There are 64,000 Black women (and girls) missing in the United States right now. That is according to YouTuber, Gazi Kodzo in his new video below, “Dear White feminists, Black women are busy!” His style is funny, witty, and informative.
Putting my academic hat on, I of course resolved to do the fact-checking on many of the statistics. But that one especially stuck out to me. Kodzo is right. I heard about this a few years ago in 2012 when I believe the Daily Mail looked into it. But I do not consider the Daily Mail a credible source of information, and my socio-political focus being elsewhere at the time, I did not look into it further. But I want to know where all those Black women are. I want to know why so many of them were barely mentioned in national news. I want to know why, as Kodzo states, there is an epidemic of unarmed Black women also being killed by police. But unlike Black men, it has not been on our national radar.
Does (White, mainstream) feminism not see Black women? And does #BlackLivesMatter only apply to Black men? So while I cannot answer for where these women are, their absence, and the racialized sexism, and intersectional prejudices that Black women face, is why Intersectional feminism matters.
When the hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen first came out, I recall seeing predictable comments from some White women. They wanted all women of colour and in particular, Black women to be “nicer,” “kinder,” you know, “less angry.” Now though a lot of women of colour were frustrated by this, myself included, it was not surprising. There is tons of Black feminist scholarship available on the kinds of reactions White women often have to Black feminism or WoC feminism; often seen as “too militant,” and not creating enough of a “feel-good” atmosphere for White women. I have witnessed it first-hand in my critiques of White feminism.
The reality however, is that in the space of feminism, White women’s privilege is often highlighted by a desire to center and lead the conversation. The result of this is that issues that pertain to women of colour in general (i.e. racialized sexism), and specific groups of women of colour, often go ignored. The result being that it is not uncommon to find that many women of colour have completely and totally rendered feminism useless to them. Sometimes taking part instead in Womanism, the brainchild of Alice Walker, who developed the social theory and movement as a response to intersectional oppression. Other women of colour, have chosen racialized civil rights as their activist approach.
Of course the civil rights movement and it’s consequence for society, has long been criticized by women of colour for negating their issues and centering on those that mostly men face. Some of these criticisms are met with disdain and accuse women of colour of “slowing down the movement,” by joining feminism. Prior to developing Intersectional feminism, it seemed that women of colour and especially Black women who were always at the forefront of activism (however much mainstream history wishes to erase them), were being forced to choose. In 2015, sometimes it still feels like Black women and all women of colour are being asked to choose. But they shouldn’t have to.
I will admit that I did not watch the Oscars and only heard about the aftermath of events in the days after. I heard about the remarks Patricia Arquette made regarding equal pay whilst receiving her award. And I heard about her backstage remarks. The latter of course was (rightly) vehemently critiqued. Asking women of colour and other marginalized groups to leave “behind” their causes and “fight” for White women’s rights is not exactly what Patricia Arquette said, but it was what these groups heard. I was irritated at the commentary but I was not surprised. But I also noted how though many were quick to point out Arquette’s deeply problematic remarks, less people noticed how John Lennon and Common’s #BlackLivesMatter public activism on stage was centered around Black men. It wasn’t problematic and was (rightly) acclaimed but once again, it seemed that Black women were ommitted.
It is of course easy to criticize anything. I should know, I do it all the time in my academic work – it is what I am trained to do. And beyond these academic spaces, and in public ones, it often seems as if we criticize too much. To the point where perfection becomes the enemy of the good. But the truth is all of us, all our views, lay, academics, public figures, etc. should not be free from critique. That is how we grow and that is how become better at what we do. We can love something and criticize it at the same time. Still, we cannot achieve much in the way of activism for people however we choose to do so, if we are always fearful of what we might do wrong. But when someone points us in the direction of widening our space to be more inclusive of others, should we not listen and learn, if we are indeed invested and interested in making space for those others?
Intersectional feminism is able to unpack particular sexism that mainstream feminism is simply not able to – and do so even beyond race. Intersectional feminism is able to see that WoC have their own concerns that White women may not have and cannot speak to; that the concerns of poor, middle-class, and rich women are not the same, and that there are a whole hosts of concerns for how women in marginalized sexual orientations, are oppressed. Intersectional feminism is able to recognize why #BlackWomensLivesMatter.
Now I too am still trying to fit in and refine how to make feminism “work” for me; if I can even fit into it. As a practicing Catholic, and a Black African, I simply cannot claim to be on board with all the views of Western and particular American feminists – Black or White. And if feminism is not the right path for my own activism, then perhaps new language is needed (as Walker did with “womanism”). But either way my women’s work will recognize the importance of intersectionality. Because it is vital to recognizing the humanity of so many.
As Gazi pointed out in his video, and as a woman with my particular intersections of identity, I am a tad busy. Yes, I am quite frustrated at the notion that I may be earning less than my White, male (and female) counterparts in the same industries and professions. Indeed, I am quite cognizant of it; it is on my radar. And when WoC are included in leading that fight, I will be the first one suited up. I know that our goals are not mutually exclusive but it does appear that our approaches are, as is the importance we give particular concerns.
And in my current brand of women’s activism, I want to advocate for these 64,000 sisters and the many more who are socially located in the most disadvantaged positions. More so, I am still trying to find kidnapped daughters of my country and continent, see to it that they are adequately fed, ensure that they are kept in school, and keep vile, immoral terrorists and men old enough to be their grandfathers, from stealing their childhood.
So I’m sorry Patty, your 22 cents will simply have to wait.