There is an understandable distrust of the feminist movement amongst many Black women. Historically, the push for women’s emancipation has been a facade for the perpetuation of a specific form of ‘empowerment’ only relevant to privileged white women. This shallow conception of feminism relies on a glorification of “equality”—that is, equal access to patriarchal, neoliberal systems created by white men to exploit the physical and intellectual labours of women and people of colour. In contrast, Black feminism revels in the idea of “liberation”: we have no interest in standing on the backs of our sisters and brothers in order to grow bloated on a slice of the ruling classes’ pie. Instead we seek a future free from the structures which are inherently exploitative. We seek a future in which success does not have to come from the blood, sweat, tears, and suffering of others.
The feminism of the white mainstream is the status quo masquerading as progression. The giddy glorification of corporate power as exemplified by Sheryl Sandberg or Hillary Clinton has no bearing on transforming the lives of those who are not interested in showering the women below them in shards as they shatter the glass ceiling. As such, the wider feminist movement must come to a more nuanced understanding of itself and who it is fighting for. “Woman” must no longer be seen as synonymous with “white” in the imagination of activists and a real transformation of feminism must occur based on the radical idea that Black women are women too.
This is especially pertinent in the supposed ‘age of intersectionality’, where the meaning behind the term has been co-opted, obscured and misconstrued and it has become what Jennifer Nash, in her 2008 article titled “Re-Thinking Intersectionality”, terms an “institutionalized intellectual project,” through which misguided theorising is becoming detrimental to the radical power of understanding the oppression of Black women in its multiplicity. We must reclaim intersectionality as an active tool and discard the empty buzzword that white feminists use to garland themselves and assuage their guilt.
The area of reproductive justice is a perfect case study to exemplify how the feminist movement can use intersectional analysis to better conditions not only for Black women but for all. A trickle down approach that focuses on continually bettering the conditions for white women in the higher echelons of society is essentially useless. Instead, we improve things from the bottom up to ensure we’re not forgetting those women in our most vulnerable populations.