Written by Dynasty Ceasar, Racial Justice Trainer, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
The month of March is Women’s History Month, during which, it is important to examine who this would include and whose history we are celebrating. Particular attention should be paid to the concept of inclusion within the Feminist Movement for women of color. March has both, International Women’s Day and International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The thirteen days between them are symbolic of the disproportionate separation of race and gender within the movement.
This gap was historically wedged by affirming white supremacy, but today, it is wedged by its mundane successor, color blindness. To be a Feminist, one strives for “…the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” (Merriam-webster.com) but what does this mean for women of color when institutional and structural systems reinforce disparities on the basis of their skin color?
Historically, women’s rights movements did not always use inclusive practices. Deborah Gray White’s book, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves 1894 – 1994, shed light on the experiences that Black women had as they fought simultaneous battles for equality for their race and gender. White (1999) wrote of Ida B. Wells’ experience with Susan B. Anthony, which revealed Anthony’s support of “southern prejudices.” (p. 103) White stated that “individual white women might privately support black women and men suffrage.” (p. 103) White also noted that “NAWSA [National American Women’s Suffrage Association] went on record in 1903 in favor of suffrage as the ‘medium through which to retain supremacy of the white race over the African.” (p. 103)
Today, women’s rights movements have chosen to use a color blind approach in an attempt to assume equal rights for all women. Monnica T. Williams defines being colorblind in her article, “Colorblind Ideology Is a Form of Racism” as “the racial ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity.”
This approach is used in feminist movements when reference of women’s experience is tailored to white women with the assumption that all women have the same experiences. “On one hand, black feminists argue that the intersectionality of sexism, class oppression, and racism make the experience of Black Women inherently different. Yet, the traditional feminist movement strives to eradicate sexism and class oppression, often at the cost of ignoring race as an inhibitor,” noted Georgina Class-Peters in “Black Women, White Movement: Why Black Women are Leaving the Feminist Movement.”
Having said this, I do not seek to disregard the importance of the feminist movement or the changes it has made in some capacities for all women. I am asking that we understand the parallels between white supremacy and color blindness and how they both lead back to racism. Seeing color is seeing humanity in complexions other than white. Seeing color is understanding how inhumane white supremacy is in receiving the truth in the experiences of all.
Whether it is to reestablish white supremacy or to be colorblind, both approaches force women of color to have to choose between their ethnicity and their gender, and therefore, neither approach has a place in feminist movements if they seek equality and inclusion for all women.