Black activists are pushing back against white organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, who argue that the event is paying too much attention to race.
On January 21, thousands of women from across the nation will assemble in Washington, D.C., to participate in the Women’s March on Washington. The march, which is billed as the biggest protest since the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is intended to coincide with the controversial inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, a man as deplored for his sexist and misogynist gender philosophy as he is for his hard-line stance on immigration, health care, race and just about every progressive issue that exists this side of the human species.
But efforts to organize the march to oppose these huge problems and forge a united front is not without its own problems. The major matter at hand is the role of race in this massive protest.
Although WMW organizers published a four-page guide that emphasizes the intersectionality of all the various issues that the march will address, many white women members have become salty and irritable at the attention given to women from marginalized communities.
Black women have leaked these rumblings on social media, taking an especial aversion to the critique of their white peers, leading the charge of debunking their accusations and dedicating their status updates on platforms like Facebook to educating white women about their privilege.
Black women organizers are raising uncomfortable questions about the convenient timeliness of white outrage. One Brooklyn-based black activist and march volunteer said of her white allies, “You don’t just get to join because now you’re scared, too. I was born scared.”
And their concerns are not unfounded.
The question of WMW 2017 leadership has raised some concerns. Although the outline of this protest first took shape at the grassroots level, once it caught virtual wind, traditional political organizations stepped in to co-opt the event, leaving it vulnerable to the suspicion of coddling white feminist aspirations.
One example of this is the fierce white backlash New Orleans bookstore owner Candice Huber, who is white, received after she stepped down from a leadership position to open space for women of color. Huber was accused by white women of being “divisive.”
There is also the fact that the initial listing of honorary co-chairs did not include a black woman. Emeritus professor, radical activist and prison abolitionist Angela Davis appears to have been tacked on later, although it is possible that it simply took longer to confirm her participation in the event.
Even the celebrity guest list tells a familiar story of whitewashing. So far, the only black woman scheduled to appear and possibly speak is pop star and actress Zendaya.
But perhaps the biggest reason black women are fuming about the development of this protest is that while the frustrations of white women seemed to have only reached a critical boiling point with the election of Donald Trump, black women have been on the front line of social movements of this caliber on behalf of all women for decades.
There is the distant example in the persona of women like Sojourner Truth who, as an enslaved black woman toiling alongside black men in cotton fields, defied traditional notions of femininity and modeled genuine equality between the sexes for black and white women alike. At the same time that Truth was speaking her truth, suffragette leader Susan B. Anthony was issuing a warning to her powerful white male colleagues to back-burner the liberation of black bodies in order to guarantee suffrage for white women. Anthony continues to be lionized to this day, with barely a mention of this racist aspect of her legacy.
In more recent history, it was the 1997 Million Women’s March — organized by black women in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — that set the precedent for this upcoming protest. And by virtue of the fact that American blacks are statistically poorer than their white counterparts, it’s always been the case that social movements waged on behalf of the liberation of this country’s black population inevitably benefit the white masses.
Black women have gone the distance for white women and answered the general feminist call in full knowledge of the reality that this country that has never been bothered to act in kind. Black women are expected to fight for all — and sit on the sidelines while doing so. White women seem content to forget about black women when the moment counts and protect their own, even if it means ignoring or catering to racism.
Is that what’s happening in this latest feminist wave?