[Photo description: Pink flower background and text reading “Feminism Series: Black Feminism & Me”]
Content Note: Internalized anti-blackness, sexual harassment
I struggle to identify with the mainstream feminist movement. The flaws in the mainstream feminist movement particularly the maintenance of White supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, imperialism and lack of diversity in leadership, transphobia, racism have put me off from the banner of mainstream feminism.
I acknowledge that there will be flaws and gaps in this essay as I am one person writing, editing, and researching the information for these works. As I am an anthropologist (in training), it’s important that I recognize my positionality in writing this piece. I write this essay from my position as a Black womxn from a low-income background with disabilities. My critique and disappointment with the feminist movement is grounded in my identity and the racism, sexism, classism, and ableism I have faced in my life. This series of essays will be grounded in contextualized historical and academic texts to support my argument that mainstream feminism is not good enough to exact meaningful, collective change.
This is little offshoot of my four part series on Feminism in the United States, if you haven’t already read part one A Brief History of First Wave Feminism and part two Exploring Second Wave Feminism in the U.S. for some background! If you’ve enjoyed this series and appreciate the intellectual labor that went into its production, please consider supporting Noire & Co. on Patreon!
[Image description: Black and white video of Malcolm X with yellow text reading “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.”]
The neglect, disrespect, and lack of protection for Black women has been evident in our exclusion from the feminist and racial justice movements. The American feminist movement has failed to address the intersecting oppressive systems that affect the marginalization of Black women in the United States. Solely addressing gender or racial discrimination fails to address the sexualized racism and racialized sexism that Black women face. Black women are not able to find support from White women who have perpetuated racism and devalued Black womanhood. Additionally, movements to disrupt and destroy mechanisms of Black oppression have centered the experiences of Black men at the expense of women 1Kia M. Q. Hall. “A Transnational Black Feminist Framework: Rooting in Feminist Scholarship, Framing Contemporary Black Activism.” Meridians, vol. 15, no. 1, 2016, pp. 86–105. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/meridians.15.1.06.
Black women have always been feminists as our forced presence in this country has necessitated resistance both in public and private spaces to advocate for our humanity and right to exist.
Black feminism reconstitutes the name feminist in a radical way. The political statement in the name makes clear that mainstream feminism is bankrupt. It lacks intersectionality, it lacks tangible allyship with non-White women, it fails to make space for those holding identities beyond White and woman and cis that necessitates the development of other spaces for intersectional feminist work.
Especially, Black feminism demands that feminism have critical dialogue surrounding the multifaceted mechanisms of oppression that subjugate women worldwide beyond sexism. It acknowledges that feminism that is not also antiracist, anticapitalist, antitransphobic, etc. is not a feminism that will end gendered oppression. In Making Waves: The Theory and Practice of Black Feminism, Ula Y. Taylor writes that Black feminist “discourse recognizes how systems of power are configured around maintaining socially constructed categories of both race and gender…black feminists attack racism, sexism, and poverty simultaneously. The ultimate goal of black feminism is to create a political movement that not only struggles against exploitative capitalism” 2Taylor, Ula Y. “MAKING WAVES: THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF BLACK FEMINISM.” The Black Scholar, vol. 28, no. 2, 1998, pp. 18–28. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41069774.
Black Feminism & Me
I think that most people go through a feminist phase. I found that my feminist phase truly emerged in high school. I became more aware of how misogyny and sexism were impacting my own life and endemic of how I perceived other women. My internalized misogyny manifested in judging the way other girls at my school presented themselves and dressed and how I “wasn’t like other girls” because I didn’t wear a ton of makeup/dress in a particular style (in hindsight, yuck to literally all of those things). My focus was on primarily slut-shaming, rape culture, and the differential treatment of men and women.
At that stage in my life, my feminism was White. The feminists I looked up to were White women celebrities like Tina Fey and Emma Watson, politicians like Hillary Clinton, and Youtubers like Laci Green. bell hooks who? Audre Lorde where? It was about women getting the same pay as men and not having to wear a bra if I didn’t want to. My feminism lacked intersectionality. Instead, my focus was on women’s treatment and men’s treatment using the baseline of Whiteness to judge it.
Though I was a participant in this kind of feminism, it did not fully resonate with me. My experiences with sexism were involved with more than just being a woman, they were impacted by my race and speech impediment. When men would harass me on the street, their cat calls were informed by a history of the sexualization of Black girls, the dehumanization of Black bodies, and a lack of respect for the autonomy of Black bodies. My drive to “not be like other girls” was informed by internalized White supremacy to differentiate myself from other Black girls who were “hood” because I learned (from seeing the demonization and persecution of Black people) that proximity to Blackness and being visibly Black were undesirable,
As I got older, I began to realize that mainstream feminism was not a space to address the various inequities I faced. I had too many times witnessed feminist behave in super unjust ways that did not represent any group I wanted to participate in. The association with capitalist, racist, heterosexist, ciscentric led to a period in college where I didn’t identify as feminist at all.
How could I morally affiliate myself with feminism when things like the Women’s March happened (it was so problematic ya’ll) and women wore their bioessentialist, racist, cissexist pink hats? In the last year or so, I’ve gotten to the point where I still don’t identify as a mainstream feminist and explicitly describes my own feminist practice to separate it from the mainstream movement, and that’s where Black feminism fits in.
My feminist praxis is tied explicitly to my identity. I am no longer willing to separate myself into categories of woman or black or disabled to fight oppression, rather anything I do will be informed by my whole aspects that make my self and make my feminism.
In conclusion, mainstream feminism continues to be wack. If any of these essays leaves you with anything, I hope it’s a more critical gaze of how so called liberation movement fail to actually liberate the most marginalized among us.
Join me for part three where I will delve into more about Black feminism!
Also, on Facebook or Twitter (@noireandco) let me know when you first became disillusioned with mainstream feminism!
Sources & Additional Reading
- Kent, Clarkisha. #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, Part 2: On Rose McGowan and the Continued Failure of White Feminism (Content Note: Sexual Assault)
- Kia M. Q. Hall. “A Transnational Black Feminist Framework: Rooting in Feminist Scholarship, Framing Contemporary Black Activism.” Meridians, vol. 15, no. 1, 2016, pp. 86–105.
- Taylor, Ula Y. “Making Waves: The Theory and Practice Of Black Feminism.” The Black Scholar, vol. 28, no. 2, 1998, pp. 18–28.
- X, Malcolm. “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself.”