This article was originally posted by JET Magazine’s jetmag.com on December 31, 2013: Year In Review: Can Feminism Be Integrated?
Superstar Beyonce gave the entertainment world a jolt when she released her 5th album under such a hush-hush approach this December. Beyonce, with its flagrant endorsement of multifaceted feminism, sent writers and sites that don’t even regularly cover her contributions to popular culture scrambling to whip up overblown explanations as to if it was her place (or not) to define a movement that continues to struggle in finding its place on a wider spectrum. The album arrived in closing out a year that unbeknownst to us would bring forward the discussion of the integration of feminism, and in particular, the lack thereof. Unambiguously, in 2013 “white feminism” was challenged. A portion of today’s feminists that oppose the cliquish vibe that feminism sometimes brings, questioned the archaic representation of the past and pleaded for a kind of feminism that truly aims for attention and concern for women of not just the higher class, of a certain skin tone, and from a specific continent. So as the phoenix of “Black Feminism” as the martyr for this action rose again, as a separate arena is it still definitely relevant or better yet undoubtedly imperative because of the perpetual case that white people just don’t understand?
The aforementioned breakthroughs alongside Beyonce’s LP are the following. Mikka Kendall, a pop culture writer and analyst, began the assertive hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen after observing a disturbing trend of women of color almost treated as invisible to the discussion of women’s rights. Succeeding the airing of the annual ceremony of the Black Girls Rock! awards, the spiteful #whitegirlsrock gained some momentum as ignorant minions to the narcissism of the Internet tried to belittle the non-profit organization. BGR founder Beverly Bond soon after wrote a heartfelt letter condemning the mocking hashtag and used it as further proof as to why her organization exists in the first place. In her own words: “As a humanist, I believe that we all rock. My issue is that the commentary that followed the “#whitegirlsrock” hashtag was not even about affirming dynamic white women. Instead, it was about critiquing or even punishing black women for having the nerve, the audacity and the unmitigated gall to love and affirm ourselves! It’s unfortunate that Bond even had to address the childish controversy suddenly affiliated with her passion project, and the controversies of 21st century feminism, apparently so segregated, was a pit-stop in the maelstrom of racially-charged events and remarks in the year of 2013.
While these occurrences did spark some noteworthy debates, like on Huffington Post’s Live, an opinionated chat took place featuring four intensely smart and historically inclined black women and was hosted by black scholar Marc Lamont Hill, Black Feminism until now had been a bit forgotten and as far back as the women’s suffrage of the 20th century, through the menagerie, black women seeking to have their concerns, through the black women experience, heard and recognized. Black Feminism found its most famous leader in the 1970s through Angela Davis, after the foundation had been laid by matriarchs such as Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells, and author Alice Walker introduced us to the birth of Womanism, a seemingly more mature take on equality. As mainstream feminism picked up with the presence of Madonna and Cher, black feminism was counter-culture, underground, and appreciated by those that sought to be understood by women more specifically just like them.
When provoked diatribes from Kendall and momentarily hurt but stronger than ever causes from Bond fought back, it became a bit clearer as to why Black Feminism is important. At first it seems in having such separate titles overall bruises feminism as a real union, but this planned camaraderie and shared understanding of women has many missing links when black women are left to the sidelines. It’s not to say that women of all races haven’t come together before, but why are these moments so few and far between?
Just look at the recent example provided by indie artist and ’90s feminist icon Ani DiFranco’s tactless pseudo-apology for a musical retreat that was planned to take place on what was once the grounds of a slavery plantation. The event was eventually cancelled and DiFranco didn’t issue any kind of statement until she was under the pressure of even some of her own fans, and definitely outsiders, who condemned the overlook. Oh, and it got worse. On Ani DiFranco’s Facebook page, a despicable fan of hers actually made a fake profile account under the name of “LaQueeta Jones” and wrote out mock comments of a Black woman “overreacting” to the event’s location. This turn of events right here is just another disappointing example of how much of the feminism divide is evident and when its become a case of intersection.
Until this year, young black women might’ve even found “Black Feminism” unnecessary. Why is someone like Beyonce a BLACK feminist and not just a feminist? How are Beyonce’s views any less organically feminine or radical than say Alanis Morrisette’s of the ‘90s or today’s old soul of Lorde? Madonna was a feminist when she released “Express Yourself” but Beyonce is a Black Feminist because of her racial identity and that she celebrates writers that just happen to be of Nigerian descent on tracks like “Flawless?” So where does that leave someone like Miley Cyrus who utterly appropriated features of black culture into her circus act of this year? Is she technically a Black Feminist? Who made these rules on what makes someone a feminist or not? And are we categorizing and boxing Black Feminism and Black Feminist too harshly? Are Black Feminists expecting so much because they feel no one else is in their corner?
At first, I myself was battling the concept of Black Feminism, and not because I didn’t believe in it, but I was one of those that worried that in departing the fight, we were losing more battles and there’d be less focus. Yet, I acknowledge my initial mishandling. In doing a little research I became reacquainted with the empowering events that inspired Black Feminism and the cabal of women that stood tall and proclaimed they were here and not going anywhere. In recognizing its importance, until society learns today or next week, Black Feminism is important to the development of young black women everywhere because it is a reminder that we do belong in the wider scope of greater culture and politics. In using a childhood example, I loved the idea of Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair festival in 1997 as the answer to male-dominated shows like Lollapalooza and Woodstock, but I also recall feeling disappointed that I didn’t see any black female artists on the roster. Did this modern day feminist movement include the sisters? (The next two festivals runs did however include black artists such as Missy Elliott and Erykah Badu).
So feminism can definitely be integrated and it has in the past, but we need feminism, womanism, and women’s rights to bond together for when women are mistreated in India, or when innocent victims like Renisha McBride are gunned down, critics describe Hillary Clinton as bitter as 2016 comes closer and closer, affiliating us with provocative figures like R. Kelly on a regular basis (enough with such commentary by the way), and a young black girl goes missing and barely an Amber Alert goes off, fighting the good fight of equality and justice for women is dealt with consonance and not so disproportional.