Sistas, White Woman Won’t Save You So Why Are You Still Feminist

Malik Shakur

73% of the American population is white. During the 2020 election season, 56% of white women voted for a racist, bigoted, sexist, misogynistic president. So the question Black and Brown women must ask themselves is, is being a part of the feminist movement the best movement to meet their wants, needs, and desires… it is not.

I have a long-held belief that Feminism is a white space for White women. Black and Brown bodies are only needed to make the organizational movement seem more extensive and more powerful. These same White women use celebrities’ power to trick Black and Brown women into believing we are all in this together, and if we stand together, we can make a better space and place in the future for our sisters’ mothers and daughters. But if 56% of American white women can vote and support Donald Trump, you now need to know your needs, wants, and desires will never be considered in the feminist movement.

Let’s look up the definition of “Feminism” in the dictionary. You’ll see statements like:

Feminism is:

  1. The advocacy of women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes,
  2. The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,
  3. The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, and
  4. The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equivalent to those of men Feminism, at its core, is about equality of men and women, not “sameness.”

But if this is so, how is this possible if Black and White people aren’t equal.

It is virtually impossible to achieve equality for women if part of the demographics historically is seen as less than that of White women. The divide between White women and Women of Color can be traced back to Feminism’s very beginnings as a movement.

Although at the start, the goal of Feminism was to win equality and suffrage for women, already in the nineteenth century, it became clear that there were two separate women’s movements since White women refused to support Black women’s struggle for their rights. For example, in the U.S., White women, especially in the South, built their egos by oppressing Black women who were at the bottom of the social ladder (i.e., powered by Jim Crow and the continue remembernce of slavery). This refusal of White women to acknowledge Black women’s fundamental rights can be found in many testimonies of slave women such as Harriet Jacobs and Harriet Wilson.

In her famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” Sojourner Truth questioned White women’s policies and demanded equal rights for all women. Frances Harper emphasized the painful choice Black women had to make during their struggle for suffrage in the 19th century since they had to seek the support of either of the Black men who demanded their right to vote or White women. Since White women rejected Black women’s claim to the same civil and political rights, they decided to support Black men in their struggle. This meant postponing the attainment of their rights because if they included Black women, it would elevate Women of Color to their status, which would be unacceptable.

Feminists accepted patriarchal policy and built their dominance at the expense of Women of Color’s gains by distancing themselves from them and excluding their work. A key aspect of White women’s privilege has been their ability to assume that they spoke of all women when they talked about themselves. Many White feminists have unthinkingly generalized from their situation, ignoring Black women’s experiences, or treating them as marginal and “different.” Many have also projected western concerns and priorities onto the rest of the world, measuring “progress” according to western liberal standards and identifying a global patriarchal system through which “differences are treated as local variations on a universal theme.”

Dennis E. Showalter, who charted parallel histories of African American and feminist literary criticism and theory, ascertained that they remained separate and that the Other Woman, the silenced partner in feminist criticism, has always been the Black woman. Eminent African American writers and scholars such as Barbara Christian, Mary Helen Washington, Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker kept pointing out that racism became part of Feminism and feminist scholarship. According to the author of Womanism (Alice Walker), begrudged feminists for not perceiving Women of Color as women, but as a completely different species, thus reserving for themselves the prerogative of womanhood. In her opinion, the reason for it was the White feminists’ desire to avoid assuming responsibility for Women of Color and their children’s lives, so they denied them the rights they had (i.e., separating children from their mothers at the border explains this clearly).

The exclusiveness of Feminism was evident in the field of literary scholarship since White feminist critics in the 1970s and 1980s largely ignored the work of Women of color or relegated it to the margins of literature. In Walker’s description of the circumstances that prompted her to create the womanist movement, Walker recalled how her colleagues rejected African American women writers’ inclusion in their women writers’ history survey. Womanism reflected Women of Color’s decision to clearly state their objections to White feminists’ exclusive position and create a paradigm that would incorporate values vital to them. Not only did Womanism distance itself from Feminism also presented itself as more substantial and more original, thus applying the feminist strategy of distancing to underscore the restrictiveness of their paradigm. Womanists wanted to decenter White feminists and challenge the ‘normality’ of their perspective.

Womanism thus grew from an answer to the exclusionary practices of Feminism into a more extensive form of political activism. It became a tool for Women of Color with which they could challenge policies that marginalized them and provide the framework for their empowerment and women from other ethnic minorities worldwide.

A distinction had to be drawn to build a womanist paradigm that rests upon inclusion and support notions among women. Womanism insisted on women’s self-sufficiency and self-confidence since they had to deal with racism and denigration daily. It emphasizes the need for a stronger community of women who would help each other and provide the support needed to resist oppression and patriarchal dominance and transform traditional systems into new ones. Women of Color under the umbrella of Womanism will have more possibilities to express themselves. Therefore, a movement such as this would be different from Feminism and offer Women of Color space to formulate their role in their immediate surroundings. At the center of Womanism are Women of Color concerns (be it family, local community, or the workplace) and more within the global environment.

How womanism function within black matrilinear culture, deriving the word from womanish used by Black mothers to describe girls who want to “know more and in greater depth, than is considered ‘good’ for anyone” and whose behavior is “outrageous, courageous or willful.” Thus, the emphasis is clearly on behavior, which is, at the same time, responsible and playful, fearless, and compassionate.

It should be noted the difference between feminist and womanist is, “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” Womanism sets itself apart by comparing it to the intense color of purple, which is often described as the royal color. Feminism pales in comparison by being associated with the weaker color lavender. This appraisal reminds one of the debates about whether Feminism lost its appeal to many women during the 1980s and 1990s. Lavender as paler color is also cleverly associated with the notion that Feminism is related more to white women than Women of Color. “This contrast of hues in Walker’s definition is consonant with her political intention to demonstrate the crucial difference between the terms’ womanist’ and ‘feminist’: according to the semantic analog she constructs, an exclusively White, bourgeois feminism pales in comparison to the more wide-ranging, nonexclusive womanist concerns represented by the rich and undiluted that the color purple represents.”

So, as a people, especially Black women, should immediately stop giving abiding trust to White women whom 56% voted for Donald Trump in 2020 compared to the 52% who voted for him in 2016. This new number told you and the American population of color that it is their job (White women) to protect their White sons, husbands, and fathers, regardless of how many norms are eroded.

So Sistas, why do you hold onto Feminism if it doesn’t consider your needs, wants, desires, safety, and concerns?