I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for over 5 months now. I was fearful of posting it out of the high possibility that I could offend many of the people that inspire me to be a better activist. Though some of these sentiments have shifted, I realize now how important this personal statement is to my development as a feminist since my journey abroad. And so, I hope that when you read this you understand I am critiquing a system rather than individuals or white, middle class feminist women.
A professor of mine once said that the United Nations is a community of white, male non-retires thus making it difficult for others to enter the system and create change. I have come to believe the same holds true for the feminist community in NYC, except they are a group of predominantly white, middle class women.
When I left for Costa Rica last year, I simultaneously disengaged myself from the feminist community in the United States. My experiences in NYC and LA had made me resent the world of feminism. I saw many powerful feminists have their voices hidden by mainstream feminist outlets because they chose not to focus on commonly discussed topics such as reproductive justice, or sexualities. And though I witnessed many well-known leaders within the feminist community who were supportive, they didn’t want to share their power in order for the younger generations, women of color, working classes etc so that they may be recognized. I was tired of feeling let down, and sometimes ridiculed, by those whom I looked up to. Of course, there were exceptions and some strong friendships have been made.
While I believe passionately about the many causes and fights within the movement, I can’t help but get the sense that this is a community in the United States that heavily focused on recognition. Though there is an immense amount of support, it’s often followed by sentiments of, “I know better and, I can do this event, job, petition, etc better.” The companionship that I’ve found has often been about self gain - who can I mentor, how can I get my name through the door, who is the best person to network with for this project.
But I don’t think this “problem” has to do with individual people, rather it is the effect of the system in which feminism and feminists exist within. The United States, especially NYC, is a competitive place and it takes a long time to get your foot in the door. Of course, once you have gained access and recognition the thought of someone else taking your place is daunting and so people hold on tightly, almost perpetuating the system that they experienced as activist and writers in their twenties. Hello! Why is it that the same women have been running the largest and most well-known feminist organizations (i.e. Ms.) for such a long period of time without passing the torch to others?
As much as we say there is an increasing focus on intersectionality within feminist circles in the United States, we need to put more emphasis on our communities and ask ourselves how we move forward in a way that encourages mutual learning and respect between all ages, classes, genders, races, etc within feminism. How do we empower younger generations, women of color, working classes, etc to do the feminist work that they love as a career path without continuing a cycle that perpetuates competition over teamwork and growth?
While I am grateful to be considered an “expert” on the subject, I was a bit conflicted with some of the content that came out of the piece.
This article presented an incredible opportunity to reach black women and share with them the important conversations happening within the feminist movement. Unfortunately, by the fifth paragraph, the article came to focus on the difficulties of (interracial) dating and why black men feel threatened by black women.
… One of those “issues” [Black women are discussing in the movement and through social media] primarily has to do with the dissatisfaction and hurt some black women feel from black men whom they say do little to protect and provide for them, while at the same time exploiting their resources and support without getting much in return. “Black men act as free agents in the presence of opportunity, not as people who place race concerns and race priorities in the forefront of their thoughts,” says an an online fact sheet describing BWE in detail.
Normally, I would move on from this so as not to offend any authors or commentators, but I feel that it is critical to discuss just how powerful the black feminist movement is and not overshadow it with talks of relationships.
The black feminist movement has grown out of a need to bring feminism to black women in a world where our voices were (and, some might say continue to be) overlooked by white women in the feminist movement and men in the black liberation movement of the ’60s. Women in this movement realized the need to speak to others in their community by sharing their personal stories in order to enact change.
Today, there are dozens of phenomenal black feminists and antiracist organizations, activists and individuals (see list below) who are giving voice to women of color in academia, politics and the media. The birth of social media has allowed the black feminist community to join forces with fellow feminists, scholars, students, antiracists, and more to continue learning, growing and fighting for justice with one another (i.e. intersectionality).
The media, specifically pop culture magazines and the music industry geared towards people of color (i.e. Essence, Madam Noire, BET) and articles like the one mentioned above, need to stop piting black men and women against each other and discuss the societal issues that have brought us to this point. While the dating scene is interesting and an important conversation in its own right, the fact that we ignore underlying political issues (i.e. institutional racism and sexism!) ceases to advance the plight of black men and women.
Furthermore, these media outlets fail to recognize the difficult paths men of color must go through as well. It should go without saying that racism isn’t easy on anyone.
Sadly, our society has defined the way that we view black men and women, telling ‘women’ to scream and be “loud-mouth bitches who do all the work” and ‘men’ to be “irresponsible violent husbands and fathers who can’t take care of themselves,” instead of telling us how to come together.
The young black feminist movement is fighting for that unity and intersectionality. We are not looking for more ways to separate ourselves or mask important conversations under the label of marriage, and interracial relationships (those concepts are ancient and need to be redefined for each individual person and outside of the church… but that’s another blog).
1. But Some of Us Are Brave: A History of Black Feminism in the United States
2. Ain’t I A Woman, bell hooks
3. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist Thinking Black, bell hooks
4. Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins
1. Racialicious, The Intersection of Race and Pop Culture
2. Colorlines, Up To Date information on racial justice and news
3. Refuse The Silence, Women of Color in Academia
4. The Root, Commentary on Today’s News from a Black Perspective
1. Melissa Harris-Perry - Contributor on MSNBC who speaks on politics, race and gender
2. Jessie Daniel - A Professor at CUNY who writes on race
3. Miriam Perez, Latina Writer, Blogger and Reproductive Justice Activist
4. Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Executive Editor at Feminsting
Note: There are so many more but I would never finish this post if I listed them all. If you want more names, please send me a message. If you have information to add, feel free to leave it in the comments section below. I will gather them all together and place them in a new post.