The recent events that have plagued the Black community have only highlighted the continued struggles for equity and justice. Even more important, Black men’s support for Ray Rice only highlights the continued desire to vow loyalty to the race without regard to the lived experiences of Black women. As bell hooks articulates, no other group in America has had their identity socialized out of existence as have black women. Mrs. Palmer-Rice is yet another example of this. Black women fight to the death for Black men (literally sometimes). We march. We protest. We cry. We put our houses up. But when we need the favor returned, we are abandoned. Sadly, this isn’t anything new. Since Blacks have organized for progress, this has been the common theme.
Take yourself back to 1869. At the annual convention of the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), Frederick Douglass argued that issues pertaining to race were more salient than gender. Douglass felt that incorporating Black women into the “Negro” debate would reduce the chances of securing the ballot for Black men. His argument was rather compelling as he outlined the inhumane and atrocious conditions that pervaded the life of Black men – both free and slave. However, his stance would create an imbalance leading to the continual domination of the Black male over the Black woman.
Prior to Douglass’ oration, Sojourner Truth in 1851 argued on behalf of Black women and poor women who were marginalized by the suffragist movement. In her now famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman” Truth articulated her position as a Black woman who had never been able to enjoy and take advantage of the benefits associated with womanhood – White womanhood. Further, Truth empathetically stated that as long as Black women were enslaved, they would always be denied access to full motherhood (afforded to White women), never be protected from exploitation, and not be able to take advantage of feminine qualities. We had to accept perpetual rape at the hands of our master’s (and other men), accept forced pregnancy, endure separation from our children, whippings, beatings, lynching’s, etc.
The attempts to document the lives of enslaved women are by no means meant to diminish the atrocities that our Black men endured, but to shed light on the double oppression that inflicted the lives of Black enslaved women. Enslaved women who articulated their realities were ahead of their time in that they realized the duality of their condition. This intersectional approach continues to be the standpoint from which Black women exist.
Kimberle Crenshaw explains the importance of applying the intersectional approach in understanding the lives of women of color. She discusses that because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated. Similarly, Patricia Hill Collins states that oppressions cannot simply be reduced to one – either/or – but that they work simultaneously in producing and reproducing injustices. So only looking at race in discussing Black women ignores the sexism that we experience and only discussing sex ignores the racism that Black women encounter.
The Civil Rights Movement proved to be a repeat of propelling the race (and hoping that justice would trickle down to the women). Black women are often portrayed as being on the periphery of social movements with little recognition of them as leaders. But being bound by the structural context of interlocking systems of oppression (racism, sexism, classism, and sometimes heterosexism), Black females remain invisible. So when our issues do emerge, no one has a clue how to address them so they get ignored as something else, or we get blamed.
Black women have had to continuously express where their loyalties lie – either with the fight against racism or sexism. Our fight is with both. We need allies to stand with us and condemn our perpetual state as victims of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc. I am disgusted hearing that Ray Rice is the latest victim of racial oppression. No he’s not! How dare you degrade the memory of our Mike Browns and Eric Garners by comparing their plights? If any comparisons should be made, it should be with Janay. We ignore the racialized and sexualized nature of Black women’s victimization. #NoMoreJanay
Kishonna L. Gray, Ph.D.
School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University