Social Media Minds the Intersectional Gap

If you spent any time on Twitter the past couple of days, you probably noticed two popular hashtags in trending topics: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen created by Mikki Kendall and #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen created by Jamilah Lemieux. The first addressed the racism black women face from some white feminists and the other spoke of the sexism they deal with from some black men. The stream of tweets pointed out the countless ways both of these groups, white women and black men, benefit from privilege, and how their refusal to acknowledge race or gender privilege throws black women under the bus. Some of the tweets are shown below:

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As a black woman involved in the feminist movement and in racial equality activism, I’ve been in a position to see how the intersectional gap is played out on both sides. The sexism I face is racialized. The racism I face is genderized. And both activist camps—white feminists and black male anti-racists—often have an internal bias that glazes over these nuances.

Black women are the ones who have been in the spotlight this week, but the intersectional gap doesn’t stop with us. Though I’m doubly marginalized because of my race and my gender I sometimes overlook my cisgender privilege, my straight privilege, my able-bodied privilege, the list goes on. It takes active self-vigilance to recognize your own privilege and how you unconsciously contribute to the oppression of other groups. The failure to do this results in black women, for example, being told to “not be divisive” by some white feminists or to “stop being bitter” by some black men when they dare to be vocal about the intersectional problem.

These two hashtags gave an overdue outlet for black women to express how white women and black men can be complicit in the marginalization of women of color.

The lack of intersectionality in social movements is why the names of Trayvon Martin or Oscar Grant will elicit an impassioned reaction from many but if you mention Rekia Boyd or Aiyana Stanley-Jones you’re likely to get a blank stare.

It’s also why, in the nationwide SlutWalks that started in 2011, a white protester in New York thought it would be a brilliant idea to display a sign that said “Woman is the N* of the world.” She did this without stopping to consider how using the “n” word would be incredibly offensive to black women who live in the intersection of racism and sexism, bringing blogger Flavia Dzodan to declare, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

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And why The New York Times could print the following photo of the Girls cast with this headline and not find it ironic.

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People most visible in movements for black empowerment are often men, and those most visible in the movements for gender equality are often white. Compare how many have heard of Gloria Steinem to how few are familiar with Audre Lorde. Compare Martin Luther King Jr.’s dedicated activism to Rosa Parks just being “tired” in the history books. Misogynoir (hatred of black women) is often the reason behind why some are remembered and celebrated while others are minimized or banished into obscurity.

There is no solidarity, no progress, no change unless social movements are inclusive, and it’s only fitting that social media became the platform on which this frustration was voiced on a large scale. Unspoken sentiments that had been simmering beneath the surface were finally pushed into the public consciousness. I was encouraged by the dialogue that was exchanged on Twitter this week and hope that it makes the jump from 140 characters into how we see our lives and our activism.

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Associate editor of Ms. magazine