There is a school of thought that “feminism” was created by white women and introduced to black women in order to derail the struggle of black people in this country by disrupting the unity between black men and black women. Often, when I read or take part in discussions involving womanhood, this theory is trotted out as some form of “Gotcha – agent!” I suppose the theory is enticing because of the air of conspiracy about it, but the mental laziness that one has to engage in to believe this theory should embarrass whoever subscribes to this belief.
Absolutely nothing about believing that a woman is as fully human as a man and should be treated accordingly should disrupt unity between black men and black women, point blank, period. Start there.
Black women do not, and never did need white women to point out to them that we get treated differently than men in this society because of the way our patriarchal society is set up. To assert such a thing is insulting to our intelligence and the intelligence of the mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors before us. We plainly and clearly see it for ourselves, and we always have.
Do not confuse our assertion of dignity, power, humanity, and rights for the feminism symbolized by burning bras and pink pussy hats. With all due respect to what white women are out there fighting for, the burden of femininity for black women in this society is another animal altogether. This is due in part to the intersection of racism and sexism working together against us. This is due in part to some black men thinking that black women who dare call attention to the issues we face as women is a threat to fighting the oppression that they face, like there’s a zero sum game being played and that our fight for fairness siphons power from their (our collective!) fight. This is also due in part to some white women feeling victimized when black women assert that while we have some issues in common, they still have privilege in this society that we don’t have and their perspective is limited in its scope to address our issues. We are not mimicking white women.
However, when black men rail against women’s issues, they are mimicking white men. When they manipulate the scriptures of religious texts to subjugate women, they aren’t doing anything white men haven’t already done with those texts. When they ignore certain issues because it doesn’t affect them and it “only” affects women, they aren’t ignoring anything that white men haven’t already decided to ignore. When they try to shame women for not adhering to a hurtful and oppressive status quo, they are maintaining the same status quo that puts white men at the top of a power hierarchy that endangers the lives and well being of black men and black women, black boys and black girls. By calling black feminists and womanists tools of the oppressor, they ironically and quite unwittingly act as tools of the oppressor.
To the extent that there is a divide between American black men and women on gender issues, it wasn’t the assertion of feminism or womanism by black women that caused it. It was caused by the absorption and maintenance of old European patriarchal values that hindered our ability to communicate effectively and empathize with each other any better than white men and women.
When we communicate fairly, without malice or fear, with empathy and understanding, misunderstandings get cleared up and people learn. Things get better. Culture shifts. I have been personally encouraged by seeing people listening with open minds to each other instead of hurling “agent” accusations at each other to derail dialogue. I already know that if you’re still reading at this point, I’m preaching to the choir. But I’m just out here sayin what I thought should be said.