Confessions of a White Feminist by Marcia Mount Shoop


Last week I had a vivid and visceral dream.  I woke from it feeling body sensations as if I had just had the experience I dreamt about. 

In my dream I am pregnant—or I am supposed to be pregnant. But I look down at my belly and there is no movement. Nothing. And my belly isn’t very big. I think the baby must have died. Then I feel movement—the feelings of a baby turning over and moving inside me. And I can see right through my skin, like an ultrasound image. 

I can see the baby positioning herself to engage the birth canal. She actually uses her hands to click her head into engagement. I realize she is face up and that this will be a painful delivery. I know that she is a girl. Then I see a reflection of myself in the mirror and see that my belly is still high and that the baby has decided to wait. She is not ready to be born. 

When I woke up from the dream, I felt sadness. I didn’t want to leave that expectant moment. I didn’t want to leave her unborn. 

Pregnancy dreams can mean a lot of things—a gestating burst of creativity, a time of transition, a new beginning, transformation. The baby is some part of me—some part of my femininity, my womanhood, waiting to be born, but not quite ready.  And if she came now, even though she seemed to think she wanted to for a brief moment, it could be very painful and even dangerous. The birth will wait. The possibilities are still gestating. 

I had this dream the night before the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. And I spent that whole day feeling some layer of sadness over all the proceedings. Even with the beauty of so much of it, even with all the strong women who spoke and sang and stood sentry and stood strong. Even with the relief that a more hopeful vision of America was being cast. There was something about it all, coupled with that dream, that made my heart feel heavy. 

I am still sorting through the feelings and am still letting the dream speak to me. 

I am a 51-year-old white woman who has immersed herself in the work of dismantling white supremacy within myself and in the communities and systems I inhabit for most of my life. The tools have multiplied. The language and naming of the work have shifted. The communities I am a part of have changed. And the common thread remains that I move through the work with the whiteness I carry continuing to impact the quality of my relationships—all of them. 

From my relationship with myself, to my relationships with my family, to my relationships with other white women and with Black and Brown and Indigenous women, to my relationships with people of all different racial and sexual identities, all relationships are impacted by whiteness. I can’t completely shed my whiteness, even as I work to dismantle it, even as I work to disrupt it. And I am not always sure how to understand where that leaves me and where that is leading me. 

My intuition is that some of my sadness after the baby in my dream wasn’t born and then watching the inauguration is that there is something I can’t give birth to, or at least I can’t give birth to it yet. I can’t quite embody or imagine being transformed into something really new. I still walk in the room as a white feminist carrying with me all the harm white feminism and white feminists have done to Black, Indigenous, People of Color. I still bring up that history for Black and Brown and Indigenous women when they work with me, when they call me friend, and even when they call me sister.  

And while I am open to hearing about my missteps and the harm that I sometimes do, I still am a person who brings all that history and potential harm into spaces with me. 

I realize that part of what made my heart heavy during the inauguration is the performance of whiteness that was such a huge part of it. I am grateful that President Biden named white supremacy as a scourge that must be acknowledged and eradicated. And I also heard so much of the rhetoric of whiteness that disguises itself as the virtues of unity, civility, and respect.

I know how white people and white systems like to get back to some kind of perceived equilibrium and normalcy when there is tension and discomfort. Those performances of what I will call “virtuous whiteness” are not menacing and violent in the same way white terror is, but they are part of how white terror is perpetuated. And white women, particularly white feminists, have been a part of how these cycles of violence and virtue play out and co-conspire again and again. White feminists are a part of how whiteness apologizes for itself and then keeps being itself, instead of things really changing. 

I think I am ready to be that new woman within me waiting to be born, and who isn’t quite ready for some reason. I want to be someone who can move around the world in a way that doesn’t replicate the harm that whiteness inflicts. And something isn’t yet fully formed. Or maybe something has to die more completely. 

I confess my need to surrender again and again to the dangerous and deep work of gestating and laboring. There is pain and pushing and promise there, even as there are no guarantees. I am most grateful for the midwives, the sisters, the siblings, and the supporting angels who believe we share this expectant dream in common. And they remind me that giving birth to a liberated world is something that we need to do together.  

 

Marcia Mount Shoop is an author, theologian, and minister. She is the Pastor/Head of Staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC. Her newest book, released from Cascade Books in October 2015, is A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches, co-authored with Mary McClintock Fulkerson. Marcia is also the author of Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ (WJKP, 2010) and Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports (Cascade, 2014).  Find out more at www.marciamountshoop.com



Categories: Feminism, General, Racism, White Privilege

Tags: , , , ,

26 replies

  1. Gosh Marcia,

    I too had those same ambivalent feelings at the inauguration but for different reasons…. we have such a mountain to climb – I don’t see how we can do it, although I am profoundly grateful for this administration.
    What never occurred to me was whiteness. I am not just white but have Indigenous background too but I was celebrating everyone there – all that diversity was such a relief.
    I am so tired of feminist witness brownness, blackness etc – can’t we move beyond these identities in to being women who are UNITED at last as WOMEN? I think we have chopped up our differences to ad nauseam. Maybe it’s just me.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Sara, for sharing your thoughts and feelings here. I hear your frustration and fatigue with some of the issues I raise. I would like to hear more about what being united as women actually means in a county that is still so adversely impacted by white dominance and white supremacy culture. For me this discussion is not about difference, it is about power and the power hoarding that whiteness still is about in systems, structures, and relationships. I hope we can keep exploring it all together.
      Peace,
      Marcia

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  2. Thank you, Marcia. This resonated deeply with me, another white feminist grappling with the same issues.

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  3. Great article. Thank you. And for the work you do.

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  4. Excellent and hopeful post. But, as an editor, I gotta ask: why do you and the social media and most of the print and online news I read capitalize Black and Brown but do not capitalize white? Consistency of capitalization of not racist. What’s wrong with writing Black people, Brown people, and White people?

    I’m very impressed by the work you describe. I know that the history of feminism and the work to get women the vote was mostly done by white women who sometimes pushed women of color aside. Hopefully that kind of racism, along with the systemic racism in law enforcement and politics, will be overcome. Hopefully you’ll give birth in your dream and in “real” life. Bright blessings! Blessings to all of us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Barbara. I appreciate your comments and your question about capitalization. The current recommended practice in print media and in many academic contexts is that white should not be capitalized, but that Black and Brown should be. I didn’t make that decision or recommendation, but I am following the lead of colleagues of color who I respect. I honor the optical importance of it as well as the practice of being thoughtful about how grammatical practice habituates thinking and bias. I am sure there is more out there about the thinking behind this practice.
      Peace,
      Marcia

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you, Marcia, for this thoughtful and emotionally raw piece. I understand your pain. The work of being an ally to BIPOC people is hard. The work of dismantling white supremacy and its internalizations is hard. But a woman can’t shed her whiteness it if she’s white. That’s just who she is. And she can’t shed her privilege either. I think she, i.e. I, can use that privilege in the work of allyship and build relationships of trust with our allies in order to dismantle structures of racism. Until then — very far in the future, from what I can tell — we white women will have to live with discomfort, ours and theirs. Trust is built by overcoming mistakes as well as doing the right thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Nancy. I appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts and experience. I struggle with the allyship language because it can lead white people to think we are doing this work only to be allies for BIPOC. This work of dismantling white supremacy is the work white people need to do because white supremacy is our doing, and we’re the ones who have the most work to do. Solidarity with BIPOC grows out of the work of dismantling white supremacy to be sure. But, the work is also about healing a sickness, a disease in us as white people. Yes, I can’t help but be someone who moves around the world in white skin, but that doesn’t mean I can’t shed some of the ways whiteness exists in my body, in my habits, in my mentalities, and biases. Thanks so much for this conversation, Nancy!
      Peace,
      Marcia

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      • I don’t know where you live, Marcia, but the (African-Americas) Nehemiah Center in Madison uses the language of allyship. In writing about their “Justified Anger History Course,” they write: “This is more than a “volunteer training.” Rev. Alex Gee (President and Founder of the Nehemiah Center) puts it this way: ”We need white allies to move beyond merely helping our black kids – we need allies who will help teach their own kids as well so that one day they will be able to work together with our kids in righting the wrongs of history.”

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        • Hi Nancy,

          Thanks for telling me more about your experience with the word ally.

          I currently live in North Carolina. I have lived all over the country in the last three decades: Oakland, California; Tampa, Florida; Chicago, Illinois, West Lafayette, Indiana; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Nashville, Tennessee; West Lafayette, Indiana. I am not sure my struggles with the word ally have anything to do with where I live.

          My struggles with the word have more to do with my experiences working with lots of white-centered institutions and seeing how the word gets deployed by white people. You are correct that BIPOC use the term and I honor the spirit of the invitation to solidarity and to the deep work. I just see too many white people lean into that word in a way that replicates some of the “white saviorism” that is such an easy default mode for white people. It can be easy for us to forget that white supremacy is a problem white people created and that white people have particular responsibility in dismantling.

          Sometimes allyship can make it seem like white people are making a noble choice to get involved in disrupting systemic racism; and it can make it seem like it’s about empathy rather than self-reflection and deep personal change as well as systemic change. I’ve seen some good writing by BIPOC about the complexity and contested nature of the word. Here’s one link: https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/06/15/white-people-ally-culture/

          Thanks so much for the conversation, Nancy!

          Peace,
          Marcia

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I appreciate your including your dream and the issues surrounding birth–gestation, readiness, pain, peril. Thank you for affirming that something/someone new must be born.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you Marcia.
    I appreciate your dream and interpretation. The description of “vivid and visceral” dream immediately took me to a dream I had way back in the anorexic 80’s, but still so vivid: a huge black orb pulling me; still feeling it when I awoke. Never figured that one out yet. It’s the only dream in my lifetime that I remember so vividly, felt so viscerally.
    I understand the hard work to shed white supremacy culture, to do good and not harm. I just hope you remember self-compassion and gentleness like you always tell me/us. It’s something I work on daily!
    I have such rudimentary experience in this work, learning from the ground up these past 4 years, and never considering myself a “feminist”, but I sure identify with trouble really changing myself, “waiting to be born”, and sharing this expectant dream of a liberated world.
    Maybe that’s what the orb was trying to tell me, pulling & encouraging me to risk the unknown of a new life.

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  8. Thank you so much Marcia for sharing your powerful dream. After watching so many movies about Black History and recently reading a most interesting book written by Elisabeth Wilkerson ” The Warmth of the other sun” , I feel like why do we still even say ” we white people”, to me that’s an insult, shouldn’t we have grown in our consciousness far enough by now to say ” We people”… ” We women” ? To me the highlight of all the performance ( I personally didn’t care much about Lady Gaga and JLo ) was this young African American poet Amanda Gorman….” For there is always light… if only we’re brave enough to see it, If only we’re brave enough to be it”
    I believe in your dream the life that grows within you, still needs time to season to become that woman you desire to be. ” Minds together” from Cornelia

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    • Thank you, Cornelia. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

      I am not sure how referencing my whiteness is an insult. Thinking whiteness is neutral or normal or not an impactful identity are some of the lies white supremacy teaches us to believe. I don’t think we can just “call if even” and start to say “we women.” That hasn’t gone well in the past for feminism or any collective in which white people come in oblivious to our complicity in systems of oppression. White people and white women have a lot of work to do to get to a place where saying “we women” or “we the people” in a multi-racial space is actually something liberating for everyone and not just a white-washing of America’s painful realities.

      Thanks so much, again, for sharing your thoughts. I hope we can keep dreaming together of what mutual liberation could actually be for us all–that Holy imagination is good medicine for this wounded world.

      Peace,
      Marcia

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  9. Christian white male supremacy is what needs to be to be removed from our society. The problem isn’t with white people, it’s with old testament religions.

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    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for sharing your take on this. Whiteness has certainly appropriated monotheism at many turns to hoard power and entrench systems of oppression. I am wondering why you single out “Old Testament” religions. I would say Christianity has been the most complicit of all in desecrating the faith for violent purposes.

      Peace,
      Marcia

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  10. This is so very powerful, Marcia! It named so eloquently much of what I have been feeling as well. I find it daunting and struggle to hang on to hope that it can change.

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    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Pam. Yes, it can feel daunting and it is a struggle. I get a lot of hope from the work itself. The healing opportunities keep coming and I am grateful for the growing community who is committed to mutual liberation. Keep the faith! You are not alone!
      Peace,
      Marcia

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