Spoiler alert: In the end, I finally take off my white privilege earmuffs long enough to really hear what women of color saying.
Overall, I like Rihanna and her music. I wasn’t that into Bitch Better Have My Money (BBHMM) when it first came out, simply because I was brought up on feminism (specifically White Feminism) and I don’t love the word bitch. But I didn’t really listen to the lyrics and I didn’t know what the song was actually about. In case you don’t know and you’re curious, it’s a revenge song against her accountant who tried to screw her (and learned not to mess with Rihanna!), it’s also a revenge song against white ladies because we value ourselves more than we value women of color. And apparently there are a lot of other connotations that I totally missed initially, like that even titling the song “Bitch Better Have My Money” is taking words pimps often use against women and making them mean something else. Pretty cool, huh?
So over the summer, as I was learning more about Give Your Money to Women, I heard that there was a sharp divide between reactions of white women and reactions of women of color to BBHMM. Now mind you, I hadn’t paid much attention to the lyrics at that point nor had I seen the video so I thought, ‘well, why is there this divide?’ and investigated. I learned that the video shows some pretty graphic, sexually-charged violence against a white woman by a group of women of color. And initially, I’ll admit it, I was not best pleased with this. I understood that women of color were calling white women out and saying we’ve horrifically harmed them over time and continue to do so to this day. But initially I couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing. As someone who has done a lot of domestic violence (DV) work, my experience tells me that DV is the norm in a marriage where one person scams and steals from others. For more info that, see my last post. Anyways, I kept thinking where does patriarchy and women being denied access to safety and resources in their own homes fall into this song and video? A white man steals from a black woman and his white wife maybe condones or maybe condemns this behavior but either way she herself is abused and impoverished by him and then she bears the brunt of the revenge.. something is being overlooked in this situation. . And is it perhaps going after the woman because she is his property and thus an offense to him, even though he doesn’t care about her well-being so much as he cares that someone is affronting him by messing with his property?
Anyways, those were my initial reactions. But then it (finally) dawned on me. It really doesn’t matter whether or not women of color realize this. And really, they probably do know that this dude is also screwing his wife over. But why should they extend compassion when we, white women, have never done the same for them? I mean, when the situation is reversed, as it has been time and time again in this country, haven’t white women historically and continually known how harmful men are to women and yet not shown remorse when regarding or interacting with women of color? As an example, if we were to go back in time, we know black women were subjected to systemic rape during slavery. I would assume that many of the men who raped black women also raped their (white) wives. But how often did the white wives extend any sort of compassion to the enslaved black women? More often, white women probably called her a “whore” and blamed and shamed her instead of empathizing. And granted, there may have sometimes been coercion and threats that influenced white women’s responses to this violence against women of color. Trust me, I know a lot about DV and trauma to understand that. And because I know a lot about DV and trauma, I also know that often there were opportunities when white women could have safely acknowledged that women of color were being subjected to not just terrible misogyny but also horrific white supremacy. But we did not make that choice. And while some people may say slavery is an antiquated example (which, well, it’s really not), there are also “modern-day” examples of this type of behavior by white women towards women of color. Let’s be clear that to this day, we do not make the choice to respect women of color and affirm their experiences. Instead, we internalize white supremacy and choose to further harm and cause more trauma for women of color. So who are we (as white women) to shame Rihanna and women of color for this video?? Who are we to not shut the fuck up and listen to what women of color are trying to tell us? Who are we to accuse women of color of being divisive when they ask white feminists to consider their experiences of racism in addition to sexism? Seriously, white women, what the fuck? That is not cool. We are the ones doing harm in these situations. We are the ones being divisive by dismissing women of color. When we accuse them of being divisive, we are silencing them and telling them to “know their place.” And I can’t sit in complacency and not call us out on that. It’s not okay. It is oppressive and dismissive and traumatizing.
And because I’m white, there are undoubtedly many more layers and truths to this that I am missing. So white women, here is an idea, how about we don’t silence women of color when they make us feel uncomfortable? How about we listen to them and understand where they are coming from (or understand as best we can, from our privileged perspective)? Don’t be divisive or dismissive. Let’s do the right thing, for once, and hope it’s not too little, too late.