The Charleston Imperative: Why Feminism and Antiracism Must Be Linked

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.

(Susan Melkisethian / Creative Commons)

As we grieve for the nine African Americans who were murdered in their house of worship in Charleston by Dylann Roof 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.

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.

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


Founded 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.