I recently came across a posting of Aposates via Racialicious, that disturbed me greatly. It seems Apostate was trying to understand why race is a feminist issue. She commented:
"This is why a race-centric analysis of women’s issues bothers me. Feminism is about women, period. It’s race-neutral. Hopefully, it will remain about women, instead of turning into an ersatz black civil rights movement pre-occupied with issues of police brutality against black men."
The idea that race analysis in feminism works as a detractor is problematic in that without it, feminism will work to only benefit white women. As a WOC, race, gender and class (though not mentioned by apostate) intersect in my lived experience. As my race and gender are visible I must constantly negotiate biases of others based on social constructions. If it were possible for me to wash away my blackness, then maybe I could understand why some insist that race and gender are two separate issues. Each day when I face the world, I face it as a black woman. Before I walk into any room, my race and gender announce what is acceptable treatment. Historically for black women that has been, overt sexualization, exploitation both at home and in the labor force, crude caricatures of the harping, head swinging shrew, and my favorite the ever loving mammy (milk tits). The aforementioned is a perfect example of the ways in which white women still use race privilege to exploit women of color.
When white women were agitating for the right to work, black women could not relate as they had never spent a day without work. When white women were fighting for the right to abortion, black women were being forcibly sterilized. To this day white women still travel to third world countries to get dark women to bare their children through the process of surrogacy. (Yes mammy is alive and well). When white women complain about exploitation in the media, they are loathe to admit that at least they can see themselves reflected often. How many times must I go to a movie or turn on the television to see no one matching my reflection? I am not talking about those light skinned women that Hollywood likes to employ to fulfill their racial obligations, I am talking about a beautiful dark skinned woman. Race is omnipresent, and as such is systemic in nature. It is invisible only to women whose bodies are not stigmatized by a darker pigment. Note that I will not speak of whites as not raced, as the white body is just as much raced as the black the body. The difference lies in how the white race is perceived. White is socially understood as normal, clean and acceptable. It is for this reason that privilege is able to be denied.
When feminist theory uses race as starting point for analysis it allows for a more concrete understanding of women. Just as we cannot point to one WOC as a representative for her race, we cannot construct a monolithic woman to represent all women. When apostate asserts that the desire of black women to talk about the oppression of black men is a detractor from feminism, she is speaking from a position of privilege that has not been acknowledged. In the words of Alice Walker, "No person is your friend that denies your silence, or denies your right to grow." I am a WOC, and I am an aunt, mother, daughter, sister, cousin and friend to black men.
"Black males have the greatest chance of dying before they reach twenty. Although they are only 6 percent of the U.S.population, black males make up half of male prisoners in local, state and federal jails. An overwhelming majority of the twenty thousand Americans killed in crime-related incidents each year are black males. Over thirty-five percent of all black males in American cities are drug and alcohol abusers. Twenty-five percent of the victims of AIDS are black men. Fifty percent of black men between sixteen and sixty-two are not active in the labor force. Thirty-two percent of black men have incomes below the poverty level." (Gibbs, as quoted in Dyson 96)
Yes,I just went on and on about the issues of black men. These issues are important issues to black women because we are their mothers, sisters, aunts, wives etc. We are their loved ones, and what happens to them effects our lives. When a black womans husband is addicted to drugs or doing time, do you think that it will have a positive or negative effect on her life? When a black man fails to find employment that pays at a subsistence level, do you think that it has a positive or negative effect on his family? Finally when Mrs.Bell, cried out with a mothers grief over the loss of her son due to the NYPD, was that not a womans issue?
There is no doubt that black men still have the ability to abuse, and exploit black women. I cannot claim that the relationship between black men and black women has always been smooth, however as a womanist I refuse to turn my back on them, to do so would be to deny the people that mean the most to me in this life. When I look into the eyes of my son, he will know that his struggle is OUR struggle. How can we ask men to change and take up our battles with sexism if we are unwilling to acknowledge the ways in which their lives are effected by racism. To partner with black men to eradicate or reduce racism is to improve the quality of life for black women.
A division between people of color serves a racist agenda. When we see each other as enemies we are most likely to work at cross purposes. As witnessed from the civil rights movement, when we work together much social change is possible. Why should we be content to see our brothers and husbands struggle in order to make advances as women? In reality we know that it is not black women that will advance through gains made from feminism, it is white women. When white women were voting, black women were marching arm in arm with our black brothers for the right to vote.
To ask me, as a WOC to forgo racism as part of the struggle for the improvement of womens lives, is to ask me to ignore a vital part of my existence. My black skin gives testimony to my daily lived struggles. What you see as a secondary concern keeps me from getting jobs, effects where I live, and whether or not my interactions will be successful. If you want my partnership you have got accept that which makes you uncomfortable --- my blackness. It is a real to me, as your whiteness is to you.
Dyson, Eric Michael (2005) Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind. New York: Persus Books Group