Cultural Trends/Popular Culture

Women of Color Question Notions of Solidarity

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When it comes to twerking, why is the trend now about Miley Cyrus and not the black origins of the dance? With help from Twitter, women of color are talking more about their missing intersections with mainstream media and feminism.




 

Feminism solidarity.

 

Credit: Charlotte Cooper

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(WOMENSENEWS)--After Miriam Carey was shot by police in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3 after attempting to ram her car near a Capitol barrier, Nicole Moore noticed that media coverage was silent about the possibility that Carey was suffering from post-partum depression.

"Nobody is talking about it because supposedly black women don't have that," said Moore, founder of The Hotness blog. "That's a white woman thing."

Moore joined a recent panel hosted by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and held at Women's eNews to discuss how race intertwines with their experience as feminists, as well as the position of women of color in mainstream media, business and politics.

Discussions at the Oct. 22 event ranged from the low priority given to the topic of immigration by mainstream feminism to high-profile events that leave women of color feeling left out, such as the "slutwalks" that began in 2011 to protest women being blamed for rape because of what they wear.

"How can I rebrand and embrace the word 'slut' when women of color have a history of being sold as sex slaves?" said panelist Patricia Valoy, feminist blogger for Womanisms and Everyday Feminism.

At the same time, Valoy said that women of color had to understand one of the reasons why their more pressing concerns might go missing in mainstream feminist discussions and agendas. "White feminists don't always talk about the topics that affect women of color because they're afraid of getting it wrong."

Ever since Mikki Kendall's #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag exploded on Twitter in August, discussions like this have been making their way off the blogosphere and into brick-and-mortar venues.

The struggle for women of color to establish a political identity and overcome mainstream assumptions about race and gender has long been discussed. One recent development was the 2011 book "Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America" by Melissa Harris-Perry.

Energized Twitter Conversation

The tweets by Kendall-- a writer and a founder of Hood Feminism--energized the conversation about the exclusion and different treatment of women of color.

Kendall's tweets were created during a conversation with Feministe Editor Jill Filipovic after Hugo Schwyzer, a male feminist and gender studies academic, apologetically admitted that he has targeted (by insulting and ignoring) the concerns and criticisms of women of color. In response, Kendall used the hashtag to voice her frustration with the problems facing women of color. It provided a forum for many other women to join:

Expanding the Conversation

NOW felt it was important to join the conversation surrounding Kendall's hashtag because of the history of women of color being overlooked within mainstream feminism.

"We need to recognize the differences between feminist women of color and white feminists, and critically consider ways in which feminist women of color and white feminists can work together to reach intersectionality," said a statement by the NOW-NYC Activist Alliance, a volunteer group that is part of the NOW-NYC chapter.

Two of the panelists said they were not active on Twitter but were glad that Kendall had stirred the discourse. The panel event's Twitter origins were reflected in the demographics of the room. Panelists and audience members alike were mainly women in their 20s and 30s.

When the topic of Miley Cyrus' twerking was brought up, groans and laughter erupted simultaneously. Then came criticism of how media coverage has focused on Cyrus' display of sexuality and ignored the dance's origins in black culture. Just as Elvis Presley adopted black music and moves during the 1950s, Cyrus was discussed as a figure who made black culture digestible for white audiences.

Another theme of the discussion was that mainstream feminism expects women of color to put issues of gender above race, when often the two are on equal standing ground.

VAWA Lessons

When asked to discuss the most recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act--the main funding mechanism for women's rights groups--Tiloma Jayasinghe, executive director of Sakhi for South Asian Women, offered the view from the perspective of immigrant women's advocacy. While mainstream women's groups dedicated time and effort to ensure VAWA's renewal this year, immigrant women were rarely at the meetings to speak for themselves. Jayasinghe said the big lesson from this recent funding negotiation was that immigrant women's advocates had to join at an earlier point in the process.

House GOP efforts to block authorization of VAWA were laced with xenophobia, Jayasinghe said. At one point, a proposal to spend more money on awareness trainings about U visas, which victims of domestic violence can use to remain in the country, was met with a lawmaker's suggestion to instead use the money to study the extent of fraudulent U visa applications.

While Jayasinghe said she recognized the importance of VAWA in fighting domestic violence, she said its law-and-order approach was often inappropriate for immigrant women who feared that a call to the police would send their partners to jail or deportation. She said more types of responses were needed.

On the problems ethnic groups face in the corporate sphere--where they're afraid to discuss money or ask for raises and often hold distinct cultural values about money--panelist Olivia Canlas said women of color must help each speak up for themselves, especially within the business world.

Rather than trying to fit into the corporate world at an individual level, "Women of color need to have solidarity with each other in order to make it," said Canlas, the New York City chapter coordinator of AF3IRM, a national organization of women that advocate for transnational feminist activism.

Lori Adelman, executive director of Feministing, noted that Kendall's #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag has spawned a new hashtag designed to inspire discussion, learning and involvement: #solidarityisforwoc. Here's hoping the discussion will continue.

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