There is no notion more dangerous to Black women than the idea that we do not need feminism– a political platform that specifically addresses our needs and political values as women. Sadly, Feminism is decried by most Black men in our community as “anti-Black” and propagating White ideology, and us ladies know that nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact of the matter is that these men have developed these opinions, not on their own, but because many Black male leaders have taken poorly informed positions (as Ben Watson did when he purported the myth that Planned Parenthood was created to exterminate Black people), which leads to an overabundance of misinformation that fuels anti-feminism sentiments. I know Black women are tired of having these conversations and trying to explain our need for feminism to Black men.
While some Black men may hold on to anti-feminist positions 1. Because they are illiterate or lack reading comprehension skills 2. Because it is politically expedient for them to maintain that alliance (they fear rejection from other black men), many thinking men can be moved to appreciate the importance of feminism, when presented with cogent reasoning that highlights the importance of it. For that reason, I’ve taken the time to create this list of 8 Things Black Men Should Know About Feminism, to save Black women the hassle of always have to explain these basic things about feminism to Black men.
1. How about we start with the definition? Before beginning any conversation about feminism with, it is important to deconstruct previously established ideas of what the political ideology means. The best way to begin this process? Understand a rudimentary definition for the word:
Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women that are equal to those of men.
2. Dr. Umar Johnson was wrong: Womanists are merely Black feminists. Though feminism, in theory, is supposed to advocate for all women’s rights, because the United States of America is a majority “white” country, white dominance of platforms always becomes problematic. In order for Black women to differentiate their political agenda from that of white women, the term “womanism” was coined to specifically represent the agendas and positions of Black feminists.
Here is Alice Walker’s definition of the term (which she coined):
Womanist. A black feminist or feminist of color; someone who is committed to the wholeness and well-being of all of humanity, male and female.
I think we should trust the woman who created to term to tell us what it is.
3. Feminist ideology exists on a spectrum; it is not a monolith. Many Black men attempt to start conversations about feminism by making broad claims like “feminism is for lesbians” or “feminism promotes Black genocide” or “feminism is anti-black”. Funny enough, every single one of these statements can be true and false at the same time. Wonder why? Well, because feminists believe many different things. Brief demonstration:
On sexual orientation: Best represented by the phrase “the personal is political” coined by feminist Carol Hanisch, feminist views on sexual orientation varies widely based on personal experience and preference. Thus, feminists are heterosexual, lesbian, bi-sexual, a-sexual, sapiosexual and the list goes on and on.
On men: Some feminists are misandrists, like radical feminist Valerie Solansas who attempted to murder Andy Warhol. Her self-published manifesto SCUM reads: “Life in this society being at best an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.” She tried to kill Warhol because he refused to produce a play she wrote.
Some feminists love men, including Michelle Alexander who argued that Mass Incarceration should be a key feminist concern, despite the reality that it disproportionately affects Black men. And then there’s Beyonce, a self-describe feminist who loves and is married to Jay-Z,
On race: Some feminists are White and racist. Some feminists are Black and fighting against racism, like Sojourner Truth– who was born into slavery in New York City– was in 1851 when she delivered the speech “Ain’t I A Woman” to a group of mostly White women during a conference in Akron, Ohio. Here is a transcript of it:
Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!” And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked. ‘And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear de lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen ’em mos’ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”
This speech demonstrates the problematic position of Black women. Not only do we feel the stings of racism, but we battle to claim an ever elusive “womanhood” that has long been off limits to us.
4. Black women did not “learn feminism” from white women. This is the near equivalent of arguing Black women learned that they were women from white women. Feminism is born of the need for women to address issues specific to their womanhood. Like, say, issues related to vaginas and female reproductive organs, childbirth, the social and economic position of women in society, sexual abuse, domestic violence, definitions of femininity vs masculinity, etc.
5. Black feminist are allies with some white feminists, and with good reason. Though tenuous (because of racism and White women trying to marginalize black feminist voices), the Black feminist (or womanist) relationship to white feminism is real and necessary. Many organizations founded by White feminists provide very necessary services to Black women. Including, but not limited to:
Planned Parenthood (founded by White feminist Margaret Sanger): Despite the fact that 60 percent of PP clinics are in majority white neighborhoods, of the nearly 5 million clients the organization serves, many of them are Black men and women who receive sexual and reproductive health care and information including but not limited to: STI screenings and treatments, breast exams, contraception and birth control, pap smears and abortion services (in only 3 percent of the cases).
Erin Patria Margaret Pizzey: Established the first shelter for battered women in London that internationally inspired similar movements. Considering the fact that Black women are three times more likely to die as a result of Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner violence and suffer this violent about 35% more than other groups, it is no wonder Black women align themselves with White women fighting to give them a safe haven from domestic violence.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Hotline): The largest support network for women who have been victims of sexual assault was founded by White feminists Scott Berkowitz and Regan Burke.
The list goes on indefinitely and these are merely a few examples. Who ever has a problem with Black women aligning themselves with white feminists who care about their womanhood should start creating alternatives for Black women.
6. Intersectionalism Whenever a Black man argues that feminism is wholly a white feminist platform, he is marginalizing the voices of black women, which is precisely what Black women have been fighting against in the world of feminism. This fight birthed the term “intersectionality”, coined by Black professor Kimberle Crenshaw.
Intersectionalism argues that multiple factors play into oppression and dominance, including race, class, sex, sexual orientation and so on. A Black man who does not understand intersectionalism is just as menacing and burdensome to black women as a White feminist who does not understand the importance of it.
7. Notable Black women tend to be feminists:
Maya Angelou: Tackled issues relating to Black womanhood with poignancy in most of her writing. Of her position as a feminist, she said, “I am a feminist. I’ve been female for a long time now. It would be stupid for me not to be on my own side.”
Coretta Scott King: Supported feminist causes. She played a vital role in the founding of the National Organization for Women, and was appointed by President Carter as a commissioner on the National Commission on the Observation of International Women’s Year.
Oprah Winfrey: Advocates for girl’s access to education. In an interview with Feminist, here is what she said about her advocacy: “That these girls are just like your daughters. These are our daughters. And that the hundred million girls around the world who don’t have an opportunity for secondary education are all our daughters. As we celebrate the International Day of the Girl, I think that that is one of my callings on the planet, to be able to use this school as a model to expand and to offer opportunities and to leverage what I have been able to do with this school to affect millions and millions and millions of girls around the world.”
Angela Davis: In an interview with The Nation, the activist explained that Black women should not have to choose between Black empowerment and women’s empowerment: “Black feminism emerged as a theoretical and practical effort demonstrating that race, gender and class are inseparable in the social worlds we inhabit. At the time of its emergence, black women were frequently asked to choose whether the black movement or the women’s movement was most important. This was the wrong question. The more appropriate question was how to understand the intersections and interconnections between the two movements. We are still faced with the challenge of understanding the complex ways that race, class, gender, sexuality, nation and ability are intertwined—but also how we move beyond these categories to understand the interrelationships of ideas and processes that seem to be separate and unrelated.”
Beyonce: Consistently implores a message of female empowerment. “We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead.”—Beyoncé
The list goes on and on and on. Any Black woman who advocates for the empowerment of women or girls is a defacto feminist. I’d imagine most women want to empower other women and girls.
8. Black feminists are waiting for Black men to take action and advocate on behalf of Black women.
Some of the most pressing issues faced by Black women today include:
Domestic and intimate partner violence
Sexual objectification by mass media and men (including Black men)
Sexual abuse (studies found that 60% of Black girls have been abused mostly by Black men by the age of 18)
Access to education
Access to healthcare
Underrepresentation in STEM fields
Gender pay gap (which exists between Black women and Black men)
Police brutality faced by Black women (including trans women)
Hardships associated with being a single parent
And guess what? Women WANT Black men to become involved in advocating for their well-being. Instead of wasting energy arguing that Black women do not need to be worried about their womanhood and should put their blackness first, Black men should start organizations/launch movements to address the needs of Black and dismantle sexist/misogynistic ideologies. Though many Black men claim Black empowerment somehow accounts for the needs of women, very few can point to examples of the ways Black men have specifically addressed the plights of Black women.
So, the big question every Black man should have an answer for is not whether or not Black women need feminism but instead:
“What have I done to address the needs of Black women?”