White Girl \hwahyt gurl\ verb. -ed, – ing. –tr. 1. To fail to recognize racial privilege: Abigail complained to Brittany that the school should celebrate a white history month since there is a black history month; Abigail just white girled Brittany. 2. To deflect responsibility for problematic behavior: Mindy white girls me every time I try to talk to her about race in America; she says I am just too sensitive. 3. To emotionally manipulate for influence and sympathy either purposefully or unconsciously: Maddie began white girling the whole group by crying about black women not listening to her.
Today I would like to describe the sociopolitical phenomenon called “Getting White Girled.” Urban Dictionary has already beat me to the punch with an entry on “white girled.” I thought I was a creative genius when I finally found the linguistic terminology to name the experience of certain social interactions with white women in both public and intimate spaces. Come to find out, “getting white girled” happens on a much wider sociological scale. I am not surprised.
Urban Dictionary touches upon some important aspects of the phenomenon. Emotional gestures for sympathy and the deflection of responsibility can be critical tactics in the practice of white girling. I think the top definition entry deserves more elaboration, and I should contextualize my usage of the phrase.
I situate “white girling” or “getting white girled” in the sociopolitical context of race and gender relations in our country. Specifically, I am referring to a dynamic that can occur between white women and women of color, especially during discussions of race. “Getting white girled” has its own personal contours for me. Let us begin with its origin of use and go from there.
“Girl, I just got white girled”
I recall the first time I used the phrase. It was an instinctual quip formulated in response to an exchange with a white woman co-worker. We worked on the same team in a high pressure environment. At the end of one work day, she requested that I process a form for her. I set it aside for the next business day to complete in the morning. It was not time-sensitive and it was a favor. Before my first sip of coffee the next day, my co-worker came rushing into my cubicle frantically asking if I had completed the form because “I needed that done, like, yesterday,” she stated. ::record screeches::
“First boo-boo, I am not your secretary. Second, we are co-workers. You ain’t my boss. You don’t sign my papers or my checks, so don’t come at me like that, and third–who the fuck you think you are!”
I wish I could have said that, but I didn’t. It was a brief fantasy of black girl resistance to white micro-aggressions. The moment called for another kind of social and emotional intelligence on my part– one that did not involve me getting labeled an “angry black woman.”
So, it really went like this: “[insert nice white girl name], are you okay? Is something wrong today?” While giving a caring look, my co-worker sat down and went on to vent about how stressed she was by work as if explaining her stress was an excuse for treating me like her personal assistant.
I swallowed my anger and lent my ear. I was a great team player that moment. I soon called a friend afterwards and said, “Girl, I just got white girled.” That same friend, a black woman, understood. “Girl, she’s done it to me, too.”
“Getting White Girled”
That exchange was not the first time a white woman has justified their maltreatment of me, and sadly, it probably will not be the last.
There are a plethora of accounts by women of color that detail the failures of white women to recognize their racial privilege in their exchanges with women of color. These experiences have accumulated enough to warrant a termed social phenomenon: “Getting White Girled”
I recently tried to explain the phenomenon to a few of my white co-workers after recounting a story of a white friend who said I was “attacking” her in a conversation. Keep in mind that I was sitting down while my friend and I were having a heated group discussion while she was standing up. No ill words were shared. No objects were thrown. Yet, as soon as my hands gestured in the air and my voice elevated, the words “Now, you are just attacking me” left her mouth. Without hesitancy, a mechanism in my brain switched and sparked the following retort, “[insert nice white girl name]! Don’t white girl me!”
It felt right. It felt just. Of course, that only escalated the argument. We are still trying to move forward from that moment now. As a friend, I apologized for hurting her feelings and explained to her the reasons why that interaction triggered me.
That trigger has a particular history in my experience and other women of color’s social exchanges with white women. Consider the following historic instances:
- In a feminist theory classroom, the day finally arrives for the multicultural portion of the curriculum. The class reads a text written by a black feminist writer. A white female student shares that as she read the essay, it felt like the writer was “yelling” at her personally.
- At a discussion on race and education, a white woman shares that she thinks that programs gauged for minority students on college campuses are “reverse racism.” I told her I disagreed and asked for her definition of racism. She later accused me of “attacking” her to our director because I leaned forward and asked her a question in an impolite tone.
- A white woman once told me that I “always bring up race and beat the same drum” although we both worked at a non-profit focused on mentoring girls from predominantly poor and black neighborhoods.
Across time and various locations, these interactions aggregate and share common themes. When women of color call out white women on their racism, we soon are labelled “angry,” “aggressive,” and/or “impolite.” We become instigators and the perpetrators of social conflict and the emotional pain of white women. White women become victims to “discomfort,” “loudness,” and “anger.” In their distress, tears may shed [white girl cry] and the refuge of others may then be sought or not for validation and consolation [white girl sympathy].
The exchange between former co-host of THE VIEW, Rosie Perez, and Kelly Osbourne showcases this pattern. Perez calls Osbourne out on her assumption that only Latino people clean toilets in Los Angeles. Osbourne gets flustered and then cries during commercial break. People began to rush to help and assure her that she is not a racist. TV producers failed to console Perez and only cornered her to apologize on air and later twitter.
I find it interesting that the flock to protect and comfort Osbourne was seemingly unsolicited. Osbourne even told Perez that she was right to correct her for her statement. Yet, TV producers and executives came to Osbourne’s rescue with the quickness. Perez apologized for being “overly sensitive” and Osbourne assured everyone that she is not racist. Rosie Perez quit and Kelly Osbourne remains comfortably on THE VIEW. The whole exchange deserves its own hashtag: #rosieperezgotwhitegirled.
Situations described above are examples of getting white girled to the fullest. The phenomenon can be perpetrated by the individual white woman or it can become a multi-party affair, especially if a rescuer comes to the scene. No matter what, the phenomenon usually involves a person of color who may have politely or impolitely called out a white woman’s racist remark or behavior and a subsequent unproductive response by the white woman either in the form of accusations of attack, crying, or denial. The product of the phenomenon is usually increased social distancing between white women and women of color and the increased silence and rage within women of color.
“To White Girl or Not to White Girl”/ “To Stay Angry or Get Angry”
So where do white women and women of color go from here? For one, white women please know that it is okay to be called out even if it was not stated in a way that felt comfortable for you. Remember, behind the words of women of color who do share are often times more than just anger. These words also encompass our sadness and disappointment over this historic pattern inside and outside our intimate relationships with you. Give us space to express our pain.
Additionally, ask yourself why should you require a polite tone to listen to words about an injustice. I imagine that this is culturally scripted for many of us across racial and cultural lines. Anger may have never been expressed safely within our families. Or we may have been taught that anger/aggression and femininity should not coexist within the same being. Nevertheless, politeness has a cultural premium and we need to begin to unpack our emotional and political attachments to its practice. In the meantime, requiring people of color to be “nice” while they endure racial injustice only serves to assuage white anxiety and discomfort.
For women of color, we face another kind of choice, and often times, our choices will impact our livelihood, our image, and/or our intimate relationship in some ways. Next time a white woman “white girls” you, you will be tasked with the following option: to get angry or stay angry. Or put it another way: To Nicki Minaj or not to Nicki Minaj that Miley Cyrus woman.
These are not necessarily mutually exclusive choices, but I parsed them out to suggest an outward expression of our anger and an inward silence that rages within. We often have to navigate and exercise both choices based on our circumstances at the moment. At work, I could not Nicki Minaj my co-worker in my black girl fantasy of resistance. I would have risked reputation, a reprimand, or worse, termination.
You may choose to express your hurt openly. You may save your rage for protests or a Facebook rant. You may do it in a diplomatic manner. Maybe it is one of those teaching and healing moments between women of color and white women, like in an anti-racism ally workshop.
Getting angry in the interpersonal sphere presents a risk. You will need to hope that the relationship has enough strength in communication and trust to experience general anger and political anger at one another. That’s a gamble, and some friendships with white friends may not be able to take the tension. If it can, that relationship has some roots, and you may want to consider nourishing its growth.
These suggestions are non-exhaustive, but I share them in the spirit of encouraging understanding across differences. As our country navigates through national dialogues around racism and police brutality we need to recognize the power dynamics that can take place within these conversations between women, feminists and non-feminists alike. This cultural and political climate provides many tactics for derailing critical discussions on race and racism. Let’s make sure that getting white girled becomes less of a phenomenon in these conversations.