By Carla Aaron-Lopez of the Smoke School of Art.
I still have issues considering myself a feminist because I don’t come from a family of women that considered themselves feminists. They just worked and provided for their families. That sounds like such a norm that one doesn’t realize how far back and how deep that statement is. In a Western society that continues to sell the idea that a man provides for his family, what makes a statement like mine seem so powerful?
It’s simple when you calculate history into this patriarchal equation.
How can one neglect the presence of women of color? Women of color have been doing feminism since forever because we have never had the luxury of Prince Charming to come galloping through to save us from the tragedy of institutionalized American racism and sexism. One could even argue that advanced historical societies of color have always elevated women of color. As a result, modernity and the introduction of white male patriarchy for people of color started with the Transatlantic Slave Trade and we, men and women, have been reaming from it ever since. We have started small movements that have turned into big changes. Black men have revolutionized major cultural decisions that have affected every American household. Black women have supported opportunities for women of all colors while still being downplayed at every corner. Even with all of this background work to uplift the position of women from number two to equal, the question still has to be thrown on the table of how we can be included in feminist discussions.
A quick history lesson will show that women of color have been kept invisible from feminism since its inception in the early 1900s.
“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?”
Oops! Who said that?
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, leader of the American suffrage movement. Isn’t she considered one of the earliest feminists on the American block?
Let’s take a moment to remember that Ida B. Wells was also involved in the suffrage movement but when she organized black women to participate in women’s rights parades, they were often asked to walk in the back of the crowd rather side by side. I can be a women but I can’t be a Black woman.
Here’s another cute gem from another important white woman:
“I do not want to see a negro man walk to the polls and vote on who should handle my tax money, while I myself cannot vote at all …When there is not enough religion in the pulpit to organize a crusade against sin; nor justice in the courthouse to promptly punish crime; nor manhood enough in the nation to put a sheltering arm about innocence and virtue — if it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from the ravening human beasts — then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.”
Girl… This is a quote from the first woman senator, Ms. Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton. Lawd, she had some serious issues.
When this kind of thinking predates what we know of as feminism today then we need to begin acknowledging how hate transforms. Not all hate is volatile and violent. Hate can be subtle and latent. Invisible only to those who are not aware that it is continuously seeping through the walls of history. Not every story is a bright and shiny one. Not every moment is meant to be forgotten and passed over.
Fast forward to the birth of second wave feminism that lasted between the 1960s to 1980s when Gloria Steinem became a poster child for white feminism. We’ll call this moment the Women’s Movement which can be matched alongside the Black Liberation movement. Together, they gave birth to the Black Feminism (also known as Womanism, a term coined by the Alice Walker) movement which influenced the Mujerista movement for all my Latina kings and queens outchea.
At this point, Black was being solely associated with man while woman was associated with white. For twenty years (and still), the battleground was sexism and ownership of a woman’s body. White women were out and about fighting the powers that be to assert their individual identity as women in order to become their idea of independent women.
Sounds like a crazy statement, right? The circumstances surrounding that statement are even crazier and starts with World War II.
While American soldiers were off fighting war, someone had to man the factories to produce the materials needed for war. Who better than a white woman? But who did the grunt of the work in the factories? More than likely Black women. We have been there side by side since the beginning but were still invisible. Still being abused by men, mentally and physically. Still a servant to some random white family with money. Still a second class citizen moving quietly in the background just trying to provide a better life for her family.
No, I don’t understand how or why I should be a feminist when feminism doesn’t even see me. I need someone to support me. I need someone who, like me, understands where I am coming from on a daily basis. I need to liberate myself. Especially from those who bathe themselves in the waters of white male patriarchy every day they breathe on this Earth.
In 1973, the Black Feminist Liberation movement was founded in New York by Black women who were getting tired of being discriminated and disrespected from white men and women and Black men. Just look at this section of the Black Woman’s Manifesto:
If the potential of the black woman is seen mainly as a supportive role for the black man, then the black woman becomes an object to be utilized by another human being. Her potential stagnates and she cannot begin to think in terms of self-determination for herself and all black people. It is not right that her existence should be validated only by the existence of the black man.
The black woman is demanding a new set of female definitions and recognition of herself of a citizen, companion and confidant, not a matriarchal villain or a step stool baby-maker. Role integration advocates the complementary recognition of man and woman, not the competitive recognition of same.
That is a crucial when considering the invisibility of a woman who is considered the backbone of the Black family. Clearly, Black feminists was aligning their ideology along the same lines as white feminists but by the close of this second wave of feminism only one voice was heard. We started the us vs. them mentality and white women carried it out.
Once the 1980s were in full effect, Black women became the poster child for being a “Welfare Queen” as the war on drugs became a harsh reality for many people living in Black communities. Black men became vilified as drug dealers thanks to the introduction of Hollywood funded Blaxploitation movies toward the end of the 1970s and the celebration of gangsta rap in the early 1980s.
As a result of drug addiction, crooked drug laws and racial profiling arrests, Black women were no longer considered the backbone but the entire support structure for many Black families in the US. Between the 1970s and 1990s, we became the angry Black woman because of wanting to celebrate all of parts of our Black identity, the positive and negative. By the time Waiting To Exhale became a movie, black women were celebrating their independence from Black men that openly supported white male patriarchy. We were ostracized by our own men who began to blame white feminism for our liberation. What woman on this Earth wants to be contained, restricted and owned by another?
And then there was Sex and the City… and the birth of third wave feminism in which body politics turned into global women’s rights, sexual independence, respectability, intersectionality, and gender identity politics. White women were free to be who they wanted to be while if a Black woman were to be like a Samantha or Carrie, she is considered a gold digging whore who’s sexually irresponsible. But Samantha and Carrie are considered feminist within theory because of their ability speak openly about sexual topics. Yo, at this point, I’m done with feminism.
But like a victim of Stockholm syndrome, I keep going back to feminism as an analysis tool because at the end of the day, the goal really is to support all women and feminine energy. Young girls in India, Nigeria and Brazil are being raped by men and it is women who are at the center of protest and feminine support. With all of these extreme acts of violence still being committed against women across the globe, I could care less about being called a feminist and upholding feminism. I need to provide the support of woman who has been through similar sexually degrading trauma and lived to see another day. This is reality and not some fucked up movie. We don’t need to get saved by a white female savior and her theories.
Feminism needs me like salt needs pepper. Stop leaving me out because it prevents you from becoming a better version of your feminine self. An upgrade, if you will. The cost? Your white woman privilege, denouncing the term inclusion and finally seeing my humanity as your equivalent.
Carla Aaron-Lopez is an artist, writer, educator and mother. When she’s not pretending to participate within the constructs of reality, she exists in the space between and outside as a rare black unicorn. Her observations are twisted mixed media collages using whatever she can take, steal and borrow to tell a fantastic tale of otherworldly feminine power. She is a member of the Smoke School of Art.