My inaugural post at PolicyMic about author Caitlin Moran and women of colors’ access to feminism drew a lot more criticism than I ever intended it to. Shortly after my piece was posted, Ms. Moran also proceeded to block me from communicating with her on Twitter. Normally, when a writer draws so much criticism for her work, she walks it back and certainly tones it down. You won’t find that from me this time. I realize that I am far from infallible, and absolutely worthy of criticism, and I have reflected upon that criticism. Instead of apologizing for taking white feminists to task, I intend on doubling down very hard on the harsh truth of feminism’s relationship with race, regardless of how uncomfortable that might make some people feel. We have sat quietly for far too long and it has gotten us nowhere in this movement. I refuse to be quiet anymore.
The concept of “comfort” is an important one within any progressive movement. There will always be those who are comfortable with the status quo because it does not affect them or their lives negatively directly. Or, perhaps, it does and they would rather not address it or delve too deep. Sometimes it is easier that way. Sometimes it is safer that way. But the uncomfortable truth about feminism is this: Persons of color are not given the same consideration. Women, people of color are not given the same access to this movement as others are, and this should not give anyone any comfort.
As I write this post, I reflect upon Kasandra Perkins, the 22-year-old girlfriend of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, Jovan Belcher, who was shot dead in her home in front of Belcher's mother, her young child in the other room. Belcher later killed himself. I wonder if things would have been different for her if she had access to domestic violence services which aid many women. Perkins was a woman of color, an “other” in the feminist movement, one who may not have had explained to her what feminism is about. I wonder if Kasandra would have had the same “luck” if she had, indeed, chosen to take advantage of those services.
According to the Department of Justice’s Women of Color Network, charged with providing information on domestic violence and race, a leading reason women of color do not leave situations of domestic abuse is, “Skepticism and distrust that shelter and intervention services are not culturally or linguistically competent.” This is where feminism failed Kasandra Perkins and the three others we lose daily to situations of domestic abuse, many of whom are of color. Feminism’s inherent laziness when it comes to issues concerning marginalized people cuts a deep mark into the soul of the movement. When a high-profile crime such as this one occurs, feminists all over should step back and wonder where we could have done more (or anything at all) for Ms. Perkins and the other victims of our societal failures.
But for feminists, the true shame is the lack of critical thought behind Kasandra’s murder regarding where her race could have been relevant. Whether Kasandra believed in the movement or not, had she been offered the same services which white women can access more easily, something could potentially have done something to save her life.
This is where marginalizing the “other” becomes more than frustrating. It becomes dangerous, even life-threatening. Women of color are routinely told to be silent so that white feminists can advance our agenda for us. But what happens, instead, is that feminism grows and caters towards issues that concern the white community, while erasing the experience and needs of communities of color. We are told that our turn will come. When we get frustrated, we are told that we are dividing the movement for speaking out at so-called inopportune times.
That is not feminism. While it may be nothing but jokes and giggles to some, this much is certain: The marginalization of the people who need feminism the most will be the end of feminism. And it should be. A movement predicated on the notion of true equality (a belief I continue to hold strongly, by the way) cannot be considered credible when it disregards the softer voices that often need it the most. If that is what leads feminism to the cliff, let it stumble off.
I am a good feminist, better than some of our major “leaders," not in spite of, but because of my criticism of its status. If feminism requires silence to continue on in full stride, let the movement fall on its face. Women of color matter more than the lip service that we have been due. Kasandra Perkins certainly mattered more.If this notion makes you uncomfortable, call it a gift. Progress cannot occur unless you are shaken to your core, though it never should have to come due to the senseless loss of life.