I struggle calling myself a feminist. As an African American woman, it’s hard to unify around a vague cause seemingly dominated by the white female elite. My hesitancy in embracing feminism as a Black woman is justified. A brief history lesson in American history validates my indecision. However, I do have hope that productive cross-cultural dialogue will amount to more harmonious racial understanding in the near future.
My journey into feminism began in high school. I was the outspoken liberal, the one my classmates could rely on to opine in favor of the poor, minorities, women, and homosexuals. I was quick to light the fire under taboo topics that my fellow classmates did not care to talk about. I remember defending Nat Turner and John Brown in my AP American history class, much to the dismay of those students who wanted nothing more than to get to fifth period lunch.
I quickly found labels for my thoughts, “feminist” being among them. My group of feminist friends were all white, and our discussions never touched on race in more than a cursory way. Yes, we all lauded Angela Davis, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison as compelling Black female figures, but we did not comprehend the differences between the Black and white female struggles. We all rallied together under the pro-choice banner, but we did not delve into why a poor Black woman might choose to terminate her pregnancy versus a middle class white one.
It could be a NYC thing. As a native New Yorker, I saw race everywhere, but I did not think much of it. Being inundated in a multicultural area had its benefits; I was simply too busy maneuvering subway platforms to stop and think about how the color of my skin affected how I was treated. And having relatively no exposure outside City limits, I assumed most US cities mimicked similar modes of “colorblind” behavior.
How wrong I was.
I attended Northeastern University in Boston. It was here that my racial consciousness heightened. A small city (by my standards), I was unprepared for the tragic intersection between racism and feminism. I was an anomaly. I was a target with three strikes in Bro Town; I was a (1) Black (2) woman with a (3) thick NYC accent.
I lived in Allston for a year, an ironic town of New England hipsters who loved Lil Wayne and voted for President Obama (so of course they’re not racist!). Although being overwhelmingly liberal, the racism embellished in the culture was striking. I remember hosting a party in my own home and hearing whispers about my being there. There was another time when random strangers dragged me onto the dance floor for an impromptu twerking lesson.
There was the time when a white someone said I was their “nigga” because we hit it off for all of 30 minutes. There were the many times my natural hair was poked and prodded and regarded as “poofy” and “sooooo weird!” Let’s not forget being approached by white boys (if they had the stones to approach the token Black girl at all), with manufactured adoration for trap music (sorry bro, I’m a fan of Talib Kweli and Mos Def. Nice try, though).
My life was summed up in one Buzzfeed article.
Despite these unfortunate occurrences, what saddened me the most was that these prejudicial actions were also committed by self-proclaimed feminists, even the most radical ones. I expected prejudice from the small town suburban male, but not from the enlightened female well-versed in feminist scripture. I was disillusioned and frustrated. I actively avoided the feminist crowd out of fear of tokenism. I did not want to be their “Black girlfriend” to help assuage their white guilt. I did not want to stand beside them and their condescension. As my mother told me “Northeastern was good for you, but Boston left you scarred.”
And it’s true. Now, I see race, racism, and prejudice everywhere. I see into the Blackness of my skin, the thickness of my lips, and the toughness of my hair. I monitor the way I am treated by my fellow human peers. I analyze every glance or stare, and question the motives behind it. I am suspicious of the hipsters from the same New England towns mercilessly gentrifying NYC, bringing their prejudicial habits with them. I am more vocal about my observations. So much so, that sometimes, I am falsely accused of being a “reverse racist.”
*side note: there’s no such thing as reverse racism so long as there is white privilege!*
I almost gave up hope in defining myself as a feminist, without the “Black” disclaimer in front. I identified more readily with “Black” and minority causes than I did with feminist ones. And to an extent, I still do.
But in recent years, Black feminists have been monumentally vocal in correcting the whitewashed narrative of mainstream (read: white) feminism. A number of feminist blogs encompass Black analysis within their discourse, and boldly expose the delicate and unfortunate intersection between feminism, racism, classism, and homophobia. It is within this group that I’ve found solace because they recognize my existence without making tired or paternalistic excuses for it.
I’ll probably never call myself a “feminist” without the Black disclaimer in front. The term “feminist” does little to express the diversity of my humanity. My humanity is one that revels in the depth that the term “feminist” seemingly lacks.