This past election, like all elections, was often broken down into demographics. Which candidate was leading with what group? The U.S. population was categorized by factors such as age, education level, race, income, etc. I understand the importance of this practice, but one categorization has always bothered me: gender.
This is not because I am relearning to not see gender as binary or my dislike of generalizations. What bothers me is the fact that I have always understood that “women” means “white women.”
While I have not always been conscious of the politics surrounding identity and categories, I have always known that when people are listing categories, such as groups of color, that the default is white. If there was a discussion involving gender, it was focused on white men and women.
As we entered Women’s History Month, I knew there was going to be a lot of discussion about the past oppression, contemporary issues, and the major advances of women. I, also, knew that women of color would be mere footnotes, if that.
If it wasn’t for actively seeking out marginalized voices in media, I would have missed major parts of history that involved women who looked like me. Triumphs that barely get recognition until someone makes a movie about it, and even then, there is the obligatory white savior like in Hidden Figures, whose act of heroism may or may not have been fact.
While I have often just accepted this with an eyeroll, a sarcastic tweet, or a knowing look with another black woman, this past election really got under my skin. When the dust finally settled and the numbers came in, we saw that most white women voted for Trump.
Knowing the history of white women’s complicity in racism in America, this didn’t surprise me, what got to me was the number of white women who attempted to silence women of color when this was pointed out.
In a photo from The Root, an online publication that focuses on African American issues, Angela Peoples holds a sign that says, “Don’t Forget: White Women Voted for Trump” as three white women in pink pussy hats take selfies in front of the capitol building.
In her interview with The Root, Peoples says that her sign was met with responses of “Not this white woman,” or “No one I know!”
“That’s why the photo was such a great moment to capture, because it tells the story of white women in this moment wanting to just show up in a very superficial way and not wanting to the hard work of making change,” Peoples says of the viral photo.
Peoples continues, “You’re here protesting, but don’t forget: The folks that you live with every single day…voted for trump, made the decision to vote against self-interests to maintain their white supremacist way of life.”
The forgetfulness that took over during the women’s march has always been present. When women celebrate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, they forget the fact that white suffragists discarded the black women who helped them gain the right to vote. When discussing the wage gap, white women forget that only they make 77 cents for every man’s dollar while both women and men of color typically make much less.
The lack of acknowledgement for the privileges of white women has been rife throughout Women’s History Month. Yes, white women have suffered from patriarchy, but there is very little acknowledgment of racialized misogyny and the impact on nonwhite women.
The white woman’s experience is not the only experience of women. While white women fought for the right to work outside their homes, women of color had no choice but to leave their homes to provide for their families.
My grandmother, a mother to nine children, did not have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mother. She and my grandfather both had to earn an income to survive, much like other people of color.
While white women fight to be seen as strong, black women fight against the strong stereotype. The “strong black woman” trope has often been used to downplay the femininity of black women and leads black women to be viewed as less worthy of protection and care. This is especially a problem for darker skinned black women who historically have been portrayed as more masculine.
I will not forget the kerfuffle that followed Michelle Obama’s “black girls rock” statement. White women rushed to their social media accounts to blast the former first lady for lack of inclusion when it has been clear that white women have always excluded women of color.
The alternative proposed was “All girls rock.” Many black women understood that meant “white girls rock,” given the history of America. This erasure of black women and other women of color is what led to Mikki Kendall starting the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.
These issues are why I identify as a black feminist and not just a feminist. They are also why I have been concentrating on women of color, specifically black women, this Women’s History Month.
I have ignored and bypassed all the fun facts and quotes from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gloria Steinem and Madonna and chosen to focus on black women like Ida B. Wells, Shirley Chisolm and, the Godmother of Rock and Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
I now have a staggering list of books to read and black women to learn about. These women have long been ignored in conversations about great women. It is time to turn the focus on to them and the contributions they have made in society.
The public must learn that women of color aren’t a niche interest and the word “women” should not be shorthand for white women. Women of color are women, too. Our experiences should not be swept under a rug in favor of white women and their history.
This involves not only acknowledging the contributions of nonwhite women, but also the privileges of white women. If we are going to discuss the experiences of women, then it needs to be all women.
Women’s history should not be a revisionist’s paradise that claims that all women have had the same experience. Even amongst women of color, there are differences. Let’s decentralize white women and make sure all women have their share of the narrative, even the ugly side.