White Tragedy is Not the Burden for Black Feminists
When Melania Trump has been slut shamed and defamed in the media, there has been an explicit and implied expectation for a black feminist movement to back her and defend her from this particular form of misogyny, similar to the ways we’ve shown up for Michelle Obama. But nah, that labor is not meant for us.
It’s similar to when Kesha came forward and opened up about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her producer and needed to buy out her contract to free herself from working with him. There was an unverified GoFundMe passed around (without question or interrogation) to raise two million dollars to release Kesha from the contract. There was an expectation for all women and femmes to rally behind Kesha financially. And while that would be amazing if we were all in a position to give such support, it would require Black women and femmes to be in a psychological, financial and physical position of privilege to leverage that support.
Or when Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in Paris. A rift in the Black community grew, based on Kim’s situation, between some who openly said they don’t care and those who wanted to spend time politicizing the violence that happened to her. (Of course, there were some people who wished violence upon Kardashian, which is a different article for another day, but let’s focus on the gray spectrum of those who chose not to invest in her tragedy and those that did.)
Black women and femmes still go unprotected from antiblack misogynistic violence. In the last nine years in which Michelle Obama has been in the public eye, not one white woman or femme has begun a movement or effort of intentional protection for her against the misogynoirist comments made about her body, intelligence and humanity. Black women and femmes go unbelieved EVERYDAY when they come forward about being raped, assaulted and violated while also navigating economic disenfranchisement within an antiblack misogynistic system. And then we’re expected to lead our own fights through our own trauma to find safety and solace.
No one should be slut-shamed, harmed, touched without consent, sexually assaulted or raped — ever. But sympathy is political. Resources are political. Support is political. Justice is political. Humanity is political — and inaccessible to Black women and femmes. White women and femmes are protected even when violence happens to them. But black women and femmes are expected to survive the violence we’re told isn’t real, while also being denied access to justice, protection, resources, support or economic survival.
The protection of white womanhood is rooted in white supremacist patriarchal violence and is also the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan’s mission to lynch black men. Access to this kind of saving and protection is at the cost of upholding the purpose and intent for white patriarchy. The reasoning why the KKK held on so strongly to this value was to also justify killing black men for the sake of maintaining the sanctity of white womanhood and protecting them from rape. This reality reaffirms that white people are not just our biggest threat, they are also their own biggest threat.
When so many Black women and femmes are out here carrying trauma and stories with no support, no publicity, no time off from work, no lawyer, no court date, no belief/credibility in what we’re experiencing and no justice, why should we ever be expected to carry the burden and fight of white women and femmes?
White women and femmes should defend Melania Trump. That is not for the labor of women and femmes of color, or black women and femmes. White tragedy, white violence against white people and white supremacist patriarchal violence against white women and femmes will never be the burden for us.
Anyone who disagrees with this objective reality is inherently invaliding the trauma of whiteness and the need to actively divest from it. We invest so much energy, resources and labor in white women’s protection and invest in white tragedy, even when other white women and femmes don’t (e.g. white women being the leading demographic in voting for Donald Trump.). In many ways, whiteness and white people cannot be separated. And I can’t afford to give out my emotional labor to anyone but myself and my community right now and probably for the rest of my life. When the violence against us inherently protects white women and femmes, it’s absolutely violent to punish us for not providing more labor that still doesn’t save or protect us.
Politicize how many black survivors can’t show up for white survivors when it is directly harmful and tasking to our own day-to-day. Spending time color-blindly researching Melania Trump’s trauma with sexual exploitation and slut shaming is not my job when it inherently reminds me that white women are positioned in direct opposition to my humanity. Kesha’s abuse and case story is triggering for me because I cannot actually separate her whiteness from her access to support and her overabundance of humanization and sympathy from her tragedy. Kim Kardashian being robbed doesn’t shift my emotional capacity, because I know she’ll be heard, be believed and financially and emotionally supported through her trauma. But my community and I won’t be. Black women and femmes will not be okay, no matter how many white women get justice.
We provide support in our existence. We offer safety in surviving. Black women and femmes are harassed, slut-shamed, raped, assaulted, violated, silenced, without resource or support and expected to keep surviving in a world that seeks to destroy us. Until we’re free, everyone loses.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a queer, nonbinary Black fat femme writer, artist and cultural producer. Ashleigh is a contributing writer at Wear Your Voice Magazine and For Harriet. Read more at BlackFatFemme.com.
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