This article is the final installment in a series of articles entitled The Triple Consciousness of Black Womanhood: A History and Analysis of Black Feminism, The Importance of Intersectionality, & The Trials of Black Girlhood. To read Part 1, click here. To read Parts 2 & 3, click here. To read Parts 4 & 5, click here. For the announcement post and (upcoming) list of works cited throughout the article series, click here.
VI. Navigating Black Girlhood and the Journey to Black Womanhood via Black Feminism
Black girlhood is a mix of growing up battling racism and sexism from the time black girls are children, most times without knowing it. Part of Black Feminism’s purpose is creating a world in which black girls and women are treated equally and seen as human beings with a full range of emotions, capabilities, and opportunities. In the meantime, however, Black Feminism and its scholars seek to give black girls and women the language and tools to navigate living in a world where they must battle both sexism and racism in order to survive. As opposed to (straight, cis-gendered) black men and (straight, cis-gendered) white women, who can rely on traditional pro-black rhetoric and mainstream feminism, respectively, black women cannot rely solely on either ideology. Much like its response to feminism and because traditional pro-black rhetoric historically centers black men and their needs and opinions as a means to liberation, Black Feminism seeks to bring light to the injustices and inequalities that befalls black women in a society and community that ignores them. Black girls and women are routinely ignored in mainstream movements and media, even when these movements and media seek to represent and empower members of the black community.
Because patriarchy interacts with everything in society, even ideologies that are supposed to highlight the injustices that marginalized groups face are still plagued with the subconscious mistake of centering the men of these communities. The Black Lives Matter movement is a perfect example of this. The Black Lives Matter movement was created by three queer, black women as the response to the death of Trayvon Martin and, later, the acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman. The instances where the hashtag is used or the phrase is invoked is usually in regard to when straight, cis-gendered black men have been brutalized and/or killed by the police. This is strange considering the fact that part of the mission of BLM as an organization is described as:
“…do[ing] the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence…build[ing] a space that affirms Black women and is free of sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered…foster[ing] a queer-affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise) (Black Lives Matter).”
Even though this is the organization’s mission, this aspect of the movement is often overlooked. While it is disappointing that the movement and hashtag #BlackLivesMatter is dominated by the stories of black men and excludes black women and femmes, it is not at all surprising in a community that is conditioned to always protect black men and center their stories of trauma at the expense of black women and femmes.
#SayHerName is a movement that was born from the lack of support and media attention instances of police brutality received when the victims are black women versus when they are black men. As Kimberle Crenshaw puts it:
“Although black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foreground in popular understandings of police brutality. Yet, inclusion of black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for black communities and other communities of color (Crenshaw, AAPF).”
Crenshaw’s statement further builds on the idea that trickle-down liberation is not the true way to success. This is the reason why the #SayHerName movement is an important movement in tandem with Black Lives Matter movement. As the African American Policy Forum explains:
“The #SayHerName Movement responds to increasing calls for attention to police violence against Black women by offering a resource to help ensure that Black women’s stories are integrated into demands for justice, policy, response to police violence, and media representations of victims of police brutality (African American Policy Forum).”
Black women and girls make up 13% of the population in the United States of America, yet are 33% of the total number of women killed by police. Even though the percentage of black men killed by police versus their percentage in the total society is great than that of black women, this does not diminish or eliminate the importance and urgency of the topic of police brutality against the bodies of black women. It is easy to diminish the trauma and injustice of a group of people because their trauma does not happen at the same frequency as another oppressed group. This is the issue that #SayHerName attempts to directly combat. Its goal is not to erase of downplay the state-sanctioned violence enacted upon black men, but to add and bring light to the stories and narratives of black women who suffer the same fate.
This, however, is very telling of the experience of black girls and women and this is something that must be navigated as they journey through girlhood and womanhood. Black girls and women are routinely expected to be okay with being overlooked when it comes to being part of the black community and the (white) feminist community. Like with the evolution of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, black girls and women and the trauma they experience as black people are overlooked; and like with the historical exclusion from the feminist movement, black girls and women’s experiences and collisions with patriarchy are not explored in a nuanced manner. This leads to a group of people who sit at the intersection of blackness and womanhood to be lost, drifting in a world that ignores and hates them because their unique intersectional identity directly conflicts with the norms of their society. Zora Neale Hurston perhaps said it best in her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, when the main character’s Janie’s grandmother tells Janie that “de nigger [black] woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see” (Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God). Black girls and women are expected to do labor without compensation or proper credit, whether it is emotional labor in their communities or intellectual labor in the academic community. Black girls and women are consistently expected to bear burdens of their environments without being allowed a space to talk about these burdens and the unfair nature of growing up a black girl in a society that routinely hates both black people and women.
VII. The Black Unicorn is Not Free (yet): Black Feminism as the Path to True Freedom
Much like W.E.B. DuBois’s ideology of double-consciousness, Black Feminism employs and acts as a vessel for the triple consciousness that black women are born with. It strives to explore the injustices black women face at the intersections of personhood, womanhood, and blackness and works to undo them. Much like double-consciousness, those of us with triple-consciousness are constantly aware of how our intersecting identities clash and live with one another and how this affects how we live our lives.
Black Feminism, as any ideology-led movement, is not perfect because nothing led by real people can be. In theory, Black Feminism’s desire to raise the lowest group in society in order to raise everyone is crucial to the liberation of black women, black people in general, and all oppressed groups. However, the same way pro-black movements led only by cis, straight black men are pre-disposed to have major oversights because of their particular privilege, so is a Black Feminist movement led only by cis, straight black women. Black Feminism will become stronger and even more thorough once queer and trans black women are given equal voices and are respected throughout the movement. Black disabled women must also be included and protected within the movement, as disabled women are routinely ignored and excluded in most civil rights and social justice movements. The discussion of black women in the workplace must also extend to black women sex workers, which means exonerating any and all forms of respectability politics that may live within the movement.
When thinking of freedom, it is easy to relegate freedom to being simply the absence of unjust laws or the presence of legal equalities. True freedom for black women will come when black women are allowed societally to be free legally, sexually, politically, and otherwise. True freedom must include everyone — the poor, queer and trans people, sex workers, the disabled, economically disadvantaged people, and more — in order for our society to be free. Black Feminism strives to help everyone who is looked down upon in society, even those who are not black (while still centering and being for black women), and it is because of its desire to uplift all of the disadvantaged that it will help our society attain true freedom.
Thank you for reading and being patient with the releases of this article series. This is a series that means a great deal to me, and I hope to be releasing more content on Casual Anxiety in the future!