thinking over some of the readings I had done for a class, I started to wonder: Why hasn’t black feminism moved up and become more mainstream in the 21st
century than when it first started in the 1980s? Drawing from articles written
by black feminists, I picked up two distinct themes for why the movement has
resulted in a stalemate. First, there is the continuous struggle to define what
exactly black feminism is because of the constant battles over who suffers worse oppression in general: black men or black women?
Second, there is the struggle to have black women voices heard over the
umbrella of white feminism. These points are crucial in understanding the
current affairs of the black feminist movement in the 21st century.
Black women in America face a particularly difficult struggle because
they are racially part of the out-group and sexually part of the subordinate
gender. As a result, they arguably endure worse discrimination than any
other race-gender combination in the U.S. Because of this, most black
women are unwilling to jeopardize their racial credibility, as defined by black
men, to address the reality of sexism. According to Barbara Smith, “Both black
men and women have used the term ‘endangered species’ to describe black men
because of the verifiable rise in racism over the last two decades.”
Consequently, black women are then portrayed as exempt from oppression and
having it easier than their male
counterparts. This sexist thinking often causes black women to be silent
and address not issues related to black feminism but those influencing
the overall wellness of the African-American community. Thus, few black women
go on to join black feminist organizations or speak up about their race and
gender oppression to their community or households. This fear of shifting the
war on racial equality to gender equality has caused real strife in the
progress of the black feminist movement since the 80s.
women often find themselves at the end of the line when it comes to feminism as
a whole. This can be attributed to the prevalence of white feminism—the
highlighting and glorifying of the solely white woman as the ideal feminist,
thereby ignoring black female feminist contributions to feminism. White
feminism contains a tacit denial of sexist discrimination against black
women in the main stream media. For instance, satirical news source The Onion tweeted about Quvenzhané Wallis, a nine-year old Oscar
nominee, using a derogatory and sexist term to describe her Feb. 25. The blog tweeted, “Everyone else seems afraid to say it,
but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt,
right?” The insult was clear and it was not funny, but somehow, feminist blog
sites failed to be with filled with the appropriate rage against The Onion. In fact, there were no articles written by the popular white feminist blogs, and this subsequently led to the question: Why weren’t white feminists speaking out for Quevenzhané Wallis?
Many black women, like Kirsten
West Savali, took to their blogs and wrote numerous articles shedding light to
the wrongdoings of The Onion, while
also criticizing the lack of defense from any white women from the media.
Savali points out that, for many white feminists, “The
realization that they do not stand to benefit from acknowledging the
intersection of race and feminism renders them mute. The conversation
surrounding the lack of inclusiveness and diversity within the feminist
movement is one that never progresses because many white feminists feign ignorance
of their privilege.” Thus, they are comfortable allowing even one of their youngest black counterparts to be called a “cunt” in front of the whole world, on the
most important day of her life.
Once again, we are told to sacrifice our race
for the greater good of the feminist movement, and as a result, the black
feminist movement is struggling because we are being silenced from both ends of
the field. The black feminist movement has
suffered heavily because the two main forms of oppression—race and gender—that black women face, are being claimed by the majority and more powerful in-group
that is composed of black men and white women. In order to revive this
movement, we must not be shy to voice the oppression we feel as black women to our black brothers, while also being able to demand racial equality as we fight for
the end of sexism in the 21st century.
Oluwamayowa Ige PO ’16 is an Economics major from Lagos, Nigeria and Upland, California