Feminism | Posted by Mankaprr Conteh on 01/23/2017

What I Witnessed At The Women’s March

Lakeisha Robinson at the March

Lakeisha Robinson at the March

Janelle Monáe took the Women’s March on Washington stage with a box office hit under her belt, hope for unity among the hundreds of thousands of women before her in her heart, and what should have been a simple request of those women on her lips.

As she performed her anthemic protest song “Hell You Talmbout,” Monáe would call the name of Sandra Bland, a young black activist who suspiciously, supposedly took her own life while in police custody.

“Say her name,” were the words Monáe charged the audience to respond with, invoking the African American Policy Forum’s 2015 campaign that recognized police violence against black women.

“Sandra Bland!” she yelled.

“No!” pockets of white women around me yelled in response.

We were a great distance from the stage, and though we could hear Monáe clearly, we could not see her. We were not where the action was, where the excitement was most infectious. Excitement, not intersectionality, was what these Marchers came for.

Over and over again, the white March attendees in my vicinity proved that they came to the Capitol that day to assuage their own rage, their own guilt, their own wild energy. They wanted to do so with immediacy. They wanted to do so with ease. They were not dedicated to doing so under the leadership of, or even in partnership with, women of color — with the most marginalized among us.

They grew impatient with the long, carefully curated roster of women organizers and politicians of color who spoke — women who represented trans communities, immigrant communities, indigenous communities, disabled communities.

The crowd around me told accomplished Native activist Judith LeBlanc  that they “don’t care,” about her Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma.

They spoke over black liberation icon Angela Davis as she spoke of the prison industrial complex.

They ignored stories of blood sacrifices and life-long commitments to women’s rights.

The program was running late, as such momentous programs tend to do, and they simply wanted to march. So much so, that as the Mothers of the Movement joined Janelle Monáe on stage, painstakingly screaming the names of their slain black children, the crowd rejected Monáe’s demand to join them in remembrance and resistance. When the attendees should have exclaimed “say her name,” or “say his name,” they instead riotously exclaimed “MARCH!”

As if marching would preserve Planned Parenthood’s government funding. As if marching would end sexual assault. As if marching would reverse the results of the presidential election. As if marching would bring back Sandra Bland.

This gross disrespect towards women of color was exactly what made one attendee — Lakeshia Robinson, 30 — hesitant about attending the Women’s March. She worried, like many black women did, that it was not about unified action but about white emotion. Then white women nearly stopped her from getting there.

“The white women on the Metro trains wouldn’t make space for me. They wouldn’t move. And it wasn’t just once, it happened twice,” she explained to me.

As Robinson attempted to board a train to the March’s outskirts, a pink-pussy-hatted white woman put her arm across the entrance, barring her from entering, then pushed that arm into Robinson’s abdomen, she told me. Robinson pushed back, forcefully making room for herself. She then cried for most of her journey to what was to be a massive act of solidarity.

“I felt embarrassed, ashamed, petty, and a good deal pleased, but mostly I felt angry that safety pins and pink hats didn’t mean I would be treated any differently,” wrote Robinson of the the ordeal on Facebook — a post that has garnered over 12,000 likes.

What I saw at the March and what Robinson described to me reminded me that this is what our democracy looks like — a point driven home by the sign Robinson brought that reminded all who saw it that a whopping 94% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, while only 43% of white women did the same. This is what our democracy has looked like since women of color were excluded from the Suffrage Movement. Since Hazel Bryan hurled hatred at Elizabeth Eckford as she desegregated her Little Rock high school. Since at least 1952, when a majority of white women have supported Republican presidential candidates (with two exceptions).

“History cannot be deleted like web pages,” said Angela Davis in her address to the Women’s March. It lingers, ugly and true, in the present. It lingered, ugly and true, at the March.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC or WMC Fbomb. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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  • Beth Campbell @ at 1:31 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    Dear Mankaprr,

    This white women said their names and I cheered when one of the speakers called us out on our dismal voting record in the 2016 election.

    I am sorry that we let you down. I promise that I’ll continue to respect “stories of blood sacrifices and life-long commitments to women’s rights”.

    Thank you for your honesty.

  • Stephanie @ at 1:46 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    Thank you for your observations. I just remember being heartened to hear the “say her name” call and response (to the extent that I could hear everything clearly). While understandably disheartening, I’m glad that Monae and the Mothers of the Movement had this opportunity. And I’m glad that you’ve documented your experiences here for all to bear witness. The intersectional fight will march onward!

  • Pat Pickren @ at 2:20 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    Let me say at the outset that I am a white woman 65 years old as that still seems to sway opinion somehow in our current world, god only knows why, but I just wanted to get that out of the way for commenting in the sunshine. I am sorry if there were white women who were inattentive to people of color at the March, and I hope it was just that small group around you. I am not like that and it would have angered me to hear and see those things. I have great respect and admiration for those who sacrificed for desegregation and equality. Angela Davis was the one person out of all that I wanted most to hear but could not. My witness of all the people I encountered is that while people were speaking that most of the people were very quiet and listening intently. All were kind to one another that I saw. We went in to a diner afterwards. A black woman with her 7 year old was behind our group of 11 white people in line. The owner came from behind the black lady trying to get through at the same time a lady was trying to get through the middle. The black lady stepped back, as did we all, to let the lady through, and must have inadvertently bumped the owner. The owner accused her of jabbing him in the stomach on purpose. She said she didn’t and started leaving. I told her to not let him get her down, but she said she wasn’t going to eat there. So, as she was leaving, all of us said we’re leaving too – not eating where people are treated like that. Several other people in line did the same thing – white people. The black lady thanked us as we went out the door. I hope that these kinds of stories of support for one another will come out so that we will know that white women like you described are a small minority. I can assure you that is the case of those I know.

  • Pat Pickren @ at 2:23 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    Oh, and just as a sidenote, I named my daughter after Angela Davis, and she has turned into one fine, hell of a woman just like Angela Davis!!!

  • Antoinette Cook @ at 2:34 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    Went to this article because I am a fan of Melissa Harris Perry. I saw none of what you are talking about. I was crushed in the Metro as well. Heard white women tell a lady of color if we get any closer I might have to marry you. There were so many people with different reasons how did you determine who was for what? My friend and I – two sixty something white women came to stand for human rights. All humans!! You can’t break that down into. Black or white, women or men. I totally sympathize with those mothers not because their black but because they lost a child what all women can imagine. But don’t call people out because they can’t relate to a specific situation. Everyone had different stories the importance of the March was a generalization of rights that shouldn’t be infringed upon . The reason people by me (14th and independence) chanted March was that people were getting antsy because they weren’t being communicated with about the delay and frustration was setting in a sure way for something to go wrong. Not because they didn’t see the importance of Sandra Blands death. When it comes to human rights EVERY living being is important. I did not come with any Specific groups grievances in mind except maybe women in general although I was very happy to see the quantity of men. This article was not helpful it could alienate people. Don’t complain vote and run for office. That is what I took away from the March!

  • Kathleen Welin @ at 2:54 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    I attended the March but did not ride the Metro or get to the rally in time to hear the speakers. I thanked older African Americans for coming when I saw them in the crowd. I smiled to my Sisters of all races. I did not see this kind of ugly behavior. Had I, you can bet I would have butted in.
    I am sorry this lack of rightly deserved respect was not shown to our Sisters of color. I hope these experiences are reported loudly and in public. I stand with The Mother’s of the Movement ‘s and honor their heart break of losing a son or daughter. Shame on the women who did these disrespectful acts towards them. Angela Davis was a teacher of mine in SF. Her intelligence and dignity left an indelible mark on me as a person. Again my deep apology
    to the people disrespected.

  • Lauren @ at 3:11 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    I have to say that a large part of this was based on the logistics of the event. The scheduling was a completely frustrating. Even I, a black woman who majored in Afro-American Studies at an HBCU, at the point Janelle Monae was singing was ready to get up and go. It was well after the march was scheduled to be underway. This should have been prioritized. I think that the onus should have been put on the March organizers to prioritize the speakers and to stick to the schedule. Especially when the majority of those there were marching for the first time. People had been standing for 6 hours at that point and it was getting increasingly oppressive and crammed.

  • Sandra Hutchinson @ at 3:37 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    I think it is unfortunate that you experienced this. I also think it is unfortunate that you choose to paint all white women with the same brush. There were thousands of white men and women at the DC march but you let the actions of the few around you paint us all with the same brush. You state that white WOMEN tried to keep Ms. Robinson off the Metro. But, when you describe it, it was the actions of ONE very rude woman.
    I witnessed an incident in a restaurant in DC where a man, who called himself the owner, accused a black woman of punching him. She denied it and walked out. About 15 white people, who witnessed the exchange and knew she had not punched him, walked out with her.
    This isn’t about white women’s rights vs black women’s rights. This is about women’s rights. I’m not saying you should forget the struggles black have had, and are having. But if we can’t find common ground and work together, we are wasting our time and they have won.

  • Ree Walker @ at 7:17 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    My latest:


  • Maggie Carroll @ at 8:23 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    Thank you for sharing this!

    Fbomb: Maybe I’m just not seeing it, but please share this on your Facebook wall! Not that the author needs validation, but I observed the same thing around me at the march…so if that’s any indication (and it is)of how people view being an ally this needs to be read by MANY.

  • Elaine @ at 9:16 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    I was able to stream the speeches and performances from home. You can bet I said the name of each woman mentioned in “Hell You Talmbout” because I wanted them to know this woman gvies a fuck. No lives will matter until Black lives matter, period. End of story.

    Once marches started springing up across the country, I hoped that Becky would sit down and cede her space…literally and figuratively…to womxn who have long been erased and silenced. I over-estimated Becky and as a consequence watched as she jostled for space in the front row of marches, dominated press interviews instead of stepping aside and letting WOC speak, and countless other macro and microaggressions. In doing so, Becky outednherself as an opportunist who was just there to assauge her own tears and not give a damn about anyone else’s

  • Temme @ at 10:58 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    Fellow white ladies in the comments, please give me a moment of your time.
    I didn’t make it to the march on Saturday. What I know of it is through stories from many of my friends, across a spectrum of races and genders, who did attend. I’ve heard some really wonderful things; a lot of people told me they felt a feeling of positivity and solidarity that gave them hope for the future.
    But in these sorts of spaces, it is extra, extra important that we listen to the voices of people who felt alienated or disrespected or harmed. I really don’t think the point of this article is to paint white women with a single broad brush–if you are not guilty of the kind of behavior, then you can know that in your heart, decide this doesn’t apply to you, and move on (that is the privilege that we, as white women, acquire here). Or, you can use that same privilege to choose to stay, listen, and work against this kind of despicable behavior that does, very clearly, exist in our communities.
    Right here, this type of article (one of several I’ve come across!) is not the place to be sharing stories of how /you/ haven’t experienced this or otherwise expressing disbelief. This is not an outlet for you to express your discomfort at feeling associated with people who act at odds to your personal beliefs and standards.
    I’ve spent most of my life in a culture of racial and socioeconomic diversity and have been party to many heartening interactions between white and black women–nobody is questioning that reality. But please, /please/, let’s not pull a #notallmen thing here.
    If you are a white woman who read this and was offended by the behavior described, please remember, it is not yourself you should be defending; this is not about you. This is a place for you to listen.

  • annerica @ at 11:02 pm, January 23rd, 2017

    the white tears under this post quenched my thirst.

  • Liz @ at 12:02 am, January 24th, 2017

    To the white women crying “not all white women,” please stop for a moment and reflect on how that stance discredits Lakeisha’s experience.

    Imagine you’re telling a man about being catcalled or touched inappropriately, and his response is to argue that he wouldn’t do that and that he resents the implication that all men behave that way. You know that the incident is just one in a lifelong catalog of similar experiences, the sum total of which fundamentally shapes your experience as a woman in relation to men.

    Lakeisha is describing an experience that is different from your own, and one that is framed by a lifetime of experience being black in this country. Instead of telling her it she’s overreacting, please just try to listen and learn.

    – a white woman

  • G @ at 12:56 am, January 24th, 2017

    Excuses made and talking over the experiences this person (and many others whose stories I have read over the past day) has had. That is what alienates people. The title is “What I Witnessed At The Women’s March” not what everyone else witnessed.

    Thank you for this article. I’ve seen a number of them on how various women of color were treated and while some were heartwarming, too many others were not and that is sad. We can’t pretend that every person in attendance was woke so we need to stop acting like #notallwhitewomen and just listen when others are speaking about the problematic issues within the march.

  • Belinda Salving @ at 1:02 am, January 24th, 2017

    I am really sad to read this and I have been tremendously saddened to hear that a march that wasn’t even just about women’s rights but is about inclusion, acceptance and loving of all races, religions, sexes, sexual preferences, gender identity and more…about kindness has been being twisted to a black and white issue. In a march with many thousands of people saying ‘white women’ when speaking of a few people’s actions is racist. That is the definition of racism. The test: turn the quotes in the article above around and have a white woman write that a few black women did a particular thing and then she makes a blanket statement about all black people there because of those people’s actions. It is racism any way you cut it. This march was about inclusion of all issues that are being affected by this administration by people who care about all issues. As white women, we are there because we have friends who are trans who now are afraid, we have family who are Jewish and suffered atrocities that their grandparents remember and they are having horrible words thrown at them right now, we have Asian friends and family members whose families came from internment camps right here in the U.S. recently in our country’s history, we have family and friends, many of us are mixed and have Native blood so we know the experience of the Native’s through our own family’s stories, we have family and friends who are black and we are literally in broken families and can’t speak to brothers, fathers who voted Trump because of what this administration means to the black community. To make this into a black and white issue is degrading so many other important causes including the disabled. The lump white people together, especially those standing beside you and breaking from their own family members, is racist and dismissive. It also lumps ‘whites’ into an unfair category that they are often not. Most of us are from VERY mixed heritage but many of those light skinned. When you ask white people of their heritage, you will normally find that their family came from 4-5 different origins including, Scottish, Irish, English, Italian, Dutch, German, Polish, Swedish, Swiss and Native American. At a certain point, we are all going to need to become more educated about our mixed backgrounds and stop lumping big swaths of people into categories such as ‘white’ and if this white person does this then white people do this. The test is, reverse the assumption and if it doesn’t feel good, then that tells you you are doing something. Racism is not in one race. My friends from Etheopia who now live here in the U.S. but go back home a couple times a year to visit family become very upset when they hear ‘African American’. To them, people who are Americans are Americans. They often are frustrated at the racism emphasis we have here in this country. They say that most black people here know very little about Africa, have never been and will never go. They don’t know the religious, tribal wars that still go on…how much less safe it is for them to live there than it is to live here…how much more there is here than is there…how dangerous it can be for women in Africa compared to here…but of course they still love their home, their country their people and many of the wonderful cultural things that are just not the same here. A bit of cultural perspective would do us all good. And, quite frankly, there are a good number of white people who have spent a lot of time in ethnic education and traveled many of these places to learn more so it is tiring to hear racial rants when some of us know more about another person’s historical racial background than they do. When black individuals say things like ‘where are you white women at black lives matter protests’ in response to this march, this isn’t an exclusionary once race march. This was about everyone. There is not one race or racial tension that matters in this country, there are tons of causes. This march was about everyone being kind to everyone. What if people went to the black lives matter marches and started saying, why aren’t you including Latino lives matter, why aren’t you talking about disabilities, why aren’t you talking about how Jewish people and Muslims are being treated right now? Time to think.

  • Simone @ at 1:45 am, January 24th, 2017

    I’m a black woman, I went to the march with my 4 year daughter. We had a great time and everyone was friendly to us. I did notice all the white woman and wondered where were the black woman. I was thinking did I miss the memo. On a positive note, we had fun. I didn’t expect anyone to treat me differently because it was a woman’s march. I met women from SC, PA, Boston, Upstate NY, FL, and CA we talked laughed and sang songs together. We are all different. I take the time to learn about people of all backgrounds. We all have to do that. Our children depend on us. They are the ones who will change this world. My metro train was also packed. My daughter was getting squished too. Teenage girls that were sitting down on top of each other made a little room for my daughter to sit with them. I talk to a lady from the bronx the young teenagers were on the internet checking out the marches in other states. We all were asking to see her phone, she passed it around. My daughter and I were the only black ones in the group of about 20 or 30 but I don’t think anyone noticed. We were stuck together from Metro center to Silver Spring. We need to take the time to learn about people that don’t look like you. Thats the only way it will feel normal.

  • Molly Irland @ at 1:54 am, January 24th, 2017

    White women stopped the ERA to protect their privileged in the 1970’s and it has allowed women’s bodies and wages to be exploited. Its time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment that protects against gender or sex discrimination.

  • Eris @ at 2:08 am, January 24th, 2017

    I believe you. Each of you. My experience was not the same as yours but I believe all of your experiences, my sisters.

    While reading the article, I felt/remembered the same anger of being disrespected and belittled. To have my pain and experience dismissed because it was taking up time and space that others did not think was mine. And when I first read the comments, I felt that pain magnified, because here were people who I thought would call me sister but I still felt alone. I had to go away for a while, to give myself the time and space to mourn.

    I came back to say, that your experiences are true and valid. I hope that you can accept everyone’s experience within your heart, to not say “but I didn’t see that, so what you say isn’t true”. I did not see what you saw, and I accept your view as true. We have had our experiences negated so often, especially as women, that it would be healing to create spaces where we are believed. I believe you.

  • Shana @ at 11:44 am, January 24th, 2017

    What’s unfortunate Sandra Hutchinson, is that you came here to defend yourself and white womanhood instead of sitting back and thinking, “Hmmm…what can we do to make sure that this doesn’t happen again?”

    White women have no problem talking about the patriarchy and the white male system of power, but when Women of Color talk about white women as a system of power, who also have a dangerous and deadly history in the oppression of women of color, the feelings get hurt and the flouncing begins.

  • Carol Swingle @ at 12:20 pm, January 24th, 2017

    I am reading and trying to absorb all if this. My experience and what I saw in DC on Sat was only positive so I am sad for the negative experiences some had. It is up to white people to recognize white privilege. I don’t have the answers but we all have to listen to each other with respect and an open heart.

  • Erica Dunn @ at 2:59 pm, January 24th, 2017

    I was in DC. My experience was nothing but positive. But I’m white, so I was looking through my “white” eyes. I’m so fucking sorry this happened. It was such a positive day for me that I wanted to hear that it was positive for everyone which blinded me to the pure fact that there is no damn way it was positive for everyone. All we can promise is to try to open our eyes more, look out for our sisters of color, and work harder to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So, I’m sorry. And I for one promise to continue to try to do better.

  • JM @ at 5:08 pm, January 24th, 2017

    Imagine if she’d been one of the 40 million+ women who are pro-life… she would’ve been treated far worse.

  • Samara @ at 6:42 pm, January 24th, 2017

    Lots of white centering in these comments smh

  • Tammy Marengo @ at 10:21 pm, January 24th, 2017

    I am sooo sorry that happened to you. Had I seen any of what you were dealing with, I would have definitely said something to wake people up. The marches were supposed to represent every unfairly treated group. And I’m sure many white women went with that Intent. But there are so many people who don’t even realize their own bigotry, that it was probably inevitable that you ran into that. What you’re telling us really pisses me off. That woman barring you from getting on the train… Could she have been saving seats for friends? Or within that busy, loud, rushing context did her bigotry surface? I don’t know. It sounds like, too, the march could have been better organized, with better mikes, etc.
    Again, I am so sorry you felt that way and that all that happened. I am so very frustrated with the division between Blacks and whites… I do believe that class issues converge to make it harder. I did a study in grad’ school that woke me up to the idea that one’s class, in both Black and white communities is a huge obstacle between Black and white relations, no matter who is the lesser off. And within each disenfranchised group, class creates the same tensions. Money is an underlying issue that causes so much friction within and between groups. And I do believe that most of our marchers are probably middle-class folks with a mind-set that, though they are unaware of it, typically turns Black women and men off big-time. And I get that. You have the justified anger and the often Black outspokenness and the scared little white women… And I’m talking about every Black woman and every white woman here. But in so many ways, they don’t relate. And I so wish we could figure out how to bridge that gap. Because I believe it is a big reason we can’t get our shit together enough to unite.
    All I can think of is all of us putting our differences aside, stop competing, stop trying to prove shit to eachother, and talk about the common goals we have. If we can do that, those marches would grow 100-fold!
    Again, I’m so sorry. It shouldn’t have happened. ??

  • JP @ at 12:01 am, January 25th, 2017

    To say”a whopping 94% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, while only 43% of white women did the same” is an inaccurate statement. What you mean is OF WOMEN WHO VOTED, those are the percentages. Extremely important distinction. Turnout is a huge issue and we need to focus on it. I can assure you that the white women at the march overwhelmingly voted for Clinton. All the black voices denouncing the ‘white Becky’s’ at the march and in the women’s movement as a whole will not serve our intersectional causes. A great many of these woman have been demonstrating for women’s issues since you were in diapers. Chanting ‘march’ after hours of being penned in and pressed against other people is perfectly appropriate, as it WAS time to march, it was what we all came to do. Focus your rage where it really belongs.

  • Kelly @ at 12:47 pm, January 25th, 2017

    I feel like we should be outside the White House every Saturday with signs. Ever-present. A vigil for all the people. Any protests going forward, I am all in. The more we join together, maybe the closer our experiences will become.

  • Kaylee @ at 6:09 pm, January 25th, 2017

    I am so sorry for your experience. I am sorry that it sounds like the actions of the white women around you were not representative of intersectionality or sisterhood or support. The amount of white women who voted for trump I staggering; a symptom of the privilege that has shielded them from so much gross injustice that women of color have become accustomed too. I am a white woman and I appreciate hearing your story. I held a sign that said “Black Lives Matter” at the March in DC and pay respect and honor to the women of color who were speaking and who were present in the crowd. I wanted to show women of color who were there that this wasn’t going to be like the feminist movements of previous decades. I hoped that everyone present wanted it to be different this time, and recognized that overcoming our own bias and prejudice, and working together to get justice for all oppressed and marginalized groups of people whose suffering has persisted too long in a country that claims to provide equal opportunity for all. I hope that in the days to come, marches to come, protests to come, failures to come, and hard work to come, you will meet more allies and that more white women will step up to the plate to address their own racism, make amends, and do better moving forward. I make no excuses for those white women who paid you and the speakers such disrespect. I only hope that through all of this, we will all learn that the only way we succeed is by being better than that.

  • Jeanne B. @ at 7:50 pm, January 25th, 2017

    This white woman is one of the 43% who pushed the button for Bernie and Hillary with intent. This white woman would have been saying their names right along with you. I might have felt a tad uncomfortable, the first time being in the midst of something like this, but this is not a white thing. This is a PEOPLE thing. There is–there should be no–color lines drawn in a fight like the one we’re in. I’m sorry for the way some white women behaved. It seems borderline deplorable and makes me wonder.

  • Marian @ at 11:39 am, January 27th, 2017

    Wait…… I think I went to high school with some of these women …..???? i think those (“pink hatted beckys) in particular might have been treating all (and white) women this way long before the march . Sad but true .

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