20 Steps to Successfully Passing as a Woman in Public
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The widely accepted narrative of the modern feminist movement is that it initially involved white women beginning in the late s and early s, who were later joined by women of color following in their footsteps. But this narrative is factually incorrect. Women civil rights activists, including Rosa Parks, were part of a vocal grassroots movement to defend Black women subject to racist sexual assaults—in an intersection of oppression unique to Black women historically in the United States.
Danielle L. By deploying their voices as weapons in the wars against white supremacy, whether in the church, the courtroom, or in congressional hearings, African American women loudly resisted what Martin Luther King, Jr. There is, presumably, no special reason why a society in which males are dominant in family relationships is to be preferred to a matriarchal arrangement.
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However, it is clearly a disadvantage for a minority group to be operating on one principle, while the great majority of the population, and the one with the most advantages to begin with, is operating on another. This is the present situation of the Negro. Ours is a society which presumes male leadership in private and public affairs.
The arrangements of society facilitate such leadership and reward it. A subculture, such as that of the Negro American, in which this is not the pattern, is placed at a distinct disadvantage. This example demonstrates why gender discrimination cannot be effectively understood without factoring in the role of racism. And Black feminists since that time have made a priority of examining the interlocking relationship between gender, race, and class that many white feminists tended to ignore at the time. Interracial marriage was still banned in sixteen states in when the Supreme Court finally ruled such bans unconstitutional in the Loving v.
Virginia decision. Urban rebellions swept the country in the mid- to late-sixties, touched off by police brutality and other forms of racial discrimination in poverty-stricken Black ghettoes. In , the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission, was established to investigate the root causes of urban rebellions.
In , the Commission issued a report that included scathing indictment of racism and segregation in US society. The report concludes:.
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Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal. What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it. In response to the extreme degree of racism and sexism they faced in the s, Black women and other women of color began organizing against their oppression, forming a multitude of organizations.
The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.
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As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face. The book immediately struck a chord with millions of women who desperately sought to escape the stultifying world of household drudgery. She made a conscious decision to target this particular audience of white middle-class women. She had traveled in left-wing labor circles during the s and s but decided in the mids at the height of the anticommunist witch hunts of the McCarthy era to reinvent herself as an apolitical suburban wife.
It is also worth noting that Friedan introduces a profoundly anti-gay theme in The Feminine Mystique that would reverberate in her organizing efforts into the s. The boy smothered by such parasitical mother-love is kept from growing up, not only sexually, but in all ways. From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. She reaches openly racist conclusions in her account of the lynching of Emmett Till.
Till was tortured and shot before his young body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River. Emmett Till was going to show his black buddies that he, and by inference, they could get a white woman and Carolyn Bryant was the nearest convenient object. In concrete terms, the accessibility of all white women was on review.
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It was a deliberate insult just short of physical assault, a last reminder to Carolyn Bryant that this black boy, Till, had in mind to possess her. He was not even a man. He was a child who did not understand that whistling at a white woman could cost him his life. Her failure to alert white women about the urgency of combining a fierce challenge to racism with the necessary battle against sexism is an important plus for the forces of racism today.
Barbara Smith, for example, argued for the inclusion of all the oppressed in a speech, in a clear challenge to white, middle-class, heterosexual feminists:. The reason racism is a feminist issue is easily explained by the inherent definition of feminism. Feminism is the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than this is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement.
The Combahee River Collective, for example, was made up of women who were veterans of the Black Panther Party and other antiracist organizations. Black feminists such as Angela Davis contested the theory and practice of white feminists who failed to address the centrality of racism.
Her book also examines the ways in which the issues of reproductive rights and rape, in particular, represent profoundly different experiences for Black and white women because of racism. Each of these is examined below. Davis argues that the history of the birth control movement and its racist sterilization programs necessarily make the issue of reproductive rights far more complicated for Black women and other women of color, who have historically been the targets of this abuse.
Racist population-control policies left large numbers of Black women, Latinas, and Native American women sterilized against their will or without their knowledge. In , an Alabama court found that between , and , poor Black teenagers were sterilized each year in Alabama.
The s and s witnessed an epidemic of sterilization abuse and other forms of coercion aimed at Black, Native American, and Latina women—alongside a sharp rise in struggles against this mistreatment. A s study showed that 25 percent of Native American women had been sterilized, and that Black and Latina married women had been sterilized in much greater proportions than married women in the population at large.
By , one-third of women of childbearing age in Puerto Rico—still a US colony—had been permanently sterilized.
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Yet mainstream white feminists not only ignored these struggles but also added to the problem. In , for example, a time when Native Americans and other women of color were struggling against coercive adoption policies that targeted their communities, Ms. Wade decision was of paramount importance to all women and the direct result of grassroots struggle. Because of both the economic and social consequences of racism, the lives of Black women, Latinas, and other women of color were most at risk when abortion was illegal.
Before abortion was made legal in New York City in , for example, Black women made up 50 percent of all women who died after an illegal abortion, while Puerto Rican women were 44 percent. That victory however was accompanied at the end of that decade by the far less heralded but equally important victories against sterilization abuse, the result of grassroots struggles waged primarily by women of color.
In , the federal government conceded to demands by Native American, Black, and Latina activists by finally establishing regulations for sterilization.
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These included required waiting periods and authorization forms in the same language spoken by the woman agreeing to be sterilized. Had they done so, they might have understood why so many of their Black sisters adopted a posture of suspicion toward their cause. But rape also has had a toxic racial component in the United States since the time of slavery, as a key weapon in maintaining the system of white supremacy. Laboring in the fields or in the homes, men and women were equally dehumanized and brutalized.
The caricature of the virtuous white Southern belle under constant prey by Black male rapists had its opposite in the promiscuous Black woman seeking the sexual attention of white men. Brownmiller was not alone in failing to challenge racist assumptions about rape, with the consequence of reproducing them. The historical knot binding Black women—systematically abused and violated by white men—to Black men—maimed and murdered because of the racist manipulation of the rape charge—has just begun to be acknowledged to any significant extent.
Left-wing Black feminism as a politics of inclusion This article has attempted to show how Black feminists since the time of slavery have developed a distinct political tradition based upon a systematic analysis of the interlocking oppressions of race, gender, and class. Since the s, Black feminists and other feminists of color in the United States have built upon this analysis and developed an approach that provides a strategy for combating all forms of oppression within a common struggle.
Black feminists—along with Latinas and other women of color—of the s era, who were critical of both the predominantly white feminist movement for its racism and of nationalist and other antiracist movements for their sexism, often formed separate organizations that could address the particular oppressions they faced. The end goal was not, however, permanent racial separation for most left-wing Black and other feminists of color, as it has come to be understood since.
Barbara Smith conceived of an inclusive approach to combat multiple oppressions, beginning with coalition building around particular struggles. And there are visible changes.