Stop Gaslighting Women of Colour and the Organisations that Support Us

If we have told you that your organisation and the space you take up isn’t inclusive – hold yourselves responsible for that, and not us

Nikita Aashi Chadha

If you’ve read any of my other pieces, you’ll know that I’m someone who has a lot to say. A lot of my pieces for Cysters are prompted by real life events, and interactions with whiteness. The same can be said for a lot of women of colour who write – who find a method of expression for their innermost thoughts. We want to give the reader an insight into the issues we face, sometimes on a daily basis. If you are someone who speaks truth to power, tries to unsettle the status quo or speaks for those who don’t usually have a voice – that is rarely met without opposition, or the centering of whiteness. If this is something you have experienced as an organisation or individual, you know what I am talking about and the toll that these encounters can have upon someone. If you are operating within whiteness (worth saying here, that you don’t have to be aesthetically white to conform to whiteness, and this also includes people who are white passing) you are probably already doing this to others within our space, and have no idea about the damage you are doing.

My primary function is to educate and to offer a critical insight and analysis. This insight comes from my lived experience and I won’t allow you to negate those experiences. If this piece makes you feel uncomfortable, you have some room to grow and some room to confront your own beliefs and expectations of me. I can’t be expected to make you feel better. Not when your movement constantly hurts us. It erases our narratives and replaces it with the same old story. We are tired. We need to speak up and more importantly, you need to listen.

Understanding Endometriosis at the Intersections is important. We were approached to write on this recently, and I will share that with you when it’s ready. For now, I want to talk about taking up space – and how you may be taking that space away from women of colour. As always, the members of Cysters are vocal online about the lack of inclusivity in this space for marginalised people. There are countless Endometriosis support groups and representations of Endometriosis that are centered in both whiteness and femininity. Those spaces tend to label themselves as ‘inclusive’ and will mention certain groups in their ‘About Me’ e.g. people of colour, transgender communities. This by itself isn’t problematic… But surely claiming to serve demographics that aren’t even present within your membership numbers is?

Instead of claiming something you aren’t, why aren’t you signposted to already established groups that are plugged into those communities?

You might think claiming to help everyone is being inclusive, but how much scope and expertise do you actually have to help the communities you are claiming to serve – how could you hope to help people when you have no experience of their problems?

Are you actually helping these demographics, or are you centering yourself as the saviour for our communities?

Challenging whiteness and power structures is difficult. Especially the ones we conform to without even knowing. We all operate in this space, we will all need to actively challenge the way we think, the way we talk about people, the way we give prominence to some narratives above others.

When activists of colour discuss issues like this publicly; something interesting happens. Whiteness centers itself again, and we get messages from organisations and individuals that we are ‘targeting them’ or ‘calling them out’. Look, if you feel like our messaging about organisations not being inclusive applies to you, if you are only focusing on white, female narratives of endometriosis – then understand this, we are calling you out. We are calling out anyone who perpetuates inequality. We are highlighting systematic oppression. It is not a personal attack. If the statement applies to you in all honesty, that is your problem to bear, and your duty to rectify it. Your defensiveness isn’t our problem. Most people who feel statements don’t apply to them, do not get so affected by it.

Do not gaslight us, approach us, and tell us how inclusive you are. Talk is cheap, and we are tired of performative allyship for you to gain more media traction, or funding. When you gain those things at our benefit, you are then using resources that could be used to bolster our communities… yet we never see that funding, we never see you uplifting marginalised voices – we just see you furthering your own agenda. If you are confronted with this reality, and you make it all about yourself i.e. “I feel very attacked by this post”… you are still centering yourself. Surely, you should be more concerned about hurting our communities, than your own feelings? You may call yourself an ally, but we will never see you as one until you stop talking, and start doing.

Make space for us, invite us to the conversation you are having about us. If not, what you’re doing at best is white saviourism – and that is the hard, cold, reality of the situation. That is how you are seen by marginalised communities, when you claim to be inclusive, but in reality, you are not.

What we need are people who are willing to be uncomfortable, willing to grow and recognise their biases. No one is perfect. Cysters itself rebranded last year to include the transgender and  non-binary communities when we were told that we were un-inclusive. We spoke to members of that community, we made fiscal changes to our name and what we stand for – as we understand that making more space for others, doesn’t diminish our space, or make it any less ours.

I’ve got some top dos and dos when it comes to allyship between whiteness and cultural communities. Please bear these in mind before speaking to us about the above. I’ve set it out here in black and white (no pun intended) and you can treat this as a resource.

If you are white passing, e.g. you may have mixed heritage, but you may be very light skinned – this applies to you too. People who can pass for white still reap the benefits of white privilege and this can be a hard pill to swallow. We operate in a hierarchy of colour, and to deny that is to deny what people experience everyday.

As a light skinned Asian woman, I understand that my proximity to whiteness protects me from certain things. I will never face the same struggles as someone who has darker skin than I do, even if they are the same race as me. These are the facts. I can accept this statement without being defensive about it. If I receive that privilege, I have to own that as it is damaging to deny it or to see it only in the way you want to. I would never hold anyone who has less privilege than me to rights about their experience or the way that they feel. I wish the same could be said about whiteness. I am generally made to feel guilty by others because of their level of privilege.

That stops today.

  1. Do not center yourself. If you are going to message Cysters, or us directly and speak about how you feel attacked by our posts and expect us to give you sympathy and appease your guilt – let me stop you there. Do not message us about how you feel attacked unless it is constructive. We are not responsible for your feelings and we will not center you. Society centers and favours whiteness, but that isn’t something that I will be doing personally, or us as an organisation. Why don’t you message us an action plan or approach us for ways that you could enact change or support us instead?
  2. Do some research and don’t expect us to educate you. No one taught me about my position in the world, my race, what it means – and we won’t be educating you ourselves unless we want to. It takes a lot of emotional labour and energy to engage in conversations about oppression and racism. It may be a great talking point or discussion to you, but this is our reality and that has a profound impact on us. There is research out there that details the psychological effects of dealing with and having to explain racism on people of colour. Order books, read articles, watch documentaries on our struggles and understand the impact of whiteness for yourself. I can suggest many resources for you – you can also use Google yourself for free.
  3. Do not gaslight us. Do not tell us that what we are feeling is wrong. Do not tell us how you are a good white person and none of this applies to you. Do not tell us that you can’t center whiteness as a mixed race person – when you are very much white passing and operate within the world as white. Do not expect us to make room for you in a space that should be ours, but you are still fixating on navigating.
  4. Do pay us for our time and energy. Stop assuming we are here to educate you for free. If you are going to approach us and ask us to educate you, or your organisation do not insult us by expecting us to do it for free. We pay people for their time, skills and experiences. You would not expect someone to deliver other types of training for free, and you should not be asking us to do so and disenfranchising us further. We should be paid for our contributions, especially if we are assisting you and your entire organisation.
  5. Do invite us to speak about our communities instead of speaking for us. If you want to be inclusive, invite us to share our stories with your audience – so they are hearing it from us directly. You don’t need to act as our middle man, and we do not want you to speak on our behalf. We have our own voices that should be heard. We don’t need to hear your account of our issues.

And finally, I expect backlash from this. Every time I have written or spoken about whiteness there is a push back. Generally from people who do not want to understand or acknowledge how they fit into the system, and how they perpetuate damaging narratives.

If reading this prompts you to feel like you must message me and explain how you are a good white person, how your organisation doesn’t do this – do not message me. De-center yourself, read through this again and work consciously on becoming a better ally to us.

Work with us to make this space more inclusive, and stop assuming you can do it on your own or without us.

If you are inspired or interested to support us, to fund our projects and spotlight our much needed narratives, please get in touch at smile@cysters.org