioning things - that is how we understand, that is how we learn - we challenge, we discuss, we reflect someone's words back to them or try to relate it to something else we experienced, and it is hard to realize that to some people when we do those things we have stopped listening. They don't relate to the fact that we think this is active listening, and we can't relate to the fact that they feel silenced by our well-intentioned words.

(and I hope you can see that through this view that it is not "obnoxious nutbar syndrome, it is "ignorant, self-centered human syndrome" and that does not make it any less painful for all involved)
From:rachelann1977
Date:March 28th, 2009 02:35 am (UTC)
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"lly is blinded and confused and stressed to the point where focusing on anything other than resolving or understanding her own cognitive dissonance and upset is really really hard, and plus I think it may also be an educational/cultural point, that those of us who are white and activist are used to questioning things - that is how we understand, that is how we learn - we challenge, we discuss, we reflect someone's words back to them or try to relate it to something else we experienced"

THAT is white woman syndrome as I understand it. The point is that a person is thinking mainly about her own experience, only her own feelings, in a situation where it would be much more appropriate for her to be thinking about the feelings of those around her. Why is she doing this? Because she has been raised to believe she is the most important person in the room, metaphorically speaking.

I don't think all white women do this, nor do I even think most white women do it, but a very high percentage of privileged white women do; and if they are activists, they are more likely to do it, and think they are justified in doing so.
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From:cathshaffer
Date:March 28th, 2009 04:03 am (UTC)
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Seems like it needs another descriptor. I'm a white woman myself, and yet the behavior described is totally incomprehensible to me. I've never seen it, and don't understand it. I certainly am willing to believe it's a pattern of behavior that's been observed by others, but from my point of view "white woman syndrome" isn't a very helpful generalization. Clicking through the links provided, it seems that white woman syndrome is: a) intruding into a support group where you're not invited b) overidentifying with and emotionalizing racial issues c)being self centered and unsupportive d) failing to recognize the difference between feminist issues and race issues and e) the media disproportionately reports disappearances of white women over women of color. Quite the laundry list, there! I'm thinking "ignorant, self-centered human syndrome" is probably much more descriptive.
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From:elizilla
Date:March 28th, 2009 01:17 am (UTC)
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"White woman syndrome", because white women draw on their own experience of sexism, to understand racism, and then try to express solidarity.

I refuse to believe this is a bad thing, though I do understand what the poet is getting at, because I'm a white woman and I've seen it from the other side when well-meaning men do it in feminist discussion groups. :-) It's all about people who want to help but instead suck up more than their share of the attention.

The thing is, it's a rare person who can pull understanding out of the air, without looking at it through the lens of their own experience. Remember when we were small children and our mothers told us not to hit other kids because how would we feel if they hit us? This is the most basic tool people have, to understand each other with. Also, in many cases, to remain silent is to accept the status quo, which is what we all want to get away from. So it's important for people to speak.

Since I do know how it feels to get drowned out, I try to tread lightly when I'm in some other group's space. But I also try not to get sucked into debates about who ought to STFU in any group, since no matter which side you jump in on, chiming in on something like this just chews up more of the small space. Also, the STFU debates just lead to alienated people tossing out buzzwords like "oppression olympics" and that doesn't help anyone, except possibly fox news.


Edited at 2009-03-28 01:19 am (UTC)
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