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April 2013

Black Women Are Not Just White Women’s “Allies” In Feminism

This is a common theme—the idea that the most Black women can be are cheerleaders and “allies” for White women’s feminism. NO. Just as bell hooks notes, Feminism Is For Everybody.

The daily whining that I encounter over why Black women can’t just be good little “allies” to White feminists by co-opting White experiences while ignoring our own, liking their problematic issues and media without critique and ignoring our race in the name of shared biology (which usually means ignoring Black trans women too) to be real troopers for White women is insulting, disrespectful, annoying and inherently White supremacist. Still it continues.

They’re quick to co-opt statistics about the challenges of Black women’s lives yet will quickly plaster a White woman as the image for that life or expert for that life. They consistently use Black women’s lived experiences as examples of “feminist failures.” The mainstream media example of a feminist “expert” is usually a cisgender middle class White woman who will claim that she “checks her privilege” yet she continues to speak for “all” women, even on issues that in no way impacts her life but impacts many other women whose voices are purposely muted or ignored, but certainly voices from women that speak up despite this.

I don’t suggest that being an ally is not important. It is. Being an ally is a process, not an identity (shoutout to @FeministGriote) for those who stand at the helm of privilege amidst a sociopolitical juxtaposition between groups. For example, Whites can work as allies for anti-racist, anti-oppression work. Men can work as allies for womanist and intersectional feminist work. Heterosexual people can work as allies for LGBTQ communities. Cis people can work as allies for trans* people. Ally work can be noble when not self-centered, domineering and solely a salve for personal guilt, but no more noble than those in the trenches doing the work and living the experiences. Ally work needs to be noble without the incessant need for the praise of its nobility, otherwise it becomes about oppressed people applauding their oppressors, which is not revolutionary.

As Melissa Harris-Perry notes, what makes a good ally:

  • First, DON’T demand that those you are supporting produce proof of the inequality they are working to resist.
  • DO recognize that the shield of your privilege may blind you to the experience of others’ injustice.
  • DON’T offer up your relationship with a member of the marginalized group as evidence of your understanding.
  • DO be open to learning and expanding your consciousness by listening more and talking less.
  • DON’T see yourself as the Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves or the Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. You are NOT the savior riding to the rescue on a white horse. 
  • DO notice that you are joining a group of people who are already working to save themselves.
  • DO realize that the only requirement you need to enter ally-ship is a commitment to justice and human equality.

"Ally" though? This IS NOT who Black women are, in regards to feminism. We are not auxiliary feminists, feminist adjacent, a chord or a tangent in a feminist circle, or feminist mascots that should be objectified as examples of "good feminism" and "bad feminism" for White women to use in their blogs, panels and books. We are not "allies" for their feminist causes—as if we are not women as well, with needs, as well, with intersectional concerns, with vision, with theory and praxis, with a legacy of work and identity as Black womanists/feminists. We aren’t just feminist products for consumption (i.e. they’ll quickly spit Audre Lorde’s words out…but to justify dehumanzation of Black women, the actual opposite of Lorde’s work), critique (i.e. they love to throw Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Rihanna under the bus for staying in their lanes as celebrities, while they, not these public figures, thirst for celebrity feminist credit) or duplication of experience (i.e. they disrespectfully call their reproductive justice work “The New Jane Crow" or call themselves "niggers" at SlutWalk).

Black women ARE women too. Some Black women identify as womanists. Many Black women identify as feminists too. In the 2012 election, of Black women voters polled, 66% of Black women self-identified as feminists and 75% agreed with a feminist identification once a definition of feminism was presented to them.

White women’s ladder that they lean in and on to the top has involved Black women’s bodies, freedom and very lives as the rungs. We aren’t their loyal sidekicks. We’ve been the superheros many times, while White women have taken the credit, garner the spoils and still enjoyed the luxuries associated with White privilege.

It’s not about credit and spoils though—I’m not interested in feminism for recognition or honor. Like I wrote about feminism before:

How we embody the oppressor within is where all feminist work begins. I am still here for feminism because I am still here for myself. I matter. I am still here for feminism because I am still here for us. We matter.

White women need to realize that “us” means PEOPLE of this GLOBE, not solely cisgender heterosexual thin middle class White women worried about becoming like White men with power and stepping on anyone else to get there.

Viewing a Black woman as an “ally” to feminism in that an “ally” is external to the actual experience of being a woman and a feminist is one of the most oppressive things that a White feminist can assert or imply, and it will always be unacceptable.

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