It’s a well-documented fact that shared oppression does not always foster a supportive and united front. Black women are super aware of the ways in which Black men—despite our joint experiences under racism—are often all too quick to step on us; perpetuate and dismiss our experiences of misogynoir; and gloss over our specific problems under white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. This can be viewed in a nutshell by the current swathes of classist misogynoir being directed at Amber Rose by her ex-boyfriend, Kanye West, who has previously been vocal on issues of white supremacy both through his work and his words. Whilst the hate thrown at us by Black men is straight up abominable and is rightly a source of much frustration for Black women, we must remember that those of us who are cisgender and/or straight are not exempt from the ability to step on, degrade and oppress those who are meant to be our kinfolk, just like Black men do to us. That is, queer Black women are routinely let down by our heterosexual and/or cis sisters who are meant to have our backs.
This can manifest in two ways: simple omission and the erasure of our issues (whether deliberate or not); or through explicit hate, mockery, and discrimination. The former is exemplified in the seminal text Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks. This book is recognized as one of the ultimate “how-to” guides for the Black feminist in any stage of her revolutionary journey. However, as a straight and cisgender Black woman, hooks lacks insight into the ways in which heterosexism, homophobia, cissexism and transphobia (especially transmisogynoir) operate and cause harm. Within the book she fails to discuss the ways in which Black LGBTQ women are open to a multitude of perils due to their sexuality and/or gender identity and how she, as a straight and cisgender woman (despite her own racialised sexist oppression) can contribute to the dangerous hegemony of heteronormativity and cisnormativity which lead to violence and abuse against queer communities.
Ain’t I, as a Black lesbian, a woman worthy of consideration? Ain’t I here too?
In fairness to hooks, her later work such as Communion: The Female Search For Love, explores lesbianism, but the fact that her most popular and most cited work is bereft of any LGBTQ analysis is indicative of a wider, damaging apathy around Black queer identity.
A facet of the latter way in which intra-Black woman prejudice appears can be seen in an offensive tweet by controversy magnet Azealia Banks, in which she used a transphobic slur to describe her consternation at being likened to transgender actress and liberation advocate Laverne Cox. Laverne is utterly, completely and totally objectively beautiful; there is no way anyone can disagree on that. Azealia’s discomfort at being told she resembles Cox is quite obviously rooted in transmisogyny and is a perfect example of how Banks’ own status as a bisexual woman does not remove her cisgender privilege and her ability to denigrate her fellow queer Black sister for her trans identity.
Clearly there is a need for change amongst us. So how can straight and/or cisgender Black women step up to the plate and do better in 2015 in order to lift each other up and protect each other, despite our differences in sexuality and gender history?