By Briana Perry
“The most disrespected woman in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected woman in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
On May 22, 1962, Malcolm X spoke these words while delivering an impassioned speech in Los Angeles to a crowd of Black people. In addition to highlighting how White supremacy was a detriment to Black folks because it led to the destruction of Black communities and internalized oppression, he emphasized how Black women were the most disregarded group in America. That was in 1962.
Sadly, in 2017, Black women continue to be disrespected, neglected, criminalized, and dehumanized in this country. While I am here representing the Nashville Feminist Collective, it would be remiss of me to not discuss how feminism has not always had Black women’s backs, even though time and time again, we have put our bodies on the line for the movement. Black women supported the fight for women’s suffrage, even though they had to walk in the back during suffragette parades. And while our ancestors handled this blatant denial of humanity with grace and kept fighting, they were still excluded from exercising their right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment. Black women have fought for reproductive rights and access to safe and affordable contraception while simultaneously being subjected to involuntary sterilization and having doctors violate our bodies all in the name of science. We exclaim how advancements in gynecological studies have led to better health outcomes without including how these advancements wouldn’t be possible without the experimentation on Black bodies, such as Henrietta Lacks’s.
I think that it is absolutely beautiful that we have all gathered here together. It shows me that people are ready; ready to resist and attack the fascist regime that has now taken over this country. But let us not forget how we arrived here. Let us not forget how for decades now, people of color, especially Black women, have conducted research and crafted narratives that exposed the racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and ableism that continue to undergird this nation. Let us not forget how during this past election, Hillary Clinton utilized what Angela Davis called an “obsolete” notion of feminism by appealing to White, middle-class women. Let us not forget that even though White women vocalized how much “they were with her,” 53% of them voted for Trump. Let us not forget how Black women, yet again, went above and beyond to try and save this country, and this is evident by the fact that 94% of us voted for Hillary. As usual, we served as the bridge; the safety net; the rescuer.
It comes a time when enough is enough, and we can’t continue to bruise our backs for the advancement of everyone else. We’re done being that sacrificial. While it might be easier and more comfortable to reflect on how this national march has evolved, we must acknowledge the pain, frustration, and contempt that Black women have shared. If we are going to proclaim intersectional feminism, then we must actively practice the principles that align with intersectionality and hold ourselves accountable to this declaration. White women, you have to acknowledge the past and present harm, erasure, and co-optation, hold yourselves accountable, and stop doing it! We are tired. All of us must acknowledge how our oppression is interconnected and how essential it is to center the most marginalized groups—trans and non-binary folks, women of color, people with disabilities, people who come from low-income backgrounds—in all of the work that we do. If we continue to erase people’s experiences, then we will be in the same position four years from now.
As a proud Black feminist, I believe that we are more than capable of doing this work. In this new wave of activism and building, we have to stop investing in antiquated notions of feminism and social justice where so-called revolutionary practices allow power to still lie with White, cisgender, straight people. As Janet Mock states, “my hope is that feminist, racial justice, reproductive rights and LGBT movements build a coalition that centers on the lives of women (and people) who lead intersectional lives and too often fall in between the cracks of these narrow mission statements.” Please follow the Nashville Feminist Collective on Facebook and Instagram to join the intersectional struggle.
Briana Perry joined the Vanderbilt University Women’s Center staff as a Program Coordinator in July 2016. Briana grew up in Tennessee and graduated from Vanderbilt University, where she majored in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is now a Double ‘Dore, as she completed her Master of Education in Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies at Peabody College. Before returning to Vanderbilt last August, she taught for two years in Memphis. Briana is passionate about uplifting the voices of historically marginalized people, especially women of color. She is a member of the Nashville Feminist Collective, Healthy & Free Tennessee and The Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter. When she is not working, she enjoys blogging, traveling, spending time with her nephew, watching romantic comedies, and engaging in community organizing efforts.