Earlier this week, I received an email from a reader who wondered what my work might look like if I “included the feminist perspective.” Since black feminism infuses and shapes all of my politics, I laughed. Then I read the excellent debate between Rebecca Traister and Judith Shulevitz about the future of feminism in the pages of the New Republic. I always find Traister’s work to be insightful, compelling and committed to challenging the continued whiteness of feminism.
But here’s the thing: The future of feminism is not up to white women. Not by themselves anyway.
Traister acknowledged this forthrightly, writing: “the two people embarking on this exchange are white, educated, middle-class women who live in New York City.”
Three weekends ago I sat in a church basement in Ferguson, Missouri, dialoguing with local young people about how to build a gender-inclusive racial justice movement to combat police brutality. My refrain to them was that “our generation must learn the lessons of the ’60s.” And even though this political moment – the war on black communities, the police repression of black men, the war on women’s reproductive rights — feels like the ’60s, this is the remix. And we have the advantage and hindsight of history to guide us to the world we are fighting for. As I listened to young women tell me how they had been sexually harassed and treated with derision by young men in Ferguson, I kindly offered insights that I gleaned from reading black women like Barbara Smith, Toni Cade Bambara, and Pauli Murray – black feminist pioneers — talking about organizing in the ’60s. Several of the young women came to me and said, “these things were happening to us, and we didn’t have the language for it.”
Feminism gives us language to name experience. Having language that helped me to understand that sexism matters as much as racism was critically important. In a political moment in which we are expending our political energy fighting for justice for Michael Brown and John Crawford, while black men fail to muster sustained cultural outrage against Ray Rice for brutalizing his wife, that language feels incredibly important. When Daniele Watts is harassed by the LAPD, and the local leader of the NAACP calls on her to apologize, or two black teen girls are slain in Florida and almost no one is talking about it, having a politic that melds the two feels like an unequivocal necessity.
Read the rest of this piece on, Salon.com where it was first published.
By Brittney Cooper who is a contributing writer at Salon, and teaches Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers. Follow her on Twitter at @professorcrunk.
Feminism’s ugly internal clash: Why its future is not up to white women was originally published on feimineach.com