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  • Carolyn L. Baker

The Divide Between White Women and Black Women

Through the process of finalizing Chapter 5: Womanism of An Unintentional Accomplice I had the opportunity for frank conversations with my publisher Gabrielle David, a black woman, about the divide between white women and black women. Although I had written about ways in which the feminist movement had expected and demanded women of color to be a silent, obedient ally to white women's agenda, I was unaware of the historical and psychological components of this dynamic.

Our conversations led me to important readings for additional context and deeper understanding. Here are four of the standout books: Dixie's Daughter's: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture by Karen Cox; Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Woman’s Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics by Marjorie Spruill; Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s by Kathleen Blee; and Mother's of Mass Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy by Elisabeth Gillespie Ray.

Each of these readings sheds light on the central role white women on average have played, and continue to play, in perpetuating white superiority and segregation. This was a critical starting point in recognizing the trauma of inter-generational racism visited upon my sisters of color, their children, partners, and loved ones. Expanding and complicating my existing narrative as a white woman was imperative in acknowledging the underpinnings of the divide between black women and white women.

Just as white women as a group have been influenced and conditioned by racial bias, we as individuals are capable of confronting this white racial frame. And there is reason to believe that - with knowledge, care, and skill as the critical prerequisites - these tough and stressful conversations between black women and white women can be had. There are existing rubrics, such as Critical Friend Conversation Protocol, to help guide people in exploring an essential difficult question, challenging assumptions, and coming up with a strategy to address the question. I would like to learn more about, and participate in, these and other effective approaches.

What is clear though is that it is not the responsibility of women of color to fix a system they did not create and one from which they do not benefit. It is through an ongoing, dedicated process of allyship on the part of white women that the divide between white women and black women might be repaired.

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