“I built a white feminist temple. Now I’m tearing it down.”—Layla Saad
I’ll always be here for Kimberle Crenshaw. She gave a name to the face of compounded oppression that women like me survive on the daily. Women who live in constant danger at the intersection of race and gender. What I was not here for was the concept of intersectional feminism. The notion that white women will magically take accountability for their dismissal, bias, and mean girl spirit and become the kind of gals who are all about passing the mic to black and brown sisters… unheard of.
It wasn’t until I re-read Angela Davis’s Women, Race, & Class that I had a change of heart. A biography about American women’s liberation from slavery to present, Women, Race, & Class uses history and factual resources to spell out what white women have yet to comprehend; their ignorance and apathy towards the struggle of black women has been to the detriment of any could-be collective feminist movement. While white women were exercising their freedom, black women were fighting to stay alive on the plantation field. When black Americans pleaded with white feminists to support their efforts to gain the right for black men to vote, Susan B Anthony spoke against it. She, along with Elizabeth Stanton and a slew of other white feminists demanded that women be granted the right to vote before Blacks, despite the mass lynchings, race riots, and the KKK, which destroyed black communities simply because they had the voting power to do so. White feminists chose self-interest over the lives of black people. This fundamental decision was the beginning of what is now known as white feminism.
I became convinced that Women, Race, & Class would bring about a massive come-to-Jesus moment to white women who failed to see the racial violence in their detachment from non-white women and non-white issues. It was also around this time that I started watching lectures and interviews by Kimberle Crenshaw to learn more about the intersections women experience (gender + race + sexual orientation, gender + race + physical handicap, gender + race + ethnicity).
If intersectionality was a train, I was the conductor. I ranted on and on about both the concept and the term to anyone who would listen. I spoke about it to college students at SUNY Old Westbury. I even created an intersectional book club for cisgender and trans women. I was all in.
As the honeymoon wore off, I began to notice some things I hadn’t before. For starters, many white women announced themselves as intersectional feminists, yet, were still completely detached from the lives and issues of cis and trans black women and women of color. I also noticed that black women and women of color weren’t too quick to join the intersectional movement either. Instincts and too many bad experiences in white-centered environments made them very distrustful of intersectional feminism.
As time progressed, any hope that intersectional feminism would be this magical path to racial and cultural harmony between white women and non-white women disappeared. Despite the legion of spaces dedicated to intersectionalism—including my own book club, it always seemed that every environment was divided by race. I know what sisterhood is and I know what white women think sisterhood is; they got it all wrong.
Deep down inside I knew what the problem was, I just didn’t have the heart to admit it. Intersectional feminism doesn’t mean anything if white women still struggle to support and advocate for those who’s identities cross intersections that are foreign to theirs.
Meanwhile, the sisterhood between black women of color and non-black women of color has become increasingly stronger. Social and racial justice warriors are creating spaces exclusively for non-white women, allowing us to exhale, grow, and continue strengthening our collective goals and organic connection. It seemed as though all that time standing on the outside made us realize, “We are in this. Together.”
I was beginning to lose sight of the role white women were supposed to play in this whole intersectional feminist thing when the wrongful arrest of Chikesia Clemons happened.
Chikesia and her cousin Canita were dining at a Waffle House—not the same Waffle House where four Black people were massacred by a white man. A different Waffle House (Stay. Out. Of. Waffle House). After a request for cutlery, Chikesia was told she’d be charged fifty cents for it. Upon challenging this fee, employees did the thing they always do when they’re free to enable white supremacy without judgement: they called the police. This resulted in an unnecessarily aggressive, humiliating arrest that left Ms Clemons face down, hands cuffed, and breasts exposed.
I waited for the moment when white women were going to learn how to pronounce Chikesia’s name and fight for her justice with the same conviction they would fight for their own, Parkland style. I’m not a fool; I expected nothing from white feminists, or even the run-of-the-mill standard feminists—the ones who cap out of convenience rather than conviction. Still, I sincerely expected… something from intersectional feminists. I expected them to show everyone what true sisterhood looks like. No doubt, there were more than a few white women who spoke Chikesia’s name and donated to her GoFundMe’s campaign that’s raising money for her lawyer fees. But, in regard to the collective white woman… *crickets*.
What happened to Chikesia has all the ingredients that require radical feminist action. She was wrongfully arrested. Her body, exposed to the world for every hater and prospective employee to see. The intersection of being a woman in black skin could have cost her her life. Sadly, the women who are in need of protest, protection, and sisterhood most, black women, are the ones who get it least. Even when a black woman creates a term and a concept to describe just how dangerous it is to be a black woman, white women take it, run with it, build over the fundamentals, and save no room for black women. Fucking ironic.
Sure, breaking up is hard to do, but, it’s also healthy. As a black woman who lives in a country that can arrest me for needing to eat with a fork, murder me for not putting out my cigarette, demote me for wearing my hair natural, and do everything to convince me that I’m not pretty, I’m not composed, I’m not smart, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not… I’m not putting up with this idea anymore.
I find myself at the end of my intersectional feminist road. It’s time to hop into survival mode, ditch this dumpster fire, and live by a black feminist agenda. One mapped out by the pros. Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Patrisse Cullors, Angela Davis, Kola Boof, and all the other sisters who stay convinced that we need to divest from white feminism and invest in black and brown women, nurture our black magic, and hold one another to a higher esteem.
Black feminism gives me everything I need. Removal of any and all environments that hold no space for me and my sisters, a sisterhood bonded in dedication towards the progress and liberation of all of us, and freedom from the respectability politics that strangle us.
When I live life as a black feminist who’s dedicated to a black feminist agenda, I’m doing all the things that I did before, only, I’m centered inside the collective goal. I can hold space for all my marginalized sisters, rather than feel as though I have to compete with them for the few vacant ‘minority’ slots reserved at intersectional functions. In the words of Gabrielle Union, “I don’t want to be at your table at all. I built a house over there.”
We can’t all be black feminists. It’s something you’re born into, it isn’t acquired. However, we can all and we should all adopt a black feminist agenda. When black women win, mankind wins.
I’ve broken up with plenty of people and things before due to my conviction, but leaving intersectional feminism is way different. It becomes easier to stop loving someone or something when you accept the fact that it does not love you back. At the end of the day, if intersectional feminism holds no space for Chikesia, it damn sure doesn’t care about me.
This post was originally published on Medium. Tamela J Gordon is a writer, black feminist, and creator of the women’s empowerment group, Sisters with Aspiration.