The ‘Other’ White Women Were Invented in 1691

On a recent field trip with my 8-year-old daughter to the Virginia State Capitol, I felt such joy watching her walk in the rain holding hands with her friends. As we visited the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial on the grounds and read about plans for the Women’s Monument, I felt hopeful.

But what about inside? All of the statues and tour narrative were about influential, elite white men. I couldn’t help but consider the metaphor in the midst of my frustration—want to learn about people of color and women during the last 400 years? Please step outside.

As I sat next to the giant bronze sculpture of Robert E. Lee in the Old Hall, standing in the spot where he accepted command of the Confederate forces, I kept waiting to hear something about Virginia’s African-American delegates after the Civil War.

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Silent Sisterhood—The Space Between Blackness and Whiteness

My raw, emotional response when I see the words Dear White Woman (or something similar) is to feel defensive, resentful, hurt or misunderstood. Before I even read it, I suspect the seemingly friendly salutation holds no real affection since the implication is we are all just alike.

Perhaps I would be more open to it if there were some specifics: a letter to the white woman who did or said __________. Instead, I feel like a preschool child who loses recess because one kid wouldn’t stop talking. Group discipline is not for grown folks.

Yes, I take it personally. In that moment, I’m 8 years old and my Dad just called me out by my first, middle and last names—a surefire sign that what comes next is not going to feel good. I want to put my fingers in my ears and pretend to shut out the sound. In reality, I can hear you loud and clear–so I come anyway with my heart in my hand.

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Make It Happen–Cross the Boundaries of Selective Sisterhood

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The theme for International Women’s Day this year is make it happen. It’s a call to action. For me, it’s also a powerful reminder that sisterhood is not about membership; it’s a relationship—an active, radical, empathic bond based on shared experiences and concerns. And it isn’t singular. Women share all kinds of “sisterhoods” –connections based on day-to-day life interactions.

I remember being taught as a child that food, shelter and clothing were necessary for survival. Everything else was want—and it was optional. It informed my view as I learned to navigate the world, deciding who needed or wanted me in their lives.

My own journey beyond the boundaries of selective sisterhood required a new understanding of the difference between sympathy, empathy and compassion. My definition of “need” was forever altered in the process.

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The Sisterhood of Poverty

mosaicbwasAccording to the Poverty Data Fact Sheet, there were almost 18 million poor women living in the United States in 2013: White, 8.62 million; Black, 4.08 million; Hispanic, 4.17 million; Asian, 0.78 million; Native American, 0.34 million; and Foreign Born, 3.78 million.

If you isolate heads of household, there were 4 million: White, 1.34 million; Black, 1.36 million; Hispanic, 1.11 million; Asian 0.07 million; Native American, 0.08 million; and Foreign Born, 0.77 million.

Most articles citing poverty statistics focus on disproportionate rates by race and gender. Of course that is a critical concern, but in terms of sisterhood, there is one core truth to keep in mind—a person is not a data point.

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