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White female voters have let down women of colour

13 Nov 2016

Unless you live under a proverbial rock or decided to spare yourself the horror of the 2016 US Presidential Election and moved to Mars, you will have heard the news by now; the leader of the “free world” and arguably one of the most powerful people on the planet is now Donald Trump. A man who understands the world in stereotypes and bigotry and whose brain-to-mouth speech processing takes less than a millisecond on average. A man who has never held public office. A man who has been accused of sexually assaulting minors and racially profiling prospective tenants.

You might find it odd, or even unbelievable, that Americans chose this man to be their leader. I did, too. I just couldn’t fathom how a man who had offended so much of the population through racist tropes and vicious verbal attacks had managed to weasel his way into the White House under the guise of democracy. Like many, I was thoroughly confused. That is until results of exit polls began circulating on Facebook, breaking down voter preference into gender and race.

The polls showed that 53% of white women voted for Trump.

At this point, my confusion became anger and frustration at what I considered to be a betrayal. I spend a lot of time in Cambridge engaging in feminist debate, and something that is repeatedly discussed in these circles is the danger that white feminism poses to leaving women of colour out of the feminist movement. The general consensus in such discussions seemed to be, or so I thought, that white women have begun to recognise their duty in supporting women of colour. That these discussions happen in Cambridge and beyond are crucial. The intersection of race and gender means that women of colour do not have the privilege that white women do to tailor the feminist movement to suit their needs. When white women forget us, as they did in this election, we remain isolated. While we are fighting for ourselves, we need our white female allies to fight for us too.

The election made clear that the majority of white women in America are perfectly happy to abandon the needs of the marginalised minority. One of democracy’s strengths is also its greatest ill; minority voices are easily swamped under the majority vote. It is with almost wary hope that American women of colour held dear the belief that their votes could make a difference this election, and perhaps they could have, had those with privilege not fought against them. With women of colour forming only a small portion of the American electorate, the solidarity of white counterparts was needed to secure the safety of American ethnic minorities. Polls which have surfaced since the election show that if people of colour were the only voters in America, every single state would have resulted in Democratic majority. Without the solidarity of their allies, the votes of women of colour were not enough to avoid a Republican victory.

I struggle to believe that the white women who voted for Trump are unaware of the racist rhetoric he regularly spewed during his campaign. I struggle to believe that 53% of the white female American electorate failed to wander near a newsstand or in front of a television for the past five months. What we’re left to presume is that these Trump-voting women do not care whether their president thinks that laziness is a trait inherent in black people, that Muslims should be banned from entering the US or that Latinx people are rapists. Perhaps they agree with him, or perhaps the intersection of other privileges, such as class, meant that some white women were able to justify a vote for Trump, even despite his misogynistic vitriol.

Setbacks like these do not warrant abandonment of the goal, but white ciswomen must be prepared to stand for all women, including transwomen and women of colour. Being a white ally is recognising that your vote is not just yours. That it is your duty to listen to the experiences of those who society places beneath you. White women, being oppressed by the patriarchy does not mean that you aren’t privileged in other ways. Ignoring this results in tragedies like the one we saw this week. Ignoring this means women of colour are being set further and further back by an electoral system which silences them. Whether you voted for Trump because you think he’ll be good for American businesses or because you’re not a fan of Hillary, your vote has put the lives and freedom of women of colour in danger. Not just that, women of colour in the United States worry every day for the safety of the men of colour in their families and communities. Your vote for Trump has placed those lives in the hands of a man whose policies are characterised by xenophobia and racism.

If you’re a white woman reading this, let go of the guilt that risks making this issue about yourself. Women of colour don’t need your guilt or your sympathy. We have always fought for our rights and our place in the feminist movement, and will continue to do so. Don’t be offended by our anger, the hurt comes from the reminder that we still have so far to go in our fight for equality, even with our fellow women.

What women of colour need from white women is the acknowledgement that race means that we are not all the same. We are oppressed in different ways, and we don’t have the same ability to change the status quo. It is only when we unite as women against all forms of oppression will we realise that a victory for Trump is undoubtedly a loss for all women.