“Instead of looking to our oppressors for “a seat at the table,” we have to recognize the impact in organizing our own movements; not movements that replicate the liberalism of the mainstream feminist movement, but movements that prioritize the abolition of the white supremacist capitalist system, and the liberation of all Black folks,” – Stephanie Younger
Danny Hales/ACLU of Virginia
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 same way they showed up for the Women’s March, and the way they expect us to do so in return. So many of us have dealt with self-proclaimed “feminists” and “allies” who watched other white women direct their violence towards us. Before, during, and after the first Women’s March, so many Black women dealt with being erased from our work, isolation, being accused of “acting out” when we question the injustices we face.
“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
Let alone outright exclusion, mainstream feminist organizations often co-opt critiques regarding the injustices that exist within their movement, by tokenizing Black women and maintaining the status quo within their spaces instead of aligning themselves with Black liberation. In the fall of 2018, I was invited to be on the committee of the Women’s March in Richmond, Virginia after I called on the organization to do better when it comes to intersectionality, centering the voices of womanists and Black feminists, and making Black liberation a key priority. A couple of organizers claimed that it would be great if they had a young person on the committee. 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 for speaking up, I was met with awkward silence, not only from white women, but also many organizers who were Black women and women of color—one of organizers being a Black woman who said, “Not all white women,” and “we don’t want to exclude white women” by calling out white feminism and holding white women accountable for their complicity in the oppression of Black people. 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.
Progressive movements led by white feminists — including feminists of color who have the same politic as white feminists — have no interest in Black liberation, especially when they’re refusing to challenge the status quo and change the environment of their movements. 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 who our struggle for their personal gain, challenging their intentions is often met with censorship—let alone outright exclusion— and refusals to enact material change. Instead of looking to our oppressors for “a seat at the table,” we have to recognize the impact in organizing our own movements; not movements that replicate the liberalism of the mainstream feminist movement, but movements that prioritize the abolition of the white supremacist capitalist systems as a means to Black liberation.
Stephanie Younger is a 17-year-old who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.