If a woman of color ever wants to test her patience, stepping into a room full of white feminists attempting to talk about intersectionality is a great way to do so.
My identity as a whole remains strong; it is when chosen aspects are picked out and placed on a display that I feel uncomfortable in certain spaces. While it may sound nice to have a laundry list of identities and be able to read them off: Black, queer, female, working class, differently-abled, and so on, it also puts me in a vulnerable position if a space that I am in does not allow me flexibility. My identities are special interest topics that come second. The default is the dominant – what happens when parts of me fits the social group but the rest does not? Upon entering a space that is catering to one specific social group, the rest of my identity should not simply get packed away. Intersectionality is crucial in spaces that have been created to deconstruct societal structures; where individuals have entered with hopes of their perspectives will be appreciated.
I am the president of my college’s feminist student organization. I am proudly and loudly queer and Black, I am a queer Black feminist. But somehow, even as president, I am constantly reminded that my wish for intersectionality might never come true. My first day as a member was in September of 2011. I knew what feminism meant to me at the time, and I was already aware that my feminism was not the same as a heterosexual white woman’s feminism, so stepping into that particular space was anxiety-inducing. Though I was expecting it, as soon as I walked in, I noticed that I was the only person of color. A lot has changed within the organization over the last year and a half, some good and some bad. The bad has been truly bad, to the point where I am wondering if I should continue to do what I do; is this space where I want to build a community? I no longer care to remain silent about oppressive language and actions within this so-called safe space. It is a shame that I feel less comfortable than I did on my first day.
Feminism as a movement has many, many flaws and a history that includes silencing the voices of marginalized groups. It seems that in order to have them accept my physical [black] presence in feminist spaces, my racial/ethnic identity must be tucked away in the imaginary drawer of “Which identities will I wear today?” There is a misunderstanding that when women of color enter feminist spaces, we are required to sacrifice our racial and ethnic identities as well. It has been my experience in [white] feminist settings that have led me to believe that it is undesirable for my contributions to feminist conversations to include the idea of intersectionality. Acknowledging that often gender and race/ethnicity, as well as other social categories in which we are placed, will intersect and often influence how we conceptualize feminism (and other theoretical frameworks) apparently seems too complex.
Intersectionality is always tossed around as a term that must be included in feminism today, yet it seems that very few people have understand that, in order to be truly inclusive, it takes more than recognizing a lack of diversity within feminist/activist organizations. Don’t stop at filling a stupid quota (in fact, why not ask yourselves why xyz group doesn’t want to be in your space in the first place).
I never want to oversimplify a person’s experience or struggles, but I have always tried to be vocal about the differences in these kind of concerns. While one of my white feminist counterparts is complaining about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype in film, I am still waiting to see a character that looks like me. There are very few ‘strong’ [white] female characters in films, whereas, women of color, especially Black women, are not allowed to be vulnerable on-screen. Why is that I have to mention something as basic as that? Will I always have to talk about the wage gap between white women and men of color, or will that remain a taboo topic? I forgot, my blackness isn’t on today’s agenda.
I am still searching for a space where I can feel comfortable to ‘call out’ a person who dismisses my identity and experiences. I should not have to think about ways I should try to “tone down” aspects of my identities when I enter spaces as a queer black feminist. My struggles as a black person have been strongly tied with my struggles as a woman and queer person. I will not be “less black” or “less queer” to make someone else comfortable. I have struggled with figuring out when and if it is appropriate to call attention to the lack of intersectionality in spaces that may be very well be safe spaces for other individuals. It has boiled down to this: while I am one individual, if I feel that intersectional thinking isn’t taking place in the space, how can I allow the space to believe it isn’t detrimental to the process of forming larger networks and communities?