“Uh oh, she quoted bell hooks. That’s how you know it’s serious,” said one of my guy friends while reading an article I’d written on Katy Perry’s cultural appropriation for the Ms. magazine blog.

He and another friend were impressed with my stance on appropriation’s way of reinforcing harmful stereotypes, but their response wasn’t the general response.

Of course, that wasn’t the only article I’ve written that’s gotten negative feedback, and I’m not the first writer to ever be told that my work is “a load of bs.” However, as I review the comments on my writing and on the writing of other black feminists on the web, I’ve noticed a pattern of backlash. The disapproving comments usually fall into 5 main responses. And since I’m sick of reading the same old comments on every black feminist/womanist blog or website, I think it’s time to address the backlash.

1. “You’re being a separatist!”

Again and again, I’ve had to respond to this question: If feminism is about solidarity and equality for all people, why are you dividing us by criticizing other feminists?

I’m sorry (not sorry) your brand of feminism doesn’t always work for me.

When people don’t point out the divisions, we’re all stuck with a cheap, exclusionary feminism. So yes, I’m pointing out the problem areas in other feminist’s arguments. If we’re going to rid feminism of its former stench of exclusivity –you know, the feminism of the past that favored middle–class white women — then we have to make it more inclusive. We’re going to have to highlight the exclusivity in people’s feminist politics, so we can amend it.

Therefore, I shouldn’t have to remind my boyfriend, other black men, and white feminists that I haven’t give up the battles for racial and gender equality by simply calling them all out on their privileged ways. Those battles shouldn’t require me to check my ethnicity or my gender at the door. I am black and a woman; both of those parts of my identity are important to me.

2. *Insert black pop star’s name here* can’t be a feminist! She’s too sexy.

I’m not here to reignite the debate on Beyoncé’s feminist credentials. On that discussion, some people label a pop star feminist based on their views of sexiness. They judge whether or not the artist is in control of her body, or is just another sexy prop for male pleasure. I have no bone to pick with those folks.

However, when people exclude Rihanna and Beyoncé from the feminist club for being sexy, but turn right around and declare Miley Cyrus queen of sex-positive feminism and hand Lily Allen the Innovative Feminist of the Year award, I hold my head.

When compiling our list of feminist pop stars, we need to consider how lacking in color those lists are. Many times, black artists are excluded because black bodies are viewed as hypersexual. Black pop stars are systematically pigeon-holed into being sex objects without consideration that they too are independently embracing their sexuality. I mean, honestly, how exactly does Miley claim her sexual agency any more than Rihanna does?

Also, need I resurrect the dozens of articles on Cyrus’s and Allen’s treatment of black female bodies as props? I’m hoping we’ve all read several of those by now.

3. This isn’t a race issue/ You’re being too sensitive

When someone who hasn’t been on the receiving end of racism say that something isn’t a race issue, I mentally pull out an imaginary theater and tell them to have all the seats.

If a person suggests that something is offensive to their culture, gender identity, or sexual orientation, we should give their opinions some attention, that is — if we’re really supposed to be allies. Saying things like “You’re just being over sensitive,” silences conversations that require people to correct their mistakes.

Even if someone had the best intentions or didn’t mean to be offensive, the oppressive repercussions of their words and actions have more power than the intentions. Sometimes your good intentions just don’t matter. Lily Allen didn’t mean for her “Hard Out Here” video to be racist; however, we intersectional feminists sat with our mouths agape, watching a music video for what was supposed to be a feminist anthem.

4. “Why are ‘privileged’ people always a target?”

I’m sorry (once again, not sorry) that discussions about privilege make you uncomfortable.

When someone is in a position of privilege, they are in a position to exploit, ignore, or overlook the experiences and opinions of less-privileged groups. They are also in a position to be an ally — however, being an ally means recognizing your privilege, stepping aside to let others speak for themselves, and actually listening to people from different walks of life.

No need to be offended when someone calls you on your privilege. We’re not damning you to hell or saying you’re a bad person — we’re simply suggesting that you be cautious of how your privileged views may be excluding or belittling someone else’s experience.

5. “Go bitch about something more important.”

Who decides whose issues are important and whose aren’t? Are these the same people who decide who is a feminist and who isn’t? Is there a counsel that votes on which issues make it onto the feminist agenda?

If so, please point me in their direction so I can write a strongly worded letter on the need for feminism to intensely highlight the issues of women of color, as those issues are vital to our collective identities.

Feminism has been a means of self-discovery for me. Through feminism, I came to understand how certain stereotypes about black women informed my opinions about myself and my relationships with others. Reading black feminist texts freed me from internalized societal expectations for me to speak, act and look a certain way. Each article I publish on my blog or write for various publications comes from feminist research that led me to a new conclusion about my identity.


These books ignite my feminist flame.

Saying that the issues I bring up (which usually involve race and gender in pop culture) are unimportant means denying the relevance of feminism to a young black woman’s everyday experiences. I think feminism works best when it involves deep reflection that allows us to view ourselves and others as full human beings — not as stereotypes or outsiders — but as people, entitled to the same amount of respect and equality.


This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission.Click here for more Shae Collins on XOJane!

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  • Nicole

    Thank you so much for writing this! I often get so frustrated in my dealings with white feminists that I either keep quiet or come off too aggressive. It is hard to put my feelings in to words. Thank you for this list, I will refer to it often when trying to make myself heard by someone who “just doesn’t get it”.

  • Lisss

    Hmm this is so true! But i also wonder if any women get tired of being labeled as ungrateful when they refuse the “feminist” label. Because racial exclusion isn’t the only exclusion….apparently, you can only be a secular humanist or atheist to fight for women’s rights. Just ask any of the muslim women who wear the hijab and have the audacity to want to fight for equal rights at the same time.

  • Womanist Really

    Black Feminism has benefited a few black women in the areas of education(24% BA degree) and employment, however, IMO many more black women have been harmed by the message of Free Love ie uncommitted casual sex, waiting to get married or not marrying at all and devaluing the importance of men in the homes. Black illegitimacy has now increased from 24% to 72% (higher in many communities). Yes, there are some very successful black women but most, the overwhelming majority, are working low skill, low paying, menial jobs or are on welfare. This is a fact. Many of these women didn’t understand the importance of marriage for women when they were younger. These black women are now catching hell trying to house, feed, clothe, provide for and raise families alone. It just doesn’t work, has never worked and will never work…..for any race of women (as a group) without men.

    The biggest problem with Black Feminism is they want the applause and want to take credit for their wins but refuse to acknowledge their failures, refuse to reevaluate/change their message and don’t want to be questioned on their losses. They don’t want to acknowledge Free Love, uncommitted sex, waiting to get married or not getting married and devaluing the importance of men in the homes has resulted in the current black family and community social dysfunction which has been a disaster for black women, black kids and the the black community. I’ve read they want to change from being known as Black feminist to black womanist. Yet they’re still not willing to accept the fact that black women (as a group) will never progress and will always be at the bottom socially without the Tradition Nuclear Family unit as the foundation of the community.

    • BeautyIAM

      LOL, Yeah, have seat….Nobody here is going to be down with the whole “lets blame black women for everything wrong in the black community” shtick. What is really going on in the BC in America is that many people like yourself do not want to respect the choices that black women have made. Instead, black people want to tell black women what is best for them, and when sh** hits the fan, people want to blame it on black women. So please dear, HAVE A SEAT.

    • If you really believe that feminism is the reason for dysfunction in the the Black family, then you are very lost. The average Black woman will not even ascribe to feminism for fear of offending Black men. So that being said, the main reason for dysfunction amongst Black people is the Black community’s refusal to hold Black men accountable for anything. A Black single mother cannot get pregnant by herself.