A letter from Lilith Fund’s white board members on Charlottesville
As white board members of this organization, and in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, VA, we’d like to speak to our white supporters directly about our responsibility to acknowledge and dismantle white supremacy.
Many people, particularly white people, expressed shock or disbelief about the events in Charlottesville. Similar disbelief was expressed after the election of Donald Trump (even though 53% of white women voters cast a ballot for Donald Trump). Many white folks have said or have wanted to say that “this is not us,” or “this is not America.” We must be clear: this has always been America. The United States of America was created on the foundation of white supremacy and the colonization of people of color. White supremacy did not begin with the election of Donald Trump—his election to the presidency is a result of it. The death of Heather Heyer and the multiple acts of aggression and violence against counter protesters in Charlottesville, VA were fueled by white supremacists.
The reason our organization discusses race, racism, and white supremacy is because it is critical to our work. Racism and white supremacy play a role in the policies, systems, and everyday lives of the people we serve. Racism requires a combination of prejudice—attitudes everyone can have—and power. Many racist attitudes and behaviors are expressed without explicit intent and therefore perpetuated and treated as normal in our society because this country was founded on the exploitation and enslavement of Black people, Jim Crow laws, and a legacy of violence against people of color. This normalization of racism is partly why systemic inequities still exist. As white people, we have a responsibility to accept that racism has played, and continues to play, a part in all aspects of society: whether it be our policing system, housing policies, or in deciding who, how, and when people can have children.
Historically, the abortion rights movement, in conjunction with the mainstream women’s rights movement, has centered the experiences of white, heterosexual, cisgender women, and has excluded critical input from women of color—particularly Black women—and other oppressed communities. Black women along with SisterSong, a Black-led reproductive justice organization, created the term ‘reproductive justice’ because they recognized that the women’s rights movement and its white leadership could not speak to or adequately represent the needs of women of color and other marginalized people. Black women saw the need to build their own movement to uplift and center the needs of the most marginalized women, families, and communities.
Because of this history, our board members acknowledged it was important for Lilith Fund, which was founded by mostly white women, to shift from being a white-majority organization to a people of color-majority organization to better serve our clients, 84% of whom are people of color. White board members of our organization have understood we are not best-suited to develop solutions to serve people of color because we don’t experience the oppression people of color face. Since 2014, we have maintained a woman of color majority on our board to better guide our work through the movement of reproductive justice.
As white people, if we want health care—including abortion—and other quality services like housing, child care, education and more to be available and accessible for everyone to thrive, then we cannot be complicit in other white people’s racism. We need intersectional movements to dismantle systems of oppression, which means ensuring they are led by women of color—we cannot change policies that harm people’s ability to access healthcare by dismissing the very people who are affected by it. We will not eradicate racism if we do not listen to people of color who face it every single day. It’s up to us as anti-racist white people to listen to people of color, validate and accept their experiences, center their leadership and voices, and use the resources and privileges we have to work in solidarity. It is the responsibility of white people to support those most impacted by oppressive policies, particularly because those policies have been endorsed by predominantly white voters.
Take the time to have the tough and uncomfortable conversations with friends and family, challenge your own behaviors and beliefs, and create more inclusive spaces for all people. We are always finding ways to learn and grow individually and as an organization to help create a society in which everyone has the means and opportunity to plan their futures with dignity and support. We can always do better, and we have to do it together.
We cannot allow ourselves to be frozen by fear, shame, or guilt. We must be courageous and be willing to push past the discomfort to a place of justice. Every single day we have the power to continue living out our nation’s legacy of exclusion, violence, and hatred. But we also have the power to change our story, to create communities where all people are able to live freely and with the dignity, respect, and humanity with which they are born.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the years, and who has helped us grow, change, and be better to serve our clients. We urge you to join us in our efforts to eradicate white supremacy to make a society that is safer and better for everyone. The time to show up is now.
White board members of Lilith Fund