I am a Black Feminist. I mean I recognize that my power as well as my primary oppressions come as a result of my blackness as well as my womaness, and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable.” It was Audre Lorde who said that years ago, and it’s a reality I exist within today – a reality that the new government wants to completely erase. As a Black Feminist, I have been infuriated by what has been happening in this country. More than half of the voting electorate’s white men and women voted in their poster child of white fragility – a President who has consistently, happily dehumanized and excluded Black people, immigrants, people of Mexico, Central and South America, people who are not neurotypical and ablebodied, people who are sex workers, LGBTQIA+ people, and everyone who identifies as a woman.
I was really surprised when I was asked to speak… mainly because I was (a)surprised that they knew who I was and (b) in knowing who I was, surprised that they’d want me to speak to this crowd. I am not a “kumbayah” speaker; a “let’s all get along for the greater good” kind of person. I am not a “let’s move past our differences” person. I am not a “likeable” person. I am never going to be here to give you the warm and fuzzies. I am here to make you all uncomfortable, because I believe that is the ONLY WAY progress truly begins to form. Progress, for the sake of progress, only evolves the system of power, in turn permitting it to don yet another mask. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, as Audre Lorde once said. Ima need y’all to evolve.
The process begins with acknowledging this system of unjust, inaccurate conceptions of humanity indissoluble from other forms of dehumanization in America. It begins by bluntly classifying white supremacy in all of its manifestations – white fragility, white privilege, colonialism and white imperialism. It begins by finally owning active and passive racism that are both working in tandem to empower and preserve white supremacy. It begins by acknowledging that whites only feminism is not true feminism, because progress only for white women is not true progress. It begins by realizing that any narrative solely told from the white narrative ignores that countless of other intersectional experiences, which could and should be told from a different cultural lens, are being alienated and excluded. It is about building and crafting a world that owns the simple truth that Audre Lorde once said, that “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
For example, I watched as the narrative around rape culture and sexual violence and harassment and misogyny and sexism were centered around white women all of last year in Omaha and on a national stage, and then, because I was known to these white women, they turned to me and asked, “Why aren’t you angry? You should be just as loud as us!”
Well, I’m pissed. But I’m not angry because you tell me I should be. I’m angry because white women continuously ask for my support in their perceived oppression and refuse to show up for nonwhite women when the time comes for them to be allies and true feminists.
I am angry, as a woman who has faced the agony of sexual violence, who has felt a lover’s hand raised in anger against her skin, who has been forced to endure a gyrating villain pressing himself into her, and has been told, time and again, that the color of her skin meant she could not, would not be able to cry out for justice. For vengeance. For retribution. For vindication. For relief from the shadows of these painful memories that will continue to haunt whether or not these individual perpetrators remain.
I am angry that when I talk about my experiences, the intersections of my race and gender are ignored and only my gender is acknowledged. I am angry that my Blackness is continuously erased in favor of white comfort, and that this experience is not unique to just me, but happens with my friends, my fellow activists and advocates, and every Black woman I’ve known.
To be clear – yes, white feminists, I am angry that a man who brags about sexual assault has now been inaugurated, but I am more frustrated with the fact that still, in 2017, you expect my concerns regarding gender to proceed that of my race, ignoring and invalidating that the two are so intricately tied that you cannot, should not attempt to, divide one from the other. Plainly stated: as a Black woman, as a woman of color period, my sexism is racialized and my racism is sexualized, and true feminism acknowledges the intersectional nature of individual identity and fights for a world where all of my intersections are given the equity they need to co-exist peacefully, without fear of harm, or dehumanization, or invalidation, or erasure.
We should all be true feminists. And that, that assertion right there, is a radical thought. True feminists understand that any direct action, whether you are an activist, an advocate, or a mix somewhere in between, is the only way to begin to dismantle the systems that oppress all of us. They understand that the “us” I refer to is pro-lesbian, pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-queer, pro-intersex, pro-asexual, aromantic and agender, pro-everyone who identifies on and off the spectrum. It is pro-cultural identities deemed as other by white supremacy. It is actively working to dismantle physical, mental and emotional ableism in everyday life as well as institutionally embedded constructions.
It is pro-hoe, pro-twerking, pro-sex workers, pro-choice, pro-people being able to choose what they want to do with their own bodies even when that means doing nothing or doing the most. It builds and preserves space for immigrants and refugees, and fights for their rights, so that they do not leave one oppressive regime for another, or worse, be forced back into the space they just fled.
True feminism understands that the criminal justice system is, in fact devoid of fairness or justice, and corrupt to its very core, and that the righteous frustration, indignation, pain and anger of Black and brown bodies is criminalized — has been criminalized — for centuries in the interest of preserving white supremacy.
True feminism centers nonwhite narratives — the stories of complex cultural identities like afro-Latinas and indigenous trans people; of melanin-blessed Black women, of culturally rich Taiwanese, of fiercely empowered Afghanis. True feminism has no “one-true religion” and owns that such a fallacy destroys, rather than builds, intersectionality.
True feminism is dangerous, because of its mission to challenge the comfort of white supremacy that white Americans enjoy; where white is the default of normal, of human, of everything that it means to “be”, leaving all else to be understood as “other”. I am not an African American, because we fought to have the term ascribed to our experience, and found, once achieving the label, we were still seen as “Negroes”. I am unapologetically Black.
So true feminism is anti-racist, not simply non-racist, because true feminism acknowledges that the concept by another name is passive racism. Because in this white supremacist society, racism is institutional and individual, where both the victim and the victimizer obscure the harm being done until or unless there comes a time when active, vocal resistance to the contrary rises from both parties. And white supremacy reacts like a wounded animal once its fragile structure is challenged.
I’m so sorry I can’t offer you a less dangerous solution. I know that speaking out against oppression in all forms is alienating. You will feel alone at times – the kind of loneliness borne of doing the right thing in an inherently wrong world. But please, in those moments, recognize that feeling of isolation is the same island that every agent for change has been marooned upon in one way or another since time began. It is the same island that Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Nina Simone, Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison have been banished to. It’s the same island that has housed everyone from Martin Luther King Jr to Galileo, to Joan of Arc, to Queen Makeda of Sheba. Know that, in being alone, you are in good company, for you are marooned with the most influential minds of the world. And I am there with you.
So before I close, I want to leave you with this quote from Barbara Omolade, since we are in the time where we either fight against injustice or remain complicit within it: “No soldier fights harder than a woman warrior for she fights for total change, for a new order in a world in which [she] can finally rest and love.”