Why Black Women are Essential to Feminism
What does it mean to be a woman in America? To some women being a woman is to be powerful but also kind. Others may believe overcoming the adversity that is presented in their lives is a better explanation. However, these are not the only answers because millions of women could all have different perspectives and opinions. Regardless of the responses, every woman could answer this question. However, when asked what it means to be a black woman in America, everything changes. Although some may believe they know the answer from being associated with black women in their lives or watching Tyler Perry movies, such as Big Happy Family, focused on black communities, only black women have the perspective to answer the question adequately. Many phrases and slogans are used to define black women, such as “strong black woman.” Often many people believe this is a compliment and use it very loosely, but it is the opposite. A TheEveryGirl article mentions the word “strong” as a label society gives us to justify our continued mistreatment and abuse. Mikki Kendall, black author and feminist, goes even further in saying that the myth of strong black women is based on the fact that black women are supposedly tougher than white women meaning we are built to face abuse and ignorance and that our need for care or concern is less pressing. While this is no way to lessen the oppression that all women face in our society, being an African American woman is another form of oppression that other women do not experience. Although this is unfortunate, identifying as a black woman comes with being unjustly accused of being incompetent and seen as aggressive, to name a few. This merely comes with the territory of intersectionality. However, when we look at feminism and its theories, they rely on the white woman’s perspective. Michelle S. Jacobs further elaborates, saying the experiences of white women are normative, and all other women’s experiences are subsumed in those. As a result of this, all “feminists” are grouped and fighting for a cause that only scrapes the surface for women who are already oppressed based on their ethnicity. It is almost as if the minorities are being sectioned out, which contradicts the entire mission of feminism. If feminism made a shift of minority women’s stories and writing, more specifically African American women, to the center of feminist theory, feminists would be more inclusive to everyone. While all women do not have the same experiences, this adjustment is essential to not excluding certain people. Now let’s go more in-depth into why we should make this revolutionary shift, what would result from this, and how this could be achieved.
Is There a Point?
I am sure you wonder if there is a good reason for wanting to base the center of feminism on black women’s lives and writing? Absolutely! It is understood that patriarchy, in other words, male domination, is prevalent in our society and government, hence the birth of feminism. Webster Dictionary defines feminism as the belief in and advocacy of the sexes’ political, economic, and social equality. While this is a worthy goal and has been beneficial for women, ethnicity is less focused on in relation to feminism when it should be a significant component. Many aspects of feminism that are analyzed are standard for all women. For example, the wage gap, reproductive rights, and after-child care are issues that women experience based on gender. However, some concerns receive minimal focus because it does not affect the majority, such as police brutality and the underrepresentation of diversity in the workforce.
The topic of police brutality has been prevalent in our society over the past couple of years. While in the media it often highlights a black individual being impacted by police brutality, this is also something that black women also have to deal with. Studies have shown exponential differences based on race, whether you want to believe these actions are racially charged or not. A Washington Post article adds that black women are fatally shot at rates higher than women of other races. These statistics ultimately put fear in the hearts of black women, especially when they see the things that are being covered on the news about black men going through similar experiences. This causes there to be a shift in the acceptance of police authority. From the perspective of white women, they often view the police as protective figures in society; however, black women think entirely differently based on experience. If feminists continue only to consider police authority in the eye of white women who do not wholly understand African American women’s experiences, it would be nearly impossible to see a problem and make a change. While this may seem like one of the more obvious differentiating factors, many others are less obvious but still need recognition.
Discrimination in the Workforce
There was a huge gender gap in employment in the past, meaning there was a lack of representation of women. While the presence of women in the workforce has increased, there is a problem that needs to be addressed. There is discrimination against a particular ethnic group, that group being African American women. These women endure obstacles that prevent them from attaining positions and flourishing in them like many other women. As I said before, as a black woman, there is a preconceived notion that I am incompetent. This is not because of an actual lack of skill, but race often makes individuals questionable about someone’s skill level. Based on a study done in “Working in the Intersection”, nearly 40 percent of black women are required to provide more evidence of competence in comparison to 28 percent of white women. Black women are also more likely to receive a surprising response when demonstrating strong language skills and other abilities. Due to this treatment, this causes there to be a lack of black presence in the workplace, which is a major issue. Based on the same study, over 50 percent of black women are the only people of their race/ ethnicity in work-related offices and meetings, and they often feel like the advocates for the entire race because of this. Feminism is geared towards equality for all regardless of gender, race, social status, etc. However, this is an unavoidable contradiction. Feminism advocated for placing women in the workforce due to the overbearing presence of men in these positions. Is there really equality in the workforce if a particular group is being excluded?
Equality should be for all women, so it is only fitting if there were diversity. Think back to working on a group project in school, and the teacher assigns partners. He or she would not always put you with people who had all the same skill as you but someone who is also different. This way, everyone in the group can bring unique skills and perspectives to complete the task efficiently and effectively. This is also the case because having other people from different backgrounds is essential because it provides unique perspectives. So, if feminists view the place of work from the lives of black women rather than the standard white women, they would be aware of the discrimination issue and work toward a change while still advocating for all women.
Anytime there is a proposition of change, everyone will not be in agreeance. I am aware that some people will think that this is just another attempt to prioritize black people and undermine others. However, this cannot be more false. This is the same assumption that is carried by the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” The phrase has been plastered over the media, newspapers, buildings, t-shirts, etc., and it has caused a lot of uproar like no other. People believe that this slogan means that only black lives matter, but it symbolizes that black lives matter just as much as anyone else’s does. This same approach is needed for feminism. All women matter; however, we must not exclude some women because they hold importance too. By making such a slight shift yet revolutionary change, more women will feel as if they belong in society. This is not only limited to black women feeling heard but also all minority women. Unity is the primary goal, and this approach certainly puts us one step closer to achieving it.
How Do We Go About This?
The best way to go about making this a reality would be to become educated. There is so much to know about black women and the struggles they endure. Having a black female friend is not the only way to gain this knowledge. Numerous black authors, such as Morgan Jenkins and Mikki Kendall, share their stories and experiences. There are also many, many black women telling their stories all over the world yearning to be heard. We must listen to these black women and not take what they say for granted. There is no way that an individual who does not identify as black or a minority would understand without using these women’s perspectives. Some people would feel that laws need to be enacted to prevent these women from being subject to this treatment. However, this has no possibility of happening if people are not educated on the subject. Put yourself in our shoes and think of yourself being treated the way we are. So, let’s be honest with ourselves. Would you want to be constantly treated as a threat to society and continuously be in fear just based on your skin color? How would you feel being continuously labeled as incompetent or ignorant? Would you want to switch places with us? If you have an issue with any of this, it is time to make that change for the better. Change is not always instant but educating one person is a step in the right direction.