When was the last time you called yourself the F-word?
No – Feminist.
Feminist is not something that you’ll hear a lot of black women call themselves. We can be divas, bossy, and even bitches, but to be a feminist in the black community gets you stereotyped as a man-hating bitter lesbian. Oh, and a sell out too.
This isn’t to say black feminism doesn’t exist. Joan Morgan’s seminal 1999 book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost sought to define a brand of feminism that addressed the complexities of being a black woman in the hip-hop generation. One could even argue that Beyoncé may be one of the most prominent black feminists of our generation, with empowering lyrics and a larger than life attitude.
But ten years after Chickenheads hit the stands you still can’t convince Beyoncé to call herself a feminist, hip-hop or otherwise.
So where are my sistas who aren’t afraid to embrace the dreaded f-word?
Black women have always struggled with race vs. gender. If we have to pick sides the general belief is race, then gender. During the 1960’s organizations like the Black Panthers marginalized women’s involvement and focused goals on the black man. On the flip side the women’s liberation movement subjugated black women to the “little sister” role, giving them little input when it came to forming the causes of the movement.
In the 70’s the National Black Feminist Organization was formed, yet that organization stalled nearly ten years later for the same reason feminism struggles in the black community – lack of support and an inability to identify key issues and goals. Striking the balance between race and gender is a difficult task, and it becomes that much more difficult when gender is the elephant in the room no one really wants to address. Black folks will talk about racism until their throats bleed, but bring up sexism and gender equality and the conversation will stall.
Divestment is for some black feminist the answer to the community’s vigilant silence towards gender issues. The belief of divestment, as a generalization, is that black women need to do what is best for the individual first. “In an increasingly global world,” says black feminist and author Karyn Folan, “black women must free themselves from the blackiverse and the idea that black women are responsible for the entire black community– at the expensive of their own health and happiness.” Often this can manifest itself through the breaking cultural norms, like marrying a black man, or living in a black community that may be unsafe instead putting your safety and value as a priority.
It’s a seemingly controversial topic, but conceptually divestment isn’t new to the black community. Didn’t George and Weezy divest when they moved on up to the east side? Every hood rapper divests the second he gets that 1st check and trades up the project flat for a McMansion in the ‘burbs. And don’t even start with pro-athletes and their ethnically ambiguous romantic pursuits. Divestment as a whole isn’t a completely unique concept – this is just the first time a group of black feminist were bold enough to not only label it, but also encourage others to join their movement.
“Divesting means we stop thinking ‘black’ first and ask ourselves what we really want– and what else is out there for us beyond all black constructs,” Folan says. “It allows us to take care of ourselves FIRST– our health, our wealth, our minds, bodies and souls. Black women who divest can become healthier people.”
A mental and physical departure from the black community may not be for everyone, but putting yourself first should be. The great thing about divestment is that it’s an open-ended feminist concept – do what makes YOU comfortable. Says Folan, “divesters choose to reach beyond all black constructs and create their own identities that include some concept of ‘blackness’ but aren’t limited to it.” Don’t feel that just because you’re black means your race matters more than your gender. Forget the stereotypes, labels, and taboos – you don’t have to call yourself a feminist to be a feminist.