Thus Sayeth The Lorde

Audre Lorde knew. And also theorized what we now know as “intersectionality”–as coined and conceptualized by Kimberlé Crenshaw–before Crenshaw’s prominent paper Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color, and after earlier theorizations by Combahee River Collective and Sojourner Truth

There is no generic social class of women who all experience the totality of gender in the same way, even as we all face misogyny and sexism, in general. There is no reason to deny the intersections of race (i.e White/WoC; non-Black/Black), gender (i.e. cis, trans, femme non-binary), sexual orientation (i.e. hetero, lesbian, bisexual, queer, pansexual, asexual), class, ability, complexion (i.e. Whiteness, light skinned privilege), weight, citizenship status etc. and their impact on our womanhood. To suggest women oppressed at multiple axes must ignore this lived reality to play “unity” (usually under the control of cis Whiteness) is erasure and oppression. Why does “unity” require White control? Why is this type of “unity” more important than equity, justice and freedom?

Audre Lorde knew. Her incredible writing, especially gathered in Sister Outsider, are critical. May her words live on.

Among the most troubling political consequences of the failure of antiracist and feminist discourses to address the intersections of race and gender is the fact that, to the extent they can forward the interest of ‘people of color’ and 'women,’ respectively, one analysis often implicitly denies the validity of the other. The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color, and the failures of antiracism to interrogate patriarchy means that antiracism will frequently reproduce the subordination of women. These mutual elisions present a particularly difficult political dilemma for women of color. Adopting either analysis constitutes a denial of a fundamental dimension of our subordination and precludes the development of a political discourse that more fully empowers women of color.

What My Womanism Looks Like

This is what my feminism looks like. What my WOMANISM looks like. ALL OF THEM.

@PrisonCulture on Twitter started the #myfeminismlookslike hashtag this morning and many women are sharing images of what makes them think of feminism. She tweeted: “In honor of Queen Bey’s visual album, I was thinking of what #myfeminismlookslike. So I am going to share my visual album. Join in…”

I write…a lot. I have over 700 essays here alone. But I love images too. Photographer here. And making this collage has revitalized my spirit in such a way I cannot even describe. And yes, Beyoncé is included in my perception of womanism, empowerment, inner and outer beauty, of contradictions, of humanity. And her new album BEYONCÉ truly speaks to me in a way similar to how The Electric Lady by Janelle Monáe does. Music is a part of womanism for me. It teaches and it heals. And both Janelle and Bey are here. As are our foremothers. And ancestors. And contemporaries. And academics. And this isn’t an exhaustive collage. Just a taste of BLACK WOMAN EXCELLENCE. I couldn’t fit every photo even if I wanted to but they reside in my heart no less; all those not shown here reside in my heart.

I just needed a few photos to keep my fist raised and to flick my hair to. That’s all.

#Flawless #iwokeuplikedis

Teach in #2: Antiblackness & Gender

!!!!!!This Thursday, October 30th, at 11am EST, we* will be hosting our second teach in antiblackness!!!!!! this time with a focus on gender, specifically on how antiblackness informs our construction and understanding of gender, and how it applies (or doesn’t) to Black women as well as non-Black women. join us if you can!!!

We’ll* be using the hashtag: #antiblackness

*We: myself (@so_treu), @bad_dominicana, @Blackamazon, and @tgirlinterruptd! (these are our twitter handles)

1. Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” (A MUST READ. SO FOUNDATIONAL.)

1a. Spillers is also a very dense read at times so it can be really helpful to read other’s folks writing on her: African American Literary Theory’s Summary of Spillers, and Omar Ricks, “Still Mama’s Baby: The Continued Relevance of the American Grammar Book.”

2. Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color" 

3. Sabine Broeck, "Property: White Gender and Slavery”

4. Darlene Clark Hine, “Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the West”

5. Jennifer L. Morgan, “‘Some Could Suckle Over Their Shoulder’: Male Travelers, Female Bodies, and the Gendering of Racial Ideology”

6. Saidya Hartman, “Seduction and the Ruses of Power”

Not only are women of color in fact overlooked, but their exclusion is reinforced when white women speak for and as women. The authoritative universal voice—usually white male subjectivity masquerading as non-racial, non-gendered objectivity—is merely transferred to those who, but for gender, share many of the same cultural, economic, and social characteristics.

Kimberle Crenshaw, 1989, “Demarginalising the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”.

If you are a white woman or are privileged in other ways, attempting to speak for all women erases women who are not like yourself and who face oppressions you do not experience. If you are white or otherwise privileged, be aware of this when you speak. Recognise who you speak for. Lift up voices of people with different oppressions than yourself, and recognise how your own gender-based oppression is both similar to and different from that of, for instance, Black women. 

~mod r

Requiring Accountability For Racism and White Supremacy Is Not "Bashing" White Feminists

In HuffPo UK, Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published a piece titled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Yes, the piece is as offensive as the title and I’ve responded to some of it below, her portion in blockquote:

Over the last few days, I have read a few articles in the media rightly congratulating the brilliance of Beyonce’s new album but also bizarrely claiming it is somehow a slap in the face to ‘white feminism’. While it may be true that certain female writers or journalists (including women of colour) may have said things that challenge Beyonce’s stance and influence on certain women’s issues, such voices by no means speak for ’all’ women, including white women. However, what is clear from these Beyonce articles is that the women writing them appear to claim that such voices do speak on behalf of white feminism (whatever that phrase means) and even more bizarrely all white women. 

Beyoncé’s album is subversive to White feminism even if some individual White feminists like the album (versus their usual hit piece after hit piece about why Beyoncé and any other Black woman that is not bell hooks is not feminist). In my essay Beyoncé’s New Self-Titled Album Is A Manifesto of Black Womanhood and Freedom, I addressed how even as many people find interest and empowerment via Beyoncé’s album, the album speaks to very specific experiences of Black motherhood, Black womanhood, sexuality in the intersections, Black empowerment, Black feminism, and Black culture. Beyoncé is regularly posited as antithetical to feminism and it is primarily through a White supremacist lens by which this occurs, whether the writer is a White woman (usually) or a woman of colour. The reasons why this occurs speak to very specific sexual politics for Black women in America, in the past and today. Wilde-Blavatsky seeks to separate herself from White supremacy and posit the idea that only the writers who post these articles are the ones who feel this way about Beyoncé. This White woman is pulling the “not all White people” rebuttal as a way to separate herself from the impact of White supremacy on how Beyoncé is perceived and its impact on feminism itself. 

When she states “whatever that phrase means” in reference to “White feminism” she is being purposely ahistorical and ignoring the impact of White supremacy even on “progressive” politics. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests that feminism has suffered from the same bigotry that non-progressive space/politics suffer from. When I (and others) half jokingly half seriously say phrases such as  1% feminismWhite supremacist feminismAmerican exceptionalist feminism, gender essentialist feminism (i.e. TERFs), Mean Girls feminism“Funny" feminismLean In feminismMrs. White feminismMistress Epps feminism and Mayonnaise feminism, I am speaking of very specific ways that White feminists regularly do the following: 1) ignore White privilege 2) demand silence from women of colour, especially Black women 3) refuse accountability for their racism and think it should be excused based on their gender 4) feel perfectly fine with two sets of standards for feminists to meet where theirs is a pulse and ours is being bell hooks 5) purposely target Black women and other women of colour with hit pieces that their White privilege guarantees major news placement while being as bigoted and as ahistorical as possible within the piece 6) claim any response to the piece is "bullying” by Black women and other women of colour 7) claim our responses impede their first Amendment rights or freedom of expression. Rejecting this is not us “bashing” White feminists or White women. This is rejecting the same racism that we deal with from Whites who do not claim feminism at all. 

Yet since when did all white feminists (or women) claim that being married, a mother, sexually assertive etc was not acceptable or feminist? Certainly not any feminism that I, or many others, would sign up to. Mikki Kendall, who has also gained renown for the dreadful Twitter campaign #solidarityisforwhitewomen, is particularly guilty of such 'white women bashing’. Kendall’s article about Beyonce’s album not only does all of the above but appears to also suggest that 'white feminism’ is anti-man. Yeah, right.

This is incredibly disrespectful to Mikki’s (@Karnythia) powerful work on that hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen. The hashtag is “dreadful” yet other White women have appropriated it (common activity) and used it for their own influence while excluding its creator? Right. This hashtag globally exposed the impact of White supremacy on feminism and on individual women of colour’s lives. Naturally then it must be “dreadful” to her. Careful reading of Mikki's article reveals that she did not suggest that White feminists are all anti-man, but often that feminism is positioned this way. Womanism–which is what I think of when I think of Beyoncé–allows the space for acknowledgement of parents, siblings, romantic partner(s) and self. Beyoncé does all of this in her song “Flawless.” She does not have to embrace individualism to have power. This is especially important for Black women. Further, a quick history lesson in feminism does reveal certain White wings of feminism that are in fact anti-man in addition to anti-intersectional, anti-sex work and anti-trans women. This wing does not define all feminism but to pretend as if White women have never posited some of the most bigoted nonsense to shape feminism and make it an exclusionary country club or a brand, not a space for liberation and change, is to just pretend that literally nothing has ever happened before her article was published.

As a white woman there can be no doubt that I do enjoy the privilege of being white and need to be aware of how that privilege operates and differentiates my experience from women of colour. However to ignore the many different intersections of 'whiteness’ such as language, culture, class, education, sexuality, religion and so on is to literally 'whitewash’ me and all other white women to a flesh colour. The irony of doing that is the whole point of post-colonial theory was to expose such non-inclusiveness and encourage people to recognise and celebrate their differences not to suggest white feminism is a 'one size fits all’ for white women either.

“Intersections” of Whiteness do not exist. Intersections themselves do. White people, even if oppressed for other facets of their identity still have White privilege. Thus, calling class, education, sexual orientation, religion etc. intersections of Whiteness reveals that she does not understand the term “Whiteness” nor “intersectionality.” That is fine but the research should have been done before writing the piece. While “Whiteness” itself has transience, White supremacy and racism are global albeit nuanced realities. In the UK where this piece was published and in America where the piece was targeted, guess who has White privilege? Poor Whites. Gay Whites. Lesbian Whites. Theist Whites. Queer Whites. Trans Whites. Uneducated Whites. All Whites. Before Whites start using “intersectionality” as a term to describe a White person who has one area of oppression experienced, they should actually research Kimberlé Crenshaw’s and Patricia Hill Collins’ work on this. At its start, the experience of Black women oppressed for race, gender, class, sexual orientation and citizenship/nation were discussed. It most certainly was not about White women who might not have a degree or money and hate Beyoncé or Black women like her.

On a more serious note, to 'blacken’ the name of the work and efforts of white women in the feminist movement and to portray them as the 'enemy’ of women of colour is a great disservice not only to white women but also to women in general. In addition, it only serves to further divide women and empower patriarchy and misogyny.

Insult Mikki and then chose the term “blacken” to describe what she thinks is harming White women–them being held accountable for White supremacy in feminism? (I can’t help but think of Toni Morrison’s book Playing In The Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination right now.) I do not care about what she thinks is a “disservice” to White women. They’ve had centuries of “service.” It ends now. They can pick up the napkin. No one has to cater to White supremacy and most certainly feminists of colour do not. The idea that rejecting how White supremacy impacts feminism and that White women being held accountable for this “disservices all women” is anti-intersectional and laughable. While she is busy dodging responsibility like hot coals and pretending that somehow White privilege eclipses her experience or politics, Black women and other women of colour are busy trying to live. And our experience is simply not one solely defined by gender. She mentions patriarchy and misogyny yet does not seem to truly understand that how White women experience these is different from how Black women experience them.

This space of difference is what she wants silenced. She does this in the most reprehensible way: by misquoting Audre Lorde to support lack of accountability for White women. She adds in the quote “it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” I find this especially reprehensible even though the entire piece is. She is no different from conservatives who misquote (via decontextualization) and meme Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while trying to silence the very same people that King fought for. She would do better to actually read Audre Lorde for context and not for memes. Perhaps read “An Open Letter to Mary Daly” where Lorde critiques the very same thing that Wilde-Blavatsky has done with this article–taking important critique from Black women and dismissing it while trying to assert that Black women are wrongly critiquing feminism or that said critique is about White women as people and not about White supremacy as a plague. 

So I propose a new hashtag campaign for women (and men) tired of the misguided cultural relativism called #stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity. It is not acceptable anymore to ignore white privilege and intersectionality in feminist discourse but at the same time let’s stop blaming white women for issues that clearly effect them too. Issues such as marriage, physical safety and autonomy, access to good family planning and health care, pregnancy, abortion, rape, domestic violence, slut shaming, denial of opportunities in work and education and so on still effect women across all cultures, races and nations (albeit in differing ways). If we allow race and 'culture’ to divide rather than unite women then the patriarchs have won. On the other hand, women united can never be divided.

This quest for “unity” through erasure and silence has another word for it; oppression. This is what Wilde-Blavatsky suggests. She suggests that ignoring White privilege isn’t the goal, but then her entire essay is about coddling White women’s feelings and White Tears™. The privileged hate critique. This critique is not “bashing” and it most certainly is not oppression. This is why there is a backlash against hashtags, Twitter and social media itself. Most of the great conversations that I have on Twitter do not involve hashtags but hashtags are useful as a part of a bigger picture. Many of the people who use sociopolitical/feminist hashtags are also writers/activists. Hashtags are just one of the tools in a big pot of activist tools. They work when the goal is to communicate, resist, educate and connect globally. I find it ironic that she called Mikki’s tag “dreadful” yet posited that petulant nonsense of a hashtag as a rebuttal and cannot see how much White privilege is involved in thinking that hashtag is acceptable. White women are not used to critique except from White men where that critique can become oppression, true. But they are not always the oppressed. They are also oppressors. Looking for The Help feminism is something that they cannot expect to find anymore and most certainly not in social media space. The truth is Black women, women of colour and all marginalized people have always resisted. It’s simply that in the age of social media, it’s harder for the privileged to ignore or control those smaller voices that make up a larger one.

White women like Wilde-Blavatsky want silence from Black women and other women of colour yet want their voices heard by the patriarchy. They want no response to White supremacy and racism yet demand a response to sexism when it affects White women. They want no accountability for their role as oppressors yet expect accountability from White men as oppressors. They attack yet want silence and complicity in response and anything but this silence or “yes ma'am” is deemed “bullying.” Funny how so many White feminists claim to hate patriarchy yet will gladly take on the “delicate White woman” stereotype anytime a Black woman or other woman of colour responds. Wilde-Blavatsky herself played the victim role when she was called out for this piece and claimed “this is what freedom of expression looks like, being bullied and insulted off Twitter. Good night. Keep your hostility and anger, enjoy.”

All this article did is prove the validity of every criticism about the plague of White supremacy, whether in “progressive/feminist” space/politics or not. It proves that anyone can use terms like “White privilege” and “intersectionality” while being White supremacist and anti-intersectional. I don’t want “unity” with White women, especially when I cannot speak of their role in oppression. I want the end of any and all oppression, not a membership into the country club of mainstream feminism.

“If you don’t understand community, you don’t understand solidarity.” - my best friend Megan

Related Posts: The Idea of Feminism Isn’t The Problem; The Current Manifestation Of “Mainstream Feminism” IsBlack Women Are Not Just White Women’s “Allies” In Feminism

After (Kimberle) Crenshaw introduced the term intersectionality in 1989, it was widely adopted because it managed to encompass in a single word the simultaneous experience of the multiple oppressions faced by Black women. But the concept was not a new one. Since the times of slavery, Black women have eloquently described the multiple oppressions of race, class, and gender—referring to this concept as “interlocking oppressions,” “simultaneous oppressions,” “double jeopardy,” “triple jeopardy” or any number of descriptive terms.

Like most other Black feminists, Crenshaw emphasizes the importance of Sojourner Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech delivered to the 1851 Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio:

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I could have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

Truth’s words vividly contrast the character of oppression faced by white and Black women. While white middle-class women have traditionally been treated as delicate and overly emotional—destined to subordinate themselves to white men—Black women have been denigrated and subject to the racist abuse that is a foundational element of US society. Yet, as Crenshaw notes, “When Sojourner Truth rose to speak, many white women urged that she be silenced, fearing that she would divert attention from women’s suffrage to emancipation,” invoking a clear illustration of the degree of racism within the suffrage movement.

Crenshaw draws a parallel between Truth’s experience with the white suffrage movement and Black women’s experience with modern feminism, arguing, “When feminist theory and politics that claim to reflect women’s experiences and women’s aspirations do not include or speak to Black women, Black women must ask, “Ain’t we women?”

Black feminism and intersectionality

FAQ #1: What Does “Intersectionality” Mean?

The term “intersectionality” was coined by Critical Race Theorist  Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, though the actual concept was around since at least 1851 (see: Ain’t I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth). It is a feminist sociological theory that centers around analyzing and discussing how oppression often intersects, creating unique and varied experiences of discrimination.

 Originally, intersectionality referred to the discrimination faced by black women that is not only sexism and racism, but an experience that is more than the sum of its parts (now referred to as “misogynoir” in black feminist and womanist circles). Intersectionality has since been expanded to include the analysis of discrimination faced by anyone who identifies with the multiple social, biological, and cultural groups that are not favored in a patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist society.
The Charleston Imperative: Why Feminism and Antiracism Must Be Linked | Kimberle Crenshaw

Sign this incredible letter by feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw in solidarity of intersectional feminist allyship for antiracism:

“Two things are clear: feminists of all races and genders must aggressively denounce and repudiate Dylann Roof’s murderous embodiment of racist patriarchy. White women cannot allow one shred of legitimacy to rest upon Roof’s claims that these nine murders were undertaken in their name. At the same time, all antiracists must see in Roofs’ rampage the fact that Black women are also targets of patriarchal racism. We can no longer give mere lip service to intersectionality and the indivisibility of social justice. The struggle against patriarchy and racism must be substantively robust and inextricably intertwined.”

The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color, and the failure of anti-racism to interrogate patriarchy means that anti-racism will frequently reproduce the subordination of women. These mutual elisions present a particularly difficult political dilemma for women of color. Adopting either analysis constitutes a denial of a fundamental dimension of our subordination and works to precludes the development of a political discourse that more fully empowers women of color.

Kimberlé Crenshaw

And this is where my political ideology, as a Womanist starts because of my own identity; but (as much of her writing alludes to as well, though not in this particular quote) I am also concerned with class, ability, sexual orientation and more. I cannot embrace White women’s feminist or Black men’s anti-racist interests if they are not intersectional. I am not interested in any “equality” that requires the oppression of another person, for any particular identity facet.

Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination…But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.

Black legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in her insightful 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” The concept of intersectionality is not an abstract notion but a description of the way multiple oppressions are experienced. Indeed, Crenshaw uses the following analogy, referring to a traffic intersection, or crossroad, to concretize the concept: (x)

Good morning! Happy first month of Feminist Summer Book Club!

I hope y'all are as excited as I am! Our first month is on intersectionality and feminism. Our reading list is:

  • “Feminism is for Everybody” bell hooks [PDF available here, here, here, and about a hundred different places if you google it]
  • “Mapping the Margins:  Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women” Kimberle Crenshaw [PDF available online here]
  • “Disappearing Acts: Reclaiming Intersectionality in the Social Sciences” Nikol G. Alexander Floyd [available here]
  • “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” Peggy McIntosh [PDF available online here]

I will post discussion questions in our group on Goodreads by the end of the week, and please feel free to start engaging in a discussion there as the month progresses.

If you have thoughts or questions that you want to share throughout the month, please utilize this blog’s submit and ask features (which will be up and running by the end of the day today) to share those with everyone else in the FSBC.

I am so looking forward to doing this with y'all!
“Not going to lie down and take it”: Black women are being overlooked by this president

(By Brittney Cooper)

…However, black women, Obama’s single largest voting demographic, have been the subject of no executive orders, no White House initiatives and no pieces of progressive legislation. Ninety-six percent of black women voters voted for Obama compared to 87 percent of black men. Seventy-six percent of Latinas voted for the president compared to 65 percent of Latino men.

Though black and other women of color who are a part of the LGBTQ community will benefit from this latest executive order, no initiative has explicitly addressed the structural issues of racism, classism, poor education, heavy policing and sexual and domestic violence that disproportionately affect black and Latina women.

As a black woman who voted twice for this president, despite some misgivings, I find myself wondering how we will fit into the legacy of progressive policy initiatives that the president is trying to craft as part of his exit strategy.

This kind of conflict seems to be representative of the political moment in which we find ourselves. I remember feeling conflicted in this way when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA (the so-called Defense of Marriage Act) in the same cycle that it gutted the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. But with the Supreme Court’s unrepentant band of rabid conservatives, I’m not surprised.

I am surprised, however, that a man who lives in the White House with four black women feels no allegiance at the level of policy or legacy to the one demographic that is most singularly responsible for his two terms in the White House. I am both disappointed and disgusted that in President Obama’s political vision, all the blacks are men.

Twenty five years ago, UCLA law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” as a way to help us think about how black women were uniquely disadvantaged by employment discrimination laws that could remedy discrimination against women or discrimination against black people, but could not remedy discrimination against black women as an intersecting category. For instance, if a company singled out black women, but not all women, or not all blacks, then black women were simply out of luck in terms of having legal protection. Getting at this concept has been so critically important because anti-workplace discrimination laws have been the centerpiece in terms of how the U.S. has historically counteracted the effects of racism, sexism and homophobia against marginalized groups.

Crenshaw’s coining of that term has also revolutionized the modern academy by helping us to think in almost every humanities and social science discipline about the interactions of race and gender and systems of racism and sexism. These kinds of intersectional interactions help shape the framing of everything from the POTUS discussion of the new restrictions on carbon emissions as a policy that helps poor black and brown youth to the political justifications for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

In this way a framework named and articulated by black women to speak to the structural dislocation of black and brown women is now being used to justify our erasure at the policy level.

This is unacceptable.

While I appreciate the carrots that the president continues to throw out to his liberal base, it is clear that black women on the whole are being overlooked and actively dismissed by this administration. I say this, not in an attempt to set racial concerns at odds with LGBTQ issues. LGBTQ people are black and brown, too. But robust attention to discrimination against queer-identified people does not constitute a racial justice program.

And a program that focuses only on boys and men of color does active harm and injustice to black and brown women and girls.  If President Obama wants his political legacy to be that he cared the least about the demographic that supported him the most, it should be clear that black women are not going to lie down and take it.

If our votes count, that means our issues ought to count, too. And this is why today, more than 1,000 women and girls of color, including me, have signed a letter urging the president to include women and girls of color in all forthcoming My Brother’s Keeper initiatives.

To say that a category such as race or gender is socially constructed is NOT to say that that category has no significance in our world. On the contrary, a large and continuing project for subordinated people–and indeed, one of the projects for which postmodern theories have been very helpful–is thinking about the way power has clustered around certain categories and is exercised against others. This project attempts to unveil the processes of subordination and the various ways those processes are experienced by people who are subordinated and people who are privileged. It is, then, a project that presumes that categories have meaning and consequences. This project’s most pressing problem, in many if not most cases, is not the existence of the categories, but rather the particular values attached to them, and the way those values foster and create social hierarchies.

This is not to deny that the process of categorization is itself an exercise of power, but the story is much more complicated and nuanced than that. First, the process of categorizing–or, in identity terms, naming–is not unilateral. Subordinated people can and do participate, sometimes even subverting the naming process in empowering ways. One need only think about the historical subversion of the category ‘Black,’ or the current transformation of 'queer,’ to understand that categorization is not a one-way street. Clearly, there is unequal power, but there is nonetheless some degree of agency that people can and do exert in the politics of naming. And, it is important to note that identity continues to be as site of resistance for members of different subordinated groups. We all can recognize the distinction between the claims 'I am Black’ and the claim 'I am a person who happens to be Black.’ 'I am Black’ takes the socially imposed identity and empowers it as an anchor of subjectivity. 'I am Black’ becomes not simply a statement of resistance, but also a positive discourse of self-identification, intimately linked to celebratory statements like the Black nationalist 'Black is beautiful.’ 'I am a person who happens to be Black,’ on the other hand, achieves self-identification by straining for a certain universality (in effect, 'I am first a person’) and for a concomitant dismissal of the imposed category ('Black’) as contingent, circumstantial, non-determinant. There is truth in both characterizations, of course, but they function, quite differently depending on the political context. At this point in history, a strong case can be made that the most critical resistance strategy for dis-empowered groups is to occupy and defend a politics of social location rather than to vacate and destroy it.

Kimberlé Crenshaw

I like this explanation and I agree with her; I prefer acknowledging “Black.” In 2011, Michigan State University published a study that revealed that “Black people who identify more strongly with their racial identity are generally happier. Previous research has found a relationship between racial identity and favorable outcomes such as self-esteem.”

Ignoring such a major part of our identity to “fit in” or to try to be “universal” doesn’t work in a White supremacist society. Further, understanding our history and support from other Black people makes coping in a White supremacist society easier than not. Because…whether a Black person seeks to ignore their Blackness and their culture or not, it’s still there. And doing it for the hopes of White approval is a very dangerous game to play with one’s health and well-being.

Among the most troubling consequences of the failure of antiracist and feminist discourses to address the intersections of race and gender is the fact that, to the extent they can forward the interest of ‘people of color’ and 'women’ respectively, one analysis often implicitly denies the validity of the other. The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color, and the failure of antiracism to interrogate patriarchy means that antiracism will frequently reproduce the subordination of women. These mutual elisions present a particularly difficult political dilemma for women of color. Adopting either analysis constitutes a denial of a fundamental dimension of our subordination and precludes the development of a political discourse that more fully empowers women of color.
—  Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (July 1991): 1241-1299, 1253.
Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices. And so, when the practices expound identity as woman or person of color as an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a location that resists telling.
—  Kimberlé Crenshaw, Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color
I am suggesting that Black women can experience discrimination in ways that are both similar to and different from those experienced by white women and Black men.

Kimberle Crenshaw, 1989, “Demarginalising the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”.

Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 to be able to talk about the experiences of Black women. In this paper, which I am reading for the first class in my Gender, Ethnicity and Religion course, she discusses three court cases in which Black women sued for discrimination. In one case, for example, Black women lost the case: Even though the company they sued did not hire any Black women, it hired white women and Black men and therefore the judge ruled that no discrimination was taking place.

~mod r