This social hierarchy of “Whiteness,” regardless of gender, becomes particularly evident in the nearly male-absent world of feminism. Though feminism purports itself to be a movement that represents the needs of all women, White dominance remains stubbornly omnipresent, marginalizing the voices and needs of women of color.
For that reason, I’ve created this list to help White women better understand intersectionality and come to better grips with the hurdles that Black and minority women face. It is not meant to splinter, or further divide the feminist body, but merely written with the hope that the power bestowed upon White women, as a result of White supremacy, can be used for the betterment of others.
As a Black woman and the writer of this piece, I would like acknowledge the limitations of this list, as it primarily deals with my experiences and research. I do not claim or wish to be the voice of all minority women, but I present this offering as one Black woman’s perspective.
1. If you don’t get it, don’t feel bad: Intersectionality is such a complex idea, even the American legal system struggled with it.
The plaintiffs allege that they are suing on behalf of black women, and that therefore this lawsuit attempts to combine two causes of action into a new special sub-category, namely, a combination of racial and sex-based discrimination…. The plaintiffs are clearly entitled to a remedy if they have been discriminated against. However, they should not be allowed to combine statutory remedies to create a new “super-remedy” which would give them relief beyond what the drafters of the relevant statutes intended. Thus, this lawsuit must be examined to see if it states a cause of action for race discrimination, sex discrimination, or alternatively either, but not a combination of both.
The idea that Black women face multiple hardships because of both racism and sexism is a particularly difficult and harsh reality to face. But feminism must do so, and do so even better than our court systems once did, in order to thoroughly accommodate the needs of all women.
2. While White women fight for the right to work, minority women beg for the right to not.
When the Civil Rights Era allowed Black families access to a middle class lifestyle, some women of color were finally awarded the opportunity to be homemakers. However, that social “elevation” was short lived. As it became less economically feasible for a household — White or Black — to be maintained on a single income (Google the Two-Income Trap), Black female opportunity to be a largely, stay-at-home population almost completely vanished, once again.
This continues a long standing history of inequality between White women and Black women, where the choice between working and staying at home has consistently existed for one demographic, but not the other. And yet the fight for such rights of “choice” continues to be presented as furthering the “female” agenda. When Black women have widely gained the right not to work, then feminism can claim the fight for “the right to work” benefited all women.
3. White women have long attempted to — and sometimes succeeded in — silencing the voices of Black women.
“Look at my arms! I have ploughed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me-and ain’t I a woman? I would work as much and eat as much as a man- when I could get it-and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have born thirteen children, and seen most of ‘em sold into slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me-and ain’t I a woman?”
Her speech drove the feminist movement forward by pointing out the logical fallacies of female fragility, since Black women labored equally as hard as Black men and perhaps even harder than White men. Yet, even White women did not want her story heard. This marginalization of minority female voices by White feminism, out of fear that minority issues will overshadow gender issues, has been a consistent theme historically and continues to plague the feminist movement.
4. Access to femininity is a White Female privilege.
Both femininity and womanhood are defined by White patriarchal norms, like chastity and confinement to the home-sphere that, as previously discussed, have long been denied or off-bounds to hypersexualized, working Black women.
For that reason, Black female sexuality and chastity have never been regulated or protected by the law. In other words, in the past a man could have raped or victimized a Black woman with little to no fear of impunity and today overly sexed images of Black women are the mainstream norm in every media medium from hip-hop music videos and lyrics to TV and movies.
Today, society’s refusal to bestow femininity onto the Black woman looks a bit different but still shapes the Black female experience. Ideas of the “strong Black woman” seem practically impenetrable, creating the widespread perception that black women do not need emotional support or help, despite encountering various hardships. “Superwoman syndrome,” where Black women take on numerous responsibilities and burdens, often to their own detriment, persists. Black women are less likely than their White counterparts to seek counseling, fearful of being perceived as “weak” or incapable. Hypersexualized imagery of Black women continue, with very little outrage, because it is still societally accepted, to a large extent. And yet, there is little to no feminists advocating for Black female access to femininity.
5. After years of intentional and unintentional marginalization of minority female voices, White women have become the authoritative voice of all feminism, making it far too easy for minority men to dismiss female advancement as a “white” agenda.
A similar trend occurs as the LGBT movement extends its political influence, globally. In regions and countries where the fight for gay right’s is understood to be a “western thing,” many condemn the movement on the grounds that it is pushing a “White, Western agenda.” The powerful link between Whiteness and feminism and/or Whiteness and gay civil rights, must be weakened in order to create movements that can have greater, universal impacts. How can this be achieved? Step one: increase the visibility of minorities in both movements.
6. Money is power and White women just have more of it.
7. The feminist fight for respect for sex workers, despite inequality in pay based on race, demonstrates a White female centric “feminism.”
Women should be awarded dignity and respect despite their occupation — that most certainly is a cause worthy of fighting for. However, it should not overshadow the economic inequalities faced by women of color performing the same work. Especially when we consider the reality that no Black woman’s dignity has ever been legitimized by White society, not even Oprah or the First Lady, who have both encountered racial discrimination and humiliation, despite their social status. The movement must orient itself around equality for all women, beginning with equal pay and access to work. Otherwise, it continues to demonstrate feminism’s inability to advocate for all women, not only White women.
8. There is a STD epidemic in the Black and minority communities, having huge impacts on the women, but feminism could care less.
9. Mirror, mirror on the wall, society only reflects the fairest of them all.
10. The psychological impacts of slavery, Jim Crow perpetual oppression and dehumanization of the Black population remains widely unexamined by feminism, despite its egregious effects on Black women.
Please feel free to add more points in the comments section, especially points that specifically pertain to the struggles of other minority female groups. Together, we can all enlighten one-another and build a more diverse feminism.
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Tiffanie Drayton is a freelance writer and graduate of The New School University. She hopes to one day return to an equal and racially tolerant America.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with the kind permission of the Author. We thank Tiffanie Drayton for her enduring spirit and for inviting each of us to reflect on and share our wisdom.