The Long Legacy of Anti-Blackness within the Mainstream Feminist Movement

By Stephanie Younger •

This year, the Black Lives Matter chapter in Los Angeles, California was excluded by the Women’s March in LA. In an article for LA progressive, Melina Abdullah, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA, wrote an article detailing the harm caused by the Women’s March.

“Beyond the specific harms, BLMLA has been compelled to challenge the liberal White-supremacy practiced by WMLA: the same kind of anti-Black feminism employed by White and privileged women during the suffrage and liberal feminist eras. While some powerful Black women political leaders have been invited and their voices are important, as currently scheduled, the stage will be devoid of any Black women grassroots leaders.”

“Black Lives Matter–Los Angeles Excluded from Women’s March Los Angeles,” by Melina Abdullah for LA Progressive

The Women’s March’s exclusion of Black liberationists reflects a long legacy of anti-Blackness within the feminist movement that must be addressed. 2020 marks 100 years since the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving white women the right to vote, and excluding Black women who weren’t allowed to vote until 1965. Black women were even placed in the back of marches calling for the ratification of the 19th Amendment. In 2018, Miami University associate professor Tammy L. Brown wrote an article for the ACLU, about the racism ingrained in the Women’s Suffrage movement.

“When suffragists gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848, they advocated for the right of white women to vote. The participants were middle and upper-class white women, a cadre of white men supporters and one African-American male — Frederick Douglass.  The esteemed abolitionist had forged a strong working relationship with fellow abolitionists and white women suffragists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. No Black women attended the convention. None were invited.”

“Celebrate Women’s Suffrage, but Don’t Whitewash the Movement’s Racism,” Tammy L. Brown for ACLU

Like the (white) women’s Suffrage Movement, Black women are often expected to support movements like the Women’s March, but we rarely get that same support in return. Some white women who claim to be our allies do not show up for Black women the same way they showed up for the Women’s March. Nearly three years ago, a robotics team, coached by a white women, attempted to talk me out of being a programmer, not only because of their sexism, but also their anti-Blackness. The more I refused to let them talk me out of it, the more overt their racism became. A few days after Trump was elected, I first heard about the Women’s March by a white girl (the only other female programmer and self-proclaimed “feminist”), who asked me to attend the march with her. Weeks later, she did nothing as she watched me being erased from my work, isolated, and stereotyped and having my hair touched without my permission. When I asked her why she didn’t use her white privilege to hold another white woman accountable for her anti-Blackness, she said, “I’m really sorry you feel that way.”

In an article for Bustle, Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro detailed the ways white feminism exists, including the ways white women deny its existence, tone police, don’t listen to and tokenize Black women and women of color.

“If you include women of color in events or discussions for the sake of appearing diverse, but you are not actually helping to make actionable change, you’re probably tokenizing them. There are many ways in which white feminists tokenize people of color, and if you are unsure if you are doing this, simply ask yourself: Are you including women of color just to keep from being seen or perceived as exclusionary? If that is your main priority, you’re probably being tokenizing — and that’s white feminist AF.”

“7 Ways White Feminism Is Sneaking Into Your Life,” by Kyli Rodriguez-Cary for Bustle

Rodriguez-Cayro’s article exemplifies an experience I had last year with the Women’s March. Months after the march in attended in Richmond, VA in 2018, I called on the organization to do better when it comes to intersectionality. A couple of organizers insisted that it would be great if they had one young [Black] person join the organizing committee in Richmond. While I was supported by other Black women for my message about womanism, my voice was suppressed to an extent. They didn’t ask much from me, other than recruiting another young speaker. When asked if we were going to hold white women accountable for upholding white supremacy, I was also met with awkward silence from many Black women, women of color and white women who were also organizers; and ironically, a Black woman who said “Not all white women.” On top of getting disapproving looks from multiple white women over the sign I held quoting Alice Walker, my speech was placed near the very end of the event.

Photo courtesy of ACLU of Virginia

Even when Black women are given “a seat at the table,” some of us are often accused of generalizing, antagonizing and excluding white women as a whole for holding them accountable for their anti-Blackness at that table. Some of us are tokenized, which happens when marginalized people are used by privileged people to look “more diverse,” without ensuring that our voices are heard. I won’t forget about the fact that white supremacy continued to be upheld by white women, including the 52% of white female voters that helped elect Trump. I most certainly won’t forget about white liberal feminists masquerading as “allies,” who continue to exclude us from their causes. I find power in building spaces for us and by us, and creating our own language, like Kimberle Crenshaw’s definition of intersectionality, Alice Walker’s definition of womanism.

Stephanie Younger is a 17-year-old who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.

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Black Feminist Collective is an intergenerational group that stands for Black liberation in its entirety, centering the voices of Black feminists and womanists.

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