Black women are invisible, at times, to their own culture and definitely to society as a whole. Hell, minority women, really. This statement shouldn’t be shocking and I will offer some evidence to back things up. First, I would like to clarify the issue.
Feminism should include all women, but unfortunately, it does not. Just like with everything else there are exclusions along racial lines. I’m not saying this is always a conscious thing. Still, women are but a microcosm of society, and so everything that is wrong with us as a collective population is wrong there as well. For example, misogyny. Women have been beat over the head with it for so long that there are some women who have internalized it and act accordingly.
I’d say the 2016 presidential election is a fine example of this, but I digress. That issue is a blog all by itself.
Regardless, on the surface feminism should be about uniting women, but there are times when it misses the mark. In her article on Huffington Post, “Why This Black Girl Will Not Be Returning to the Women’s March,” S.T. Holloway writes about feeling that the problems that affect black women were left out of the initial Women’s March:
As the march got underway, a couple of women complimented me on my sign. “Yes,” they exclaimed while pumping their fists, “Nasty women unite!” This happened a few more times. And I immediately noticed it. The nine or 10 white women who had gone out of their way to compliment my sign only acknowledged the “nasty woman” reference. They offered no remarks about the equally bold and visible, “The African Americans.”
In fact, the only people who said anything about that part of my sign were black women, who raised fists, told me they loved it, and even asked to take pictures with the sign.
I could feel a mixture of disappointment and annoyance starting to bubble at the surface.
We marched for hours and recited and re-recited every protest chant under the sun: “Whose streets? Our Streets,” “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA,” “The people! United! Will never be defeated,” “Love Trumps Hate,” “Say It Loud, Say It Clear, Immigrants Are Welcome Here,” “My Body, My Choice,” “Show Me What Democracy Looks Like. This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” and so on.
However, in a sea of thousands, at an event billed as a means of advancing the causes affecting all women, the first and last time I heard “Black Lives Matter” chanted was when my two girlfriends and I began the chant. About 40 to 50 others joined in, a comparatively pathetic response to the previous chorus given to the other chants. At that point, I was ready to go home.
Please do not misunderstand. My disappointment had little to do with my sign and chants themselves. It had to do with what white women’s intentional decision to ignore them represented. It represented the continued neglect, dismissal and disregard of the issues affecting black women and other women of color.
It is the type of disregard evidenced by the scene at another protest held in the same exact location a couple of years earlier. In 2014, I, along with several hundred other people, marched in protest against the shooting of Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man killed by the Los Angeles police just days after the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And whereas the Women’s March felt like a mosh pit, the Ford protest felt more like an empty parking lot, with protesters walking freely down open streets alongside normal traffic, their movements unrestricted by a voluminous crowd.
While there were certainly some white allies present joining their voices in solidarity, noticeably absent from the Ford protest were the throngs of white women I saw at the Women’s March: the soccer moms, the college students, the housewives with their children in tow, the grandmothers, the career women, the retirees and so on.
Instead, the majority of those present were the regulars, black and brown folks, and in particular, women. On that day, as we have before and have since, we found ourselves alone in our pain. We found ourselves alone in our pleas and cries for justice, for the end to the killing of our children and husbands and fathers and brothers, for the cessation of the systematic dismantling of our families, and for recognition that our lives and the lives of the ones we love do matter.
This willful blind eye, this deliberate ignorance, fosters a culture where millions protest when white women’s access to health care is threatened, but when black maternal death rates in the United States are on par with women in countries like Mexico and Uzbekistan, there is no national outrage or call for reform or worldwide protest.
This has always been my problem with traditional feminism. Its lack of intersectionality is exclusionary. When feminists proclaim “women’s rights are human rights” it feels more like they mean “white women’s rights are human rights.” I am a black woman, and I will not be made to choose between my womanhood and blackness. So while white women can choose to ignore racism and systemic oppression, I cannot. My very survival is dependent on confronting these issues head on.
When I got home that night and hopped on social media, I found that I wasn’t alone in my feelings about the Women’s March. In cities all over the U.S., black women, some I knew and some I didn’t, expressed their frustrations over feeling as though their voices, their issues, and their concerns and causes weren’t given nearly as much as value as those of the majority.
One of the most circulated posts from that day was of a black woman holding a sign that read, “Don’t forget: White Women Voted for Trump.” Yeah, 53 percent to be exact.
That’s some powerful shit. In addition to this account, I’d like to offer up the recent documentary, Surviving R. Kelly. The way some of the black community responded is atrocious. Views vacillated from ‘we’ve known this for years’ to he’s too talented to the belief it was another example of white society trying to destroy us from within so we must throw all our support to him. Ugh, the term black protectionism fits here and is discussed very intelligently by Jamele Hill in her article, R. Kelly and the Cost of Black Protectionism. I encourage a thorough read.
These girls, yes, that’s what they were, girls were victims, and if his abuse of them was so widely known why wasn’t anything done? Why isn’t anything still being done? The program itself touched on this. It’s because all the victims were black. Not only that. They were black girls, now women. In a culture that has risen on the backs of black matriarchs we also fall on them.
Where were those same white women who were at the forefront of the #Metoo movement? Lady Gaga, Alyssa Milano and so on? It took a while, but I really think the amount of press, which still wasn’t enough, shamed some of them into responding not just with white feminist but with black women as well.
My last bit of evidence can be seen just by turning on the TV or computer. The epic amount of news coverage that spawns collective grief and outrage when a white woman is raped, murdered, kidnapped, etc and the minuscule flash of information given on black women who are often not even given a name is telling.
Some of you reading this will get pissed off. Some will agree. Some will roll their eyes and mumble about how everything has to be a race issue.
Everything really is a race issue simple because racism, sexism and so on is institutionalized.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. I think I made my point.
The racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia that has been poured and seared into our veins will always be our downfall.
They, the ones in charge, want us separate.
We are easier to conquer.