Tuesday, April 07, 2020

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Toward a Black Feminist Movement

Faced with the sexism of black men and the racism of white women, black women in their respective movements had two choices: they could remain in the movements and try to educate non-black or non-female comrades about their needs, or they could form a movement of their own. The first alternative, though noble in its intent, was not a viable option. While it is true that black men needed to be educated about the effects of sexism and white women about the effects of racism on black women's lives, it was not solely the responsibility of black women to educate them. Noted Audre Lorde:

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear it is the task of women of Color to educate white women-in the face of tremendous resistance-as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought. In light of these facts, the women decided to forge their own movement, the Black Feminist Movement. Building a Black Feminist Movement was not an easy task. Despite the need for such a movement, there were few black women in the early 1970s who were willing to identify themselves as feminists. Barbara Smith articulates the reservations of many black women about a black feminist movement:

Myths to divert Black women from our own freedom: 1. The Black woman is already liberated. 2. Racism is the primary (or only) oppression Black women have to confront. 3. Feminism is nothing but man-hating. 4. Women's issues are narrow, apolitical concerns. People of color need to deal with the "larger struggle." 5. Those feminists are nothing but Lesbians.

These myths illustrate long-held misconceptions about black women, including the belief that the extraordinary strength black women have shown in the face of tremendous oppression reveals their liberation. In fact, this "freedom"-working outside the home, supporting the family economically as well as emotionally, and heading the household-has been thrust upon black women. Women of all races, classes, nationalities, religions, and ethnicities are sexually oppressed; black women are no exception. Upon further examination, the other myths prove to be false. Racism and sexism must be confronted at the same time; to wait for one to end before working on the other reflects an incomplete understanding of the way racism and sexism, as forms of oppression, work to perpetuate each other. Black feminism struggles against institutionalized, systematic oppression rather than against a certain group of people, be they white men or men of color. While it often requires no stretch of the imagination to infer man-hating in some early (and some recent) feminist writings, the goal of feminism is the end of sexism. It is only a sane response of an oppressed people to work toward their own liberation. Finally, the assumption that feminists are nothing but lesbians reveals the homophobia which persists in many black communities as well as a misunderstanding of both lesbians and motivations for joining the feminist movement.

 

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