When the Other is Othered: White Privilege and Black Feminism


In Sex and Caste, Casey Hayden and Mary King noted that there are problems with relationships between Black and White women. That was all they wrote. They did, however, acknowledge the similarities in the treatment of Black people and of women separately, but left out the double constraint that Black women have of being just that; black and a woman. For this piece to be one of the first of the emergent women’s liberation movement, it definitely set the tone for and is consistent with the status of Black women in the women’s liberation movement.
Throughout U.S. history, Black people have not been afforded equal status with their White counterparts. To expect seamless cooperation and understanding between two groups of women who have dramatically different roles, levels of respect and expectations within society, is naïve. The ideologies associated with the expected behaviors and treatments of White and Black women are even dramatically different. Sojourner Truthpointed out that she’s plowed and planted and that nobody ever helped her into carriages or over mud-puddles. The Combahee River Collective Statement explained how black women were told to be more ladylike so that they may look less objectionable in the eyes of White people. It’s also been studied that Black female teenagers were seen as “not feminine enough, too loud, aggressive and in need of being molded into more compliant and deferential females.”(Healey 104) These assumptions about the character of Black women and even their ownership of an inferior status are all the result of racial discrimination and not their status as a woman because they weren’t even considered a whole person. So, what could the general feminist movement do for their cause? After all, womanhood had a very distinct description; and it didn’t include engaging in hard-labor. Black women weren’t covered under the “cult of true womanhood.”
How could the long-standing inequity between these two racial groups be admonished through cooperation in the women’s liberation movement when the needs of Black women weren’t being considered?  It doesn’t appear that time and effort were being put in to genuinely understand or to even cultivate the necessary relationships to gain an understanding of what feminism means to Black women. Audrey Lorde describes an experience of being invited to participate in a feminist conference in the sole area that included Black and lesbian women, as if members of those groups had no input to offer in other areas of the conference. (The Master’s Tools) There seemed to be a disinterest within the mainstream feminist movement toward learning about the conflicting plight of Black women, but apparently time has been taken by them to become knowledgeable on many other subjects. The issues of Black women have been treated as second rate, just the same as their status within society at large.

These same arguments can also be lent to the plight of women of other ethnic groups, but these other groups don’t share the same constraints as do Black women. Yes, patriarchy is an institution that should be fought by women of all backgrounds; however, Black women are partner to the most marginalized group of men in American society. They are consistently put in a position to choose between battling sexism from Black men and also having to stand in solidarity with them in the joint fight against racism. As Patricia Hill Collins so eloquently put it, “African-American women occupy a position whereby the inferior half of a series of these dichotomies [race, sex and socioeconomic status] converge.” Black women are continuously put in a position to fight for equal rights. Who else will fight for them?

Given the cultural differences and histories of Black and White women in our society, do you believe that there can be a unified feminist movement? Do you think there is basis to Dr. Johnson’s argument that Black women were just being used as a part of the early feminist movement to raise numbers? If so, do you think that this is the reason why there is little interest in the needs of Black women today as women’s rights are much more established now, than ever before? Is feminism really something different for Black women and White women? Can feminism be detrimental to either or both groups?

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

Healy, Joseph F. Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Class. 6th ed. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2012. 104. Print.
Lorde, Audre. The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. N.p.: n.p., 1984. 110-13. Sister Outsider, The Crossing Press Feminist Series. Print.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s