WHY BLACK WOMEN MUST BE CAUTIOUS WHEN DEALING WITH THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT

It has always saddened me when people harboring good intentions are ensnared in unnecessary conflict; particularly when the dispute revolves around substantive issues that could be easily solved.

So I am confident that you can imagine how disturbing it was to listen to the endless debate among our community regarding the participation of black women in the new women’s march. A firestorm of rhetoric revolved around matters such as should black women have abstained from participation due to the past betrayals their kind have experienced within feminist movements or do not the interests of black women coincide with those of white women. It did not take long for a legitimate debate to devolve into a mess of vitriolic hatred and name calling.

Most disappointing of all is the reality that this matter is a relatively fundamental issue that a cursory understanding of the history of American race and gender dynamics would quickly solve. So I offer the following to those whose emotions remain heightened and their vision clouded by an issue that has driven yet another wedge among an already divided African-American populace.

To the question of should black women have participated in the women’s march, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Now I am certain that there is a segment of black women who will rejoice at this firm assertion, as well as a part that will instantaneously recoil at the assertion. I am asking each of these adversaries to pause for a moment and understand that my firm belief that black women should have participated in the historic march comes with a few conditions.

The paths to understanding the conditions and qualifiers that must be attached to African-Americans engagement with any political movement is to an understanding of the large difference between joining a movement and creating an alliance.

At the center of the public outcries regarding the participation of black women in the women’s march focused on the fact that by joining that movement one is now beholden to an agenda that does not reflect the totality of the political issues facing black women.

Historically speaking, movements headed by elite white women have failed to accommodate the issues facing poor and working-class women whose status do not mirror their own; rest assured that the unrepresented includes a significant population of white women as well as black.

Alice Walker, the famous thinker, and promoter of womanism, poignantly accentuates this point by highlighting that the issues facing black women are different from those facing the elite white women who lead the feminist movement. Walker reminds all of this difference in her reverberating assertion that “Womanism is to Feminism as purple is to lavender.”

Most critics of black women’s participation in the women’s movement agree that instead of joining a feminist movement that has at opportune moments muted the voices of African-American women and thereby needlessly prolonged their pressing political issues. According to such individuals, if black women formed their organizations to promote a developed political agenda highlighting their problems and promoting solutions to their grievances, they would then be on the road to liberation. Had black women taken this reasonable course of action, they would have been positioned to negotiate a mutually beneficial alliance that allowed them to simultaneously work toward the amelioration of pressing issues that faced all women, regardless of race or economic status, and still maintained their focus upon their political agenda.

It is time that African-American activists graduate with an understanding there is nothing wrong with creating a mutually benefiting alliance. However, they must also understand that when such a political arrangement is no longer helping either party, it is time to abandon the agreement.

Put simply; I see absolutely nothing wrong with black women’s participation as allies in a feminist march as there are issues that affect females regardless of their racial identity. However, history has taught us that it is unwise for black women to join feminist movements as their voices will invariably be muted at critical junctures when the specter of race appears.

History is very clear that our path to liberation does not include joining white-headed movements and groups whose leadership tends to have pervasive ‘blind spots’ when it comes to race and class. The only reasonable path to liberation in regards to political matters is found in the developing of black agendas and political currency before pursuing mutually beneficial alliances with non-black groups. Failure to do such not only reveals how little black leaders know about liberation and guarantees that they will continue their grandest tradition of “talking loud and saying nothing.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

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