To be a feminist or not? That is the question.
Seriously. What is a conscious Black woman to do? Side with white women feminists, who often take ridiculously absurd positions that make no sense to me? Or, side with Black men who objectify and subject women to patriarchal rules?
I choose to think life is more nuanced than that, which is why I’ve decided to reject both notions and choose to be a womanist, a term coined by Alice Walker. Womanism includes the intersectionality of race and gender, realizing that to be a Black woman in America is to be in a precarious situation no matter where you are. As Black people we understand racism. As women we experience sexism. Sometimes we experience both at the same time. That is something neither Black men nor white women understand.
Let’s be clear. I’ve always identified first as a Black person. I want to be seen as a Black or African-American (I’m good with either) woman. I wear my blackness as a badge of honor. I’ve long realized the strength of my people, the intelligence and the perseverance. The legacy of slavery and white supremacy continues to affect America to this day. We persevered. We cunningly created songs to lead us to freedom. We didn’t just sit back and accept our condition — no matter what people try to tell us. We found passive as well as aggressive ways to undermine the massa’s authority. Once emancipated, we didn’t let sharecropping, the Ku Klux Klan, voter suppression or segregation stop us from actualizing our greatness.
I wish more of us today realized and tapped into the power we have, but that’s a column for another day. So when I think of who I am, I think of all of these things and I feel a tremendous amount of pride. Yes, I say it loud: I’m Black and I’m proud.
I stand in solidarity with my Black brothers. My father, brother, son and countless other Black men I’d ride and die for. I stand with them when I see my brothers facing the crushing weight of discrimination.
But there’s another piece to me. As much as I love being Black, I’m a woman, and I love it just as much. I can’t separate the two. I’m a BLACK WOMAN. The Black woman IS the mother of civilization. We birthed all of this. I love my ability to nurture and kick behind — sometimes at the same time.
When it comes to being a woman, I understand not receiving a fair wage for the same work a man does. I understand being reduced to a body part by a man. I’ve spoken up only to be ignored by men, or having my questions, concerns or thoughts invalidated by a group of men. I’ve experienced “mansplaining” a time or two.
So, here I am, the convergence of two distinct movements, but encompassed in one body.
We live in a patriarchal society where it’s better to be a man than a woman. Black men had property and voting rights before women — white or Black. Women suffragists fought for (white) women to be seen as equal, and they were right to do so. Sojourner Truth famously asked, “Ain’t I a Woman,” to white women fighting for their rights. Black women were told to wait our turn, once white women secured their rights, they’ll come back for us. Black men told us to wait our turn. Once they secured their rights, they’ll come back for us. Both groups excluded Black women.
So after taking all of these issues and more into consideration, I decided to use a term that I believe describes me more accurately. Womanism encompasses all that I am and removes me from box that never quite fit me and my experience — or that of my ancestors.