“Instead of looking to said progressive movements that will never challenge the status quo within their spaces for “a seat at the table” with our oppressors, we have to recognize the impact in organizing our own movements; not movements that embody the liberalism and individualism of the mainstream feminist movement, but movements that prioritize the abolition of the white supremacist capitalist system as a means to Black liberation,” – Stephanie Younger
By Stephanie Younger •
This year, a 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. White women who claim to be our allies do not show up for Black women the way they expected us to show up for the Women’s March. Before, during, and after the Women’s March in 2017, so many Black women dealt with isolation, being erased from our work, and being accused of “acting out” when we question the injustices we face, while many self-proclaimed “allies” simply watched other white women direct that violence towards us. Black women are facing violence by the state, while the self-proclaimed “allies” are using us as stepping stones to become part of the establishment in the name of “protecting [their] democracy.”
However, let alone outright exclusion, the mainstream feminist movement often co-opts critiques regarding anti-Blackness that exists within the movement, by tokenizing Black women, while putting zero effort into being accountable to us. In an article published on Bustle in 2018, Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro wrote, “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-Cayro for Bustle
Rodriguez-Cayro’s article speaks to my own experiences I’ve had with the Women’s March. After I called on the organization based in Richmond, Virginia make intersectionality and Black liberation key priorities, two organizers invited me to be on the organizing committee, claiming that it would be great if they included a young person. Hoping that they would prioritize intersectional Black liberation, I accepted their invitation. However, they didn’t ask much from me, other than recruiting another young speaker. While I was supported by Black women who are my comrades, I was met with awkward silence, not only by white women, but also from most of the organizers who were Black women and women of color—one of the organizers being a Black woman who said, “Not all white women,” and “we don’t want to exclude white women.” At last year’s march, I got some disapproving looks from white women over the sign I created I held quoting Alice Walker’s definition of womanism. I faced censorship when my speech about womanism and my experiences being silenced by progressive movements was placed near the very end of the event, when much fewer people were there to listen.
White supremacy continues to be upheld by white women, not only by 52% of white female voters who elected Trump in 2016, but also the white liberal feminists masquerading as our “allies.” When Black liberationists are given “a seat at the table” by progressive movements led by white feminists masquerading as our “allies”—including feminists of color who have the same politic as white feminists—challenging their intentions is often met with censorship, let alone outright exclusion. Instead of looking to said progressive movements that will never challenge the status quo within their spaces for “a seat at the table” with our oppressors, we have to recognize the impact in organizing our own movements; not movements that embody the liberalism and individualism of the mainstream feminist movement, but movements that prioritize the abolition of the white supremacist capitalist system as a means to Black liberation.
Stephanie Younger is a 17-year-old who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.