Post Miley Cyrus Era, A Black Man Giving Up Colorblind Feminism
I learn more reading what feminist women of color write on Twitter than I feel I could learn in many gender studies college courses. Firestorms of conversation are happening around feminism and race. And for many of us men who identify as male feminists, it would be wise to pay close attention. At some point watching trends like #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, I would re-confirm a suspicion that I have been misinformed. Many men, oftentimes men of color like myself, follow a brand of feminism that does not address the plight of the women who share our complexion. The warnings of prophets like bell hooks, Angela Davis, and Nawal El-Saadawi addressing the intersection of racism and feminism seem to be conveniently disregarded by far too many men claiming anti-misogynist stances.
Growing up, I was lucky. I have a mother that laid the groundwork for me to reject what I would later learn is called “patriarchy.” Although she laid the foundation, it is other women I have met throughout my life that continually teach me about feminism. Around my sophomore year of college, I began to really think critically about my male privilege. I eventually revisited the writings of feminists my mother quoted to me growing up, all of whom were Black women. When I first read “Ain’t I A Woman” by bell hooks, I felt as if I could see something I had never seen before. I started to see myself a little bit more for what I was — a man. Since that moment, it has been a long journey to address my miseducation.
As a Black man entering anti-sexist circles, I often got brownie points for just showing up. Naturally in society where racism is alive and well, a Black man with any introspective philosophy is seen as someone special. I first started out venturing into these conversations questioning myself, my privilege, and my sexism. It can be confusing because there are so many types of feminism, men often don’t know which one they are supposed to identify with. Many drift towards contemporary colorblind dominated brands of feminism that seem to look easier and fun.
It’s here where many of us make the misstep. There has been a problem since before the days of Sojourner Truth that has lasted all the way up till now. That problem is racism. This pervasive force crosses into every nook and cranny of our society, even feminism. I can only imagine the uphill battle for women of color dealing with patriarchy and racism mutually expressing themselves, in even the places women of color seek refuge. At home, at work, and even in self-declared feminist circles, women of color face injustice.
A recent and unfortunate example I hate to even mention that illustrates this perfectly is the outrage surrounding Miley Cyrus. While many mainstream colorblind feminists are having discussions about Cyrus’s freedom of expression, her racism gets a pass. Most recently, Gloria Steinem weighed in on and endorsed Cyrus’s VMA performance. She said Cyrus was playing the game and we should “not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.” While I understand that Hollywood is male dominated and sexist, I thought back to so many of the great tweets I have read. Why does Cyrus get a pass on her racism? Why is that not even mentioned, let alone okay? It seems racism is excusable if it’s even noticed. Steinem was not alone in this stance. Many, including the New York Times and even Sinead O’Connor reached out in an open letter and defended her without addressing her racism. And the occasional “so, I’m white,” “I know I’m white,” and “as a white person” statements are not going to be enough to address this huge problem. It will take more to reject the silencing of women of color. So, I have decided to reeducate myself and truly decolonize my understanding of feminism.
I have to admit that I have not fully understood what it means to be a feminist. Despite everything I’ve read, the conversations I’ve had, and the moments of reflection. It was not until recently that I realized I can no longer forsake the women that live in skin like mine. I frowned upon white liberals who identify as colorblind for so long, but all the while I was procuring a feminist viewpoint that also refuses to allow a space for women of color to speak for themselves. I no longer want to read feminist writers that ignore women of color and do not emphasize anti-racism as central to their theses. Intersectionality is just a word if women of color have to scream at the top of their lungs day in and day out for inclusion.
Men taking interest in women’s rights is certainly great. But men, if we are not addressing and informing ourselves based on a feminism that recognizes racism, we’re doing it wrong. Women of color fight two battles at once and we are only doing a disservice if we give ourselves a colorblind feminist perspective. There is no progress in that. I am not writing this to attack white women, speak for women of color, or say that I am an ideal feminist. I am writing this because I want to make a point to men like me. And we still have a long way to go.
Follow William on Twitter @WilliamCander.