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Ain’t I A Woman?

Sahra Magan reflects on Patricia Arquette’s speech and the persistent need for more intersectionality in feminism today.

I’m not a feminist. I do not relate to the modern feminist movement. Almost two years ago the #solidarityisforwhitewomen discussion went viral, exposing the deep-running alienation that many wom*n of colour such as myself feel when it comes to mainstream feminism.

Patricia Arquette’s backstage comments at the Oscars only reinforced this alienation: “And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of colour that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

For the wom*n who fall into any number of those categories, her speech simply made public the way in which the experiences of wom*n of colour, LGBT wom*n and trans wom*n are ignored, or worse, dismissed outright by the mainstream feminist movement.

As a wom*n of colour, her comments brought to mind the necessity of conversations such as #solidarityisforwhitewomen in highlighting the problems with the internal power dynamics of the feminist movement.

As a wom*n of colour, one cannot help but notice that feminism and equality is still thought of as a zero-sum game. As wom*n of colour we are expected to discard our identity as people of colour in favour of our identity as wom*n, as if the two are somehow incompatible.

In reality these identities both shape the ways that we as wom*n of colour are viewed by the overarching white, patriarchal power structures that shape the world, and the ways in which we experience it.

This approach to feminism is termed Intersectionality, a term conceived of by American Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Almost three decades on, wom*n of colour are still advocating for a shift in the way in which we are treated by  mainstream feminist discourse. Intersectionality is a complex concept and the recognition of the validity of the differing experiences of wom*n of colour within feminist discourse requires a culture shift.

However, the best way to ensure that you do not denigrate the experiences of others in advocating for your rights is by making a conscious effort to listen to wom*n of colour. On YouTube, Akilah Hughes recently highlighted the importance of Intersectionality in her video ‘On Intersectionality in Feminism and Pizza’ in which she explains the problems with ‘white feminism’, in response to Patricia Arquette’s comments.

As a wom*n of colour, my experiences with racism are not distinct from my experiences with sexism. These two spheres of discrimination inform each other and that is why terms such as misogynoir are important in acknowledging and communicating the unique forms of discrimination faced by women such as myself.

What Patricia Arquette’s comments reflect is the readiness of modern feminist discourse to avoid uncomfortable topics such as how legacies of slavery, colonialism and imperialism have shaped the ways that we as wom*n of colour respond to the world. The recognition of the unique forms of discrimination faced by wom*n of colour should not affect the capacity for any other group to seek their own rights.

Equality is not a zero-sum game.

It is necessary for the voices of wom*n of colour to be heard, for feminist discourse to accept and prioritise the voices of wom*n of colour, for their experiences to be validated and for the culture of white feminism to end.  As wom*n of colour we should be in control of our own narratives. The colour of our skin should not lessen the legitimacy of our struggle.

Equality is not a zero-sum game.