This post has been a long time coming. I have played with the words in my mind. I have written down scraps of feelings and bits of anger. I have created more rabid drafts and deleted them, more gentle drafts and thrown them away.
Part of my hesitation was that in recent weeks so many women of color bloggers have laid it down so eloquently:
Latoya Petersen at Racialicious here and here.
Sudy at A Woman’s Ecdysis here and here (Hell, just read what Sudy’s been writing for the past week. It’s awesomely fierce.)
The Angry Black Woman here.
I also have been loathe to write this post because I wanted to believe that there was reconciliation to be had between the feminist movement and women of color. I wanted to believe that my split with feminism was temporary—sort of a cooling off period. I co-hosted the Women’s History Month blog carnival with Heart at Women’s Space so that we could all talk it out and come together. But I ended the carnival a lot less hopeful than I let on.
Do I believe that individual feminists of all races can come together to work toward common goals? Undoubtably, yes. I cherish my relationships—cyber and otherwise—with a variety of women activists. But here’s the real: The feminist movement as a whole does not embrace women of color.
Based on my experience, mainstream feminists want the women’s movement to be race neutral. In this society, “race neutral” means Eurocentric. In fact, in any society that has been touched by the long arm of colonialism, “race neutral” means Eurocentric. My race is not neutral. My race modifies my experience, and I face a sexism that is inextricably linked to my blackness.
Why is my experience as a black woman different?
Because when black women go missing there is no national outrage, no 24-hour news coverage.
Because there are those who believe I must wait for liberation while my community combats racism.
Because “nappy” is used as an insult and 70 percent of black women hide their natural hair behind chemicals, heat and Asian-hair weaves.1
Because 42 percent of black women have never married2 and Prince Charming probably ain’t coming.
Because in popular culture I am the booty-shaking Sapphire, the fat and sassy mammy, the comic sidekick, but never the all-American beauty.
Because when a famous singer urinates on a young black girl in a video seen around the black community, he is nominated for an NAACP Image Award and she is called a whore.
Because the rate of AIDs diagnoses for black women is 23 times that of white women3.
Because in today’s most popular musical genre, I am a “bitch,” “ho,” “trick” and “chickenhead”—a disembodied ass, a bared breast, an ornament.
Because nearly a third of black households are headed by women4.
Because even feminists who have overcome the patriarchy’s brainwashing, sometimes have absorbed the ideology of racism.
Because while there are disadvantages to being a woman in this society, there are also advantages to being a white woman apart from other women.
For these reasons and many more, my womanhood is different.
To my white feminist friends: You and I, we are both women. We both want reproductive rights, safety from violence and freedom from misogyny. We want a living wage, equal pay, a seat at the head of the table or the opportunity to opt out of the workforce. We both want to be loved, desired and respected. We are the same like that. But we are also different.
If you cannot see my difference, then you cannot see me. A movement that asks women to check some part of their being at the door to participate is no women’s movement at all.
I am tired of hearing how sexism trumps racism from people who only face one of those “isms” and have the luxury of ignoring the other. I am tired of mainstream feminists failing to take responsibility for the ways that they benefit from and are complicit in the oppression of women of color. I am tired of women of color bloggers being treated like second-class citizens. I am tired of feminists decrying sexist attacks against Hillary Clinton, while perpetuating racist attacks on Barack Obama.
I am tired, tired, tired. And I am through.
When I need a word to quickly describe my unwavering belief in the equality of women, I will no longer reach for “feminist.”
There. It is done.
Yesterday, I watched this video of womanist Alice Walker delivering Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, which was first given at the 1851 Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio. It made me tingle. Sojourner’s words were first spoken more than 100 years ago, but sadly, ain’t much changed.
(Hat tip to A Slant Truth via Racialicious)
1Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2001
2“The shocking state of Black marriage: experts say many will never get married,” Joy Bennett Kinnon, Ebony, November 2003
3HIV/AIDs Among Women (Fact Sheet), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 2007
4The American Community—Blacks: 2004, US Census Bureau, February 2007