During last week’s class session, I found myself quieter than usual. Our topic was something that normally I would be very talkative about: feminism. However this was not just feminism, it was black feminism. I’ve been aware for quite a while that black feminism has many differences from mainstream, or “white feminism.” And while feminism in general must include all aspects of feminist ideals from all groups of women in order to be truly intersectional, and therefore truly feminism by definition, it is erroneous to not recognize the divisions within that term which are created by race. Necessary divisions.
I felt unable to comfortably give opinions on matters of black feminism as someone who has never experienced the racial aspects of sexism or misogyny. Sure, I have plenty to talk about when it comes to women’s rights in general, but I can’t claim to understand the extra issues that women of color face and fight against. As I looked around the classroom, at the faces of my pale-skinned classmates, I found myself reflecting on how privileged I am, and that we are as a group, that we are delving into these issues in a safe, constructive environment. When class was over, we could walk away, perhaps more educated and aware, but nonetheless, our personal experiences remained unchanged, and would remain unchanged.
I wondered: is there anything that I can do here, other than become as aware as possible about the struggles of women of color and avoid encroaching on their territory in discussions about their fight? I don’t think that there is. It’s a very conflicting feeling, knowing that while you yourself may face many of the same challenges as part of a larger marginalized group, there are people within that group who need your support in their additional struggles, but not your leadership. They need your compassion, but you cannot give them empathy because you cannot have any to give. They need your voice when appropriate, but not when it means talking over their own, which can be a difficult thing to recognize when you are emotionally caught up in the broader aspects of the movement.
I am thankful that I am aware of these ideas and can at least proceed with as much awareness and acceptance of my place in it as possible. Just being aware that however crooked a room I may stand in, a woman of color stands in an even more crooked one.
Rather than try to talk about issues of black feminism that I’ve learned about, I leave it to two black feminists to explain some key points, which I found very informative:
Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality:
Maisha C. Johnson on things that white feminists should be aware of when dealing with black feminist topics: