Why There is Still a Need for Black Feminism (in 2014)

“The distorted male-dominated media image of the Women’s Liberation Movement has clouded the vital and revolutionary importance of this movement to Third World women, especially Black women. The movement has been characterized as the exclusive property of so-called White middle-class women and any Black women seen involved in this movement have been seen as selling out, dividing the race, and an assortment of nonsensical epithets. Black feminists resent these charges and have therefore established The National Black Feminist Organization, in order to address ourselves to the particular and specific needs of the larger, but almost cast-aside half of the black race in Amerikkka, the black woman…”

The above excerpt was part of The National Black Feminist Organization’s Statement of Purpose. Founded in 1973 by notable black feminists such as Florynce Kennedy, the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) was designed to give Black women a voice and space to express their struggles. For too long, Black women were put in a unique position where they had to choose their race over their sex in the Civil Rights Movement and their sex over their race in the Women’s Liberation Movement. However, it proved to be virtually impossible to choose one over the other since Black women experienced oppression primarily because of the intersection of their race AND sex.

This concept of Black women facing a “double burden” because of their identities surfaced long before Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” and perhaps has been around since African women were brought to this country. Being both Black AND woman allowed slave masters to rape slave women, exploiting their bodies for an increase in productivity and revenue. Being both Black AND woman allowed states to coerce women into sterilization because of the fear that too many Black babies meant people paying more taxes into the welfare system to support these children. Lastly, being both Black AND woman allowed negative depictions of Black womanhood to be perpetuated in the media, particularly the images of Black women as being hypersexualized, loud and lazy, and the contradictory image of Black women being good “mammies” to White children but unfit mothers to their own.

The founding members of NBFO recognized these struggles and were adamant about seeking the inclusion of Black women in society, since they had often been excluded from movements against racism and movements against sexism. Initially, this seemed like a powerful idea and the organization garnered widespread support from Black women. However, because members could not come to a consensus about strategy and politics, the organization became inoperative in 1977. 37 years after the demise of one of the first organizations to address Black women’s issues in a feminist context, it is sad to say that we, as Black women, haven’t made too many significant strides because we continue to live in a society that thrives off of our marginalization.

In 2014, Black women are still being subjected to sterilization, brutality at the hands of White men (mainly the police), and those same negative images of Black women are still lingering in society. We are still welfare queens, angry bitches, and according to Chris Brown, disloyal hoes. Black women continue to experience oppression because of our “double burden,” as we receive backlash from African American men and White feminists. Within Black communities, we are told that we are using feminism to dehumanize Black men and destroy the Black family and White feminists think we are far too angry and aggressive. Our issues continue to be placed on the back burner and today we can’t even find inclusion in the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative, let alone gain our own space and establish an organization like NBFO. When will enough be enough? It’s time that Black women stop taking a back seat and waiting for a “better time” to address our concerns.

I know I am tired and I’m sure others are. In the words of Audre Lorde, “What is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” The time is now to vocalize our experiences and make them known to whoever will listen because our silences never have and never will protect us.

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