Last week I went along to a book reading for the launch of Bernadine Evaristo’s new novel ‘Girl Woman, Other’ (which I am loving btw) and there was an insightful discussion about feminism, what it means now and what it meant 20 years ago? This got me thinking more over the next few days so I thought I’d share a question I have been asking myself for about the past 20 years. Why is feminism still so racially divided?
At the moment there is lots of discussion around lack of opportunity for women to work flexible hours, about equal pay, about lack of career advancement. All really relevant discussions that need to be had. What no one is talking about is why black and brown women are rarely included in these conversations? Do these workplace barriers not apply to all women regardless of ethnicity?
I’m a feminist I always have been, to me feminism means all my sisters have equal opportunities for success and personal growth whatever that means to them. What I observe is the feminists with the loudest voices only considering what they, with their white privilege want and in my nearly 49 years of reflection I haven’t known feminism to be any different.
Back in the 1970s and 80s we had a society with the economic security to enable all women to stay at home, isn’t that what the history books tell us? Well this applied to some white women and very few black women. The black women I knew at this time worked two jobs to make up the family’s income make ends meet. In the 1990s we saw more mixed relationships and, in this decade, the only black women I knew who could be stay at home mums if they wanted to, were those married to white men.
Roll forward to now and we seem to be going backwards in time, I know a handful of black women who have chosen to stay at home because work doesn’t work for their families. They face the same barriers as their white counterparts but I rarely see any of the white feminists with big platforms genuinely championing all of their sisters or holding a seat for black and brown women at their table. I see a token black woman in their campaign photos, ticking a diversity box, I do not see genuine heartfelt sisterhood across the racial divide.
To be able to campaign for anything you have to have the luxury of time. It’s not that black and brown women are not concerned or affected by lack of workplace opportunity, I’d suggest the reason they are not leading campaigns is because they are busy working, it’s really hard to campaign for more when you don’t have any flexibility in your day. Black and brown women are highly represented in the public sector, retail, hospitality, healthcare and education. It’s impossible to turn up to a mid-week 11.00am campaign photo-shoot when you have a job, bills to pay and you only get a 15-minute coffee break.
So why is feminism still so racially divided? Is it because mostly, the feminists with the biggest platforms are white, haven’t worked on their privilege or recognised that sisterhood is bigger than the women they can easily access? The opportunity for women to have power and influence over the policy decisions that impact all women has never been greater, I hope for us all that those with the best access to creating change quickly take on the challenge of including the voices and life experiences of women that are busy working.