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Feminism still isn’t for black women

So Obama has been cleaning up in this week’s batch of primaries and caucuses and he seems to be set to go into the convention later this summer a real contender for the nomination. Which is great news if you want him to be President, but it pretty much guarantees an op-ed (or 20) that will wave the flag of racism while calling for women to stand together in sisterhood and support Hillary’s bid for President. Think I’m joking? There’s been this running patter from famous feminist authors as Obama collects delegates that essentially says that black women should be voting with their vaginas and not with their skin color. And while I’m personally voting for Obama I’m completely sick of hearing these calls for me to ignore the issues, ignore the reality of Hillary’s campaign tactics (Yes, I know she’s apologized for every “accidental” bit of race baiting that’s come out of her mouth or the mouths of her supporters, but at some point there’s no more room for the accident claim), and pretend that my gender should trump my race or my beliefs.

In fact if you really read the pieces by Gloria Steinem, Erica Jong, or even the one by Robin Morgan it seems that if you’re female you’re supposed to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton because she’s female, because you’re female, because it’s her turn, or because Obama has time, and even because there could be something besides the highest office in the land available to Obama if Hillary wins the election. According to Erica Jong “Possibly Hillary will appoint him to the Supreme Court where he can counter that embarrassing Clarence Thomas.” which I suppose is meant to be a sop to voters that would be unhappy if he didn’t make into office. Of course to me it reads like “Step aside for the white lady, you uppity darkie” but then I’ve never been good at pretending racism doesn’t exist in white women.

And just in case the examples from the last few months weren’t convincing enough? I finished this post and then I had to come back and edit it, because Erica Jong can’t stop spouting ignorance long enough to listen to any critcism of Hillary Clinton’s platform. In fact she goes so far as to claim Oprah is only supporting Obama because he’s black and it’s not like his platform is publicly accessible or like one could prefer his healthcare plan or think his desire to end the war is important. No, even though she loves Oprah there’s no possibility that this BLACK woman that has built a billion dollar empire can possibly be thinking for herself. How dare Oprah (and apparently every other woman that prefers Obama) not do what the older white women tell them to do? Just recently I saw something from a black Obama supporter about the last time a white woman wanted to tell her how to lead her life. Here it is, please pay attention to the time frame to which she is referring as she talks about a white woman determined to tell her how she should be behaving in public.

Apparently the possibility that we vote with our brains based on the issues hasn’t occurred to any of these writers. And I find it hilarious that the same women spouting racist clap trap then have the temerity to demand that black women stand in sisterhood with them. Perhaps it is time for a little history lesson on racism in the feminist movement because clearly I’m supposed to ignore that huge elephant in the middle of the room. Am I meant to think that possessing a vagina automatically means you’re not racist no matter what kinds of things you say? Is it supposed to go unnoticed (as Robin Morgan does ever so subtly in her piece and Erica Jong does directly) that the same voices decrying anyone calling black women race traitors for voting for Hillary are calling women who vote for Obama traitors to feminism? All I have to say (as has already been said by Melissa Harris Lacewell) is that the days of Mammy are over. There will be no more of this expectation that black women table their own self-interests to support the needs of white women that will not be returning the favor.

I’m a black woman. I’m a feminist that’s voting for Obama. I was on the verge of ceasing to call myself a feminist since it’s become quite obvious that many white feminists think I’m too stupid to notice them saying nigger under their breath after every call for sisterhood. But then it occurred to me that there’s no reason to let them be the face of the feminist movement. So if you want to vote for Hillary because her values align with yours? That’s great. But don’t you dare try to tell WOC how to vote while insinuating that they’re too stupid to think for themselves. And since I know there are young white feminists that can see the elephant in the room? Let me say that I don’t think a vote for Hillary is a vote for racism. But, I do think insisting that a black woman shouldn’t vote for a black man because he’s got a penis is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. If it’s admirable to vote for Hillary based on gender; what’s wrong with voting for Obama based on race? As for the young white women voting for Obama? Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to vote for a woman you disagree with in order to be a “true” feminist.

29 thoughts on “Feminism still isn’t for black women”

  1. the angry black woman says:

    Every time I see that video I get teary. She reminds me of the women of my grandmother’s generation. (The accent does me in, too. All of my older relatives sound like that).

    Also, just wanted to point out that a lot of what you said here reminds me of this earlier post on feminism. I still need to write out my own thoughts on this.

  2. Ruthy Charlot says:

    Good job, karnythia. Well writ and well done.

  3. Nora says:

    I read this and wanted to stand up and cheer. You GO, Karnythia!

  4. Saladin says:

    Here I’d point out that Erica Jong’s ‘feminist masterpiece’ Fear of Flying has a chapter entitled “Arabs and Other Animals”. And no, she’s not being ironic…

  5. Professor Tracey says:

    Excellent post. I’m not sure I agree that feminism is not for black women, but the fact that white women just do not believe in sharing the concepts of feminism with us. Our issues as black women indict them to closely with issues they do not want to face. If they share the space they have to admit that they have benefited in society at our expense. They are never going to do that.

  6. Deborah says:

    Can I just say, as a white feminist with a Women’s Studies degree, how fucking embarassing this shit is? It was bad enough that Jong, Steinem et al said things like this during the 70s when the Second Wave was just getting started, but the fact that they continue to spew this hatred a good thirty or forty years down the line is just appalling. There has been a huge amount of work done about the intersection of race and gender since that time, and it’s like they’ve never even *heard* of it. I don’t know what they’ve been doing during the last few decades, but apparently it hasn’t involved any actual critical thinking or even, you know, keeping up with the literature in their own movement. It’s like they arrived at one view of the world as young adults, and have never changed it, which…last time I checked, wasn’t exactly what feminism was supposed to be about.


  7. Veronica says:

    Deborah, take heart in the number of white feminists who did no such thing this election season and endorsed Obama, including Katha Pollitt, Kate MIchelman, Laura Flanders, and others.

    But they don’t get major-play op-ed pieces, so Jong, Morgan, and Steinem make us all look bad.

  8. brownfemipower says:

    Here I’d point out that Erica Jong’s ‘feminist masterpiece’ Fear of Flying has a chapter entitled “Arabs and Other Animals”. And no, she’s not being ironic…

    oh no she did NOT…


  9. the angry black woman says:

    Erica Jong has many issues she needs to work out. I can’t say I’m surprised at the title of that chapter considering feminism’s dubious relationship with Arabs and Muslims (they’re all BAD MEN who enslave their women and make them cover their head and any woman who voluntarily does so is BRAINWASHED and also we don’t know the difference between Arabs and Muslims, anyway!). But anything she has to say on the subject of what women should do because they’re women is completely tainted by the knowledge that her daughter had a serious eating disorder for many years partially because her mother always harped on her about not being thin enough. Any time I hear something like that, the feminist credentials go flying out of the window.

    It’s part of an overall problem I have with that generation of white feminists – they talk the talk but how often do they walk the walk? They claim that feminism is all about allowing women to make their own choices, but only if it’s the choices these women say one should make. According to them, you shouldn’t choose to stay home with your kids and not work outside the home, you shouldn’t want to wear traditional clothing they have deemed “oppressive”, you shouldn’t choose to vote for a man over a woman no matter what kind of man he is or what kind of woman she is.

    Obviously all of us are not drinking this Kool-Aid.

  10. Latoya Peterson says:

    All I can do is applaud, Karnythia. And I second ABB, I love that video.

  11. thewayoftheid says:

    As always, well said.

    I had to go back to read Jong’s piece last month on Barack’s Regan comments because I needed a good laugh. This chick is seriously mental.

  12. Aaminah says:

    I will simply say THANK YOU, from the bottom of this heart & soul, THANK YOU.

  13. JMB says:

    I’m a white woman who sees the elephant. All I can say is I’m so sick of this whole primary BS and can’t wait until it is over. Pick however you want but don’t criticize others for picking the way THEY see things, whether on race, gender or (in my opinion the more important one) the issues.

    I remember learning all about how black women weren’t allowed to protest for equality with white women. Oh yes, vagina=hate free completely. No hypocrites here. *rolls eyes*

  14. Jaye T. says:

    Can I just say, as a white feminist with a Women’s Studies degree, how fucking embarassing this shit is?

    Cosigned. It’s one of the reasons why I voted for Obama.

    Although in the interests of full disclosure, his refusal to capitulate to war supporters at the height of the pressure was my primary reason. Not only do we need someone with that kind of strength in the White House, but also someone with that kind of enlightened approach to foreign policy. (I know Hillary’s not Bill, but she’ll probably have the same advisers — and they’ll probably be the same people who refused to intervene in the Rwandan genocide. That type of non-intervention qualifies as a high crime against humanity in my book.)

  15. Julierocket says:

    Nice article, Karn :)

    I wonder what Hill’s opinions are on white women voting for Obama. The ultimate traitor???

    I’m so glad you wrote this and directed me in the general direction of this blog. I started learning about the differences between “feminism” and “white feminism” just around the time I was about to start calling myself a feminist. It’s good to have advanced warning about where the crazy is ahead of time…

  16. kid5rivers says:

    From time, to time, in the course of civilized history, there comes forth a voice so resonant, so urgent, in purpose, that its vibrations spread, like ripples do, through small groups, then surges, like swells do, through communities, then cascades, like waves do, throughout an entire nation, in the process washing a people clean of bitterness, hatred and distrust, shackles which, without doubt, severely limit a people’s ability to focus on the highest ideals after which humanity was created to strive.

    It is in such a time that the United States of America, now, finds itself.

    It is a time which the United States of America, were it to play any significant future leadership role in the global village, must embrace.

    A view from Trinidad and Tobago

  17. lavendertook says:

    As someone who supports HRC, I totally agree with this essay.

    I’m a black woman. I’m a feminist that’s voting for Obama. I was on the verge of ceasing to call myself a feminist since it’s become quite obvious that many white feminists think I’m too stupid to notice them saying nigger under their breath after every call for sisterhood. But then it occurred to me that there’s no reason to let them be the face of the feminist movement.

    YAYYAYYAY!! ! Thank you.

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  20. Carmen D. says:

    Great post Karnythia and I love that video. My late beloved grandma was from North Carolina and she looked and sounded just like this lady…sweet and tough as steel. BTW, did you catch Hillary’s Hallmark Channel “town hall?” Well Frank Rich did and his observations (particularly the ones about the absence of black participants) are scathing:

  21. Avedon says:

    No one my color has ever been in this race, and I’ve seen what Margaret Thatcher did in England, so none of this crap matters to me. I listen to what they say and watch how they vote, and I see a couple of jerks who have jerks supporting them.

    I’m gonna hold my nose and vote for the Democrat in November, same as I’ve always done. I’ll console myself if “The First Woman” or “The First Black Man” is voted into the White House, but I have no intention loving either one of them.

    The only thing that matters is that after November, we stay on their case to get out of Iraq, convict all those Republican criminals, and undo all the damage to our economy that decades of stupid policies have done.

    Color and gender are pretty distractions. If they don’t do the business, I’ll never forgive them for getting into this race and causing all this division in the first place.

  22. tallulahbankhead says:

    so I’m wondering what’s going to happen to feminism after the election is over….now that all the skeletons are being let out of the closet.

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  25. jamilah bourdon says:

    i am actually voting for cynthia mc kinney (as obama’s policies don’t sit well with me- he runs with a group of warmongers too, like brezinski (as well as pledging to invade pakistan if he were in office), but i did like the article.

    it’s the same pattern that happened in 1972, when the so-called national organization of women initially supported shirley chisolm, then switched up to mc govern because they didn’t feel her candidacy was viable.

  26. Jarod HM says:

    This was wonderful. We need more people with powerful voices like Karnythia’s challenging the ethnocentric, racist, classist, and (often) sexist assumptions that riddle feminist discourse today. More people need to join the fight in challenging the monopoly that Steinem, Jong, and other have on women’s issues.

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  29. Jarod HM says:

    The significant difference, to follow on the post by ABW, is the declaration of appropriation and critique as opposed to the reject of feminism as a concept. Like I said in response to Aaminah Hernández, we need to have as many people changing this ideas that are put forth in the name of feminism. Although the “academic study” of “feminist theory” may seem relevant to your life, people are out their trying to change policy or intervene in other countries using this ideas as a frame of reference. The longer alternative voices remain silent, the further we move away from a productive dialogue and action about sexism and its intersection with racism and classism in America.

  30. Jarod HM says:

    Quoting brownfemipower responing to Saladin:

    ” Here I’d point out that Erica Jong’s ‘feminist masterpiece’ Fear of Flying has a chapter entitled “Arabs and Other Animals”. And no, she’s not being ironic…

    oh no she did NOT…


    I am in my university library sitting with a copy of Fear of Flying, and at least when it comes to the anniversary edition, Saladin is right. The 14th chapter is called “Arabs & Other Animals.” Few telling passage for early in chapter is “There was a greasy Egyptian (is there any other kind?) sitting next to me, …” and ” He had a huge nose like Nasser’s (all Egyptians look like Nasser to me) …” (Jong 232-3).

    We should never think overlook that power of the Orientalist mythology has on Western thinkers, even those who consider themselves as “progressive” as Erica Jong.

  31. OutsiderintheRoom says:

    By voting for a white woman aka Clinton, the black woman is voting for an entity that is bound to contribute to the stymie of black progress directly or indirectly. If African Americans have to progress the status quo should be broken. Is it reasonable to expect that black women can be empowered without empowering the black men too. I find the notion ludicrous!!! Representing a significant proportion of the black community, if the men continue to suffer, the whole community’s power will remain diluted. Voting for Clinton will help racism, not feminism.

  32. Shelli says:

    I totally agree with this post. I have thought this for a number of years. As a black woman, I am tired of white women feeling that they have the right to talk down to me and help me to decide what I think.

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