October 9th, 2020
Intersectionality is the reality that people who hold multiple, marginalized identities have experiences which are incredibly unique due to the combination of those identities. It is extremely clear that black people are oppressed within our nation; racism is being addressed everyday regardless of those who oppose it. It is also inherently clear that sexism and misogyny is rampant in this country; were seeing that through sexual assault rates and blatant hate and discrimination of women. Intersectionality asks the question, what about black women? How are black women’s experiences different from black mens’ or even white womens’. This embodies the phrase “Double Jeopardy” which Francis M. Beal (2008: 166) explains that black women must deal with not only having to face racism and sexism, but having to experience how the oppressions play off each other making them worse. This can be seen in the exclusion of women from the women’s and suffrage movements. Instead of all women fighting a protesting side by side for “women’s” rights, many white suffragists excluded black women from the movement, forcing black women to create their own organizations that addressed intersectional experiences. In 1851 Sojourner Truth (1851) vocalized these experiences at a Women's Rights Convention in Ohio saying, “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches…..nobody ever helped me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place. Ain’t I a woman?” She says that in society, women are expected to be taken care of and treasured, and this is why they can't have the rights to “protect them”, but that no one had protected her. Black women were expected to work for the white man and serve the black man, but what about the black women? No gender role in this country uplifts black women as independently useful; their identities relied on producing children and satisfying the men around them. This oppression did not stop after the civil rights movement or even the suffrage movement, but it is still continuing today. As the Black Lives Matter movement has grown and emerged, we see people ignoring and silencing the experiences of black women within the movement; even though it was three black women who started it. The media talks about how black men are murdered by police, but barely mention black women or their unique experiences like police sexual assault, and harrasment. Not only do black women face the oppression and discrimination from white people in America, but they also experiences that within the black community and Black Lives Matter movement itself. Intersectionality can be used to explain the forgotten, silenced experiences of marginalized groups, especially black women, and is important, because it answers the question of why black people or women are not a monolith, and cannot be portrayed as so.
In order to understand black women’s experiences, it is important to address the effects of slavery on black women. It is widely thought by Americans that slavery was just about labor and and beating, but PH Collins(1996: 10) explained how slave owners and oppressors used psychological tactics to effectively victimize and segregate black women. There was the separation of field slaves and house slaves by color, mainly focusing on women, which made lighter skin the standard; if you had lighter skin your “life was easier” you were “closer to white” All this really did was create a standard for black women to hate each other by, even though the prevalence of rape and sexual assault among all black women was severe, making the experiences of dark skin and lighter skinned black women similar. Slave owners victimized and brutalized black women to the point that psychologically, they began to view themselves as victims. After being told day after day, generation after generation that you are not desirable or necessary unless you are contributing to others, society began to portray that image of black women. The experiences were silenced because of this psychological trauma which is still ignored to this day. Because black women were not able to address or even share their experiences, the idea that we are “strong” developed. This is something that may seem like a compliment in any other context, but this portrayal ignores and further silences the hardships and experiences of black women by uplifting and endorsing the idea that to be silent is positive. This is where the oppression truly emerges, because in accepting the societal belief that black women are “strong” or can “handle a lot” makes it nearly impossible to succeed as a black woman without trying 10 times as hard as others. In addition to that, Bell Hooks (1895: 28) writes about how black women’s oppression is considered a radical topic in women’s rights spaces. The philosophy is that because black women are “strong,” that means that they are tough and aggressive in the eyes of society, which makes black women’s rights a “radical” thought. In order to give black women the rights they truly deserve, we as a society would have to address the roots of historical psychological and physical oppression of black women, and dismantle; but because black women have been forced to be silent for generations, society refuses to acknowledge those experiences and oppressions. These oppressions may seem as small as a “professional hair” rule that bans traditional African styles at a job, but even the slightest oppressions affect black women’s lives on more levels than one. These psychological and generational oppressions are so instilled within our society, that the current experiences of black women have been normalized regardless of their oppressive state.