By Sydney Ann Johnson
It’s not Feminism, if it’s not Intersectional!
Intersectionality remains to be a fuzzy subject for many when discussing systemic oppression, many people aren't aware of it's complexity in regards to marginalized groups of people. The word “Intersectionality” is a fairly new term but the phenomenon it's self is not a new experience to oppressed groups of people. The only difference now is that we have a word to actually articulate the experience to others who may not be as informed.
Legal scholar, Kimbele Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989. Intersectionality is the overlapping of different forms of discrimination, such as race, gender and class combined. Crenshaw argues that multiple forms of oppression occur at once. Below is a quote from her essay Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics
“Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. . . . But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.”
Understanding the importance of intersectionality and how it functions in different social institutions and constructs, sheds light upon the current lack of awareness within social and political movements here in the United States and around the globe. Crenshaw also states, that since the intersectional experience is greater than the totality of racism and sexism, any evaluation that does not consider intersectionality cannot adequately address the specific way in which black women are subordinated.
Feminist advocate for women’s rights on the point of equality between the two sexes, but fail to recognize the distinct forms of oppression that women of color experience. The feminist movement can be broken down into two waves, the first came in the 19th century after Seneca Falls which got the ball moving for “Women’s Suffrage”. One of the main goals of the Suffrage movement was to create more opportunities for women during the age of urban industrialism. The second wave took place in the 20th century, which was jolted into motion largely by the white educated middle-class women, which in return defined the kind of issues they were concerned about. Each wave of the feminist movement did not consider issues relevant specifically to black women and other women of color. Feminists were color blind to the struggles and realties black woman endured in society. Sojourner Truth gave a speech in 1851 at a women’s right convention in Ohio which was titled “Ain’t I a Woman?” Her speech implied that “woman” meant “white woman” shedding light on the absence of inclusivity concerning the racial subjection of the black women. These historical truths of our past have greatly impacted the way our society treats people of African descent, while failing to acknowledge the intersectional experiences of an already oppressed group of people.
White women are marginalized to some extent within the context of a patriarchal society but still find favor because we are living in a white- patriarchal society. Their white privilege enables them to overlook the struggles of people of color that are oppressed by multiple forms of oppression. Some might even argue that feminism mirrors what a tantrum looks like when a housewife protest doing the dishes after her family eats dinner, when held up in comparison to the issues black women have endured from the time the first slave ships touched the shores of United States. Black women from the time of enslavement had no control over their bodies, which made them subject to rape and other forms of sexual abuse at any time. Considering that the black woman made her entrance into American society by force rather than by choice because she was a slave, illustrates how absurd it is to think that the feminist movement will have any inclusivity to issues other than gender inequality, because the dehumanization of black people was never the reality of the white women in American society.
While white women were fighting for their liberties, black people were fighting for their humanity. The feminist movement seems to embody this “one size fits all” approach when advocating on the issues it seeks to overcome, while blatantly ignoring others such as the economic disparity between whites and blacks. Many feminist advocates for equal pay between men and women, but pay no heed to the fact that blacks still earn less to their white counterparts at every education level.
Poet and activist Alice Walker, famously known for her book The Color Purple came up with the term “Womanism.” She goes on to say that “womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender”. A womanist basis her identity on the connection she has with her community, and the relationships with her family and the black man, all of which were attacked and destroyed during and after slavery here in the United States. A womanist seeks the freedom and deliverance of her people, while a feminist looks to satisfy her liberation alone, on the basis of achieving equality between the two sexes. Purple in comparison to lavender is a deeper, darker hue that can produce lighter variations of itself, such as lavender. In other word, the struggles that the feminist movement seeks to overcome are issues that black women are concerned about, but racial inequality coats every issue that a black woman encounters, which is unlike the plight of a feminist.
However, there are some distinct differences between a womanist and a black feminist which is another conversation for another day. A womanist differs from a black feminist because her views more so encompass family values in their practices. Womanism focuses on working together with her male partner to help alleviate different issues, while also placing more attention on racism first then sexism, because racism effects them both harshly. Racism is something the black man can relate to more than issues concerning reproductive rights. Womanism also holds onto principles tied closely to spirituality and religion. Black feminism on the other hand, is more so exclusive to the United States and focuses its attention on truly freeing the black woman because she is the lowest on the totem pole in white society, arguing in doing so everyone else will be free as well.
What both groups do have in common is their use of the intersectional lens in their approach to identify and overcome issues experienced by marginalized groups of people, while the feminist movement does not take intersectionality into account when advocating for change.