Briscoe Turner is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. She is a sophomore Psychology major and Writing minor and a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition, a bi-weekly discussion group at the Women’s Center.
Author’s note: This blog is a reflection of my constantly evolving thought process on how intersectionality unveils itself in my life, specifically in regards to my racial and gender identities. Hearing Daily Host Correspondent, Dulcé Sloan’s, insights helped me more clearly articulate my thoughts.
I recently came across a Huffington Post interview where Daily Host Correspondent, Dulcé Sloan, stated, “I Don’t Have Time To Be A Woman, I’m Too Busy Being Black.” Her words resonated with me because she so boldly and clearly laid out a sentiment that I had been trying to articulate for years. I first began to wrestle with this idea– that I was too busy dealing with the social implications of my Blackness to fully address the oppression I face as a woman–when I came across the term intersectionality in high school.
Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality describes the overlap of our oppressed identities that result in multiple levels of social injustice. I understand that my race and gender operate together, one having an effect on the other, but for some reason, I have felt a greater need to defend my worth as a Black person before I get a chance to defend my worth as a woman. I so vividly remember the various racial microaggressions and slurs I have had to endure throughout the years, but many of my memories surrounding sexism are limited to holding my own against boys during middle school recess basketball games and correcting the occasional uniformed “period jokes.” This is partly due to the fact that I grew up in predominantly White suburbs where my gender stood out less than my Blackness.
In my classes, there were plenty of other girls, but I was normally one of the few, if not only, Black students. This left me constantly feeling the need to prove that I was just as smart and articulate as everyone else, while also asserting the fact that intelligence runs deep in the Black community to avoid tokenism. I also had to defend my Blackness to members of the Black community to avoid being labeled White. Growing up, there were various internal and external battles that I fought in terms of validating my racial identity, that I did not as intensely experience when forming my gender identity. This is not to say that I don’t value my womanhood and understand that there are numerous systems working against me because of it. I just believe that I am often unfairly held back from fully reaping the rewards of feminist victories due to my Blackness.
My experiences have led me to believe that my race is the aspect of my identity that brings me the most joy as well as the most hardship, but I seldom give as much weight to how my gender factors into this strange mixture of pride and oppression.
In a context greater than the neighborhood that I grew up in, I think that this thought process stemmed from my feelings of division and exclusion within the Feminist Movement. In her essay “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde presents the idea that, “There is a pretense to a homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist.” In conversations about the goals of the feminist movement, I have had to assert the fact that Women of Color are impacted by sexism differently than White woman.
Yes, I can relate to daily instances of sexism, but because I am Black, these instances become intensified. For example, if I am passionate about a topic or asserting myself, I am not only acting on emotional impulses associated with femininity, but I am somehow now the “angry Black girl.” Additionally, Black women are often left out of major dialogues relating to gender equality. In fact, there are many instances where our contributions to the Feminist Movement have been left unacknowledged. Our experiences simply are not the same, and until that is understood, the Feminist Movement will continue to exclude a wide array of women who would be a great asset to the furthering of the cause. Not feeling validated in a group that is supposed to be fighting for your equality is discouraging.
In comparison, I have found a sense of understanding and unity within the Black Lives Matter Movement that makes me believe that my experiences are validated in the fight for justice. Black Lives Matter was founded by three Black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, with the intent of “placing those at the margins closer to the center.” They realized that most Black liberation movements are led by Black, cis-gender, heterosexual men and wanted to make space for the experiences of Black women and Black queer and trans people. A movement with Black women at the core is something that is reaffirming to me.
With that being said, no movement is perfect, and I should look at how other movements approach the issue of diversity. Based on my experiences with the Feminist Movement, I can imagine that there are many movements where people feel stifled or unheard.
The disconnect between wanting to be more involved in the Feminist Movement and not feeling entirely welcomed is something that I struggle with but am actively trying to reconcile. I am a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition, a bi-weekly discussion group at the Women’s Center, where I am able to have open dialogues with other Women of Color about our diverse experiences and how we fit into the fight for gender equality. I find that this group has allowed me to connect with people who have similar sentiments as myself. It is spaces like this where I feel that my voice is not only heard but valued. I have come to realize that although my gender is not always at the forefront of my personal understanding of how I am perceived socially, it is a part of my identity that is essential to understanding the impact systemic structures of oppression have on me as a whole.
For more information about the ideas discussed in this blog, check out these resources: