The Charleston Imperative: Why Feminism and Antiracism Must Be Linked


This petition letter was reprinted with permission from the African American Policy Forum. Read the original here

As we grieve for the nine African Americans who were murdered in their house of worship on June 17, those of us who answer the call of feminism and antiracism must confront anew how the evils of racism and patriarchy continue to endanger all black bodies, regardless of gender.

As antiracists, we know that the struggle against racial terror is older than the Republic itself. In particular we remember the work of Ida B. Wells, who risked everything to debunk the lies of lynchers over 100 years ago. Today, we see that fierce determination in Bree Newsome, who scaled the 30-foot flagpole at the South Carolina state Capitol and brought down the Confederate flag. As feminists, we recognize how racism has been—and is still—gendered. Patriarchy continues to be foundational to racial terrorism in the U.S., both in specious claims that justify the torture of black men in defense of white womanhood, and in its brutal treatment of black women and girls. We also recognize that while patriarchy and racism are clearly intertwined, all too often, our struggles against them are not.

If the reaction to the Charleston massacre is to be realized as something beyond a singular moment of redemptive mourning, then neither the intersectional dynamics of racism and patriarchy—which produced this hateful crime—nor the inept rhetorical politics that sustain the separation of feminism from antiracism, can be allowed to continue.

As antiracist feminists of every color, we refute the patriarchal, racist practices that endanger black people across the nation. In so doing, we also insist that the extremism of South Carolina shooter Dylann Roof’s declaration that black people “must go” because they are “taking over our country” and “raping our women” should not obscure how anti-black racial logics are embedded in the routine decisions made by millions of people every day. Decisions about where to live, how to identify a “safe neighborhood” or a “good school,” whom to police, and to whom police are to be accountable, also rest on a long-standing demonization of black bodies. These choices, grounded in ideologies of black threat, frame separation from blackness as a rational choice. The narratives that routinely diminish the life chances of African Americans are not yesterday’s problems. Roof was born in 1994, yet murdered nine black people having thoroughly consumed narratives that continue to denigrate black people over half a century after the supposed fall of white supremacy. The continued assault on black churches—several which have been burned to the ground since the Charleston Massacre—tells us that even the most extreme expressions of this denigration are not isolated.

We must recognize that racial violence, including the cycle of suffering and slow death that hovers over black communities, is structural as well as individual. Equally significant, racial violence has never been focused on males alone. A clear indication of the way that white insecurities can unleash murderous impulses against all black people, is that Roof murdered six black women as well as three black men. In his perceived defense of white women, Roof killed black mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives and daughters. To would-be purveyors of black genocide, there are no collateral victims. Every black body is a threat; every dead one is one step closer to their ultimate goal.

Feminists must denounce the use of white insecurity—whether in relation to white womanhood, white neighborhoods, white politics, or white wealth—to justify the brutal assaults against black people of all genders. Antiracists must acknowledge that patriarchy has long been a weapon of racism and cannot sit comfortably in any politic of racial transformation. We must all stand against both the continual, systematic and structural racial inequities that normalize daily violence as well as against extreme acts of racial terror. Policy responses that fail to reflect an intersectional approach are doomed to fail. We want a loving community across difference.

In the memory of Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson, we commit to a vibrant, inclusive and intersectional social justice movement that condemns racist patriarchy and works to end its daily brutality and injustice. Anything less is unacceptable.

Please consider signing the letter and sharing it widely with your networks. 


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Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 11.16.11 AMFounded in 1996, the African American Policy Forum was developed as part of an ongoing effort to promote women’s rights in the context of struggles for racial equality. It serves as an information clearinghouse that works to bridge the gap between scholarly research and public debates on questions of inequality, discrimination and injustice.


  1. Karen Fitzgerald says:

    We must stand together to overcome oppression. We are strong, especially when everyone stands up for what is right.

  2. I agree with the such opening statements of the blogger, as “As antiracist feminists of every color, we refute the patriarchal, racist practices that endanger Black people across the nation. In so doing, we also insist that the extremism of Roof’s declaration that Black people “must go” because they are “taking over our country” and “raping our women” should not obscure how anti-Black racial logics are embedded in the routine decisions made by millions of people every day.”

    The concept of feminism as a political analysis of and resistance to sexism as the systematic oppression of all women soon gets buried here under the terms patriarchy and intersectionality. Feminism gets reduced to strong Black women who fight white racism. Yes, all whites get the payoff from racism and, as a class, are complicit with racism. With sexism implicitly reserved for white men, however, the sexism of Black men is not addressed as part of the system of discrimination that pays off for all men.

    During an early session of the Leadership Council on Civil Rightsssion on hate crime legislation, a woman representing battered women’s organizations proposed including rape in the bill as a hate crime. As one, the men – both Black and white – informed her that rape is a sex crime, not a hate crime. Should continued enslavement of women and girls in prostitution be misrepresented as consensual sex because it is “paid for” and men effectively conceal the multiple harms it inflicts on individual women and on the status of all women as a class?

    It seems to me that the blogger aligns herself with other leading women who call themselves feminists but get ahead by not identifying men as the antagonist when discussing sexism. Standing with men to combat racism is a hard habit to break when the issue is sexism. I don’t know whether to call that collaboration or Stockholm syndrome* effect. (And if the blogger is a man, I will reconsider my assumptions.)

    Twiss Butler

    * Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. (Google)

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