Monday, February 13, 2012

Black Feminism: Feminism's Exclusion of Non-White Women

Feminism excluded scores of minority women and none were more excluded in that movement than the African American woman. So when people ask me if I’m a feminist I proudly say no, though everything about me screams feminist.  
- The late Dr. Cheryl Hardison-Dayton
Merriam-Webster defines the term feminist as “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (“Feminism”, n.d.). Feminism sprang forth as a separation from the patriarchal society that many women found themselves having to deal with. The difference between the white feminists who usually come from privilege and the Black feminist who usually doesn’t come from privilege is the amount of struggle faced. For instance, for some feminists the only issue is deciding what can and can’t be done over one’s body and personal life choices. For others it is the fight to be seen as human and non-inferior along with the other issues already mentioned. The dynamics of struggle are quite different and socio-economic status, race, and other factors have to be taken into account when persons use the term feminist so loosely.

History of Feminism in America

In 1848 the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY (Let it be noted that not ALL women were invited, nor were the needs of ALL women addressed) (Imbornoni, n.d.). By 1869 organizations such as the National Woman Suffrage Association sprang forth because of persons like Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Imbornoni, n.d.). By December 10 of that year the first women’s suffrage law was passed (Imbornoni, n.d.). (whoop dee doo...if you were WHITE!) Due to clear and evident ostracism from the movement, the National Association of Colored Women was formed in 1869 by women like Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (Imbornoni, n.d.). In 1920, the 19th Amendment of the Constitution granted women the right to vote (Well some women anyway) (Imbornoni, n.d). From then on numerous groups sprang forth and feminism continued to exclude women of color in the movement.

Why the Hell Aren't Most Black Women Feminists?

While feminism may have been beneficial for priviliged white women, it excluded non-white women who may not have come from the same economic background. Feminisms in and of itself is laced with racism and classism. Hence, most Black women don’t embrace feminism. While in high school I read “The Feminist Mystique” and realized that traditional feminism was damned sure not for me. I was not some middle- to upper-class white woman bored with my leisure time and wanting to break out of the mold of my husband controlling my movements as a sat in a parlor room with a couple of kids. That description just did not fit me. And it wasn’t until I truly read books by persons like Angela Davis and bell hooks that I began to understand that feminism was meant to exclude poor women and women of color.

In knowing that and having that knowledge I knew I would never be a traditional feminist. And when I read “All the women are white, all the Blacks are men, but some of us are brave” by Gloria T. Hull I knew if I wanted anything to do with the umbrella term of feminism that I would have to be either an Africana feminist, womanist, or Black feminist. Michelle Wallace brought down every notion I had about the Black power movement and what it meant to be a Black feminist and one of her quotes stuck with me heavy. “The new Blackness was fast becoming the new slavery for sisters” (1982, p. 9). What dawned on me was that Blackness was somehow only oppressive when it came to Black men and that it was more than often viewed that the Black woman brought about this oppression and that feminism somehow wasn’t ours to own either though we fought sexism just as much as our white female counterparts.

My Feminist Path

At the end of the day I had to decide if feminism was even something that I would want to get into because of the years of exclusion. And once I wrapped my mind around feminist theory I had to find something about feminism that was directly relevant to me as a poor, Black woman. I was torn between Africana feminism and Black feminism because I knew I was quite far from a person who could embrace womanist (Thank you Alice Walker but no thank you, moving right along). In searching for my own little clique of Black feminists, I discovered that I was excluded from all their gatherings for whatever reasons like not sporting a fro, not eating tofu, or not embracing new age doctrines about what it meant to be a Black feminist. I’m still searching for sisterhood within the Black feminist community. (STILL) Queer feminism may be my next pit stop on the search for sisterhood. If that doesn’t work, I’m throwing my hands up in surrender and I’ll just be Danielle C. Allen. In the words of my late mentor, Dr. Dayton, “I am not a feminist, even though everything about me screams feminism.”



References

Feminism. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster's online dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism

Imbornoni, A. (n.d.). Women's Rights Movement in the U.S.: Timeline of Key Events in the American Women's Rights Movement. Infoplease. Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womenstimeline2.html

Wallace, M. (1982). A Black feminist's search for sister hood . In G. T. Hull, P. B. Scott, & B. Smith (Eds.), All the women are White, all the Blacks are men, but some of us are brave: Black women's studies (1st ed., pp. 5-12). Old Westbury, NY: The Feminist Press.

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