My goal for this week is to dedicate this week to women and various topics along the spectrum. I touched on something from the Bible regarding womanhood, I spoke on the Wonder Woman movie and today I wanted to talk about allyship, feminism, and intersectionality.
I’ve been thinking for the past few months about leadership and coalition building. How do you connect with people of different histories and demographics enough to assist in their cause? The more time I spent thinking, the more I’ve realized that there will always be separation between myself and those other groups. Can I really be ally? Is there even such a thing?
Last year sometime, I went to a house party with a couple of friends. Sometime throughout the party, I was stopped by a white woman who was trying her best to make small talk. She saw myself and another well dressed black man and decided to make conversation. She was under the influence but pleasant enough that it didn’t seem wrong to entertain the dialog. That was until she asked, “Are you a feminist?”
This question is always loaded to me. Depending on who asks and where we are, it changes the level of response I feel comfortable enough to give. I wasn’t planning on maintaining this series of questioning so I responded “no” and tried to move on. That’s when things got messy and she replies, “I don’t mean to be offensive, but I don’t understand why you’re not a feminist? You’re black.”
At that moment, the amount of frustration, annoyance, and disbelief washed over me. I took a deep breath and responded to her the best way I could after five malt beverages. I am not a feminist because the feminist movement is a rather one-dimensional movement that inherently omits and devalues the concept of intersectionality. Black women have been historically ignored and exploited in this movement while having their plights neglected. “Don’t divide us” and similar sentiment about putting feminism before their own troubles bothers me as black and brown women rot in jails.
I debated going into the creation of the feminist movement being a response to Black Voting rights or how daughters of the confederate/women KKK members have historically wanted support for their issues but still chose whiteness before sex/gender with other groups. The feminist movement never supported Blackness or Queer identity and discarded their support once they achieved their personal goals. I had so much to say, but it came out as, “feminism doesn’t support black women nearly enough and I can’t support anything fully that doesn’t support them”.
She looked at me dumbfounded and offended. She didn’t like that I wasn’t connecting to her “activist spirit” and wasn’t going to give her a cookie when black and brown women are the most oppressed and exploited groups in America. She asked me, “Don’t you care about equal pay?”
I answer her question with another question, “Did you know that Black and Brown men and women both earn less than their white peers?”.
She gets frustrated and shouts, “But we are both oppressed!”
I respond to her, “We don’t get the same support in return. I will always support the feminist movement but I will not claim something that doesn’t claim a reflection of me.”
She was upset and muttered under her breath some expletives and went off to the next black male that would give her attention. The entire moment made me pause. I started to reflect on this moment about how “allies” position themselves center to conflict and cause. I thought about how her causes ranked first and thought about how many times I’ve heard the “exclusionary” argument combined with conditional support.
I recently thought about how having a Black Lives Matter Black-only meeting and Memorial Day Celebration created such a stir. I think about how many people were upset about a women-only screening of Wonder Woman and how that is seemed to be worse than the actual discriminatory practices in housing, medicine, and schooling. I started to think about spaces for women to be women, and how does my allyship affect that?
It doesn’t. I am not included in the thinking necessary for evaluating womanhood. I am not someone they need to check in with and my opinion frankly doesn’t matter to that extent. Women are free to be women, just as much as men are free to be men. I believe true allyship has become a dangerous thing because people seek confirmation and affirmation for doing something they should naturally want to do.
I don’t need to be in your spaces to support you. Just because I support LGBT struggles doesn’t mean I have to be in the midst of every LGBT event or issue. My job is to be where you cannot be and combat oppression where you can’t. My job is to assist when you want me to and not make myself central to every conversation surrounded your plight. We can be united without it always being about my comfort and identity. Some spaces and things are yours and I can appreciate that for what is. It’s your space. Allies out there, remember to support and embrace a person without letting your ego take center stage. It’s better that way.
Turn your Brightness Up!