I attended a City Council meeting on Monday night (02-12-18) to show support of a Welcoming City ordinance that was taken off the agenda. The ordinance was supposed to be voted on at this meeting, but five council members asked the City Manager via email for the item to be removed, outlining their reasoning. As a volunteer active in the Keep Families Together campaign and a member of Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal, I attended in support of a letter to be read during the public comment section of the meeting written by the coalition.
The next day, I was interested to see what the local news outlets would report from the unusually exciting council meeting. They focused on the heated words between the mayor and council members during the last portion of the council meeting. They focused on the displays of emotion. They focused on the drama happening in our local government.
They did not focus on the fact that over 100 people attended a council meeting in support of an item that was removed. They did not focus on the fact that a recent Freedom of Information Act request produced evidence that directly contradicts what the council and chief of police have said the Bloomington Police Department does or does not do with ICE. Because a white lady cried, the important narrative of the fate of immigrants in our community was lost.
As white women, we have what author and scholar Mamta Motwani Accapadi calls a “one up/one down” identity. We occupy an oppressed group as women but a privileged group as white people, and we have the ability to toggle between the two. Although we have shared experiences as women, women of color, trans women, disabled women, etc. experience oppression on different and additional levels and varying degrees. It is crucial that our feminism be intersectional , meaning we acknowledge and understand how women’s overlapping identities of race, sexual orientation, gender expression, class, ability, nationality, etc. impact their experience of oppression and discrimination.
By adhering to intersectional feminism, I acknowledge my experience as a white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied woman is inherently different from the experience of women whose identities I do not share, and this informs everything I do.
As someone who cries when they get upset (as opposed to getting angry), I know it’s involuntary and I hate it for making me look weak (crying seen as weakness is a WHOLE other discussion). I also know it’s a defense mechanism, and that’s what’s troubling.
White lady tears shifts the narrative. This woman is getting defensive over being called out for her actions – she believes unfairly so. Yes, she was named as a council member who was previously supportive of the Welcoming City ordinance but signed the email asking for it to be removed from the agenda. She was being held accountable for actions that contradicted her earlier statements. This is what often – and should often – be done of elected officials. I understand she was also upset by comments made by the mayor. It’s obvious there are issues to be dealt with amongst council members and mayor.
But her defensiveness of being held accountable resulted in tears, which resulted in attention and empathy for the tearful white woman, not the immigrant mother afraid her children won’t come home from school, or the undocumented father afraid his place of employment will be raided, or the student fearful that any interaction with the police might result in their deportation, so they don’t report a crime committed against them. This is her white privilege. Privilege of any kind is not something to feel guilty for. We must be aware of our privilege in order to fight against the oppressive systems we exist within.
The coverage of this meeting focused on the emotional displays, not the evidence surfaced from the FOIA request. Not the disproved claim from BPD chief of police that they do not unnecessarily contact ICE concerning non-criminal immigrants in our community. At no point during the meeting – or since the meeting – has the mayor or any council members commented on the four emails in question between BPD and ICE, despite the fact that these emails directly contradict the reason five council members gave for removing the ordinance from the agenda. THIS is what should have been discussed, not the feelings of someone being held accountable for their contradictory actions.
In a community the size of Bloomington-Normal, it’s inevitable for many of us to know, work with, and love our local elected officials. It’s difficult to hold our friends accountable, but we must. We can’t allow our “hurt feelings” as white women to overshadow the real issues at hand.
Colleen Luckey is the enrollment and billing coordinator for child care services at YWCA. She works with Young Wonders Early Learning and Youth Development.