Updated: Jan 27, 2021
By Briana Mullen
Karens, Susans, Miss Ann. There is a long history of white women who cry out for ‘protection’ at the expense of people of color, and this week they were on full display at the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Caller after caller, complained that taking a single cent from the nearly $500 million dollar Sheriff's budget, over 37% of the total County general fund, would turn our community into a lawless hellscape, where people pillaged and looted the nice white suburbs of Carmichael, Folsom, Citrus Heights and Orangevale.
It would be easy to say that these women are just repeating the tired ‘law and order’ talking points of Trump and his allies, but below these calls for protection from the dangerous imaginary rioters is a much more insidious form of dog whistle politics. Each woman called in, stating their suburb, how long they’ve been Sacramento residents, and the fact that they were homeowners, somehow suggesting that it was 1786 and that their voice mattered more because they were property owners. Their use of coded language was abundantly clear, they were WHITE women, and they needed protecting at all costs.
White women have long played the role as the victim that needs protecting, justifying the aggression and police state that has terrorized communities of color for America’s entire history. This particularly insidious form of white rage includes cases where white women have elicited sexual harm as a fear tactic. The Scottsboro Boys were nine African American teenagers, ages 13 to 19, accused in Alabama of raping two white women on a train in 1931, despite any envidence, and were all convicted by all white juries for life imprisonment.The 1955 lynching of 14 year old Emitt Till is perhaps the most famous case, in which Carolyn Bryant accused Till of whistling at her and grabbing her waist. Bryant confessed in 2008 that she lied. A more recent incident included Amy Cooper, a white woman walking her dog in Central park in May 2020, who threatened to call the police on Christian Cooper, a black birdwatcher, when he asked her to leash her dog.
The fact is, for centuries, we white women have known that the police protect us. The police EXIST to protect us. But by protecting us, they harm others. We white women must take responsibility for this harm because it is often on our beckoning that police beat, harass, and kill people of color. We may not pull the trigger, but we are the ones insidiously using the system to maintain power.
“We, black women, have kids too. We black women have husbands/wives/partners too. We black women are scared too. We black women are humans too. “ - Kula Koenig
Caller after caller mentioned fearing for their safety, or their children’s safety when defending the grossly overfunded Sheriff's budget that has slowly eaten away at other community based services like cancer.
But my question for other white women is this. Were the cops protecting children when the Rancho Cordova Police beat 14 year old Elijah Tufono earlier this spring? What about last year when police handcuffed and put a spit bag over the head of a 12 year old Isaiah Brown?
These women that called in to the meeting Wednesday using racial tropes that they themselves probably don’t know the history of, are our aunts, our moms, our sisters.
It’s our responsibility to engage them (even when it feels impossible) because people's lives are on the line. Sacramento county police officers have killed 32 people in the last 6 years. Where is the empathy for the safety of those families and communities?
One of my favorite tools that I’ve been introduced to by the nonprofit Race Forward is their “Talking about Race Toolkit” and their ‘ACT’ strategy for engaging with racial discussions.
An example of using ACT could look like this:
Affirm: “I understand your concern about safety. Feeling safe is a crucial piece of community health.”
Counter: “However, police that may protect you and I have a history and track record of harming others, including children of color.“
Transform: Can you agree that funding the police does not provide safety for everybody?
If no, ACT again
If yes, great! Let's talk about interventions for safety that actually work like community based mental health services and restorative justice!
Another tool I’ve also been sharing with white friends and family the amazing youtube channel “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man”. In this episode, Emmanuel Acho interviews black children who were adopted by white parents and engages in a heartbreaking conversation about the fear they have for their children each and every day.
This may be frustrating and hard, but it's nowhere near the emotional toil that our sisters of color go through everyday just to ensure their children and family make it home safe each and every day. White women need to be called out, called in, and transformed to understand that safety for all us is the only path forward.
“Not protecting people who look like you, but people who have less than you”.