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Feminism and the Black woman...doesn't exist

"Nothing will work unless you do"-Maya Angelou


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Last week, I was having a conversation with my daughter about meeting an artist who is heavily into the feminist movement. "Is she white?" Lulu asked. "Yes, she is" I replied. "Mommy, feminism was not made for black women, they weren't thinking about us when white women had the suffrage movement back then or even now."


Once again, my little "Angela Davis" never ceases to amaze me. She did get me to think about the feminist movement and if at all, we as black women have gained any benefit from it.


True feminism has the power to transform society, but too often what is advanced as feminism is actually White supremacy in disguise – a counterfeit we sometimes call White Feminism.  White Feminism exists to promote the comfort and safety of middle-class and affluent white women. At its core, it is a racist ideology that claims to speak for all women while ignoring the needs of women of color and suppressing our voices when our agendas and priorities don’t align. It recognizes the voice of women of color only to further its own aims and appear inclusive (Ortega, 2006). Its organizational representations fail to properly address racial and economic intersectionality in experiences of sexism. It rejects the idea that women can oppress others who are disempowered and, in doing so, replicates the harmful unacknowledged social dynamic of the primacy of well-educated White voices. 



Black women are dying in childbirth. Maternal mortality for Black women is four times the rate of white women, and these rates remain high even for middle- and upper-class Black Women. Even though the US spends more on childbirth than anywhere else, it’s safer for a Black woman to have a baby in sub-Saharan Africa than in a modern hospital in Arkansas. Rates have been climbing for all women since 2000, and, bizarrely, no one seems to care. 


It fails to fight for paid maternity leave since perhaps White women can afford to stay at home with their babies without a paycheck. We lag far behind most developed nations when it comes to maternity leave. Past administrations have been interested in making modest gains in this area (six weeks guaranteed paid leave), with nary a peep of support from anyone on the right or left. Those on the right are concerned about the cost, while those on the left criticize the plan’s shortcomings. It’s a step in the right direction, and it is shameful and outrageous that feminists are not clamoring for this low-hanging fruit. 


The movement appropriated #metoo while failing to acknowledge how White women have historically (and currently) used their sexuality to oppress men of color. Many Black men sit in prison on false rape charges or face great social loss due to such accusations. When White women cry rape, our society mobilizes to punish the targets, guilty or not, to protect White women’s virtue. The tragic case of Emmett Till and the Tulsa Oklahoma Race Massacre are catastrophic examples of this. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy, was lynched for purportedly propositioning a White woman in a store; his accuser, Carolyn Bryant, recanted decades later, but it was too late for Emmett. And, in one of the largest acts of domestic terrorism ever, the prosperous Black community of Greenwood, Oklahoma was burned down and firebombed after a White woman claimed a Black man frightened her on an elevator. 


To be clear, "The Feminist" Movement:


thinks it’s ok to take paternalistic control over Black women and girls’ sexual choices. Pregnancy and sexuality are socially constructed as problematic and managed, controlled, and regulated depending on social status. Black women and girls are disproportionately given birth control injections, implants, and the intrauterine device (IUD’s) over options they can control themselves. I remember very clearly after the birth of my daughter, a nurse barging into my hospital room while I was half-asleep recovering from labor. She insisted I start taking progestin contraceptives, and then stormed out when I didn’t give in. Not only did she ignore my concerns, but this conversation should have happened while I was awake and in a place where we could have a careful discussion about my needs and choices.




regards Black women’s children as disposable. Black women’s babies die at twice the rate of white women’s, and these rates remain the same when controlling for income and education. Reviewing infant mortality globally, babies born in countries like Panama fare better than Black babies born in the US. Additionally, Black and indigenous children are taken from their mothers at higher rates than from White mothers. Black children continue to be targeted throughout their lives until they are old enough to fill prisons, with Yale researchers documenting teachers racially profiling Black children starting in preschool.


has no clue how punishing and patronizing health care can be for women of color. Research shows that doctors have biases against Black patients and are less likely to engage in cooperative, patient-centered care. Doctors speak faster, dominate conversations, end visits sooner, and display fewer positive cues and less warmth, translating to lower quality health care for people of color. There is almost no quantitative research on how this is uniquely experienced by women of color, perhaps underscoring what a low priority the quality of our medical interactions is to researchers and funders. But we do know that breast cancer and cervical cancer mortality is 40% percent higher in Black women than in White women. And Black people are routinely undertreated for pain, undertreated for anxiety and depression, and over-diagnosed with psychosis. 


It opposes regulation to make abortion safer since they’ll never need to use a low-income clinic; this did not work out so well for women of color in Philadelphia. In Dr. Kermit Gosnell's medical practice, He performed from four to five illegal late term abortions per week, while unqualified (even teenage) staff provided anesthesia in filthy conditions. Despite dozens of complaints, injuries, and life-threatening emergencies, no hospitals made the required reports to state health agencies, and state health agencies refused to investigate the reports that they did receive until the death of two women. How did this happen? In 1993, the Pennsylvania Department of Health decided to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. Where is all the feminist outrage over such deplorable oversight and those women’s tragic and preventable deaths? A grand jury concluded that no one acted sooner because “the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.” This is a particularly troubling example of how White Feminism builds its agenda atop our injured and dead bodies.


it ignores oppression inflicted by the criminal justice system. Consider the shocking facts that 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial, 80% of women in jail are single mothers, and two-thirds are women of color. A third are suffering from major mental illness. Incarceration rates are increasing; Hispanic women are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of White women, and Black women are incarcerated at four times the rate of white women. Health care is inadequate for incarcerated women and, as noted, their reproductive rights are routinely violated. I can only assume this problem is not prioritized because White Feminists don’t worry about going to jail, as they can afford good legal representation and bail, and are not targeted by law enforcement. 


It is extremely fragile around issues of race. White Feminism weaponizes White women’s tears in order to silence observations of racism. White women merely need to cry when called out on racism and hypocrisy to villainize people of color, thereby centering the conversation on the emotional well-being of White women, rather than harms done. Further, it hides its White privilege behind female or LGBTQ oppression, as experiences of sexism and homophobia become an excuse to avoid working on their personal racial biases. 


It’s hard to muster up the energy to fight issues like the infamous wage gap when so many of my amazing sisters of color can’t get decent medical care, our babies are dying at rates typical of developing countries, our partners are sitting in jail for no good reason at all, and we are all traumatized from living in a racist society. These are my priorities, and if you care about all women, these should be your priorities too.


White Feminism is so distasteful that many women of color want nothing to do with the feminist label, period. Alice Walker devised the term womanism to define her love of Black womanhood and a commitment to improved lives for all people oppressed due to race or class. White Feminism is part of our oppression. When it comes to feminism in America, black and brown women simply don’t have a seat at the table, and when we do, it’s for the illusion of inclusivity and not because our differing perspectives have value. This is called tokenism: including someone from our demographic to keep up appearances when, in fact, we have no say or power. And when we are “heard,” our voices and stories are (mis)used to further White Feminist goals. 



For my white female counterparts who read this, if you were at all offended, you should be. Be offended at the injustices that a pseudo-movement either tolerates or choose to ignore.


Thank you Lulu.....


Ortega, M. (2006). Being lovingly, knowingly ignorant: White feminism and women of color. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 21(3), 56–74.



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