Saturday, March 11, 2017

It's Complicated: Black Women and the Women's March on Washington

Image Credit: Official Logo of the Women's March on Washington

"Who's all going to the Women's March?" I asked a group of girlfriends, about 20 of whom still live in the Washington, DC metro area.


This did not surprise me, considering many of my friends were not enthusiastic about the march.  It's complicated.  This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Million Women's March.  Two years after the Million Man March was organized by Minister Louis Farrakhan and NAACP president Benjamin Chavous, Phile Chionesu and Asia Coney organized and co-chaired the Million Women's March in Philadelphia. Black women walked for two miles in solidarity to fight for equality and justice on issues faced by black women across the diaspora.  Rebecca Shook, a grandmother in Hawaii, decided to post on Facebook after the election to organize a "Million Women's March" and as the post spread like wildfire, black women paused.

First, the Million Women's March already happened, so to co-opt the title and gloss over the hundreds of thousands of women of color who marched twenty years ago feels like an uninformed slap in the face. Second, black women don't feel particularly included in the fight for feminism and feminist issues.  We're still at peg one trying to have our full humanity as women recognized.

To be frank, black women went out to vote for Hillary in this election, despite some having reservations.  Her comments surrounding the 1994 crime bill President Clinton signed shortly after he became president was the start.  #GirlIguessImwithher was not just a hashtag.  Many black women "sucked it up" for the greater good of the nation.  So to see 53% of white women who voted, decide to cast their ballot for Donald Trump, numerous black women felt betrayed by white women and those who decided not to vote.

Black women have been fighting issues like voting rights, criminal justice and equality in the workforce for decades.  For some white women, this was their first march.  While I applaud the effort, a part of me wonders, why did it take so long? If the fight for justice and equality was enough to get out of bed, hitch a ride or buy a plane, train or bus ticket to Washington, DC, sleep on the couch of a stranger, and wake up at the crack of dawn, in the cold, in January to March in solidarity, why was this your first time ever thinking about solidarity? And what kind of solidarity were you marching for? 

#Solidarityisforwhitewomen started by blogger Mikki Kendall, trended in 2013 on Twitter, and white feminists were upset at its implications. To feign disappointment would be to act ignorant of the racism in the fight for women's equality.  Carrie Chapman Catt, Founder of the League of Women Voters once said, “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage.”  Abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton also stated, “What will we and our daughters suffer if these degraded black men are allowed to have the rights that would make them even worse than our Saxon fathers?” Women's suffragist and abolitionist Susan B. Anthony was against the 15th amendment, granting the right of black men to vote after the civil war. She has said, "I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman."

It is disheartening when people who've experienced discrimination turn around and perpetuate it in another axis.  

This is merely the backdrop for which black women are asked to stand in solidarity with white women in the fight for equality and justice.  Modern day exchanges sometimes reinforce these thoughts. Adele Stan recently argued, feminism has to change and women of color who have historically been the organizers of such movements should be the ones who stand at the forefront instead of just having a seat at the table.  Others, like Jamilah Lemieux, argued that she could not in good conscience stand in solidarity with women who didn’t stand in solidarity with black women in the November election

Women of color were sparse at the march in DC. Nevertheless, I and other black, white, asian, hispanic, middle eastern and pacific islander women marched, in solidarity with men and women around the globe for our continued fight for justice and equality. There were probably some in the crowd who voted for Trump. There were also some who probably just wanted the photo op of being there because their friends were going. But a large number of women went because they were fighting for their rights as well as the rights of all women.

So what do we do? Do we sit in our proverbial corners waiting for one group to extend the olive branch first?  Do we as women of color continue to take on the mantle of fighting for justice waiting for white women to understand that joining together helps everyone? As I have stated before in regards to racism and discrimination, laws always change, but real progress only occurs when beliefs change with it. This will only happen if we dismantle egos and enable empathy on both sides. We have to start listening to each other, having real conversations understanding the history of oppression and discrimination in order for our prospective groups to move forward. All women have to work together on this. The dynamic change of the recent Women's March shows just how inclusive we can be with a platform birthed out of various ethnicities of women working together.

The evening before the march, two of my girlfriends decided they would go after all. We engaged several women and they spoke on their experiences and the power of feeling united together. I asked if they would take that power back to their conservative relatives and friends in order to begin the tough but necessary conversations of equality among all people that will enable real change.  All but one were too afraid. 

As stated in the mission, "The Women’s March on Washington is just the first step; what comes after is up to us all." What comes next may also be the most critical. Bishop Desmond Tutu said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor". White women cannot sit back and enjoy the good feelings of this past weekend without any action. Women of color also cannot continue to play oppression olympics. Feminism that focuses on intersectionality has to be at the forefront moving forward. Lives are at stake, laws could be dismantled and opining about who has it worse or not recognizing privilege will never make it better. 

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