Hi there, fellow socially conscious, middle class white ladies. It’s good to see you. Did you get haircuts? They look great. Pull up a seat. Let’s have a chat.
Look, as one of you, I move in your world. I do hot yoga. I’ve taken a selfie at a green juice tasting. I’ve worked the ticket table for the PTA’s annual fall carnival. And I’ve noticed something about our white lady world: there’s this idea that we are entitled to social activism that is fun and receives praise. And, ladies, that’s a problem.
And, yes, yes. #NotAllWhiteLadies. But let’s not make this about saying “Not me! Not my problem!” because our community as a whole has some serious work to do and some fundamental paradigm shifts to make. You know what I’m talking about:
We organize parties and, oh my God, you guys, the food was so good. The decorations were SUPERcute and must have taken *hours* to make. And, check out my instagram! It’s full of selfies of me cheers-ing with my friends because, YOU GUYS, we got new outfits before we went and it was so EMPOWERING, you know? It was a super fun social event. And it was all for THE CHILDREN.
We buy products that signal our support for change. Did you guys see my $335 safety pin necklace? It’s *so* shiny and cute and a great pick me up, because this election has been such a huge bummer. Everyone has been asking where I got it and there’s this *amazing* Etsy shop that makes them and, you guys, it’s run by a single mom, so buying the necklace helps the UNDERPRIVILEGED in so many different ways.
We donate goods we don’t want any more and expect praise and thanks in return. There were these cans in the back of my pantry that my family refuses to eat (not organic! Ugh!), so I gave them to the local food bank… and they had the *gall* to refuse the donation! And I heard that this school didn’t have enough school supplies so I brought them my kid’s old crayons and books and they barely even said thank you! Like, I’m just trying to *help,* you know? If they’re not careful, I won’t deal with them again. Why am I expected to take time and emotional bandwidth out of my busy life to make a difference in the world if people are just gonna be RUDE and UNGRATEFUL?
Look, fellow white ladies: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having fun at parties, buying cute necklaces, or donating used goods. But we’ve fallen into the trap of prioritizing fun, comfort, and head pats above creating and supporting social change. We are capable of doing so much better.
If you want to help “the children,” what might be the most effective way to do that? Is it a $250 a plate dinner that you spent $300 getting ready for? Would “the children” actually be helped more if you skipped the dinner, wrote a $550 check to an organization that has a strong track record of supporting vulnerable kids, and met your girlfriends at a wine bar instead? Maybe you could spend some time volunteering to fulfill a specific need articulated by a local nonprofit.
How much is wearing that $335 piece of “cause” jewelry really helping the cause? Would it be better to wear a safety pin you already have in your junk drawer (or skip the pin all together) and give the remainder of the money to an organization that fights everyday bigotry? Or maybe spend some time educating yourself on what to do when you encounter said bigotry?
Is expecting to be lauded for making donations helpful to those in need? Everyone needs positive reinforcement, but vulnerable populations and overburdened nonprofits don’t owe that to us. If you need validation, go talk to your friends or nail that new 5k time or get one of those pets that can barely contain its excitement when you come home.
Look, fellow white ladies, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have fun or our feelings don’t matter. We should and they do. And I’m not saying we’re somehow obligated to drop everything and become hardcore ‘perfect’ social activists 24/7. That’s not realistic and we shouldn’t feel guilty for operating within the confines of our own social, emotional, and financial realities. We can still meet up for a green juice after yoga. We just can’t fool ourselves into thinking that’s activism because “some” proceeds go to “the children.”
We need to drop the super fun, pumpkin spice approach to activism and turn a critical eye to how we’re working to support social change. We need to move away from this paradigm where our fun and feelings are the basis for our activism. We’re smart, we’re good hearted, we’re well resourced, and we have the capacity to do a lot of good in the world. Let’s make our activism about that, even if it’s more uncomfortable and less instagrammable. Even if no one says thank you.