Ubiñas: What we need is a sisterhood of all colors

Sisters Denise Wilkerson, Ryann Winters and Aristea Williams, from Maryland, attended the Women's March on Washington.

WASHINGTON - Sisters . . .

We have to talk.

I spent hours Saturday in a sea of women (and a fair number of men) at the Women's March on Washington.

It was inspiring and invigorating and, at times, more than a little heartbreaking.

Near the end of my day, I bumped into Hannah Sweeney, a 26-year-old from Michigan, holding a sign that caught my attention. There were plenty of signs at the march, but hers was more of a gut punch.

"Stalked. Beaten. Raped. Still Not Afraid," it read.

At 19, she said, she was raped. At 21, she was stalked and beaten.

"This isn't about shame for me," she said. "It's about shame for a system that thinks this is OK. It's about someone who is a sexual predator being our president and that should shame us all."

I had so many conversations with women from all over the country about why they'd traveled to Washington: to oppose President Trump, to stand up against the fear and loathing he rode into the White House, and to embrace "others" - those with different religions and languages and sexualities and skin tones.

And when we talk about that, there is no getting around how many of the women at the march were white. It wasn't a surprise. Long before thousands of women converged on Washington, there was plenty of controversy about the lack of diversity, which to their credit, organizers worked hard to address, at least at the top.

Women's marches in Philly and Washington: Our live blog replay.

I had a long conversation with Rachel Wenrick and Janel McCloskey about this as we walked from the bus we took from Philadelphia to the National Mall. The two, who work at Drexel University, didn't shy from the issue. As white women, they said, they have to own their part in making women of color feel that it's been a one-way sisterhood.

When we got stuck in a bottleneck of marchers, McCloskey, of South Philly, made note of how many women around us were white: "Even peacefully protesting is a privilege."

So we have to have an uncomfortable conversation about what that means, about where you were when the issues didn't hit so close to your homes or vaginas. When it wasn't your children being stopped and frisked or killed, when it wasn't your neighborhoods being left behind. When it was someone else's vulnerability on the line.

We have to have an uncomfortable conversation with the 53 percent of white women who voted for a man whose sexism and misogyny - think "pussy grabbing" and a notion to punish women who have abortions - was outweighed only by his bigotry. We have to have an uncomfortable conversation about why all women weren't up in arms when the vulnerable ones were mostly women of color.

There are issues of trust, Ryann Winters, Denise Wilkerson, and Aristea Williams told me. The sisters, who are African American, traveled from Maryland together to stand in unity with other women, but they said they were questioned by women of color they knew on why they were heading to the march:

Why have their back when they didn't have ours?

Up until Saturday morning, Winters wasn't sure she'd show. But she did, she said, because women have to be united to overcome the threats to their rights from a Trump administration.

"The truth is that we can't do it alone," Winters said. "I think that's been proven. The issues that are paramount to white women can't be overcome without us and the issues that are important to us, which often overlap, can't be overcome without them. We need each other."

But none of that can happen without some honest conversation. One where white women come to the table ready to listen, and really do the necessary work toward a shared, lasting sisterhood.

It starts, Wenrick said, with her and other white women saying: "I'm sorry, what can I do now? It's not going to be easy or comfortable, but we have to work through it if we want to get beyond marching on the streets."

One of the last signs I saw on my way back to the bus put it just right: "The odds are against us. But we are not going to do it alone."

Let's hope not.

ubinas@phillynews.com

215-854-5943@NotesFromHel

Helen. Ubinas