Danny Hales/ACLU of Virginia
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, and the way they expect us to do so. 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 feminists’ organizations often use critiques about injustices within their spaces by tokenizing Black women, doing so without aligning themselves with Black liberation. Last year, I was invited to be on the committee of the Women’s March in Richmond after I called on the organization to do better when it comes to supporting intersectionality, womanism and Black feminism. A couple of organizers claimed that it would be great if they had young people on the committee. However, they didn’t ask much from me, besides recruiting another young speaker. While I did get some support for speaking up about womanism from Black women who were my comrades, I faced censorship when I spoke up about intersectionality. I was also met with awkward silence from many Black women, women of color and white women who were organizers, when I asked if we were going to hold white women accountable for their actions; and ironically, a Black woman who said “Not all white women.” My speech about womanism, and my experiences being excluded by white “activists,” was placed near the very end of the event. At the march, I got some disapproving looks from white women over the sign I held quoting Alice Walker.
Even when Black women are given “a seat at the table,” holding white women accountable for their anti-Blackness often is often met with accusations of generalizing, antagonizing and excluding white women. Some of us are tokenized, which happens when marginalized people are used by privileged people to appear “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. It’s up to us as Black women to build our own spaces.
Stephanie Younger is a 17-year-old who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.