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Intersectionality in the feminist movement

Feminism was created by and for white women, with their needs and experiences in mind. 

Malcolm X said it best, “The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Black women are consistently left out of social movements that aim to advance the rights of oppressed people. While new waves of feminism strive to include all women, we are still left in the awkward middle ground. 

As Women’s History Month begins, it is time that we bring attention to the problem with traditional feminism: it is exclusionary. This is a problem as we begin to celebrate a month which elevates the advancements of white women who used their privilege to further oppress Black women.

The civil rights movement in the 1960s focused on resisting and dismantling the oppressive systems affecting the lives of Black men, while simultaneously espousing sexism towards women in the Black community. On the other hand, the feminist movement that started with suffrage in the late 1800s was made with the intent of focusing solely on the needs of middle-class white women and blatantly excluding Black women. This was most explicitly evident when Susan B. Anthony wanted Ida B. Wells to support the suffragist movement, but told her that she had to stand in the back. 

As Black women, we find ourselves within two oppressed identities: being a woman and Black. We are even further oppressed when these two demographics intersect. 

Why do Black women have to choose to identify as just being Black or as just being a woman? Why can’t we belong in both groups and have our experiences validated and heard?

Growing up with the intersectionality of my race and gender has been difficult. I’ve always seen women such as Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the forefront of the feminist movement. These are all women I adore and respect to the highest degree, but they do not share the same experiences as myself and the other Black women in my family who taught me exactly what it means to be Black and a woman.

The point of intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to explain the unique experiences of Black women, is to acknowledge that there is no universal female experience. Intersectionality looks at the effects of racism, classism and sexism that women experience and how the sum of those oppressions can further oppress or give privilege to certain groups of women.

Black women are then left to choose between two oppressed identities rather than being able to look at feminist leaders who know what it is like to share both. 

Luckily, Black feminists such as Crenshaw, bell hooks, Angela Davis and Patricia Hill Collins have worked towards creating a space for Black women to exist in each of our intersecting identities. Their writings have catered to me the way Steinem, Clinton and Ginsburg have to white women.  

But it is time that we all practice true feminism, which should reflect a universal sisterhood in light of our different identities. Black women have always been there to support the feminist and suffragist movements, but then are excluded from gender equality because of the entrenched systemic racism in the movement and in society.

In order to expand the feminist movement, we have to listen to Black stories and understand that Black women’s experiences are not the exact same as the generalized feminist experience. It is just as valid. 

The Day of Dialogue on Feb. 25 is a great example of elevating the voices and stories of Black women. There were multiple sessions led by powerful Black women and women of color who shared their experiences fitting into a white catered environment. 

Their stories and perspectives showed that it is time we, Black women, stop trying to fit into a categorical box created by white feminists. 

There is space for us to exist as we are, and in our multitude of identities. There is room for us and our identities, and we are deserving of it.

As I prepare to transition into Women’s History Month and watch it be taken over by white feminists, I will continue to celebrate Black women’s excellence today and every day.

We must hold all feminists accountable as they claim the feminist movement is a fight for the liberation of all women, regardless of race, class or sexuality. 

If feminists want to live up to the true meaning of feminism that doesn’t revolve around the white experience, white allies must stop and listen. It is crucial that we consider the importance of validating all Black lives and experiences beyond Black History Month. Include Black women in the feminist movement, because, as hooks said, “feminism is for everybody.” 

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