Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race & Sex (My Critique)
Crenshaw’s essay on the intersection of race and sex is a persuasive essay-one that explains how oppression affects black women of color on many levels. I was first introduced to this essay during class, however I was compelled to read the article to its entirety when I was faced with the issue of explaining intersectionality to my boyfriend. A young, black, male in his 20s could only see oppression through his eyes. Faced with the fear that he may be gunned down at a traffic stop, assaulted by a police officer for jaywalking, or convicted for “resisting” an unjust arrest, made it easy to understand why he could see oppression from a very limited perspective. “What’s intersectionality got to do with me?”- he asked in frustration. “Well let me explain,” I responded, while I cited Crenshaw’s article as supportive and concrete evidence.
To start, Crenshaw dives right into the marginalization of black women by addressing the “erasure” of black women’s issues. Even today, we see in the media how black men are at the forefront of the reasoning behind the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but the movement itself was created by two lesbian, black women. People seem to forget that women like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, and other prominent female civil rights leaders helped maintain the backbone of justice for blacks in the U.S.-yet we continue to be unnoticed. Crenshaw even cites how white women were used as an ‘umbrella’ for all women wanting to work at General Motors in the 60s. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, General Motors did not hire any black women. However, they made an excuse for their racist attempts to exclude women of color. This goes to show us how black women are “defined respectively by white women’s and black men’s experiences”.
In addition, from personal experience, people tend to forget that black women face discrimination from black men, and white men/women. Being a black woman is almost like a double negative- you have two things working against you. As black women, we are faced with sexism on top of the everlasting racism, which is a unique experience. Crenshaw brushes on this topic by explaining how sexism is something that references towards white women. In most cases, women (i.e.-white women), are stereotyped to be passive, weak, easily manipulated, and emotional, however, black women do not get that stereotype. Stereotypes against us do not allow us to be soft-spoken or emotional. We are seen as angry, fiery, attitudinal, and masculine. Let’s not forget, black women were working outside of the home far longer than white women were.
Crenshaw talked about Sojourner Truth’s declaration of her womanhood in 1851 as an example to showcase how overlooked black women were (and still are) as women. Even during slavery, black women were not considered “woman” enough to skip out on hard labor. To this day, I definitely agree that it’s hard to stay in line with society’s expectations of womanhood because I cannot fully relate to those ideologies. The black family structure is different than that of whites, so is evolving into womanhood. The two cultures are mutually exclusive. Yes, as a woman there is indeed some overlap, but as a woman of color, there are things that I face that white women will never have to endure. The racism on top of the sexism adds a double whammy to the complexity of what it means to be a woman in this world.
One huge example of the disparity between black and white women are the fight for the legalization of abortion rights. According to LifeNews.com, “79% of Planned Parenthood’s surgical abortion facilities are located within walking distance of African American and/or Hispanic/Latino communities”. While white women are rallying for pro-choice abilities, Blacks and Latinos have much easier access to abortion. The huge availability and access to abortion clinics tells women of color that their babies are not valued as much as white women’s babies. This goes to show us how “black women are exempt from patriarchal norms”. While Republicans demand to take away legal right for abortion, Republicans are doing nothing to prevent Planned Parenthood from aborting our babies.
Only recently has the world started to understand that black female lives matter too. During the recent Democratic Debate, Bernie Sanders cited Sandra Bland’s horrific and unexplained death in response to a question of whether black lives matter. Black men have also taken a stance on protecting the black women by understanding how rape culture, sexual assault, unequal pay, an micro-aggressions in the workplace affect the black woman. The tables are starting to turn in a sense that the word “black” is no longer associated with only black men. Society is realizing that black women’s issues matter too.
So the next time a black man asks, “what does intersectionality have to do with me”, respond “because black lives doesn’t only speak to black men, it speaks to your mother, aunt, sister, cousin, and your girlfriend.” Black lives encompass black female and male lives, and all those in between.