4 Ways Mainstream Feminism Fails Black Women


Talking about feminism can be daunting because it encompasses a wide variety of ideals; somewhere along the line, someone will disagree with my opinions and I will disagree with others. Like with everything, there are extremist and pacifists and people who get it a little bit more and those who get it a little bit less.

I read a piece on Everyday Feminism titled “4 ways Mainstream feminism fails Muslim women” and was inspired to respond with my own take—being I am a black woman. I come from a long line of black educators and strong black women. I say that last bit with pride. They were not always accepted into the feminist movement back in the day because of well… racism. Several white feminist groups were not inclusive of members of the LGBTQ or black community. So, my opinion towards feminism has been somewhat biased. I was raised in a way where my family never directly called itself “feminist”– but essentially was in the eyes of the movement today.

Feminism is made up of several movements with several goals in mind. That being said, it is important to understand how other women may be affected. Although there are no bans or unspoken rules on black women entering feminist associations and clubs like there were in the 50’s and 60’s, there are still some issues within the mainstream movement that fail to hold black women on the same level as white women. Here are some problems I’ve noticed and hope are addressed in 2015 and onward.

Celebrating white artists who appropriate black culture

Two words to start this discussion: Miley Cyrus

She used black women as props, Columbused the word and dance “twerk,” and made an absolute mockery of black culture. No, she is not a genius for capitalizing off a black culture. This has been done for several years with jazz, soul music, and now, of course, R&B and rap. It’s one thing to appreciate and adopt elements of a musical sound and another thing to insult and appropriate. Somehow, her actions were overlooked, and she was even considered revolutionary by some. I’m happy she was able to promote body and sexuality acceptance. And, yes, it’s wonderful to encourage women that they can do whatever they want with their bodies—but at what cost? Why did several people ignore how she decided to pick and choose random bits of black culture and spew it out on stage and in songs? Why were so many people so happy to eat that up so happily? No, it’s not okay to overlook race issues when celebrating feminism. A win for feminism has to be a win for all—not excluding one race.

Poor Education on the Mike Brown/Eric Gardner Movement

I was so proud of the small peaceful protests that happened at my university; however, I was also disappointed by the lack of actual understanding I saw from several people online. So many focused on “well, I don’t see racism here” or “I’m looking at these facts” instead of realizing no one was calling Darren Wilson a racist. They failed to realize that an entire race of people felt, again, and for hopefully one of the last times, that their lives didn’t matter because of systematic oppression.

I was flooded with fake empathy. No, Mike Brown was not a saint — no one is treating him as such. But, as feminist, when an entire race or cultural group feels oppressed, we should not ignore their voices. We should not say, “Well, my experience is different, therefore your struggles are irrelevant.” We should listen to the cries of the mothers with actual fear for their sons or the wives terrified for their husbands. The KKK went door to door in Saint Louis and, somehow, this was overlooked. Even when we don’t understand, the least we can do is listen.

White Privilege within Feminism

This point is at the root of the two aforementioned problems. For some, the issues that black women face are ignored and minimized. It’s almost considered offensive for a black women to say she’s offended by cultural appropriation. Even the lack of black faces at the forefront of the movement shows the lack of acceptance from the mainstream feminist movement.

Not reacting as publicly and verbally about the nude picture scandals with black women

Jennifer Lawrence had a magazine cover and spread to talk about her photo leaks. She was heavily supported by mainstream feminism. I was happy people were speaking up and not treating it lightly. I’m happy people started to consider it a crime, but why did it escalate for Jennifer Lawrence?

What about Jill Scott or Gabrielle Union? Why were they left out of the conversation? Where were their names in some lists of attacked celebs? These black women were victims, too. I know Jenifer Lawrence is adored by a lot of the white feminist community, and other feminist as well, but she is not the only person who should have the “right” to be publicly outraged and defended so heavily. This sympathy and outrage needs to spread to other public figures and women that are victims of these crimes.