How Systemic Racism Dismantled My Mommy Group | Dawn White
Content Warning: Sexual Assault
It all began when we were asked to help pay for a mommy’s housekeeper and nanny. And it climaxed when Kobe Bryant died.
For those unfamiliar with Facebook Mommy Groups, first let me set up some framework for you. There exists a world of private regional online support in the shape of Facebook groups for mommies. These groups were started by a mom and grew through invitations to other women within their network. The groups all claim to offer support in a safe space where women can commiserate about motherhood, seek advice and referrals, and discuss lifestyle questions. Topics range from sleep training to real estate and pop culture events. Whether the group has 200 or 1,000 members, the rules are almost always the same:
Rule #1. What you post is sacred, meaning what goes on in Mommy Group stays in Mommy Group. Just by writing this, I’m breaking Rule #1.
Rule #2 The tone of the group must remain respectful and judgment free. While I’m at it, lemme just go ahead and break Rule #2.
I was skeptical of Mommy Groups at first because I imagined a world where women were one-upping each other with their au natural birth plans, showing off their organic custom designer toddler wardrobes and sharing tawdry gossip. Yet, as a new mom at 42 years old, I was drawn to the opportunity to meet other new moms. I had questions about swaddling and sunscreen, not to mention my own social desire to commiserate with other sleep-deprived women. I also knew my son would need playdates and friends. And so I unabashedly threw myself into a small group of local moms based in the trendy northeastern region of Los Angeles. I quickly became “besties” with women with new babies. I read every post on the message boards and replied, “You got this, mama!” with heartfelt honesty and in turn, I felt equally supported. I attended and hosted events in our home and initially I genuinely enjoyed being in the group.
But like all new relationships, the honeymoon period came to an end. I started to realize I didn’t have a lot in common with the majority of my 200 new best friends. Posts about gentrification got prickly. Discussions on private vs. public school drew invisible lines between the haves and have nots. Links to available real estate in our area showcased homes accessible only to the upwardly mobile tax bracket. Women fawned over purge posts of designer goods and intimated a “lesser than” morality on anyone not living a life of sustainable modernity, which, let’s face it, isn’t affordable for a lot of families. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but I knew there was a majority voice that was accepted in our group and a minority voice that could only speak in a whisper.
Then the crowdsourcing began. Pleas to raise funds for mothers struggling with a myriad of financial troubles: devastating illness, abusive partners, loss of work, death. All things truly worthy of helping a friend in need. Except the crowdsourcing wasn’t done on the main feed and asked of the entire group. Instead, DMs were sent to select members who were deemed philanthropic by a criteria I can only assume based on outward appearances. The DMs would light up with replies that everyone on the thread could see. “I would love to help. Sending now.” This put a hefty amount of pressure on those included to follow suit, even if they themselves weren’t in a position to contribute. It also bewildered those who weren’t asked. Do they not think I care? Do they think I don’t have money? Am I not popular enough to be asked to help?
And then one day, I got added to a DM convo asking a group of us to help pay for a woman’s nanny and housekeeper because her husband went on an 8-day trip with his old bandmates. I had to re-read this several times to wrap my head around it. Every synapse in my body told me this was utterly ridiculous. Let me be very clear: The woman we were being asked to help drives a BMW, owns several homes and pushes a $600 stroller around our neighborhood. As powerless immigrant mothers are trapped at the southern border of our country separated from their children, this was the cry for help being shouted out in our group? This was how these women wanted to use our collective power? I couldn’t help but see the appalling inequity in this parallel. I watched as women responded with Venmo donations. I rolled my eyes as the money rolled in. I told myself to stay quiet.
And then BOOM! I COULD put my finger on it. Our group was rife with entitlement and privilege. And I was being asked to open my wallet to support the cause. Or the Caucasity, I should say.
I thought of my educated and professional younger sister who lives in a very unglamorous town in rural Illinois. While pregnant with my nephew, she worked full-time during the day as an animal bioscientist and then as a grocery clerk in the evenings to earn money in preparation to start her family. She doesn’t drive a European car or post on Facebook about her vacation home. And she doesn’t solicit help.
So I, along with one friend from within the group spoke out. I compared the structure of our beloved Mommy group to George Orwell’s Animal Farm in which all are created equal but some are more equal than others. My friend and I asked to find better ways to offer our support beyond our bank accounts and more importantly, to shift the group’s purpose to inclusivity and equality, to create a culture where each voice felt honored and valued.
The fallout wreaked havoc in the group and the invisible line between the haves and have nots became clearly visible: White Women vs. Women of Color. The message board burned like a cross in the playground. The disparate moms of color supported a culture shift and largely acknowledged why this crowdsourcing felt inappropriate. A handful of white moms vocalized being put off by the request. And a few women even DMed us to say they agreed but were too scared to speak up for fear of being ostracized by their white peers. Yet, the overarching sentiment shared by the majority of white women in the group was that there was no space to question entitlement. When we called them out on their privilege, they portrayed themselves as victims and us as unsupportive bullies. They repeatedly referred to me and the other women who spoke out as bad apples in the mom group because we chose not to agree with their hierarchical tactics of preferential treatment based on popularity. They adopted a tone of martyrdom. They are only doing their best, they aren’t perfect. They feel shame because all they asked for is a little help.
Anyone who expressed an opinion other than that of unwavering support was considered a dissenter and was urged to leave the group. In other words, either fall in line with white privilege or we’ll show you the door. And so I chose the door because I had no other choice.
I turned to another larger community group of 1,000 members in hopes that the subversive racism I experienced in the smaller group was only indicative of those cherry-picked members. At first, it seemed to occupy a more neutral tone. Perhaps because of the sheer size, women seemed less prone to overshare or grovel for personal gain. And more respectful of how they shared and posted.
But then the unthinkable happened. A helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other human lives crashed and killed everyone on board. Women turned to the Facebook message board of this Mommy Group to share in the collective grief only to be shut down with hostility. Rapist. Abuser. Predator. An entire man’s legacy reduced to singular words. Forget the guttural pain instinctively felt by millions of people around the world; these women held zero regard for his wife. Or his surviving children. Or the unrelated families also on board. What happened to this being a group free of judgement to uplift and support all mothers?
And one thing was once again glaringly clear. These white women demanded to turn this horrific event into a platform to further their own agenda. By no means am I trying to diminish the movement to support victims of sexual assault. Survivors absolutely deserve to be acknowledged and supported without shame or reprimand. In turn, there needs to be space held for the trauma of all women.
Women of color went to great lengths to explain the grief they were experiencing because of Kobe’s untimely death and how it triggered them to see yet another Black man’s character being defamed. They detailed the history of generational pain caused by the deaths of Black men falsely accused of crimes, particularly of fraudulent claims of sexually assaulting white women. They brought up Emmitt Till. They argued that Kobe had been legally and effectively cleared of wrongdoing by the court system, justice very rarely afforded to Black men. And though it largely affected white women in particular, they summoned their abiding support of everyone triggered by the Harvey Weinstein fallout. They asked for time and space to grieve the loss of a Black man who meant so much to the Black community. Yet even with all of this, many white women refused to see any points of view but their own. So they deleted their initial pernicious posts about Kobe Bryant from the message boards and so along with it, the arduous written work painstakingly shared by these non-white mothers.
BIPOC women often feel the women’s movement only seems to support the trauma and experiences relatable by white women. This was made glaringly evident this year when Black Lives Matter was not formally invited to participate in the Los Angeles Women’s March. Because this particular misery of Kobe’s passing didn’t belong to these women, they flexed their privilege and silenced the pain of others. It didn’t feel like #MeToo. It felt like #MeMeMe.
Fragility says, “I will not be accountable.” Entitlement says, “If I can’t silence you, I will eliminate you.”
So, here we are now almost a year to the date of when I first spoke out against the nanny fund. From what I gather, that Facebook group has unraveled. Though many will still accuse me of breaking it, I think the real culprit was systemic racism.
Today, I see these same white women who gaslit and witch-hunted me then champion Black Lives Matter now. Their Instagram stories glorify themselves as allies with quotes from MLK and once again, they are telling others where they should donate their money. I can’t help but draw a comparison between the events of last year and their current public social stance. What, if anything, did they learn? Are they learning anything now? How did they unlearn so fast?
I think of white fragility much the same as alcoholism. You are born with it and it’s very addictive. It diminishes your inhibitions and gives you a false elevated sense of self. It replaces responsibility with excuses: You can’t be culpable when you are drunk on your own prerogative. And you need to stay drunk because sobriety requires a total reconstruction of your ego, your values and your self worth.
The first step to recovery is to admit you’re afflicted. The next step is to make amends. I still haven’t heard of any apologies. But perhaps now they’re too busy marching in the streets.
Dawn White is a mother, an entertainment executive, artist manager, tv/film producer and freelance writer. She enjoys cooking and yoga and doing deep dives into culture, specifically how it relates to the experience of being a woman of color in America. She currently resides in Los Angeles though she is a proud Philadelphia native.
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