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Black Feminism: On Feelings and Misplaced Priorities

The path to success is easy, right? I once believed the lie that just the hard work alone would get me where I wanted to be. First, make sure you graduate from college, work hard, magically, voilá, you'll find yourself in leadership positions. That’s really hard to swallow when you see white women getting jobs because their daddy’s play golf with the boss or when forms of nepotism seem to habitually benefit anyone who's not a person of color. Does it always play out this way? No. But it sure gives me pause now that I've become aware of the politics of race and sex at play.

Things like that, which I have personally experienced, simply add to what I've come to see in the world. It's not pretty nor is it easy to swallow, but it's all I thought about yesterday watching what I consider to be the greatest hashtag in the world play out on Twitter. The #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag gripped me and I couldn't look away. It was messy and, for many, uncomfortable, and downright truth-telling on the part of the women of color who partook in it. 

Some of them were downright profound in nature.

And some of them were from people who got it so completely wrong that it might be considered funny if it weren't so pathetically sad. To the following I say: No, no, every shade of no. Jill is not the inspiration here. But I do have a point for you. It's the one you were missing. 

In fact, Karnythia responded to the above claim since she's the one who started the hashtag in the first place.


Some of the commentary was simply a response to pop culture and called out the disparity between music stars.

And, another social commentary one:

Some were rightly calling out the Sandbergs, the Mayers and the Slaughters who are having a discussion over there about which things they are going to choose for their lives while the WOC are doing it all without taking the very privileged stance determining whether or not they like it.


I’ve already dismissed those faux “mommy wars”, but I didn’t call it out loudly enough for being a part of a larger social construct. This one struck a nerve. A good one.

Some of it just seemed to be able to succinctly wrap up the absurdity of recent finger-pointing.


Part of the beauty of #solidarityisforwhitewomen is that it took the intersectionality of feminism and racism and boiled it down under 140 characters.

Other times, it just made me sad because I knew the truth of the statement and found that, sadly, today provided just what was predicted.

Sometimes, it took the form of something I have felt and been told for years was my problem.

The real power in the fast-moving conversation was in how global it was and how women the world over were feeling the effects no less than American women of color who are marginalized.

Many of them came with links to stories in the news that have infuriated me in the past and, again, shortened their words to fit the space that Twitter allows. 



It was, simply put, a history lesson for those who cared to listen. Quite often, I urged my White sisters to listen and listen and then listen some more. These are history lessons that haven't been taught enough.


There was the occasional man in the conversation who understood and added to the discussion in humorous ways, too.


What it made me think about is how often I've seen how easy it is for some people to see human rights and equality on issues of homosexuality but not when it comes to race. 


It broke down the simplistic nature by which many women of color find themselves boxed in and stereotyped and the smallness of the lens through which some see them. 


If you followed the hashtag back to the source, you'd find that Black women who found themselves marginally distanced by exclusionary efforts were abused and used by a mentally ill but oddly calculated breakdown from a White man who once tried to kill an ex-girlfriend and who unethically slept with his students and faked his way into a teaching position on feminist issues was the catalyst for them saying WE HAVEN'T BEEN HEARD. They called out the feminist silence, too.


It made me wonder: anger at patriarchy makes you a feminist but anger about racism within the construct of feminism doesn't exist?

Sometimes, the tag was used as pure poetry.


It took on disgusting disparity and called it out.


As expected, it brought out the ignorance of whatever the heck “reverse racism” is. That is not A Thing. Some people try to make it A Thing so others don't have to confront the actual inequalities.


Discordance was at play, but that isn’t divisive. Many of the hard-to-swallow truths stare us in the face and we don't know what to do with it. But divisiveness isn't the name of the game. Many defensive folks needed to consult a dictionary about what discordance and what divisive really are. This was eye opening for too many people. Too many are at a basic entry level on understanding the imbalance of power between White feminists of Black feminists.


This particular one reminded me of what happened last month when I watched scores of White women, many of them mothers, get all the benefits of having their voices amplified by getting shared and syndicated. None of the mothers of color I know were. (It's possible I may have missed it and, if so, feel free to share those.)


This one was loud and clear, too, and I am ever grateful to the fantastically brilliant writer Jamilah Lemieux who responded to what this one referenced



It was a difficult conversation but one in which I saw this over and over. Another hard truth is that women of color cannot protect others from their own insular worlds. Yet, they were asked to do it repeatedly when White women were in their feelings about this new-to-them discussion.


Everyday sexism gets our attention, but women of color manifesting the racist history inflicted upon them in a systemically racist way does not. To wit, this one has many layers:


I don’t have to play nice with the history facts and neither does Anastasia:


The number of times I have heard this very thing is appalling. It pains me to admit that it mostly comes from co-workers when it does.

Again, with the globalization of how many women marched right into the conversation. It was, in a word, glorious. 

This one is another conversation that I've had too many times to count. It's not a dress you can take off.

So, while you’re having the converstion on leaning in and breaking glass ceilings and having it all, many WOC are wondering why your All looks so very different from ours. And many WOC are wondering why we are in charge of doing all the teaching when it comes up against people who say there isn't enough out there that's written that happens to be worthy

So many of the women rightfully shot back when White women asked how they could "help" because it wasn't about helping. It was about listening. Have I mentioned listening?

Personally, I got into it myself with Plimpton because she was being so simplistic and dismissive, but the always amazing Jay Smooth took it and wrapped it up and put an amazing bow on it while giving proper credit to Karnythia.

There is space for all manner of stories and, on the chance that it's not yours, that's okay. When a story isn't mine and I can't relate to it due to my own experiences, I listen. Not to validate, though it does that, because when you tell your truth you have a voice. No matter what loud (sometimes SCREAMING) voices were saying, it wasn't an attack. It wasn't about hating White people or their looks or their privilege. It wasn't personal and it wasn't about you. Making it about you proved an overwhelming misplaced priority to the women who were speaking their truths. That issue, if you couldn't separate it out from the larger context, is yours

But this kind of feminism? It's all mine.


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Reader Comments (15)

As I mentioned to Dabnis Brickhouse earlier today on Twitter, I truly apologize for not understanding the entire conversation/exchange. I get what you're talking about now after reading through everything.

My purpose in life is to help others any way I can. If any of you can suggest ways to facilitate that, then I will be most appreciative.

Last night's "debate" was very informative. I appreciate your tolerance of my ignorance.

August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeekytaitai

I missed most of this last night, and the parts I did see I didn't really understand. Thanks for providing the context. It is easy to see how white women were tempted to minimize or explain, but just because the conversation mentions us doesn't mean it is all about us. Shutting up and listening seems to be the best idea of all.

August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSuebob

I was following this hashtag, and keeping my mouth (fingers?) shut, so I could just see what everyone needed to say. I want to make sure I'm paying attention when WOC stand up, singly or in a group, and say "Listen to this." I don't know if I'm always successful, but it's my goal.

Not that I expect cookies for doing that, but I wanted to say somewhere that my silence wasn't that I'm ignoring this. I'm listening, and trying to absorb, and be present.

August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

I personally loved it. I got introduced to some amazing women. I have no sympathy for white women who didn't get it, or took it personally. I am so over fellow white people making excuses for shit. Empathy and shutting the hell up aren't that hard. I have learned so much just listening to you and others. I appreciate when you let me engage in discourse, and I hope I don't embarrass myself too often. Thank you for bringing this one to my attention.

August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia Sprout (Kale)

Great post, Kelly. After your response to me last night, I spent the rest of the night reading the tweets. I pulled it up today at work to see it was still rocking the Twitterverse unabated. Thank you for your response last night, which got me to take another look and read what WOC have to say. I would have missed it otherwise, and I really feel like I learned so much. Lots to digest.

August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn

Thank you for this vibrant, incisive and all inclusive post. We have anger, sadness. It is hard. I am "this close" to hiring a young ww blond, blue eyed pretty, to pitch my business as I know it would be easier. I realize this sounds profoundly cynical but it's hard.
I love how you have screen shots and some narrative relating to the HUGE #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag and the tweet author. Beyond brill!
I felt solidarity yesterday and for the first time in a long time, less alone.
I moved from Europe to central Texas. It's hard. I am from DC where life is better, more distractions, more culture and more women, even women of color in leadership, mgmt. and business owners. Here, I feel as though I am in the 80's people are saying all kinds of CRAZY sh-t to me.
And I feel shut out, life is cheaper here but at what cost. This reentry back into the US after a 10 year hiatus, things have changed the economy , people, media ,,,everything. Plus dealing with the bigotry, sexism, religious "insanity" <----part of the plot to keep people subjugated is almost too much.

Yesterday was a breath of fresh air for me.
Well met!

xx Dea.

August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDea

Great post, it was an incredible conversation to watch unfold. It was also very painful to see the reactions and responses (and the complicit silence...) of many white feminists... Here's hoping many of them were able to absorb and internalize the message after all, and that this leads to much greater awareness and real change in mainstream feminism.

August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

You challenge me with every post - I knew nothing of this (I am still such a twitter newbie) and having just read Lean In and writing about my thoughts on it, it ties in really nicely and so thanks for enlightenment daily.

August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnnet M

While I understand that WoC have there own issues I don't think it is right to lash out at the white Women that have been fighting for their rights all this time. White feminists have done so much for this movement. We have been there on every topic every time and this is what comes of it.

August 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShae

We don't want any promises to listen or any other patronizing whitesplaining. We've had enough of your power, privilege and oppression, it's time to leave the movement.

August 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaniqua

I had missed this whole Twitter event, but I'm fascinated by your wrap up of it. Thank you for sharing this, Kelly. I'm listening and trying to understand, and amazed at how naive I clearly must be.

August 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine Stone

Utterly fabulously awesome summary! Many thanks.

August 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDorothy

I understand the "How can I help?" reaction. If privilege is somehow given, then it must be a commodity that can be passed along, right? It doesn't actually work that way, but it's an easy trap to fall into.

That being said, what would you like to see from your co-workers or friends who belong to traditionally privileged groups? (You Kelly, not you as a representative of all black women)

I am a white woman in my mid 30's. I am frequently hesitant to talk about race because speech is interpreted as whitesplaining, but silence is interpreted as apathy. How do I show that I hear you?

August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterV's Herbie

I have the same question V's Herbie has. If I speak, I'm whitesplaining; if I'm silent (listening), it's seen as "crickets" or apathy. Maybe amplify? Is that what we can do? I'm sharing this post with my largely WW and WM audience. I'm reading and listening. I try to ask good questions, not stupid ones (though I'm also the one who's willing to ask the dumb question when I know everyone else has the same one and is too afraid to look dumb to ask it).

August 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

This is a powerful post, still engaging a month after the fact. This is an evergreen conversation, really, one that women have needed to have for a very long time, one that is long from finished.

September 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnita
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