The Grief Inherent in being Black and Feminist...

Tomorrow is International Women's Day - a day to remind each and everyone us of how far the struggle for equality has come, and how far it has to go.

I recently spoke on a panel about intersectional feminism and the arts, and it brought up a lot of shit for me - good and bad. As a woman, I identify with and am aaaaaall for the plight of women and our quest to achieve equal opportunities to those of our male counterparts. This can and should take place (like, yesterday). But, what's become crystal clear, is that without addressing and acknowledging all the other "isms" - based on race, class, age, sexual orientation or classification, ethnicity, physical/mental capacities etc. - there's no fucking way "we" as women can actually band together and make shit happen. No sireeee.

If you're a tried and true intersectional feminist, you already know this in your core. But in my experience, a real understanding of intersectionality and its importance is rare (like, a Kardashian without makeup rare). And that makes being Black and feminist really fucking hard; because I feel like I spend most of my days explaining the need for true equality to other, predominantly White, "feminists" (and yes the quotations are meant to be passive aggressive thank you v. much), and then engaging in defensive discourse which ultimately comes down to someone saying shit like "why can't we all just get along?" or "I don't see colour"...and then I'm forced to muster all the strength I have left, which ain't much, and do my best to see this person with love and compassion as opposed to smacking a bitch (which I'd have every right to do IMO).

It is exhausting having to constantly point out privilege, what it is, how it operates and how its insidious and thus extremely hard to see or understand when you have so much of it; which is precisely why even those feminists with the best of intentions can get caught up defending their own story instead of listening to the stories of those more oppressed. It is imperative that they hear these stories. 

Being Black and feminist ain't a walk in the park, let me assure you. I am TIRED. And I don't mean "worked a long day and need to put my feet up" kinda tired. I mean "three plus decades of fighting sexism and racism combined meaning you take it from all angles and literally all spaces and there is no place on the entire Earth you can escape oppression or its dire consequences except maybe in your dreams every so often" kinda tired. Just reading that sentence is enough to make you pass out...can you imagine fucking FEELING that way?  

I have a lot of privilege and I'll be the first to admit it. I'm young, English-speaking, well educated, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis-gendered and of a solid socio-economic standing (SES). Some of that shit I was born into, and some of it I worked my fucking ass off to achieve. I busted my butt for a good education so that I could attain a solid SES...but I was raised by a chronically ill/disabled single mother of colour...aka, poor (cuz the "isms" are a bitch y'all). BUT, BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT. All of the privilege I possess pales in comparison to the huge and constant mindfuck that is being a woman of colour (and shoutout to my brothers and sisters who posses fewer privileges than deserve better and its for all y'all in particular that we must continue to fight).

To be Black and female is to be in a state of constant grief.

We grieve the equal pay we should be earning for the same work as our male counterparts (as many women do), but we also earn less than White folks of the same gender. We experience grief over the racist shit our well-intentioned White friends spew out all too often. We mourn over the constant inner chatter, like "did that manager just ignore me 'cuz I'm Black...or because I'm a woman?"

I grieve the ability to show emotion without immediately being labeled as Angry (or the ability to simply just be heard). I am traumatized by the "that didn't happen/you're blowing this out of proportion" attitude I'm met with when I call someone/thing out as racist or sexist, or some combo of the two. I am deeply saddened by a culture that likes to believe we're past so many of the issues that further bring oppressed folks down or result in our bodily harm. Things like stereotyping, racial profiling, modern slavery, millions of Americans voting for a misogynist racist etc. Every time I step out my front door I put on an artillery mask so I can handle the ceaseless plague of bullshit that undoubtedly comes streaming my way. All of this on top of dealing with the everyday ups and downs of LIFE. Yup, its a non-stop, never-ending state of WTF!?, and its worn me the fuck down.

This is not a pity-party, for the record, its just the facts of my life and the lives of so many other women of colour. Facts that are too often dismissed, deemed out of touch, mere opinions. Well, please "stop telling people of colour that our experience is an illusion". It is not. When feminists say we need to come together and make change, I am ALL for it. But not if it fails to honour and acknowledge that all of our experiences as women are different and the "isms" mean that some of us face way more oppression than others. Have been fighting a lot longer than others. Are way more exhausted than others, and have been living in a world of grief that demands and deserves specific attention. 

Why can't we all just band together? Because to do so without honouring our experiences is an act of violence. It is to ignore the breadth of inequities and microaggressions that women with less privilege have and continue to face and results in a feminism that fails to accurately reflect reality or take into account the social injustice inherent in ignoring the voices of the most oppressed.

It is only through acknowledgement of our differences that we will ultimately be able to unite. But, how? It can be all too easy for folks to live in their worlds and see shit solely through their own perspectives.  If there's any chance for real equality to be reached, we gotta start sharing our stories with people different from ourselves, calling each other out, be willing to listen when we are, and question our role in the bigger scheme of things.

How are you part of the problem? What are you doing in your daily life to help the most oppressed? What are you willing to sacrifice?  We can only run as fast as the slowest runner y'all, and right now, too many women are trying to make leaps and bounds without turning around and seeing who's behind them. Ironically, those behind you are also the same women who have been fighting for your equality long before Trump and well before "feminist" became the thing of the day.

We are tired. We are grieving. And we would so love to feel like this movement really and truly has our backs. With love, support, transparency and a genuine will to look into our shit, I believe it can.

Below are some amazing articles to learn more about intersectional feminism:

1) How to Survive in Intersectional Feminist Spaces 101;

2) Why Our Feminism Must be Intersectional (and 3 ways to practice it); and

3) Befriending Becky: On the Imperative of Intersectional Solidarity.

For more on loss and grief, including the FREE e-book The Shit You Need to Know About Grief, sign up for loss&found here.

NarrativesAnita Cheung