Which Came First, the Blackness or the Womanhood?
Intersectionality is a crazy thing right? Experiencing the weight of multiple systems of oppression simultaneously, coming to realize, for example, that there is a system working against people of color, *and* one working against women, and wondering, what if you’re both? What if you’re both and queer? What if you’re both and disabled? What if you’re any combination of the “wrong side” of the power structure, how does that show up in your identity?
I am black and a woman. And when I first learned of these systems of oppression, quickly assessing that we tend to talk about them separately and the default is always white or male, it begged the question: am I black or a woman first? To my self and my society, what speaks loudest? Which lands first?
I don’t think it’s a question with a universal answer. It must be very, if not entirely, dependent on your particular perspective, environment, upbringing, experience, and understanding of these systems as they’ve affected and shaped your life.
You might also be wondering, why ask? Is it not more divisive, is it not less constructive to make yourself pick a side?
First of all, you don’t *have* to do anything. There is no obligation for you to choose, I mostly did it as a mental and social exercise for myself, and in doing so noticed that naming the split can play a part in unravelling the tales we’ve spun about marginalized groups, and aid in the process of auto (referring to the self)-reconciliation. It also uncovers the sheer arbitrariness of these -isms.
So where did I land? I, for one, feel black first. Why?
I’ve observed in this country, we’ve linked femininity to whiteness. The fairer skinned, the more beautiful, womanly, soft, and ladylike you’re deemed to be. Thus the femininity in a darker body is largely and often ignored (all you need to see are a few videos of police roughing up black women to watch this truth in action). In this way, race speaks louder than womanhood.
I’ve observed in this country, I’ll make less money than a white man for doing the same job, but I’ll also make less money than a white woman on the basis of my of my blackness. Again we see, race speaks louder than womanhood.
I’ve observed in this country, that a white man can boast about committing sexual assault but as long as he toes the White Pride party line, over 50% of white women will vote him into office. In 2016 we saw race speak louder than womanhood.
I say this to hold a mirror up. Because if we are to be feminists in the real way, we cannot be bound by the other systems of oppression. You cannot be a feminist and stay silent about racism. I cannot be a feminist and stay silent about homophobia. If nothing else, this question shines a light on the systems we’ve allowed to shape us and our societies.
And for those of us who belong to multiple marginalized groups, naming the divisions allows us to heal them, because you cannot heal what you don’t first acknowledge. For myself it is a journey of reconciling my womanness with my blackness — unlearning the lessons that possessing both makes me promiscuous, hyper-sexual, inherently aggressive, masculine, and instead seeing the ways that my black womanhood beautifully intersects outside of the oppressive gaze.