Black Feminism is for everybody
This headline is a play on the famous bell hooks piece, "Feminism is for Everybody" (and yeah, that's a link to the entire book. You're welcome.)
Black feminism has been the topic of conversation in many of the classes I've taken recently. Before starting these classes I had an idea about what black feminism was, and it wasn't an entirely positivee label. So I hope I can answer some of the questions that I had just a year ago.
What is black feminism? Why does it matter? Is it for everybody?
Traditional White Feminism
From a historical standpoint, feminism wasn't for everybody. When I talked about intersectional feminism and Christianity, I mentioned first wave feminism. That's the suffragette, only white women allowed club. It was tired of being treated like a dainty flower. Not being able to vote. Sick of wearing hoop skirts. It's the issue that made black women like Sojourner Truth ask, "Ain't I a woman?"
Over time, feminism evolved into the Betty Friedan "Feminine Mystique" white feminism. The type of feminism for white women that asked, "Why do I have to stay in the house all day taking care of the kids? I want a career!" The kind of feminism that wouldn't support Shirley Chisolm despite the fact that she was a woman (Literally. Betty Friedan was like nah fam sorry I want to support women but maybe not black women). Like bell hooks notes in her piece, "Black Women: Shaping Feminist Identity,"
"She [Friedan] made her plight and the plight of white women like herself synonymous with a condition affecting all American women. In so doing, she deflected attention away from her classism, her racism, her sexist attitudes towards the masses of American women. In the context of her book, Friedan makes clear that the women she saw as victimized by sexism were college-educated, white women who were compelled by sexist conditioning to remain in the home."
The real feminine mystique is why there was no mention of women of color.
A New Expression of Womanhood
So with that in mind, consider the black woman at that time. Like Sojourner Truth, black women were stuck wondering why Friedan's idea of femininity was a housewife stuck in her home, when they were out in the workforce, cleaning other's households, taking care of other people's children, while trying to provide for their own family. Weren't they women too? What made them different from the women described in the Feminine Mystique?
Black feminism is the root of intersectional feminism. Black feminism boldly posited that race, class, and gender are bound together, and constantly affect one another. I don't think that's a crazy concept. There's a difference between a rich white woman and a poor black woman, a middle class hispanic man and an upper class white man. Ya feel me? Less obviously, there's a difference between a middle class black woman and a middle class white woman. Why? Race. It affects how these women perform in different spheres. A white middle class woman will feel much different in a room full of white men than a black woman in a room full of white men. And vice versa. It's because of the historical context and various intersections at work here.
It's for Everybody!
So with that in mind, black feminism is pretty much the birthplace of intersectional feminism. It's the belief that identities like sexual orientation, race, gender, class, ability, body type, all of the above— are intersectional. Each intersection affects how we act and how other's treat us.
I used to struggle with black feminism because I didn't understand its relationship with intersectional feminism. I thought of it as the black equivalent of white feminism. That Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, "I don't see color," type of feminism, but for black people. Like they only want to support black people economically, politically, and socially. But really, black feminism pioneered the concept of intersectionality and since its inception has created a movement that seeks to establish equality for all people groups.
The past few weeks I've really been nailing home the point that people are unique. No two people are alike, and each part of your identity intersects with another part of your identity. It's not an abstract social justice term that has no grounding in reality, it's true! What's your gender identity? Your sexual orientation? Your race? Those are all points of your identity that intersect in your personhood. Those intersections give you a unique view of the world. With a greater understanding of other people's perspectives, we begin to form a more complete view of power structures in the world— who's oppressed, who's privileged, who's barely scraping by, and who's unaffected. It's important to know, and black feminists (black women) were the first to take notice of this.
I really hope this makes sense.
If not, let me know!