Why Minority Male Oppression Is A Feminist Issue
I am at odds with feminism and my conflict is a “race issue.”
For White women, defining oneself as feminist is pretty simple. The need to advance a female political agenda — while dismissing male oppression — makes sense in a world where White men maintain the highest position and power. I understand that.
However, as a Black woman, I do not share that same freedom or privilege to so easily align myself with gendered politics. I elaborated on that notion sometime ago in a piece that I wrote about intersectionality. In summary, my existence is plagued by both White patriarchy and racism. Neither of those plights outweigh the other, though both do have their own implications that are divisive and confusing. Therefore, I, as well as other women of color, am constantly at odds with the struggle against racism and patriarchy. It’s a predicament where I must constantly defend my position as a woman who cares about women’s issues to Black men– and the Black community– who claim that the main political focus of any Black individual should be tackling racism and White supremacy. And, similarly, I must constantly defend myself to White women who expect that women will readily adopt a White feminist agenda that does not account for the particular position that women of color occupy.
This is my statement to both of these demographics: I care not for your acceptance or approval. I stand upon the platform built for me by my foremothers, the Black women who understood the various struggles that plague women of color and the truth that advancement for us cannot be realized without the release of our community — and men — from the shackles of racism. I stand beside Alice Walker, bell hooks, Clenora Hudson-Weems and the myriad of women who understand my struggle and advocate for progress for the Black community.
With that said, recently I wrote a post titled 7 Things Feminists Should Understand About Today’s Men. The list was a brief outline of the many ways that society still maintains very harmful, gendered expectations of men, restricting them to masculine roles and even victimizing them because of patriarchy. Some commenters called the piece “drivel” and “bad journalism.” I’ll admit that I anticipated such responses. I was well aware of the piece’s political “insensitivity” in the White world of feminism. As a Black woman there are two things that have become very clear to me: 1) modern feminism operates from a mostly White platform that marginalizes the opinions and needs of women of color (that includes advocating for Black men) and 2) as a result, the modern movement has hit a brick wall.
In order to begin this very difficult discussion — in addition to putting aside hastily written hostile responses, mind you — it is necessary to establish a few key facts. Today’s America is still White dominated. “Whites” maintain the majority status and represent over 70 percent of the country’s population. Therefor, any space, any (popular) movement or agenda that is not “racially” oriented will almost always be White dominated. This, among other factors, contribute to what is widely understood as “White supremacy” and White dominance. With the understanding of these complexities, it is made easier to understand that though feminism advocates for “female progress,” it is still extremely White-female-centric and dominated.
When feminism was first spearheaded, patriarchy had some very obvious, unmistakably unfair rules which oppressed women — more specifically White women — and could have easily been pinpointed and attacked. (Since Black, Native American and other minority people seldom had rights that were acknowledged by the country, regardless of their gender, because of a system of racism, that racial distinction should always be stated and appreciated.) Women could not vote, own land, obtain an education or even work and had practically no rights to their own bodies or reproduction. Women’s suffrage, the feminist movement, and affirmative-action and civil-rights policies focused on eradicating these issues for White women in America. They have been successful in many ways, though there is obviously still much work to be done.
Affirmative action guaranteed spaces to be filled by minorities, enacting federally mandated demographic quotas for places of work and higher education. However, such legislation benefited White women much more so than other populations. In terms of political representation, we have seen a two-fold increase in the number of women serving in the Senate. Currently, the 113th Congress has 20 female senators and the 114th is projected to have 21, the most in American history. However, of the 44 women who have become senators, only one has been African-American. In total, including both men and women, there have only been eight African-American senators. If we compare these numbers to their demographic’s current population size, there is no doubt that the legislative and political power of White women beats out all others.
The 2014 Congress currently looks like this:
- 20 White female senators: approximately 35-36 percent of population
- 1 Black male senator: approximately 6 percent of population
- 0 Black female senators: approximately 6 percent of population
If we look at the total representation of each demographic over the course of American history, the underrepresentation of Blacks compared to White women seems unmistakably evident.
In total, there have been:
- 43 White female senators
- 7 Black male senators
- 1 Black female senator
A similar trend of White female progress overshadowing that of Black female and male progress can be seen in education statistics. According to the Census, in 2010 29.9 percent of White females graduated college compared to 21.4 percent Black females. The gap is even wider when Black male educational attainment is scrutinized: 17.7 percent of Black males obtained a college education compared to 30.8 percent White males and the already mentioned approximated 30 percent White female attainment. That means even White women have outpaced Black men in education, despite America’s patriarchy. This translates into huge problems for women of the Black community who cannot find “suitable” partners, to build households with, even after dedicating resources and efforts to secure a good education.
The issue is exacerbated by problems stemming from mass incarceration, racial profiling tactics and brutality used by police forces to further victimize and imprison men of color. For those within the Black community who have managed to already establish households, male presence and assistance is robbed. Thus, Black male under-representation in higher education and over-representation in prison/police brutality statistics is a feminist issue for Black women, though it may be an elusive “male” issue for Whites.
“I saw so many people on Twitter saying ‘I don’t want to have/raise black children in this country.’ That is a reproductive justice issue.”
“Let me repeat that: police violence against black and brown people is a reproductive justice issue.”
The legislative and judicial system of the United States of America is plagued by a racism so insidious, it can take the life of people of color — men and women — without fear or impunity. As demonstrated by the Mike Brown verdict last night, there is little to no justice for people of color who are murdered at the hands of police officers. We have learned this lesson time and time again all throughout history and even more so recently after the murderers of several young men of color including: 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 13-year-old Andy Lopez, Eric Garner and John Crawford were robbed of their lives by police officers this year alone. These are our brothers, fathers, sons, lovers and friends. And their lives matter to us.
With regard to income, White households have combined incomes that are about 2-3 times that of Black households, regardless of age. The wealth gap is even more staggering, as previously mentioned in my writing, conservatively estimated at a $100,000 difference between Black and White households. In years to come, the educational attainment gap will most assuredly increase these figures, especially as the Black community struggles to rebuild after decades of unfair mass incarceration that has resulted in the imprisonment of one million Black people.
These, educational, political, income and wealth discrepancies are representative of a country’s constant attack on Black progress (read Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow and Google Black Wall Street, Chicago Race Riots, Greenwood, Knoxville, New York City Draft Riot, Red Summer, Tennessee Race Riots, Atlanta Race Riots, Rosewood Massacre if you care for more background.) Therefore, Black women cannot simply dismiss the need for Black male advancement: the success of our households and communities depends on it. A success that Whites have always had access to, but Blacks/minorities have been cyclically restricted from.
White feminism fails to understand this plight and can easily push a female-centric “feminist” agenda to further their own political and social standing in a society where their race and even gender already awards privilege and access.
Yes, gender. Of course, I must elaborate on the statement that White femininity is awarded privilege in White supremacist, patriarchal society, because it most certainly will be met with objection. To demonstrate this point, a few excerpts from another piece I wrote:
“Both femininity and womanhood are defined by White patriarchal norms, like chastity and confinement to the home-sphere that, as previously discussed, have long been denied or off-bounds to hypersexualized, working Black women.”
“The idea that a household can be headed by a male breadwinner has historically been a foreign, out of reach concept for the vast majority of women of color. Since the country’s inception, Black women have worked both in and out of the homesphere; in the fields alongside men during slavery and emancipation, and more recently as housekeepers, factory workers, nannies, teachers and even business professionals, among many other occupations. Thus, Black women were never truly barred from access to the working world.”
“Most minority women have adolescent stories filled with dreams of wanting their skin color to be lighter and their hair to be longer or straighter. This is a direct result of society’s lack of supportive representation of minority women and girls in the media (books, television, music, advertising, fashion etc). There have been many efforts to increase the visibility of women of color, today’s standard of beauty still reflect society’s longstanding adoration of “Whiteness” and White femininity.”
“With the wealth gap between Black households and White households at a staggering $100,000, by conservative estimates, it should come as no surprise that much of that wealth is inherited and/or accessed by White women. Wealth increases educational opportunity, the availability of proper health care, opportunities for financial investment and allows for a generally more stable lifestyle. Access to wealth also directly and indirectly affects mental health by affording those with money the best available therapies and counseling and greatly reducing the stress associated with financial burden or instability.”
These privileges are further demonstrated by modern feminism that claims to aspire to “gender equality,” while denying public discussion about male struggles with White patriarchy and the fact that such White female privilege even exists in the first place. Despite the eradication of the legal boundaries that once separated the sexes, barring them from participation in certain fields or work, White women have moved into these spaces at quite an unsurprisingly slow rate. Take, for example, demographics for those enlisted in the armed forces. Since the ’60s and ’70s, when the push for gender equality in the military began, Black female military enrollment has far outpaced its White female counterpart. Approximately 14.5 percent of the active duty force comprises women. Of that number, 30 percent are Black women — even though Black women only account for six percent of the American populous.
White women — as a whole — are evidently unenthusiastic about performing in that arena. Yet feminists often refuse to admit that many “male” spaces created by patriarchy are not particularly enviable to White female sensibilities. That leaves feminism vulnerable to attack. After all, should a call for gender equality not require equal numbers of women to participate in construction, war or waste management as men? What precisely is “gender equality” in a society where White women readily opt out of this work and men do the majority of such undesirable work?
So of course, I was not at all surprised by “feminist” reactions to my piece. It is quite easy to be angered by attacks on a “feminism” that has yet to truly reconcile such difficult questions of what “gender equality” should look like and prefer to shut down such inquiries. Far easier than actually addressing the issue at hand. However, the easy route is not necessarily always the smart choice. We need not look further than the Women Against Feminism movement, that has garnered so much support that it is now the second most popular Google search result upon querying the word “feminism,” to drive that point home.
When the harsh realities that men face, as a result of patriarchy, cannot be openly and explored in depth by the same individuals who purport to politically aspire to “gender equality,” it is no surprise that the resulting agenda can be easily dismissed or castigated by the greater society and seen as unneeded. In today’s battle against White patriarchy, not only some women are losers, but many men — especially men of color — are losers as well. bell hooks highlighted that fact some time ago. Why is it still difficult to acknowledge?
It is difficult because feminism maintains its political relevancy on a platform of White female oppression that simply no longer carries weight: thus, the brick wall analogy. Today, White women are among the most privileged demographics of the modern world (second to White men), still protected by “femininity” and “whiteness” and now empowered by access to more political representation, social and economic freedom. Withholding that admission is extremely dangerous and harmful for minority women waving the same banner of “feminism” who may not have those same privileges.
I say this not to de-legitimize the importance of the modern feminist movement that often finds itself at the forefront of the battle against sexism and for women’s rights, but to point out a particular flaw that has created a very fragile, weak argument that is easily exploited by those who seek to undermine the important goal of female progress. Minority women of America, especially Black women, need a feminism that will advocate for their needs and progress. For us, that progress cannot come at the cost of minority male advancement. We understand that our communities and households depend not only on the success, but also on the safety of minority men and their protection from a system of racism. And we need White women to understand that is feminism.
I’m closing comments on posts about Ferguson this week because, well, I CAN, and it’s Thanksgiving week and people are in pain and I don’t want any racist ass trolls on this site making it any worse. — Amelia