If Your Feminism Isn’t Intersectional, It’s Not Feminism

Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old black woman, was fatally stabbed by John Lee Cowell, a white man, at Oakland's MacArthur BART station on the 22nd July 2018, as detailed by ABC News.

Responses to Nia Wilson’s death have been impassioned, calling for justice concerning the supposed delay of action surrounding her murder. The crime cannot yet be officially classified as a hate crime, but the murder shed light on how law enforcement deals with these kinds of situations and quickly became the center of a national debate about race.

The two officers who were positioned at the station at the time of her murder and were slow to react, appearing about a minute after the incident when Cowell had already fled. “There were two officers at that station, but it happened so quick,” Ms. Trost, the BART spokeswoman, said.“It all took 20 seconds.”

Then, it took a day for police to catch the suspect, leading to protests in Oakland over the delayed reaction of the authorities and the developing story. The C.D.C. has also found that black women die by homicide at nearly three times the rate that white women do, and it seems that it is no coincidence and that race probably has something to do with those statistics.

Many took to social media to voice their feelings. Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish actress, tweeted a video of black rapper Chicka Oranika rapping about Nia Wilson’s death, along with the caption; ‘Our bodies and our humanity deserve safety and joy’. Anne Hathaway posted a photo of Nia Wilson on Instagram with a caption calling for an end to the silence on the murder of black women. She went on to say:

‘White people – including me, including you – must take into the marrow of our privileged bones the truth that ALL black people fear for their lives DAILY in America and have done so for GENERATIONS. White people DO NOT have equivalence for this fear of violence. Given those givens, we must ask our (white)selves – how “decent” are we really? Not in our intent, but in our actions? In our lack of action? Peace and prayers and JUSTICE for Nia and the Wilson family xx’

Nonetheless, many self-proclaimed feminists and feminist accounts stayed silent.

This serves as a reminder to us feminists that we need intersectional feminism. The International Women’s Development Agency defines intersectional feminism as the complex and cumulative overlapping of varying forms of discrimination. This includes, but is not limited to; gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, class and more. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a distinguished lawyer and civil rights activist coined this term in 1989 and in an interview with the National Association with Independent Schools gives the example that African American girls are 6x more likely to get suspended from school than white girls - meaning the issue is probably both gender and race related.

Intersectional feminism is NOT, as I sadly found on Urban Dictionary, ‘a way of blaming others for not living up to your potential’. The term discusses the constant discrimination due to multiple aspects of one's identity - something which is inescapable due to societal stereotypes which impede individuals rights, due to these stereotypes. White women need to acknowledge their privilege and stand by their fellow black women, otherwise whatever you’re doing isn’t feminist at all.

Some Instagram accounts who claim to be ‘feminist pages’ have not mentioned Nia Wilson at all. This complete failure by often white-led Instagram accounts to recognize the injustice of a black women’s murder is exemplary of a major issue within conceptions of feminism. Ignoring the plight of black women – as Hathaway describes, their fear of violence – is ignoring a feminist issue, and thereby not feminist at all. As white women we must work on this and must promote more inclusive feminism.

Another crucial thing to remember is that this isn’t solely an American issue. Yes, more terrorism against black people is publicized in America, but this does not mean it does not happen elsewhere. And neither does it mean that violence is the only way black people are marginalized and treated badly. In May 2018 The Independent highlighted that racism has become more prolific in Britain since Brexit. Extreme right-wing political groups such as the EDL (the English Defense League) and Britain First both focused on establishing a more white, a more ‘British’ (whatever that incongruous term means) Britain and are seeing growing popularity on social media sites such as Facebook. The racism does not stop there. Katie Hopkins, one of Britain's most unpopular people alongside Piers Morgan, calls herself a feminist…but when looking at her remarks, her opinions, and her attitude…is she really?

Just because Nia Wilson was murdered in Oakland, does not mean that this is none of your business, that this is not your issue as well. We need to do more to stand by our black brothers and sisters, because Black Lives Matter, Black Women’s Lives Matter, in America and in every country in the world.

So, with all this in mind, what can you do to help fight your privilege? Roxanne Gay, in her 2014 book of essays Bad Feminist, discusses how the flaws of humans mean that all concepts designed by humans are also flawed and messy. She acknowledges that there is always room for improvement; you can’t expect to be a perfectly good feminist, but you can aim to be, you can try to be.

I am by no means a perfect feminist (because there is not one rigid particular way to be a feminist*), but I want to try to be the best feminist I can. If, like me, you feel the same, and seek to be the best intersectional feminist, here is a quick step by step guide to be a better feminist:

  1. Acknowledge your privilege, especially if you’re white. As defined by Peggy McIntosh’s essay ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’, it is an unseen, unconscious advantage which all white people experience. For instance, being able to walk into any store and find shampoo and foundation catering for your hair type and skin type. Being able to turn on the television and see people of your race widely represented. Being able to walk the streets without fear of being racially profiled or stereotyped. The first step to being a better feminist is to acknowledge that despite the constrictions placed upon you by society due to your gender, if you are white you still have an inherent privilege which alters your experience of life compared to women of colour.

  2. Try to understand the experience of those who aren’t privileged.

  3. Be an ally, an amplifier; vocalise the truth. Go to Black Lives Matter rallies, post support on your social media, retweet WOC activists, support, but don’t overshadow with your own desire to seem ‘woke’.

Please remember that just because you have black friends or black family members DOES NOT mean you are not guilty of inherent racism, of being a spoke in the ever-rolling wheel of white supremacy. White exceptionalism IS a thing, and you must acknowledge this. It is essentially the idea that you define yourself as being different from the norm - for instance thinking you are better than other white people as you are ‘less racist’; absolving yourself from racist actions of white people of the past or present because you see yourself as different from them. I am fully aware whilst writing this that I am guilty of the very same things, and am certainly not perfect, however I acknowledge my shortcomings, acknowledge my privilege, seek to understand the experiences of black people, and attempt to amplify their voices.

Nia Wilson was a young woman with her whole life ahead of her before it was wrongly and cruelly taken, not only by a mentally ill man as so much of the media has focused on (Cowell’s family said he was diagnosed with bipolar illness and schizophrenia, and he had nowhere to go after being released from the Atascadero State Mental Facility in May because of the lack of mental institutions), but by a murderer with an extensive criminal history.

At The Opal Club we stand by her and her family.

We as feminists and as people need to raise each other up, support each other, and stand by each other. If feminism isn’t intersectional, if it doesn’t promote and amplify the voices of ALL women, then it’s not feminism.

*but there things you can do, believe, and think that will disqualify you from being a feminist, such as racism, sexism, man hating, etc.

by: Alicia Pountney

Follow Alicia:

Instagram: @aliciap_96