A Black Feminist Finding Solace in a White Girls’ World

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.

photo 1Arielle Newton, Editor-in-Chief. Get at me @BlackMusings. Get at us @BlkMillennials

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7 responses to “A Black Feminist Finding Solace in a White Girls’ World

  1. Reblogged this on From Slacker To Scribe and commented:
    Great read! This makes me think of times I’d like to call myself a “feminist”, but I don’t think such a title suits me if feminism doesn’t include me, a Black woman, or other Black, Indigenous, and other WoC., including Trans WoC. Not sure I want to be part of something predominately exclusionary, but I’m all for the Black Feminist calling mainstream feminism/feminists for what it is/they are.

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  2. Hello, and greetings from Europe! Yes, actually, feminism is almost impossible to define nowadays. It is not a specific ideology with a delaides program. I would like to write a blog post about what I think about feminism (my blog is about a court trial of a sexual assault from the victim’s point of vieuw), but I’m unable to get it started… There are so many different tendencies and “schools” within the European feminism. There are many feminisms.

    I like the way you say it:
    “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.”
    Thank you!

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  3. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve had similar experiences in the South, and it was disheartening to notice that my worldview was turned sideways. Not sure what to do with this information, but it’s good to know someone else has been there.

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  4. Here I am again! 🙂 I have to say being the mother of 3 foster children who happen to be African American, I might have gotten a few stares living in a mostly white community. Those side glances are a killer.

    We happen to live in a world that’s the polar opposite of yours. Not only is it all monotone in color, it’s a bit rural. Double whammy. Since these kiddos have come into my life, I have wanted to reach across a cash register or two and slap an employee who have asked me things such as “Do you find that mostly black children are in foster care?” My response was that –No, mostly children are in foster care!

    I’m not saying because I have these children that I can relate to your pain or even for a second know what your world looks like. What I will say is, I get to see a window of it through my kiddos’ eyes. When someone tells me that these kids are lucky to have a safe place, I get even angrier. Children in foster care are not lucky in anyway. Most boys in foster care do not graduate from high school and it’s almost impossible to find a black male in foster care who has graduated. My solution is to clarify my intentions of not only providing a safe home, but raising college students!

    I believe as a woman, it’s my responsibility to take responsibility for my actions. I believe as a woman, I have to be cognizant of the eyes who might be watching me and might want to follow my lead and lastly, I want to be a servant to people. I guess I don’t really need a flimsy feminist label when I’m busy leaving a trail. 🙂

    My little, future college students need people like you to watch and I promise, they are just a few of many who are looking up to you. Labels don’t really matter because no one can live up to them anyway. Do you and the rest will follow.

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  5. I’ve always struggled to understand how we got duped into the mess of feminism. It is the greatest trick ever pulled on women. Firstly, how can I wish to be equal to something I am far superior? Why would I ever allow myself to be lowered to the same level as “man” when from birth, nature has shown that woman (the vessel) is superior physically, mentally and emotionally?

    Believing in feminism forces you to work towards “equality” with men, but you must first acknowledge them being “above” you. The thought is laughable to me!

    If I am going to acknowledge that one’s current position is above me, my goal is not to be aligned with them. My goal is to resume our role as the dominant sex and render them as they should be, champions of feminine wisdom and leadership.

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  6. Americans have a weird way of relating to Feminism, you project too much of your own societal problems on it, Feminism is simply the belief that men and women are equal and should be treated as as such, in my country, we call it gender equality and its a national priority.

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