What White Feminists Get Wrong about Black Women

What White Feminists Get Wrong about Black Women June 17, 2019

By Shannon Brinkley Portillo

(Blogger’s note: As a Catholic blogger who wants to be a good neighbor to all human beings, womb to tomb, I am deeply interested in hearing the perspectives of other people who have experienced injustices I haven’t. I came across this beautiful piece on the differences between white and Black Feminism, by a Black feminist, in a facebook group discussing The Handmaid’s Tale, and asked the author if I could copyedit it for a blog post. The words are hers, with some of the punctuation edited with her permission for better clarity. –Mary Pezzulo) 


Buckle up, long read. I was just thinking about the threads we’ve had [in this facebook group] the last few days, and what white feminism gets wrong about black women specifically. I think what it comes down to is not understanding that in general, black women come from a different direction than white women. From the beginning we were viewed differently, so treated differently, and so we experienced womanhood differently. Meaning some things ya’ll view as a woman’s fight, and cornerstone of feminism, is the total opposite from the lived experience of generations of black women.

Across many groups, the focus is on abortion rights– which are important, I know. But what I have seen is black women mention that isn’t important in our day-to-day reality, and be shouted down and called stupid, short sighted. Well, in American history, the right to abortion HASN’T been a huge problem for black women, our problem has been the opposite, right to want, have, and mother our children. Since the end of slavery, when Master no longer profited from a black woman’s ability to be fruitful and multiply, forced sterilization of black women has been common. Of poor black women, petty criminals, single mothers. I’ve seen a lot recently about a raped 11 year old being denied a abortion. It mirrors in my mind a black 11 year old, raped and pregnant who at her c-section was purposefully sterilized against her will and knowledge by a white doctor who not knowing the full story assumed she was promiscuous, unable to control herself, and sterilization was best for her and baby. She didn’t even know until many years later when, as a happily married professional, she visited her doctor to find out why she and her husband couldn’t conceive. This still to this day happens to women in prison, mostly black women in prison. I’ve never seen a white feminist speak on forced sterilization of black women. In fact, when you bring it up, usually they’ll say something about earth overpopulation and adoption being an option.

The right to mother our children: Again, since the end of slavery, black women have been stereotyped as unfit mothers, because we don’t for the most part breastfeed or stay at home, leaving our children to their own devices. What many fail to realize is that hasn’t been our choice! Black women have had to work! While white women were forced into stay-at-home motherhood, and barred from work, it was forced on black women. A common thing up until 2 decades ago were vagrancy laws which criminalized being unemployed. And while the language of the laws applied to men, in practice they were applied to all men AND BLACK WOMEN. Think about that for a second. While ya’ll were at home longing to work, the law was forcing us to work. A black woman who attempted to stay at home with her children or to care for her house was subject to tarring and feathering, public whipping, time on a chain gang, and prison time. Consequences to her children be damned. Today, a black woman deciding to be a stay at home mom is a revolutionary act, something many feminists don’t seem to understand. I have had many women look down on me once they find out that I stay home. I have had black women that internalize the mandate that black women must work get indignant with “I worked 16 hour days right up until the day before the birth AND I was right back at work 2 weeks later. You must be lazy or soft.” White feminists ask “what about your daughter, think of her, don’t you want her to know she can be so much more than a housewife??” Why yes, but I also want her to know that if she wants to be home with her children then that is a beautiful and valid choice that our fore-mothers didn’t have the privilege of making.

How about how white feminism pushes to normalize single motherhood, and when black women complain accuse them of being misogynists because “my worth is not in whether or not I’m married, a woman has a right to want children but never marry!”

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