black feminism Black women core beliefs social justice
Where I Stand: Ten Core Beliefs of a Black Feminist6/02/2015
by Altheria Gaston Most people who know me would say that I take a strong social justice stance. From my social media presence to my acad...
by Altheria Gaston
Most people who know me would say that I take a strong social justice stance. From my social media presence to my academic interests as a doctoral student, I express vehement concern for the wellbeing of the Black woman. I am concerned that my support of Black women and other women of color is interpreted as hatred of everyone else (i.e., Whites and men). That is simply not the case. These ten beliefs clarify where I stand as a Black feminist. Perhaps other Black women who are social justice activists and advocates share some of my convictions.
1. When it comes to race, I do not hate White people; neither do I see White people, as a whole, as antagonistic to Black people. I am, however, against racism, White supremacy, White privilege, White domination. I am against sexism, patriarchy, and heterosexism. I am against classism and elitism. These are the ideologies that most adversely impact the lives of Black women, and I am intent on seeing the systems built upon these ideologies dismantled. Again, my opposition is to ideologies and actions, not people. I won’t retreat to the safety of the claim, “I love White people. I have friends who are White.” But I will declare my care and concern for all humanity (and for the Earth).
2. I acknowledge the progress that the U.S. has made toward being a more just society for Black women. I see the progression: Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863; slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1864; Brown v. Board declared segregated schools unequal in 1954; the Voting Rights Act giving Blacks the right to vote was passed in 1965; and President Obama signed the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act strengthening enforcement of equal pay laws for women in 2014.
Still, I am keenly aware that the light of each victory is dimmed by every unrecognized act of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination and disenfranchisement. Yes, we are a better country than we were two hundred years ago in many regards. Acknowledging this, we still have a long way to go, especially in terms of economic parity for Black women and equal rights for queer Black women.
4. I realize that although White privilege exists and male privilege exists, not all White people and not all males experience advantages all the time and certainly not equally. While White privilege and male privilege undoubtedly shape a scope of experiences for Whites and men, not every success can solely be attributed to White privilege or male privilege. In addition, not all Whites and males are afforded the privileges of their whiteness and/or their maleness. See number 3.
5. I value allies of diverse backgrounds. I want to flip and add to the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “All my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk” to say, “All of our kinfolk ain’t skinfolk and womenfolk.” Allies (kinfolk) in social justice work come from all races (and genders), not just within the Black race (skinfolk) and within our gender (womenfolk). They share our vision for a more equitable society. I appreciate these kinfolk!
6. I am aware of the problems in our communities, and many of us are participating in grassroots efforts to improve our people’s conditions. I recognize that gang violence is taking the lives of too many young people, that homophobia causes many LGBT Black folk to feel ostracized, and that not enough parents are active in their children’s schooling. While I do not intentionally minimize these challenges, I must be vigilant in addressing the structural issues that allow for/create these actions and inactions.
7. I realize that Black women in the U.S. are not a homogeneous group and do not all experience blackness and woman-ness in the same manner and do not share the same beliefs about institutional racism and sexism. Many factors, such as skin color, size, hair, socioeconomic status, geographic location, and more affect how we experience the world and how the world experiences us. Yet, we share a common history of marginalization, subjugation, and victimization, a collective historical existence that extends in too many ways into the 21st century.
8. I am angry about the persistent systematic violations in our communities, but anger is just an emotion, not a character trait. I feel happiness, fulfillment, and optimism, in addition to anger, just as most individuals do. It is unfortunate that some people malign my character based on periodic emotional reactions—anger, hostility, frustration—to injustice.
9. I value positive representation of Black women. I am thankful to have Michelle Obama as first lady of the U.S., Loretta Lynch as U.S. attorney general, Oprah Winfrey as one of the most influential women in the world, Serena Williams as the number one ranked American tennis player, and Misty Copeland as the first African-American soloist with the American Ballet Theatre in two decades. These women are my role models, my inspiration, my foremothers. I celebrate their achievements and those of many other Black women who continue to prove to others everyday what I have always known—Black women rock!
10. I, unapologetically, believe in the inherent worth of the Black woman—her unique beauty, her immeasurable talent, her complete and full humanity shared with all other human beings. I do not assert any false views of superiority; at the same time, I absolutely refute any equally untrue notions of inferiority. To this end, I aim to force her visibility, to proclaim her value, to defend her rights, and to ensure her posterity.
Altheria Gaston is a regular contributor at For Harriet. You can find her on Twitter @altheriagaston.