July 6, 2020 by Cláudia
This post is part of a series called Black Voices Matter, in which I step aside and let Black voices at the forefront of the movement take the stage. This month, the post is focused on Black women’s experiences and analysis, which are especially silenced and overlooked, no less by white women. I felt angered and saddened to see Black women being targeted with cumulative violence. I am also angered and disappointed at myself that when I thought about feminism I was looking mostly through my own eyes and perspectives and didn’t consider Black women’s experiences. I’ll dedicate a later post on how feminism is failing Black women. Please follow the links to find the full pieces. You can find the first post here.
The intersection of gender and race (and how Black women face cumulative violence and silencing)
When Black women and girls like Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tanisha Anderson, Atatiana Jefferson and Charleena Lyles are killed, it is often out of the public eye. And in a world where the pains and traumas that Black women and girls experience as a consequence of both racism and sexism remain structurally invisible and impermeable to broad empathy, these killings recede from the foreground quietly.
We keep missing the intersection of race and gender when it comes to Black women. But right there at that intersection stands a 17-year-old Black girl named Darnella Frazier. She filmed George Floyd’s murder. Like Ida B. Wells before her, she bore witness to the extralegal killing of a Black man, and made sure the world heard the story. For her trouble, she experienced online harassment from people who wondered why she didn’t “do more.” I wonder why Derek Chauvin’s colleagues didn’t do more.
There is nothing we can do for Breonna Taylor now, save pursuing justice for her family and remembering her life. But for Darnella Frazier, for Rachel Jeantel, there is everything left to do. We must begin by recognizing that they are worthy of care, love and outrage too. But in order to do that, we have to commit to seeing Black women and girls, whether they are sleeping in their beds, chatting with a friend or holding the camera, pleading with the police.
Black women deserve happiness and to live as much as anyone else. Recently, Breonna Taylor was murdered by police and Oluwatoyin Salau was sexually assaulted and murdered. She was known as Toyin and protested passionately for Black lives. Breonna was an award winning EMT- a highly physical job. There was another woman put in a dumpster. Another woman was killed by her partner. Another woman stalked by an old partner. Another woman physically assaulted because she denied advances in the street. Another women tone “checked.” Another woman cat called. Another woman called a bitch. Another woman called a hoe. Another woman fat shamed. The list is infinite if the transgressions against Black women. We exist in world where racism is steadily chasing behind us while sexism is waiting at the sanctuary.
What is the value of a Black woman’s life aside from being a man’s peace? Where is the justice and passions for Black women who put themselves last and the world first? Where is the warmth and cuddle for a tired, head hung low Black woman? Who will protect me from the dangers of the works without trying to censor me in some way? How can I live my life freely? Am I not valuable unless I’m doing something that is valued by another person?
Ova’s West Side Story, Dear World
When black women dare to explain the harm inflicted on them by both black and white men how that is a unique type of intersectional oppression, we are reminded that “it isn’t the oppression Olympics.” Sentiments on how “we are stronger together,” and that by calling out black men we are validating the stereotypes white people hold of black men. We are accused of doing harm to the very movements oftentimes black women have created.
The hashtag Blacklivesmatter was first coined by black women namely Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. The metoo movement, yes, you guessed it, a black woman Tarana Burke was the first to coin the phrase to create that space where women could call men out. To then have these very movements, the sweat, passion and labour of black women turn against them and silence the black women, is a kind of unimaginable violence.
Kina Indongo, A Safe Space for Black Women
Feminism is failing Black women
The value of feminist theory to Black women is diminished because it evolves from white racial context that is seldom acknowledged. Not only are women of color in fact overlooked, but their exclusion is reinforced when white women speak for and as women. The authoritative universal voice – usually white male subjectivity masquerading as non-racial, non-gendered objectivity – is merely trasferred to those who, but for gender, share many of the same cultural, economic and social characteristics. When feminist theory attempts to describe women’s experiences through analyzing patriarchy, sexuality, or separate spheres ideology, it often overlooks the role of race. Feminists thus ignore how their own race functions to mitigate some aspects of sexism and, moreover, how it often privileges them over and contributes to the domination of other women. Consequently, feminist theory remains white, and its potential to broaden and deepen its analysis by addressing non-privileged women remains unrealized.
In a crucial moment of showing up for our marginalized community, there was more concern about their feelings and ego as opposed to the fight forward for women as a whole. What could have been a much-needed and integral display of solidarity and true intersectionality quickly became a live play-by-play of the toxicity that white-centered feminism can bring to the table of activism.
If there is not the intentional and action-based inclusion of women of color, then feminism is simply white supremacy in heels.
White women get so caught up in how they feel in a moment of black women expressing themselves that they completely vacuum the energy, direction, and point of the conversation to themselves and their feelings. They start to explain why race is hard for them to talk about, what they think would be a better solution to the topic at hand, and perhaps what women of color can do to make it more palatable.
As these things play out over and over again, it is made painfully obvious that many white women believe that the worst thing that can happen to them is to be called a racist. Let me be clear, it is not. Seeing your child gunned down in the street by the police unjustly is much worse, being turned away for medical care due to race and underlying biases by medical staff, resulting in death, is much worse, being harassed by authorities only to be charged yourself instead is much worse.
So what does allyship actually look like? Accepting the reality of this country’s dynamics. White skin yields white privilege and an ally is willing to use their privilege to fight with and for those who are marginalized. Allyship means voting for elected officials who have a track record of ensuring the most marginalized among us are heard and advocated for. Allyship means using your sphere of influence whether it be your dining room table or the boardroom of your company to call out racist actions and ideals. Allyship means uplifting the voices and experiences of people of color so that we are not continuously drowned out and ignored.
What makes allyship so hard for most? Many liberal white woman have an immediate reaction of defense when someone challenges their intentions. And it is in that precise moment they need to stop and realize they are actually part of the problem. It is never the offender who gets to decide when they’ve offended someone. If you feel yourself dismissing the words or experiences of people of color—because you think they’re “overreacting” or because you “didn’t know” or because “it has nothing to do with race”—it’s often due to your ego, not rationale. Listen and learn, instead.
Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels
This post is a product of the commitment I made to make anti-racism an integral part of my life, both online and offline. For the past month, I have immersed myself in writings, podcasts and videos about racism, white supremacy and intersectionality. It’s been a humbling journey, filled with discomfort, pain, outrage, shame and fear of overstepping. With these posts, I hope to share some resources that help others on their own path towards anti-racism and to use my platform to amplify Black thinkers, bloggers and activists.
Another article that touched on different cases of failure to protect and value Black women that I found to be extremely powerful was Dear Black Men, so even though it was not written by a Black woman, I’ll leave it here as a further resource.