NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– Tamara Winfrey-Harris has been exploring race and gender and their intersections with pop culture and politics. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Ms. and Bitch magazines, Salon, The Guardian, and others. Her first book, "The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative for Black Women in America," will be released this summer.
This interview, for Women’s History Month, is part of a series that taps activists from the 1960s through today, for a sense of the diversity of those involved. It was conducted by phone and some of Winfrey-Harris’ remarks have been edited.
I call myself a feminist or a black feminist interchangeably depending on the context. The simplest thing is to just say that I am a feminist. I have flirted at different times with the idea of womanism. There have been times when the lack of intersection I was seeing in mainstream feminism really frustrated me. It occurred to me that a lot of black women and a lot of women of color have always been part of the feminist movement and have worked to make it what it is. So despite the challenges and the problems there are within the broader movement there is certainly no reason for me, black woman, to cede ownership of feminism. It is ours just like it is everyone else’s.
I would say the economic inequality that greatly affects a lot of black women. There are a lot of us living below the poverty line or just getting by. We know that although pay is unequal for all women, black women make even less than white women do. Also retaining our reproductive freedom so we can control how many children we have or if we choose to have any. These two things are very important.
It is incorrect to put the full blame on black men for black women being shy about claiming the feminist mantle. I think what turns many black women off from the feminist movement is the way we are erased and marginalized by mainstream feminists. When we talk about black women’s involvement in the second and the third wave of feminism–or our lack of involvement–we have to give equal weight to the racism we experience within the movement and the sexism we experience in our communities.
I have actually been very lucky and I have never experienced that kind of online harassment. I certainly have heard from women who do and I think, very unfortunately, that is something that all women have to face when we are vocal online, especially when we are saying things that challenge the status quo. And women of color certainly have to deal with challenges from sexism, but also from racism that intersects.
Black women have been defined by a handful of negative stereotypes as long as we have been in this country and they continue to affect how people see us. For instance, the idea of black women as hypersexual affects the way people respond to Nicki Minaj. It affects the way people respond to Olivia Pope and her relationship in "Scandal." But it also affects the way people perceive single black mothers and what society and government think of them. So we have these caricatures that have followed us. It is oppressive and it obscures the reality of our lives, which as for all women, is a lot more complex. Over several years I interviewed more than a hundred women and I talked to them about how stereotypes affect them in the areas of beauty and sexuality, marriage, motherhood and anger, strength and health. What I really wanted to get at is the reality of black women’s lives. Our realities may be complicated, but they are not hopeless. Sometimes when reading the headlines and looking at the memes on social media, you would think that it sucks to be a black woman in America. But that’s not true. Most of us are happy to be exactly who we are and so this book takes a look at who we really are.
"The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative for Black Women in America," from Berrett-Koehler Publishers, will be available July 7 and is available for pre-order.