“A Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.”
– Alice Walker
As touched upon in an earlier post, feminism has not always been as inclusive and sympathetic to the struggles faced by black women and other women of color as a result of the intersecting oppressions of racism and sexism. What exactly do we mean when we say “intersecting oppressions”? GeekFeminism defines intersectionality as the following:
“Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.”
The womanist movement, feeling left out by the mainstream feminism of the first and second wave, which was focused primarily on the struggles of white women, thus came into being. Womanism focuses primarily on the struggles of women of color, but as racism affects all people of color, male or female, womanism also targets the oppression faced by black men as well.
When we look at womanism as a movement, we should make sure to not view it as a lesser movement beneath feminism. To do so is to reinforce the marginalization of women of color and the hierarchy which elevates white women at their expense – the whole reason womanism came into being in the first place. It calls attention to the historical and ongoing privileging of whiteness and disregard of people of color within feminism.
We should also be mindful that womanism is not merely a historical movement. It remains as relevant as ever, despite more of a recent push for full inclusivity and diversity within the feminist movement. The racist hierarchy which gave rise to womanism is a systemic imbalance of power whose persistence is evidenced in the unequal platform for women’s voices in even new media. Thanks to the internet and the feminist “blogosphere”, women’s voices are louder than ever, but the voices which are amplified most remain those of white women.
“Blogs run by traditionally marginalised women do not attract the same attention by the media. When feminists are pulled from the internet for interviews, it is routinely the same white feminist voices representing the broad perspectives that are visible on the internet. Unlike academia, where the power dynamic between professor and student does not allow for radical confrontation, marginalised women have forcefully made themselves heard through a series of boycotts, as well as critical essays confronting feminists of privilege regarding race, ableism and transphobia.”
– via Renee Martin, “I’m Not a Feminist (and There Is No But).
If feminism is meant to be a movement that represents all women, all women must be viewed as equal players in that movement. Womanism is an integral part of the movement while simultaneously being a movement of its own, equal in importance, whose concerns and goals should be the focus of all invested in achieving equality and social justice. The struggles of women of color are not an addendum to the feminist struggle but they are the feminist struggle, not just one month in a year but at all times, inextricable.