I came across a video that discussed the achievements that Black women have contributed to the women’s suffrage movement. I decided to sit down and watch it but what really intrigued me was the fact that a White American woman was discussing the likes of early Black feminists such as Frances Harper and Sojourner Truth in her video. Not many White feminists acknowledge intersectionality when it comes to the plight of women of color. So I watched her second subsequent video on Black women’s contribution to both the Civil Rights Movement and Second Wave feminism as well as Alice Walker’s Womanism. Hence the reason why intersectionality needs to be discussed and addressed in a society where the growing numbers of young women are either Black or brown.
Here are the videos:
All women have and will experience sexism and misogyny at some point in their lives. Patriarchy and male privilege is entrenched in almost every culture across the world. However imagine Black or of another minority group and being a woman simultaneously in a racist society. Being of African descent and a woman, racism especially institutionalized racism combines with sexism to oppress them. However not many people outside of feminist circles realize how the intersection of race and sexism intertwined to oppress women of African descent.
Unfortunately, in society, ”all the women are White and all the Blacks are men”. The reason it is seen that way is because White skin and Eurocentric features is seen as a sign of femininity and beauty while dark skin and African features is seen as a sign of masculinity in society. Thus Black men use this advantage to promote the belief that they are the most masculine especially in mainstream anti racist, pro Black circles where Black men and their allies speak about institutionalized racism and disenfranchisement that they go through daily in society. And White women use this advantage as being seen as the most beautiful and feminine to promote their cause of ending sexism and patriarchy in society in mainstream feminist spaces and circles. All the while, Black women felt left out and marginalized and left out in both the mainstream feminist and anti racist movements. Black women who participated in the mainstream feminist movements experienced racism from their White female counterparts and Black women who participated in the anti racist, pro Black movements experienced sexism from their Black male counterparts. Thus many Black women felt their narratives and struggles left out in both movements.
In 1989, Black feminist, Kimberle Crenshaw wrote an essay about how the intersection of race and sex often times comes together for Black women in society. And how often times, oppression is intertwined in race, gender, sexuality and class for Black women. It was important for people to understand and realize the intersections of how race, class, gender and sexuality plays a role on the lives and plight of women of color across the nation. Here is Kimberle Crenshaw’s except from Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics:
”After examining the doctrinal manifestations of this single-axis framework I will discuss how it contributes to the marginalization of Black women in feminist theory and in antiracist politics. I argue that Black women are sometimes excluded from feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse because both are predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not accurately reflect the interaction of race and gender. These problems of exclusion cannot be solved simply by including Black women within an already established analytical structure. Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner In which Black women are subordinated. Thus, for feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse to embrace the experiences and concerns of Black women, the entire framework that has been used as a basis for translating “women’s experience” or “the Black experience” into concrete policy demands must be rethought and recast.”
Here Kimberle Crenshaw speaks about how both mainstream anti racist and feminist circles and groups marginalize Black women due to the fact that both groups fail to even acknowledge the intersection of how race and gender plays a role in how Black women and other women of color are treated in society. Anti racist groups mainly focuses on racism and how institutionalized racism has disenfranchised those of African descent while feminist groups mainly focuses on how male patriarchy and sexism helps disenfranchise women(mainly White). And none of these groups even try to understand how their lack of intersection leaves out Black women’s narratives and point of view out of their movements.
Even wider society itself, fails to understand the intersection of both race and gender and how it negatively impacts Black women’s plight. Black women face racism as well as institutionalized and systematic racism ie housing discrimination, workplace discrimination, racial profiling, and sexism and misogyny in their own communities ie being called a bitch, hoe and thot, being street harassed, sexually assaulted etc. When this is brought up, many people don’t understand how both race and gender intersections to oppress Black women because many see racism as something Blacks(Black men) go through and sexism as something women(White women) go through. Worst of all, even some court cases in the past such as DeGraffenreid vs. General Motors.
Five Black women filed a case against General Motors for their seniority discrimination against Black women in their company. In this court case, DeGraffenreid vs. General Motors, failed to protect the Black women’s interest at heart in this case because according to the judges failed to understand how the intersection of both race and gender affected Black women’s livelihood in society. Here is an except about the case, DeGraffenreid vs. General Motors from Kimberle Crenshaw’s essay, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics:
”Plaintiffs have failed to cite any decisions which have stated that slack women are a special class to be protected from discrimination. The Courts own research has failed to disclose such a decision. The plaintiffs are clearly entitled to a remedy if they have been discriminated against. However they should not be allowed to combine statutory remedies to create a new super-remedy’ which would give them relief beyond what the drafters of the relevant statutes intended. Thus, this lawsuit must be examined to see if it states a cause of action for race discrimination, sex discrimination, or alternatively either, but not a combination of both.
The legislative history surrounding Title VII does not indicate that the goal of the statute was to create a new classification of ‘black women’ who would have greater standing than, for example, a black male. The prospect of the creation of new classes of protected minorities, governed only by the mathematical principles of permutation and combination, clearly raises the prospect of opening the hackneyed Pandora’s box.”
These excerpts from Kimberele Crenshaw’s essay were reasons why the judges in DeGraffenreid vs. General Motors ruled against these five Black women because of the lack of understanding of how race and gender intertwined for Black women. And the laws were put in place to favor and protect Black men if they were faced with racial discrimination and White women if they faced sexism. Thus leaving Black women feel unprotected and not even seen as people worth protecting because of them not fitting into the categories of racial or gender protection under the law.
How does class play a role in oppression against others especially Black women?
People who are of lower income background have less opportunities and advantages than their middle and upper class counterparts. A child born to parents of lower income is less likely to have opportunities to move up among the socio economic ladder in society, has less opportunities to get a good education and attend college, less likely to have access to adequate healthcare and more likely to end up teen parents, in and out of jail and develop behavioral problems. Of course, not all people of low income background end up in jail or have behavioral problems but being disenfranchisement with little money and representation increases the odds of developing behavioral problems, becoming a criminal, ending up a teen parent etc. Worst of all, many people look down on those who are of lower income background and blame their plight entirely on their perceived laziness without even knowing how it is like to be in that situation
Institutionalized and systematic oppression of those of lower income backgrounds also plays a role as well. Many people of low income backgrounds find themselves in jobs and occupations that doesn’t necessarily pay well. And since these people have jobs that doesn’t necessarily pay well, they have a hard time paying the bills. Many of these poor people find themselves getting poorer while the rich got richer. And many politicians have intended on cutting social and welfare programs that benefits people of low income background. Job discrimination and housing discrimination is rampant in these areas. Unfortunately many Black and brown women happen to be of low income background and face these disparities. And because of their lack of access to good schools, healthcare, jobs that pay well etc, many of them find themselves disenfranchised, frustrated and put down not only by society but by those in their own communities.
As for those of middle class and upper class background, these people are more likely to have access to good education, more access to better healthcare providers, more likely to go to college, more likely to get a good, well paying job etc. Those of middle class and upper class background are more likely to be treated with respect and seen as hard working, respectful people. I know that there are people from middle class backgrounds who have drug issues, are criminals or aren’t respect however overall, middle class and upper class people are treated with more respect than low income people. And I happen to be of middle class background and will be attending college soon. I am aware that there are many Black and brown women like myself who are from a middle class background. However what I realize is that the comforts me and other middle class Black women enjoy does come at the expense of those who live in low income areas and don’t have the privileges that me and other people have.
Most of all, the failure of mainstream anti racist and feminist circles to acknowledge how class and gender along with race intersection and play a role in oppressing others in society has caused a rife between Black women and others who are in these movements. The Twitter hashtags, SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and BlackPowerIsForBlackMen was a hot topic in the media for a while when Black women pointed out how they left that their narratives and voices were left out in mainstream feminist and anti racist circles. Thus this is why I why believe in intersection and why all segments of society should address how race, class and gender plays a role in oppressing others in society particularly Black women.