Where WOC Lead, I Will Follow

Illustration titled “Hear Our Voice” by Liza Donovan, created for the Women’s March on Washington

Recently, I read two articles by African-American women in which they expressed frustration with white liberal women, particularly those who identify as feminist and/or spiritual, for giving mere lip service to the concept of intersectional feminism. The articles were : “Breaking Up with Intersectional Feminism” by Tamela J. Gordon and “Dear White Liberal/ Spiritual/ Yogi/ Feminist Women” by Lecia Michelle. Even though I am a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual woman, I couldn’t agree with them more. I do not equate my frustration with theirs. But, we definitely share a space where our frustrations overlap.

Until January 2017, I hadn’t grasped that my version of feminism was so different from the version proclaimed by so many white women. I hadn’t known the history of racism in the women’s movement. I didn’t realize the first, second and third waves of feminism weren’t focused on lifting all boats. Perhaps that was because I didn’t move in specifically feminist circles. Still, the first specifically “feminist” book I read was a used copy of Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. Her words really resonated and inspired me to seek out authors such as Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison. And yet, when I thumbed back through it this morning, I realized I had somehow missed her warning that womanism and feminism are not the same — “Womanist is to feminist what purple is to lavender.” Hmmm. Wonder what parts of my path would have been different if that had stuck?

But, I digress. Following the 2016 Presidential election, I began to gather monthly with women friends (predominately white) to discuss what it would mean to “bring the Feminine” into the tools and models traditionally used by activists. What I learned throughout 2017 is that much of what we were discussing in our group, had already been written about by Black feminists such as Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis and the Combahee River Collective. They didn’t specifically write about “bringing in the Feminine”. But their ideas were completely based in the energetics of the Feminine. When I heard Adrienne Maree Brown speak about her book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds on The Lit Review Podcast, I made the declaration that titles this post. Where WOC lead, I will follow.

audre lord

Why? Because they have never stopped fighting battles for reproductive rights, body sovereignty, equal pay, equal justice, equal education and safe affordable health care. They’ve been fighting patriarchy with one hand and white supremacy with the other since their ancestors were either stolen from their countries of origin or had their land stolen out from under them. While I am most familiar with the writings of Black feminists/womanists, I have recently begun seeking out the work of non-black women of color, too. These are the women who stood on the frontline at Standing Rock and those whose communities face deportation as 45 hungers for his wall.

Much of white feminism is still about making white women equal to white men. But, white men are the ones who got this planet into the mess its in. The answer isn’t to just replace one white gender with another. Afterall, 53% of white women voters voted for 45 and 63% of white women voters cast their ballots for Roy Moore.

If we really want to: end patriarchy, replace capitalism, convert the current “justice” system to one that is more transformative than punitive, heal our world, heal our planet, restore balance between humankind and other life on this planet, rebalance our internal yin-yang/feminine-masculine energy — and do all this while still experiencing pleasure and without burnout — then white women need to step to the side. We need to make intersectional feminism the uniform of the resistance, rather than a small scarf we pull out as an occasional accessory when it suits our mood.

The one place white women should step up and be leaders is in ending white supremacy and systemic racism. People of color do not have the power to end these oppressions. White people do. But, white women must be willing to put an end to a system that offers them privilege. And their will to do so must be on par with their will to end the only system that oppresses them — patriarchy.

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