Isolation

Let me start off by saying that it was great to meet y’all on Wednesday. Some of you I already know, others I’ve never met. Either way it will be great to get to know each of you better as the semester goes on.

Secondly, I really want to thank you, Professor Haley, for the wonderful empathy-teaching exercise in class. After seeing what it could do after just an hour of class, I firmly believe that every class which deals with topics such as race, class, and gender should use that exercise. Discussion of such topics requires immense amounts of empathy, as well as the understanding that some people in the class will simply never be able to truly understand others’ lived experiences. I’ve definitely been part of courses in which the class failed to accomplish those things early on, and never moved past the initial tension that naturally occurs when discussing topics with which students have varying levels of personal experience and understanding. The result was usually a space that simply did not feel safe for all students. It’s really a shame. Fortunately, I feel that Black Feminist Thought is already headed in a direction in which all of us can trust one another and feel safe voicing our personal experiences and opinions!

Anyway! While it is very broad and may appear to be obvious, the theme I would like to discuss briefly is that of isolation. Early in “A Black Feminist Statement,” the author states, “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation is us,” (p 234). Upon reading this, I was immediately struck by the directness and the truth behind the statement. Whereas some social minorities benefit from the support of those of similar and sometimes not so similar identities, black women do not have white women or black men to back them. On the surface, some may think that black women should be able to benefit any time white women make an advancement in the fight for women’s rights, or when black men make progress in the fight for blacks’ rights. However, I think this assumption ignores the real meaning behind intersectionality. Black women do not face discrimination only because they are black, or at other times only because they are women. They face discrimination for being black women.

Further evidence of this position of tremendous isolation that black women hold in society appears in the poem by Annette Henry. Referring to the men in her class, she writes, “Dem nah discus’ Black feminism / Dem come h’ax me why mi nah use dis writah an’ dat writah / Dem nah work / But dem seh dem want ‘A.’” In Henry’s personal experience, it can be seen that the black men in her class on black feminism took on a mentality in which they essentially said, “If we can’t see how it affects us, why should we care?” As a result, they were very dismissive of topics around black women, yet still expected to receive an ‘A’ in the class, as though they could not see why they should be penalized for ignoring something that does not concern them.

Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, Kupenda shared her experiences of “flying with the white female ghosts and their disappearing acts,” (24). As she discusses the general lack of support she receives from her white colleagues as a black woman professor, Kupenda recounts one particularly upsetting story in which a white woman told her she was going to be on her own to deal with race, although the white women at the school felt that it was “going to be fun to watch how it all turns out,” (24). This section particularly upset me to read, as no one should ever take pleasure from someone else’s struggle. Kupenda could not have illustrated more clearly the complete disregard that many white women have for the rights of black women. However, in this situation, the white women even took it a step further. While they refused to become involved in issues of race, they still expected Kupenda to join them on issues of gender, and not only to join them, but to be at the forefront of gender issues, while they hung back and enjoyed the protection of white men who do not regard white women as nearly as threatening as black women.

So to sum it up, not only are white women and black men unwilling to stand up for black women on issues that ‘do not concern them,’ but they ask black women to sacrifice the most when it comes to issues of race and gender, yet never both race and gender at the same time. I don’t think there can be a social group in the United States, anyway, that experiences more isolation than women of color. What do you all think? Are there ever significant exceptions in which black men or white women defend black women?

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5 thoughts on “Isolation

  1. I think you brought up a really interesting point when you said that Black women should theoretically make progress whenever white women succeed in gender-related struggles, and whenever Black men succeed in race-related struggles. Instead of gaining ground more quickly thanks to this multilayered identity, the struggles of Black women are compounded by the devaluation of their race and gender, as we’ve seen in discussions of multiplicative identities. I think that many people don’t realize this and that they think, for example, that the women’s rights movement helped all women equally. In regards to your questions, Henry, I would agree that women of color are the most isolated group in America, although I’m not sure if it’s possible, and would argue that it isn’t productive, to compare the socio-political barriers and oppression of Black women to Asian women, for example.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment TC. I think that’s an important distinction that you make in your last sentence. I think I misstated myself when I referenced women of color, and I agree that the experiences of black women versus Asian women, to use your example, are most often incomparable.

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  2. Very thought-provoking questions, Henry. I think “isolation” has a lot to do with visibility. If we were to disaggregate “women of color” into the racial/ethnic groups which comprise the umbrella group, I would guess actually Native American women and Asian women suffer a different kind of isolation. As a Black woman, it is sometimes surreal to feel both isolated AND hypervisible. It really plays with your head!

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    1. Thanks Professor Haley. I agree, it seems weird. Usually isolation carries a connotation of invisibility or being hidden, yet those things are often impossible for black women. The idea of isolated hyper-visibility is a sort of social oxymoron that places black women in a very unique position in society.

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