Most of my friends close and otherwise, are Women of Color. I watch them suffer daily from the threat of street harassment at the hands of men who see them as disposable vehicles for their amusement and sexual advances. No one takes their cries seriously, so they suffer in silence. When they take control over their sexual destiny, they’re called “whores” and “sluts” who use sex to manipulate unsuspecting men. If one of them gets pregnant and seek to terminate said pregnancy, they’re told that they are committing genocide on the Black community. If they chose to keep the baby and raise it on their own, they are destroyers of the Black household. They read article after article, watch news special after news special, visit website after website, about how undesirable they are and how Black men would be better off pursuing a woman from one of the poorer brown countries, or at least a nice White woman. They’re attacks and rapes go unsolved, their causes go unchampioned. And when all of this builds up inside to the boiling point and they vocalize their frustrations, they’re called “angry” and “bitter”.
One may think that in feminism, Black women have a place where they can lobby for their own causes and issues. However, such is not the case. The world of feminism is dominated by White (and sometimes male) faces. Imagine, if you can, the collective indignation when one of those White male faces uses the platform of feminism to further denigrate Black women. Enter Hugo Schwyzer; a self-proclaimed male feminist who has become infamous for anti-woman exploits in word and deed. One of his best documented slights against the women he once claimed to fight for is his stealing of black and brown voices. When another White male feminist called him out for his behavior on Twitter, he apparently threw in the towel and “quit the internet”. What ensued over the next few days was an onslaught of tweets from Women of Color about everything from cultural appropriation at the hands of white women to the erasure of the contributions that non-white women have made to feminism. Created by Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia on Twitter), the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag became a rallying point for Women of Color who had more than a few words about the current state of mainstream feminism and society as a whole.
Upon noticing the hashtag, some men chose to chime in in order to mock the so-called “feminist civil war”. Some spoke out in favor of Women of Color and others denied the need for it entirely. I did neither, at least not yet. Instead, I remained silent and I read. I read the collective voices of Black women who have been taking the back seat (or left by the bus altogether) to white women. I felt as if, in the arena of ideas known as the Internet, I’ve had more than enough spotlight (regardless of how many people did or didn’t pay attention). This was more than a reaction to Hugo Schwyzer, more than angry tweets. This was an example of the power and the unity of social media. Women of Color across the world entered the conversation, and in doing so entered the ring to take center stage. And in the onset of an event centered on those who have a history of being silenced, I felt as though the best thing for me to do was to be silent.
Days later, another hashtag full of the pent up indignations of Black women took Twitter by storm in the form of #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen. This time, I wouldn’t be silent. Not just because I have more experience with this subject, but because it became all the more important for my voice to be heard. Women played an integral role in the Black Power Movement, yet they have been all but written out of history. Names of notable women in the Civil Rights Era are left out of the history books as if they were only bit players instead of the center-stage takers that they were.
One can’t hope to empathize with another person unless they first listen. It is by listening, and fully taking in the experiences of another, that one can even come close to seeing the world through their eyes. And yet, the experiences of Women of Color are constantly ignored, denied, and hushed by those in positions of power and privilege. Feminism is no exception. Whether in the States or abroad, Black and Brown women are rarely given platforms to discuss their issues. And seeing as how no one is chomping at the bits to take up the mantle of fighting for the rights and humanity of Women of Color, problems and injustices that plague them go all but completely unnoticed. That’s the great thing about being the default setting for “human”; your voice actually gets listened to.
I can’t fathom what it’s like to live in a world where you’re not even allowed to have your own pain. Not to the extent that Black women face on a daily basis. However, I think I can play a role in tearing down the walls of non-communication. Sometimes there appears to be so much damage I don’t know where to start. But if they’ll have me, I’m an ever willing ally to Black women.
Animaine Sparkster is a talented freelance writer with a strong background in journalism. His Portfolio is available at http://thisweekinblackness.