Over the last few months I have realized that there is a certain hostility amongst white women when they occupy or live in spaces that are predominantly Black. I have also come across this phenomenon in spaces for artists in cities or towns that are still very much structured by so called race and where Black artists have finally been able in some respects to take on a more important and outspoken role than white artists; even though the latter still seek to uphold a certain control.
Usually you can find one white woman amongst a group of Black people who have allowed that white woman into their space, their discussions and streams of consciousness. However, once another white woman enters this space, the white woman who felt in a way she was already part of that specific group feels threatened. She feels like her singularity, her uniqueness within that group is being threatened. She feels as if that other white woman could somehow take away her power – her white power so to speak. She is afraid of becoming one amongst millions - when in fact she might become one amongst two or three. She is not willing to share the space allocated to her with other white women because she is scared that would diminish her standing in the group. It is almost as if there is this unspoken rule that there can be only one white woman in a Black space. It is almost like she exclusively owns that space, as if she was the one to “discover” that space.
Essentially it goes back to the white need of being special, being the explorer (one could call that the Columbus Syndrome). And there can only be one Columbus, even amongst white females. It is a phenomenon pretty similar to predominantly male spaces – if a woman has become “the woman” in a predominantly male space and another woman enters that space, the woman already in the space will usually feel threatened by the “new” woman. This is true for spaces of Color and white spaces alike. The two are comparable but there is one very distinct difference: whereas in a Black space it is about ownership and power for the white woman, in a male space it is usually about romantic or sexual advantage – and here I am only taking into account heterosexual spaces. Of course those two spheres intertwine if for instance the Black space the white woman has access to is at the same time a predominantly Black male space. Then we are looking at all the racist fantasies white women might have in terms of Black men. It is in fact just another facet of racism and whiteness. But it needs to be dissected. Because at the end of the day it seems as if the “first” white woman is in fact reproducing the notion that a group of Black people, Black men especially, are all the same, as if she can own them all at once, be their boss in fact. She perpetuates the idea that the group of Black individuals she has access to are in fact not individuals at all but that they must be smitten by her whiteness somehow. She would probably be very confused if one of the Black men told her “I'm not into white women at all”. That would be kind of a sacrilege in the eyes of the female Columbus and in fact most Black spaces are too polite or too busy and tired to tell her the truth. That she is not special because of her whiteness, not more beautiful, not smarter, but that it is a facet of white privilege that even in 2018 she is still allowed to feel that way – even in Black spaces. The female Columbus would not react the same – with hostility - if a Black woman entered the very same space because in her mind you cannot compare Black and white womanhood because she grew up on the notion of her womanhood being the norm; in terms of beauty but also in terms of power in general. She would perhaps belittle the Black woman, but she would not feel as threatened. She would de-sexualize, de-womanize and de-humanize the Black woman, she would compare her maybe to Black women in the music industry (“You look just like Beyonce!”) or use other stereotypical pictures to describe her – in Southern Africa she would maybe use terms like “Mama” - even if she is standing opposite a young, beautiful (Black) woman who looks nothing like the stereotypical white fantasy of the so called “Black Mama”.
If however another white woman gains access to the same space, she would try everything to make that other woman feel small, meaningless and in fact non-existent. She would fight to sustain her colony. She would demonstrate to the “new” white woman how close she is to the members of the Black space, she would not give the “new” white woman the chance to speak. And she would definitely throw a tantrum if – God forbid! - that “new” white woman would get more attention from the members of the Black space than herself. She would see the arrival of the "new" white woman as a threat to her white womanhood instead of seeing it as what it is: The mere interest of a bunch of individuals in a person previously unknown, the interest in a new arrival or addition to a space. Because the female Columbus survives and thrives on the notion of ownership of spaces and people – especially Black people.