When will feminism make room for women of color?
So is it time to talk about intersectionality again? As my Facebook feed has filled up with #MeToos and posts of female solidarity, I have remained relatively quiet because, while I am a woman and a feminist, far too many experiences with “feminism” (the white kind, not the intersectional kind) have taught me that white women are eager to embrace solidarity when they need support for issues that directly impact them but are far too quick to throw women of color under the bus on those intersectional oppressions that uniquely target us.
There is an old book entitled “All The Women Are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave” that was originally published in 1982, long before “intersectionality” became a buzzword. It encapsulates the ways in which Black women, in particular, fall through the gaps of intersectional issues impacting race and gender.
I am Black, but as a woman, many times Black men are my oppressors. I am a woman, but as a Black person, many times white women are my oppressors.
There is such a small, narrow space in which the totality of my reality as a Black woman can be acknowledged, respected and validated. Experience has taught me that there are depressingly few allies who will stand with me in these intersectional spaces and help me fight all of those who seek my oppression — but they will certainly demand my labor in their fight.
I laugh — yes I laugh — as I read the comments from white women employing the same arguments against sexism and gender violence/oppression that Blacks have utilized to explain racism and racial violence/oppression. I laugh because I have seen so many of these white women deflect and dismiss those very same arguments that Black people make on issues of race that they now employ on behalf of gender issues. It appears that they can only see the merit of these arguments when it impacts their own little bubble in the world. However, as soon as white women can retreat to their privileged racial spaces, all too frequently they do just that.
Rose McGowan is not the first, but she is certainly the most recent, poster child for this type of myopia. McGowan’s rallying cries for sisterhood in the face of our common fight against sexual violence have inspired women from all walks of life to share their personal stories of sexual assault and harassment. These are problems that confront women across racial, religious and socioeconomic lines. Indeed, statistics show that women of color — Black women in particular — are the victims of sexual assault at far greater rates than white women. So this area is an excellent common ground for women from all walks of life to work together. Unfortunately, as all too frequently has happened in our struggle for gender equality, just when women of color — especially Black women — think that we can unite with our white sisters in a common cause, we are reminded that white feminism often does not include space for Black experiences, realities or voices. In essence, for people like McGowan, “all the women are white.”
This became strikingly clear when McGowan criticized comedian James Corden’s off-color jokes about sexual assault. In a tone-deaf tweet that epitomizes white feminism, McGowan ignored the intersection of Black women’s experiences with oppression by weighing the oppression of women against that of Blacks and attempting to equate jokes about sexual assault with the use of racial slurs, specifically the n-word. McGowan subsequently apologized for her Yoko Ono moment, but in many ways her lackluster, poorly-worded apology only emphasized her failure to understand how to embrace an inclusive feminism.
Of course, the ultimate irony and metaphor for this entire situation is that the #MeToo campaign was created by — you guessed it — a Black woman named Tarana Burke 10 years ago. Why is this so important? Because it demonstrates that Black women have been doing the work, rallying the troops and raising the battle cry against gender oppression and sexual violence forever. As usual, America never seems to hear our voice or credit our efforts. And when our labor finally does get some attention, oftentimes it is because a white woman (in this instance Alyssa Milano) has appropriated it and marketed it as her own.
So while women are #MeToo-ing and getting in formation, my personal feelings on these issues tend to be somewhat ambivalent — not because I don’t think gender oppression and violence are real or horrible. They are. And women of color, Black women specifically, are far too often its victims. Rather because I know that even if the day finally comes when gender discrimination, violence and oppression are eradicated, (most) white women will go on their merry way and Black women and other women of color will continue to struggle for full freedom … alone.
*This is the collective product of women of color and allies. This piece specifically comes from the voice of a WOC.