As we remain in shock by the needless and cold-blooded murder of Walter Scott, shot in the back in South Carolina by a white police officer, it becomes very difficult to reason away racism in America. Furthermore, this event highlights the importance of intersectionality.
Intersectionality describes the phenomenon that some individuals can be categorized into several stigmatized groups: being a person of color, being a woman, identifying as lgbtq, being poor, and/or having a mental illness to name a few. Some people fit into more than one of these categories, and ignoring this complexity is unhelpful – especially when it comes to something so socially important as race. It’s unhelpful because feminists with the loudest voices (i.e., heterosexual white men and women) tend to completely ignore and thus alienate feminists who experience intersectionality. The problem here is that the more boxes of stigma one has to check, the more these ‘boxes’ interact to create a unique experience that can be difficult for others to understand. When dominant feminists don’t take intersectionality into account, we become fractured as a movement.
For example, heterosexual white feminists don’t have to worry about police brutality like feminists of color or lgbtq feminists, they get paid more, hold higher positions of power and voice, find themselves represented as the standard of beauty, and are included in magazines, advertisements and on consumer products. White feminists need to take the time to understand these issues, and the limitations of their own experiences, so that we can unite as one power to improve the lives and treatment of everyone!
What can we do to become united feminists? Here are a few beginning steps:
Listen to those who tell you that they feel left out of the debate. Listen to the many voices saying that they go unheard. Here are a few people and sites to check out: Crunk Feminist Collective, Black Feminist Manifesto, Queer Black Feminist, Women’s E-News, Aph Ko, Cassandra Leveille and The Czech.
Beyond listening, you also need to believe what feminists of color are telling you. Any woman should be able to understand the frustration of not being believed. For example, Cosmo recently reported results from a large internet survey showing that women estimated sexual assault rates to be much higher than men, and found the issue to be much more of a problem. The reason why? When men don’t observe and experience the constant threat of sexual assault that women do, they simply don’t believe it’s happening. A similar argument can be made for the experiences of feminists of color. White feminists seem to simply not believe the hardships that feminists of color experience every day, because white people don’t observe and experience these hardships. With Walter Scott, many white people had to see the video to finally believe that people of color are unfairly treated by the police. Like we learned from the whole Bill Cosby debacle, when multiple people with less social power come forward describing similar treatment, believe them!
Reach out and ask feminists of color to speak their mind, seek out their opinions, and Include them in the debate on feminism. This way, you can avoid pulling a Patricia Arquette, who said at the Oscars, “And it’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now!”