Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stuck In The Middle

As a Woc I find myself often being pulled in two different directions.  White women often try to play the sisterhood game and remind me why feminism is important.  Black men are quick to remind me of the racism that we are subject to, as a reason why I should identify with civil rights movements, and or equity projects.  Both white women and black men always seem to approach with their hands out ( in friendship they claim) when actuality they are both looking for something.  It is never a neutral request, it is always a demand for solidarity, despite the fact that declaring so may be counter productive to my needs as a WOC.

I started this blog, so that I could finally say my peace. I had been lurking in the blogosphere for a while without commenting.  Now when I throw my two cents out there, I find that the response is always the same.  Black patriarchy will not own their privilege, and white women will not own their racism.  Neither party is willing to shut the hell up and listen for two minutes.  Yet they want me to be of use.  Yep I can just see myself making copies, coffee, filing, you know the important support staff role without any power or an actual voice.  That is exactly the role that black women have been playing in both movements since their inception.  Now there have been a few notable black women who have been strong enough, to be forces to be reckoned with.  They are the exception, rather than the rule.  Most of us just end up juggling identity politics trying desperately not to be swallowed whole.

Hear me when I say that WOC are not divisible.  I am not more black, than I am a woman. Both are essential to my identity and as such, expecting me to privilege one over the other for your benefit is selfish, and cruel.  The guilt baiting tactics have got to stop.  My body does not represent your proving ground.  If I choose to speak out about a particular subject, that does not mean that other is somehow less important in my life.  Racism may be my issue today, but sexism may take center stage tomorrow.

I love black men most unashamedly. You are my brothers, father, sons, and friends. Do not abuse this love by making sexist comments because we have the same culture.  Using words like 'ho, bitch etc are just plain hurtful.  Expecting me to sacrifice myself continually so that you may achieve success does not uplift us a race, it uplifts black men.  You cannot refer to black women as ball busting shrews, and expect us to continue following along faithfully like obedient dogs, begging to be kicked, and beat down again.  We share a culture, but that gives you no right to exploit my labor, sexuality, body, womanhood or the essence of who I am for your amusement, or to enhance your self pride.  There are definite issues in this world when it comes to racism, but they will not be solved by "othering" black women.  Creating your own version of patriarchy does not uplift you, it only gives injustice, and bitterness to the ones that bore you.

White women have been my friends, and allies.  I have cried with you, and shared many instances of intimacy.  We have laughed, and danced in celebration.  But our friendship does not give you the right to silence me.  I have something to say, something you might even find valuable, if you could take the time out to listen.  You do not represent all women despite what the media has told you.  When Betty Friedan was writing the Feminine Mystique she certainly did not have black women in mind.  You see, we have always had to work outside of the home, and you in particular should know that, as we have been your cooks, housekeepers, and nannies.  Even today when you rush off to your womens conferences it is by enlarged women of color that you have employed as domestic workers.  It is our labor that provides you with the freedom to pursue your feminist agenda.  You want us to rail about injustice when a woman is kidnapped or otherwise abused, but where are you when black girls, and women go missing?  Where are your screams for media coverage?  Why don't our assaults seem to carry the same kind of weight? Perhaps Lacie Peterson is the only pregnant woman to be killed by her husband?  Have I missed something?  Do black pregnant mothers not get assaulted to? We are united, and yet so unequal.

I know that even as I am typing furiously away, it is the equivalent of blowing kisses into the wind.  Both sides are too myopic to see themselves as the exploiting soul crushing silencers that they really are.  Both are so busy confronting the evils of white male oppression, that they have ignored the ways in which they have become oppressors.  Well the milk stand is closed, and mammy is done serving.  Don't tell me that you can identify with me, or understand where I am coming from, because you can't.  Until you spend a day living in the body of a WOC, you have no idea what it is to occupy the bottom rung of the racial, and social hierarchy. Stop playing a tug of war with my body as though I am some possession that can be owned, and trained.  I don't want to be your token representation of diversity. I am not some trump card that can be played at the end of the day. I know your game, I have seen it played, and you will just have to excuse me because I think I would rather get my ball, and go home.


Ebony Intuition said...

Wow, you hit it right on the nail this is exactly how I feel, I reposted a tidbit of you thoughts on my blog...Kudos

Janet Shan said...

Renee, I have to give you the gold medal! This is one of the best commentaries I have read for a long time. I especially like your candor about being a woman of color. Way to go! This will be a point of discussion with my girlfriends. Girl this was too good!

Bronze Trinity said...

This is another really excellent post! Its hard when two groups want your support yet both groups are sometimes your worst enemies. I've given up on the feminist thing though. I believe that all people should be treated equally and have equal rights, but I just don't want to associate myself with the feminist group of individuals.

OutcrazyOphelia said...

This is a really excellent commentary. Right before I graduated I completed a paper on the discussion of black women's rape in black newspapers in the period between 1889 and 1910 that I related back to this theme. Black women are largely ignored until they can be of use. Then we're called to solidarity with our race or gender while people attempt to manipulate us. When we don't obey, they rail against us and how ungrateful we are.

Renee said...

This is why I choose to identify as a womanist. I believe that women of color stand in a unique place, and what we need is solidarity with each other first, and then alignment with black males, and white females. It is clear that neither of these groups are going to make us a priority.

Yobachi said...

It's never neutral? Hmmm...

Well, from my Black male, Black uplift perspective; my interest lies in the Black whole, not trying to take advantage of Black woman for personal gain. You may take it as cliché’ but literally I think we rise and fall together; because in the end whites always close ranks with one another.

I pretty well make the same plea, to say, the Black middle class and especially the Black wealthy. As individuals, many in these classes could go it alone; forgetting the Black working class and the Black poor. In many ways aligning with Republicans (for instance on regressive taxation policy) would personally benefit them. But I’d strenuously argue that the divide would weaken us all; take away any position of power, where about there would be not even a semi-unified contingency that the majority culture has to contend with. The same would apply to a Black male/Black female divide.

Nonetheless, well articulated piece. I hope I am not being a “exploiting soul crushing silencers”.

Anyway, tell me what you think about this article I wrote:

I fearfully await your reaction. said...


Thank you so much for this post!

Yobachi posted a link to this on another blog so I hopped over - and I am so glad that I did!!

I wrote a post a week ago titled, "Examining The Hurdles For Black Feminists and White Feminists" and I dove into why the alliance was/is fractured.

I am not a womanist.
I am not a feminist.
I don't seek to be somewhere in between.

In my post, I made an observation: "No one fully understands the experiences of black women - and no one EVER will."

@ Renee
In my discussion on "Who Is In Charge? The Mantle of Black Leadership", I attempted to outline the ten expectations that black men have of black men as a collective and it was based on my discussions with black women and based on what I am reading on blogs.

White women do not feel that as a collective they HAVE TO make us a priority.

Black men on the other hand were never REQUIRED to and we gave them a pass. We now need to revoke the pass.

Thanks for letting me blow my trumpet!

Octogalore said...

Renee, thanks for the candor. I hope you don't go home though!

As a white woman, I do agree that feminism needs to be more inclusive and not just in a tokenizing way, as we see happening out there these days.

Maybe this is naive, but I see feminism as a battle that is used to fighting the status quo for representation of unfairly silenced parties, and that it's not impossible to get people within it to see that this is happening also within its ranks.

I agree with you that both white women/black men can approach WOC for the wrong "hands out" reasons.

But does that mean that because you thwart would-be users by the strategy of "get my ball, and go home" that it's in the best interests of WOC?

I don't know -- it may be. But I think women need each other. Women of all races benefit from being aligned, and size matters (yes I said it!). It doesn't make sense for WOC to separate from MOC for civil rights purposes. MOC, despite sexism within that group, are a powerful contingent of civil rights movements. Similarly, women need to work together on feminist objectives, even if the agenda is flawed. I believe there are women in the movement who care about addressing that for reasons other than selfishness.

That's my $.02 anyway...

Sally said...

I really like this post too because it puts together all of the very dynamic components of being a WOC.

I believe people really need to think long and hard about their own oppressions and privileges on a regular basis. Not to the point of depression or exhaust, but enough to keep your mind working.

It's probably true that MOC or white women will never fully appreciate the other side of things, but if they start with being honest with themselves and with others, then I think an improvement will definitely be made.

Renee said...

When I said take my ball and go home, what I meant is refusing to play the game by anyone else's rules but my own. I think WOC sometimes act simply out of the pressure to identify whether or not it is good for them. When we make a decision to engage it should be because we have an internal drive to make a difference and not because of some false sense of identification.

Octogalore said...

Fair enough. said...

Hi again!

I was in a workshop once and the workshop was lead by a white woman who was also a lesbian.

She took the entire group through an exercise in which we ALL had to identify and discuss our privilege in society.

The workshop attendees were all women...about 30% black. What was baffling and disappointing was that as the facilitator pointed to people in the room asking people to share, many of the black women COULD NOT come up with one privilege that they had in society because they were so focused on the oppression of sexism and racism.

Most of my sistas in the room had to be prodded to think of the privileges that they had as individuals.

I just want to mention this as part of this discussion...our awareness of PRIVILEGE is vitally important. People who view everything through the lens of oppression and victimization will NOT often become the persons who will empower others.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!


@ Renee

I made the comment in another blog discussion a week ago that I don't believe that we (black women) should continue the practice of storming off whenever white women (or white men or black men) do something that we find insulting, sexist, classist, white supremacist...whatever...I don't feel we must pick up our marbles and leave. No - we must change the rules of the game and STAY IN IT until we win it.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Renee said...

@Lisa...I qualified in my response earlier when I said, "take my ball and go home", what I mean was not engage in a situation unless we are sure that it address our needs and that we will have an active voice. We need to stop filling in the role of the fall back person. Until we can be chosen as a priority we need to disengage unless there is a clear benefit. I believe we should also announce the reason for our failure to participate. We have stood silently by for far to long.

boo! coco said...

so true i have alligence to no-one because to much has been done by both parties to ignore, yes they may have contributed to my cause but when your priorities are not share or the same someone will be left behind and so i wish to stand and give my thank to both parties but hand in my resignation, i'll take the skills you have given me and use them for my good.

Saucy said...

For me today, this was right on time. All I can say is Amen sista!