“There’s no sense muddying a discussion about gender with race,” I was once told. “We can talk about that later.”
Initially, I was taken aback. That comment, however insensitive it may have felt, was said without ill intent. But how could someone I respected so highly hit me with a classic line from the White Feminist Manifesto? Didn’t she know the impossibility of that request?
I went through several emotions: ignorance, shock, disbelief, and finally a confusing ball of sadness and anger. And, just as suddenly, I didn’t know how to feel, other than hurt.
With the Women’s March just days away, I couldn’t help but feel a great deal of anxiety that I will once again be expected to make my race a secondary focus.
This was a small section of a bigger conversation, but it spoke to a much larger phenomenon: the expectation of Black women to rank their relationship between race and womanhood. I am dually displaced. No group sees an urgent or immediate importance of my struggles.
This continues an overarching trend of black women not belonging to themselves. We are only useful for other’s interests. Each group only embraces us when we work for their cause.
Trying to separate my identities is like expecting water to rank its hydrogen and oxygen. Ranking my race over my gender is equally impossible- without both, I cannot be. My experiences are a product of both factors intertwined.
As a black woman, I have been seen as property throughout most of history- My everyday existence is political
Throughout history, we have been asked to pick a side, knowing that both typically disregard our full interests.
The Black man expects us to alienate ourselves from the women’s movement, abandon our concerns of gender, and stand with them. The white woman expects us to put race on the back burner, leaving our racially based experiences to be dealt with later. To be a woman first and a black person second.
It sounds convenient, but we cannot do that.
As a Black woman, my daily experiences are shaped through the dual lenses of womanhood AND blackness. That means when Black men are preoccupied with mass incarceration at disproportionate rates, I have to also consider the misogyny laced in the Black power movement. When white women tell me to protest sexual assault, I have to remember in the not- so-distant past, I was “unrapable” because my Blackness cancelled out my virtue.
As a BLACK WOMAN, I have to fear my son being a future hashtag because he is proportionately more likely to be killed by police but I also have to fear my future daughter getting her plaits cut because her Afro is “not acceptable.”
But this is not a new discussion.
It is reminiscent of a different era when the Black female presence was valued in the “movement” until the Black man had a potential of gaining privilege sooner. We started the race together, the only thing standing in your way of your right to vote was your womanhood.
But I had two hurdles to jump. We were embraced because of our womanhood with another condemned along with our men’s blackness. Did you not know you were also condemning me?
All that shocks me. It has been hundreds of years and there is still no support for the Black woman. Men degrade us by utilizing us for their pleasure and purposes, dismissing us when we are no longer of use.
The women’s rights movement utilizes us for our numbers but abandons us when we need them most, showing no concern for the disparities in our community. Used up and hurt, we have no safe haven. Recipients of the lowest of the low treatment.
Where is the black man, when the white man devalues us? We fought for you when they came after you for cat calls.. When the black man is killed, we rallied and protested.
Where is the white woman, when the black man abandons us? We were there for you when you needed our voice. When the white woman is concerned with reproductive rights, we voiced our support.
When white women’s virtue was threatened our men were killed for it or like today, they are hung by the judicial system. When the black woman was raped and forced to carry the master’s child- our men were full of fear, and white women were full of resentment.
We fight so hard to further another’s cause. But who shall stand for the black woman?
After coming to terms with the conversation, I had nothing to do but cry. For the hundredth time in my life, I had to explain my identity and for the hundredth time, I felt silenced. In the midst of my tears, I remembered: There have been many to walked this path throughout the centuries.
Those who are felt dually trapped and ostracized. I found comfort in my ancestors’ shared experiences.
Suddenly, I recalled I was not alone in the fight for injustice. My community reminded me my experiences were, in fact, valid and that I do not have to choose. Looking back, I’m proud of myself. I spoke to what I felt and made it clear that I would not choose or be silenced.