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Elizabeth Warren: Herstory

Elizabeth Warren: Herstory
Reading Time: 6 minutes

By: Iyabo Onipede: Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know

Elizabeth Warren’s announcement last week that she was withdrawing from the presidential race sent ripples of despair throughout the Democratic party and especially among white progressive women.

As an immigrant, multicultural woman of color, I felt a little “blah.” Did we not see this coming? Of course, some of us did but others did not.

It relates to race.


Yes, it does.

But Elizabeth Warren is a white woman, duh?

Yes, and it relates to race.

Caveat: In my racial equity work, I have discovered that you really cannot talk about race successfully without talking about gender and class. The problem though is that once you introduce gender and class, you then forget about race. And we cannot afford to do that. In this case,

Probably, all the Black women knew that it would be unlikely for Warren to win the nomination and if she did, she probably would not win the White house. Remember who voted the current resident in? Yeah, some of us remember.


I have concluded that it is time to discover, reveal and share the secret code of “whiteness” that certain white women “hear” so that we can interrupt this pattern and begin to move towards a common goal.

I believe that there is a secret language that activates this particular group of white women and it will take careful study and decoding to get through to them.

Let me explain.

I went to a legislative training on the environment and how progressive folks can talk to conservative folks about the environment. I was shocked to find out that both conservative and liberal legislators believe something must be done to protect the environment equally. Really? Yes, the statistics showed that both groups felt that there must be some intervention. Methods may vary but both groups agree the planet is in danger of being irreparably harmed.

The way they gathered their data was to show certain images with language to various stakeholders and measured their responses. One set of pictures showed children playing in water and others digging in the soil. They also had love and light words like, “Mother Earth needs us to love and nurture her.” Only progressive legislators resonated with these images and words.

Other pictures showing mountains, eagles and strong language of patriotism appealed to the conservative legislators. These images said things like, “America is great. We protect the environment. It is our patriotic duty.” These resonated with the conservatives wildly.

You see, the problem, honestly, is that we are so often yelling, so loudly, that we are not stopping to listen to what the other person is saying. We are so embroiled in our feelings that we have forgotten our goal.

If I have to speak your love language of mountains, a bald eagle and  pristine flowing water and attach the words “your responsibility” and “your patriotic duty” to move you to do something just so I can have clean drinking water, then that is what I will do. And I will teach others how to do it, so I do not bear the burden alone.

I must be disciplined to take the time to learn your secret language. I call it a secret code because it is not openly acknowledged. It may not be conscious or organized but there is a secret code.

Learn to frame what you want in “shared language.”

She says, “Well, I just did not feel she was electable. I would prefer a strong person in the White house. It feels more stable.”

Stop. Breathe. Dissect.

“Yes, I agree with you that we want a strong person in the White House. One of the things I love about this country is how we are perceived as ‘the greatest country’ in the whole world. I take pride in that. I feel that is what I vote for every time. I think of my relatives in the military and I am so grateful for their service. Our country is known for its strong military. For me, smart is strong and look at our institutions of learning? Globally, we have the very best schools on the planet and our leaders are trained there. I get excited about a smart person in the White House. Smart and strong can go together right?”

Did you see what I did there?

I did not counteract her, but I drew out her language of strength and built on that. I may even ask questions such as, “What does strength mean to you? Why is that so important?”

Remember the goal here, y’all. It is not to win the battle. It is to win the war. Winning an argument and letting this person know you do not agree with her is the battle. Learning the secret code is the war.

Then after you perceive the person is more open, then you can quietly and non-defensively ask, “Does EW being ‘non electable’ mean she is not strong? I think of her as super smart. What am I missing?”

This person’s response tells me that she wants a man protecting her and does not feel protected by a woman (I promise you – I have actually had this conversation. It took everything in me not to scream at this person.)

Begin to draw out that this person is actually looking for protection and listen to why she thinks she needs protection. Without challenging her need for protection, speak about how you overcame the need for masculine protection and watch the barriers drop.

This stuff is happening on a very unconscious level for so many of these women. They are trying to protect what they know. Ultimately, they are protecting their class status. They are not fearless enough to venture into what they do not know. They are protecting, with their vote, their middle class/upper class lifestyle. They do not want to work at a job. They want to cook brownies and get in a carpool lane and take Pilates classes at 10 am in the morning. They want to stay home and do art instead of a 9 to 5 job. They want to run the PTA where they feel a sense of empowerment. If they work, it is to add to their pedigree so they can get a partner who makes even more money than they do – it is to add to their desirability. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of this. It is all good except it can lull one into an illusion of comfort.

Please do take that 10 am Pilates class. It is necessary. That is not the point!

The point is that these women want to keep a status quo that is working for them. They are like the women of the 1920s who got us the right to vote, right? Wrong. They got white women the right to vote:

“Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who cannot read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling book, making laws for … Susan B. Anthony. [The amendment] creates an antagonism everywhere between educated, refined women and the lower orders of men, especially in the South.”  ~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

You see, we have to respect the fact that we want different things. These women, want to (a) at best, move up the patriarchal ladder and have equal rights with those at the very top, (b) at worst, maintain their status.

There is no in between. They live in fear of sliding down the embedded hierarchy of this proverbial ladder. You, and I, on the other hand, have probably slid up and down this ladder. We are not scared. We know it is fluid. But we also know what oppression feels like and we know how to identify it and we see it coming a mile away.

Back to class issues.

We are Patrick, Sambo, Hans and Yung Tung. We want to create equity. We want opportunities for ourselves as well as others. There is strength down the ladder. It gets broader. It is not exclusive. It has its own value.

Let us not spend too much energy disparaging those up the ladder. Or those that are right alongside us on the ladder and are more interested in getting up the ladder than improving the lot for all of us. Let us hear them. Let us learn to listen to their language and their values. And then we respond with the language of shared values and priorities. We cannot exclude those who want to be exclusive as we are so clear that their exclusivity just does not work.

I saw so many Black women put their heart and soul into EW’s race and they worked so hard. I feel with them a palpable loss because EW truly had a plan for myriad of communities across the socio-economic strata. She saw class, she saw race and she saw gender like no other candidate did.

And since she was inclusive, we have to be as well.

Instead of moving away from those who speak a secret impenetrable language, why don’t we learn how to turn that into a currency that gets us our goal?

Let us learn how to do this together. 


Iyabo is a Leadership Development Coach whose work focuses on the soul of the leader. She moves leaders from thriving careers into discovering, crafting and living into their life work. By helping successful people integrate spirituality into their leadership roles, they become more engaged with their work, expand the connection of their work to social justice issues and experience more satisfaction in their life work. Using the power of narrative and reflection, she helps leaders fine-tune the sacred “work their souls must have” (Alice Walker).

Iyabo is located in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated from Goucher College (B.A.), Georgetown University Law School (J.D.) and Candler School of Theology at Emory University (M.Div.).

Iyabo’s home on the web is at


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