By Stephanie Younger •
Many institutions fail to educate people about Black liberation and the feminist movement from the narratives Black women, Black girls and Black non-binary people, who are often discredited for their work on the frontlines of Black liberation—which is often centered around cishet Black men, and mainstream feminism—which often centers cishet white women. While many marginalized groups are already degraded for standing for their rights, Black women, Black girls and Black non-binary people are often told that we should be remorseful of their voices when we speak out, which calls for intersectionality and womanism. I am grateful to be part of a generation where Kimberle Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, Alice Walker’s definition of womanism, and other movements led by Black feminists are building a socially and politically just society.
Intersectionality is a term that was first coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who is the founder of the African American Policy Forum. Intersecionality analyzes how racism, sexism, homophobia and many other interconnected forms of oppression exist at the same time. With the African American Policy Forum, Crenshaw launched the #SayHerName Campaign which directs attention to violence against Black women in 2014.
“I began to use the term “intersectionality” to deal with the fact that many of our social justice problems, like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice…We have to be willing to bear witness…to the…everyday violence and humiliation that many Black women have had to face, Black women across color, age, gender expression, sexuality and ability.”Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Ted Talk “The Urgency of Intersectionality” (2016)
Best known for her novel “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker is a writer, author, poet and activist who coined the term “womanist” in her book “In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden” published in 1983. There are four different definitions of womanism in which she defines as a Black feminist who is “committed to survival and wholeness of entire people.”
1. From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.
Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or non-sexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally universalist…
2. “A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non-sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength.
3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.”
4. “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.”“In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose” by Alice Walker (1983)
Enjoli Moon is the founder and creative director of the Afrikana Independent Film Festival, based in Richmond, VA, which unites communities by “showcasing the cinematic works of people of color from around the world.” The film festival has a Noir Cinema Series which presents short films created “by and about people of color.” Afrikana features an annual event on Black History Month called “An Evening with an Icon” which has featured activists and artists like Sonia Sanchez, Julie Dash, and most recently, Angela Davis. During the summer, the film festival features an outdoor “Starry Night Cinema” at the Historic Tredegar at the American Civil War Museum and presents “feature-length films.”
“It’s important that we have diverse voices, authentic voices in different forms of art that are represented, and we think that Afrikana gives a platform for that.”Enjoli Moon in an interview with Virginia This Morning
Alicia Garza is a community organizer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, who is passionate about uplifting women, domestic workers, the LGBTQ+ community and the Black community. She serves as a director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Garza is also known for being one of the three co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Global Network. In 2013, Garza wrote what she calls, “A Love Letter to Black People,” in light of the acquittal of the officer who killed Trayvon Martin. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” soon went viral.
“When Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman— this was a case where a child had literally been stalked and killed steps away from home— the conversation that was happening in the media was “What did Trayvon do to cause his own death?” When it was announced that the jury acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges, it actually felt like I got punched in the gut. So I went on social media to try to find words for what was happening, and what I wanted in that moment was some love for us. I wrote a love letter to Black people on Facebook and I said,
“Black people, I love you. I love us. We Matter. Our Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter.”Black Lives Matter: How a Hashtag Defined a Movement | Define American
Patrisse Cullors is an LA-Based artist, organizer, and freedom fighter who advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and has been a community organizer since she was 16. Being the founder of Dignity and Power Now, she is also an advocate for prison abolition, and the work of Cullors is ignited by the criminalization her close family members have experienced. Also known for being one of the three co-founders of Black Lives Matter, Cullors transformed Alicia Garza’s “Love Letter to Black people” into a hashtag.
“When I was 28 years old, and created the local organization Dignity and power Now, we took on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department ten years after my brother was brutalized by them. Our main demand was to fight for civilian oversight of that department, and we won it. Even though I’d been organizing already for about ten years I was like, “this sh*t works.” Organizing actually works. We can save our communities we can take the boot off their neck just a little bit more. This was our moment for justice. This was my family’s moment for sure for justice, and it was incredible.”Patrisse Cullors in an interview with Fusion (2016)
Opal Tometi is a Nigerian-American writer and an organizer around immigration rights, as she is the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), whose mission is to “initiate vibrant dialogues with African Americans and Black immigrants to discover more about race, our diverse identities, racism, migration and globalization.” Also being one of the three co-founders of Black Lives Matter, and after Patrisse Cullors made Black Lives Matter into a hashtag, Tometi amplified the hashtag into a movement, which has mobilized millions of people into taking action against police brutality to this day.
“Anti-Black racism is not only happening in the United States. It’s actually happening all across the globe. And what we need now more than ever is a human rights movement that challenges systemic racism in every single context. We need this because the global reality is that Black people are subject to all sorts of disparities in most of our most challenging issues of our day. I think about issues like climate change, and how six of the 10 worst impacted nations by climate change are actually on the continent of Africa. People are reeling from all sorts of unnatural disasters, displacing them from their ancestral homes and leaving them without a chance at making a decent living. “Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi’s interview with Mia Birdsong at TedWomen 2016
Black abolitionist feminist Angela Davis doesn’t simply talk about how the privatized prison system targets Black people. Many people didn’t appreciate the fact that she taught classes at UCLA, and bombarded Dr. Davis with racist hate-mail. In an attempt to funnel her out of the university, she was incarcerated for a crime she never committed, for two years before being found innocent. The controversy ignited a worldwide movement called “Free Angela.” Professor Davis is currently a professor at UCLA and an inspiration to many and continues her advocacy for Black feminism and abolition.
“Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.”“Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Davis (2003)
Kat Blaque is a Black trans LGBTQ+ youth advocate and graphic designer who uses social media as a platform to discuss the intersections of race, gender and sexuality. Kat Blaque has contributed to websites such as Everyday Feminism and Huffington Post’s Black Voices, and hosts a series called True Tea, where she answers her followers’ questions about the intersections of racism, misogyny, transphobia, and inequality in general.
“I’m a woman, I’m black, I’m curvy and I’m trans. There are a lot of things that I deal with. When I talk about those things, I am literally talking about my embodiment of these intersections.”Kat Blaque in an interview with Florida Dame of the Huffington Post
Amandla Stenberg is an 18-year-old nonbinary actor who is outspoken about cultural appropriation, the intersections Blackness has with sexuality and gender, who will soon star in the movie, Everything, Everything. In 2011, a then 12-year-old Amandla Stenberg portrayed Rue in The Hunger Games (2012) and became the target of anti-black racism and backlash. By 16, Stenberg was using their platform to speak out against cultural appropriation. Notably, they created a viral video, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows: A Crash Course on Cultural Appropriation,” and Stenberg frequently uses their platform on social media to speak out about representation.
“Black feminine sexuality is a tender spot – tender with deep-rooted suppression and taboo – the effects of which are pervasive. The stigma surrounding it are embedded in American infrastructure and psyche, as evidenced by the ways Black women are sexually assaulted and treated by police – an act that goes frequently unreported by the media. When the media is not ignoring Black women all together, they are disparaging them. As a culture shifts and racial tensions are tested through a vehicle called the #BlackLivesMatter movement, it is important to question: Do female black lives matter too?”Amandla Stenberg on Instagram
12-year-old Mikaila Ulmer is the founder and CEO of Me & the Bees Lemonade. Inspired by her great-grandmother’s 1940’s Flax-seed Lemonade recipe, Mikaila founded her own business when she was four years old after being stung by a bee, and wanted to learn more. Ulmer invests a portion of the profits to support organizations that advocate for our environment, and volunteers her time educating youth about the importance of uplifting our ecosystem.
“What I would tell to other kids to inspire them is [that] if you want to create a business, create a business that you have a passion for; because the more passionate you are about what you do, the more fun you have while doing it; and then I would also say to ask for help because there’s always gonna be hope.”Mikaila Ulmer in an interview with Union Bank
Marley Dias noticed the low amount of representation of Black female protagonists in literature. In November of 2015, she set a goal to collect 1000 books with Black female protagonists in three months and launched #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign.
“I decided to start a campaign where Black girls are the main characters, and I think this is important because when you see someone you can relate to in a book, you’ll normally remember the things that they learn so then you can use them in your life to make your life better.”Marley Dias in a featured story on AJ+
Dias’ book drive went viral on social media and young readers across the globe wanted to participate. She is now 12, and will soon publish a book about activism in 2018, which will guide youth to positively make change, through volunteerism, social justice, and using social media.
In 2011, Kimberly Bryant, an electrical engineer, founded Black Girls Code a non-profit whose mission is to change the face of technology by “exposing girls of color and in underrepresented communities to STEM.” While there’s been much progress in closing the racial disparity in S.T.E.M, Bryant emphasizes the need for bridging this gap in this field, and acts representation into existence.
“By launching Black Girls Code, I hope to provide young and pre-teen girls of color opportunities to learn in-demand skills in technology and computer programming at a time when they are naturally thinking about what they want to be when they grow up.”Kimberly Bryant on what inspired her to create Black Girls Code
Best known for portraying Zoey Johnson on the ABC show black-ish, and Yara Shahidi is a 17-year-old actress who uses social media to stand by what she believes in. Last year, she delivered a compelling speech about how her art and activism go hand-in-hand.
“I’ve been an actress for over ten years, but more importantly, a budding humanitarian and activist all of my life…It is through my art I have purposely chosen to express my activism because I believe that my Dharma, my purpose, and my personal work are centered around gaining equality and parity through art…Art plus activism, in any and all forms, is a powerful statement that can spread a message that transcends the barriers and limitations of our different realities to reveal the commonality of our shared human existence.”Yara Shahidi’s Points of Light speech, “The Spirit of Art and Activism” 2016
Franchesca Ramsey, also known as Chescaleigh is a writer and a comedian who first went viral on social media when she turned a popular YouTube meme (Sh*t White Girls Say…to Black Girls) into a lasting, global conversation about things white women say to Black women and girls that intentionally, or unintentionally marginalize us. Ramsey is the host of Decoded, an MTV Web Series that creates a platform to discuss politics, as well as the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.
“The idea that talking about race or racism is thus perpetuating the problem is absolutely ridiculous. You can’t fix a problem without talking about it!”– Franchesca Ramsey on her YouTube channel, “Chescaleigh”
Stephanie Younger is a 14-year-old writer based in Central Virginia.