This post is a part of the What Black Feminism Means to Me series.
By Desere’ Cross
When I was first asked by my friend Julia to write about what black feminism means to me, I was stuck.
I wasn’t quite sure what black feminism was and how that was different from mainstream feminism. So I did my research. I found what sets black feminism apart from mainstream feminism is its focus on the intersectionality between prejudices such as racism, classism, sexism, etc. Black feminism focuses on how these things combine to create a different reality for women of color.
With this basic understanding of black feminism established, I then began to reflect on the question Julia posed to me: What does black feminism mean to me? Two things came to mind.
1. Black feminism means I have unique struggles I will have to face. It means while some of my white counterparts can turn a blind eye to race, it will be forever present in my life.
For example, as a black female, I constantly worry about how people in the workforce will perceive my hair. Do I wear it straight to interviews and gradually reveal my kinky hair once I land a job? Once at work, can I flaunt my afro, or should I constrain it in a pony puff? These are questions I ask myself that my white counterparts do not have to think about.
Another example: I have a friend who is a broadcast journalist. We attended a job fair last summer and she was told that her work was good; all she needed to do was straighten her hair. To be told to mirror European standards of beauty in order to remain competitive in the job market is an experience unique to black women.
2. Black feminism means I will always walk a thin line between love and hate. As I prepared to graduate and enter the work force, I had many mentors warn me how to carry myself. I have to be friendly, but not too friendly because then people will try to take advantage of me. And I can’t be too unfriendly because then I will be perceived as a mad black woman.
Figuring out a happy medium between “pushover” and “mad black woman” is a unique struggle I have encountered in the workplace. Either my coworkers will love me or hate me, depending on how they have stereotyped me and how well I fit outside their box of preconceived notions.
During my quest to define black feminism and understand what it means to me, I was surprised to find that there was so much division in the feminist community. It saddens me to see women with commonalities let unacknowledged differences prevent them from working together. But as I started to critique black feminists for their strong viewpoints and separatist behavior, I realized that black feminism is a necessary fragment of a larger movement.
As I thought about my experience as a black female and how my race, gender, class, and sexuality have combined to affect how I experience the world, I realized I will always see the world through a different lens.
Black feminism is the prescription in these lenses that helps me to better anticipate the obstacles ahead.
You can read more of Desere’s ponderings on her blog Media Whistle Blower.