White Women Still Don’t Know How to Address Intersectional Feminism

By Jaimee A. Swift

Uh-oh. One of your white faves done effed up as white feminism strikes again.

Meryl Streep and three other white actresses have received more than a read from Black Twitter after photos in Time Out magazine emerged of Streep and her cast mates donning white t-shirts with the quote “I'd rather be a rebel than a slave.” The quote is from Emmeline Pankhurst (who Streep plays in the film), a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped white women win the right to vote.

However, within its historical framework, the quote is quite crass and imperceptive to the obvious yet overlooked fact that Pankhurst and other white suffragettes were only advocating for the sanctity of white female privilege and not the inclusion and intersectionality of Black women during that time who were enslaved and, of course, did not have the right to vote. The historical notion that white, European women “would rather be rebels than slaves” in the quest of their white, matriarchal privilege does not translate well in modernity as it ignores the presence of Black women who had no equal chance to “rebel” against the oppression that was inflicted by both white, European men and, of course, white, European women “rebels.”

Moreover, it overlooks the historical implications of Europe’s pioneering involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and the presence women and men of African origins and other people who lived in Europe during that time.

And people wonder why some Black women don't want anything to do with feminism.

Much commentary has emerged since Streep and the other actresses caught the wrath of Black Twitter and other media outlets. According to a recent article in The Telegraph, the British women's rights movement has a complex relationship with race because the British suffragette movement supposedly differed quite greatly from the American women's movements due to the polarization of racism and racial segregation in the United States. The article also contends that “there is hardly any evidence about [B]lack women’s involvement with the British suffragettes, or how they would have been treated had they wished to join the movement.”

However, just because there is supposedly “barely any evidence of Black women in the British women’s movement” does not mean there should be a dismissal of the discussion of slavery, racism and imperialism in Europe – which occurred before, during and beyond the British suffragette movement.

According to the International Slavery Museum, it was as early as 1596 in which Queen Elizabeth was complaining about the number of “blackamoores” in Britain. As the slave trade expanded, captains and plantation owners brought back Africans to Northern Europe and sold them to work as domestic servants. By the mid-18th century, London had the largest Black population in Britain, made up of enslaved and free Africans.

And the quote is to be permissible because some people want to believe that slavery was only bad in the United States? Or did they have amnesia and forget that the British were a – if not the – pivotal force behind slavery and the pervasive propaganda of racism? Historical tip to the producers and actresses of the Suffragette film: not all Africans went to the United States and the Caribbean. They were right there in Europe, too. Remember, Black people are erry’where. That is why we call it the African Diaspora, boo boo.

A few days ago, Time Out defended the quote and released this statement:
“The original quote was intended to rouse women to stand up against oppression – it is a rallying cry, and absolutely not intended to criticize those who have no choice but to submit to oppression, or to reference the Confederacy, as some people who saw the quote and photo out of context have surmised.”
Unfortunately, Time Out is truly mistaken that the quote does not reference the Confederacy. The U.S. Confederacy is more than just a group of people – it represents an ideology, an ideology which was pioneered by the founding fathers and mothers of the slave trade, who are Europeans and who took this horrific mindset and spread it across the world like a disease. Racism is a global epidemic, so therefore the Confederacy is an international brotherhood and sisterhood, which the British suffragettes, too, took part of. The quote cannot rouse Black women to stand up against oppression for it represents the very ideology of the people who instituted that said oppression on people of color. I’ll let that marinate.

Note to Streep, her castmates, the producers of Suffragette, Time Out and white women in general: Stop whitewashing history in order to create a white feminine utopia for freedom and equality in which Black women and other women of color are excluded. It is imperative that the power of Black women in the Diaspora, their voices, tribulations, and triumphs are included because in order to uplift all women, you have to include Black women’s concerns, too.

But all in all, I believe that some white women of are too afraid to be inclusive or intersectional because it will reveal who the real “rebels” are.

But they ain’t ready for that though.

Photo: Brigette Lacombe

Jaimee A. Swift is a graduate of Howard University and Temple University with a Master of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, respectively. A writer and truth-seeker at heart, Swift is contributing writer at For Harriet. You can follow her on Twitter @jaimeeswift.

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