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G I R L S A&A Y O U N GA W O M E N

Ghetto Feminism
Excerpt from HUES Magazine

by Dyann Logwood

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Dyann Logwood stands at the crossroads of race and gender

Before college, my activism centered around race issues. When I left the nest, I began to incorporate women’s issues into my agenda. When I searched my university community for an organization that focused on Black women’s issues, I was met with interesting results.
           
I started by checking the bulletin board at the local women’s center for support groups specifically for Black feminists. Instead I found drumming circles, a “womyn’s” music festival in the woods and a few books by Black women whom I had vaguely heard of, written in impersonal, academic language.
           
Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to try out a few feminist organizations that held meetings in town. I soon discovered that I was always the “raisin in the grits,” the lone brown face in a roomful of White women. Not that I didn’t support their work or acquire some allies. I just wanted to find a group where my culture topped the agenda, and colleagues didn’t assume I “didn’t need feminism” because I was such a “strong Black woman.”
           
In frustration, I even stopped calling myself a feminist. Sometimes I’d use Alice Walker’s “womanist,” her tailor-made term for Black women that acknowledges both gender and race. My experiences taught me that a White, middle-class woman who calls herself a feminist may be attacked by Rush Limbaugh types, but she can find an established support system comprised almost completely of women like her. Women of color rarely experience such encouragement or empowerment from our affiliation with established movements. If we declare allegiance to the feminist movement, finding role models or relevant books (written in laywoman’s terms) is a whole new challenge.
           
After weeks of searching, I found a black feminist group on campus. The group met weekly to discuss everything from internalized racism to dealing with sexual assault. Soon after I joined, however, the organization came under fire by both men and women in the university. Members were accused of badmouthing Black men; there was even a false rumor that the women in the group were circulating a list of men who had dogged women. The general consensus seemed to be that we were a bunch of bitter, dateless women who were turning our backs on the Black community. It was even suggested that we limit our extracurricular memberships to the Black Student union and black sororities (many of us were already members of these groups). Unable to withstand the pressure of community ostracization on a 93% White campus, most members stopped showing up to meetings and eventually, the group folded.
           
I’ve talked to other women of color who’ve felt a chalk outline being drawn around their reputations the minute they set foot on feminist territory. In this respect, White women have a definite privilege. Because they don’t have to rely on White men’s support to fight racism, they have a lot less to lose by wearing the feminist badge. I know that if I stood up in front of a Black audience and declared myself a feminist, I would also have to explain that I was the type of feminist that fights for both civil rights and women’s rights (funny how we always consider those to be two separate things). We live in a society where unity at the expense of one identity or another seems to be the only way to be heard. And sexism always seems to be the easiest card to toss aside in the name of this “unity.” Maybe that’s why there was so much controversy surrounding the Million Man March. After all those years of sistas being told to shelve our issues as Black women “for the good of the community,” the same leaders expected us to swallow the idea that a historical Black event that openly excluded women was also “for the good of the community.”
           
There’s a “ghetto” of women like me whose issues are ignored and experiences marginalized by mainstream feminism. Much like people in the literal ghetto, we are a disunified mass lacking large support networks and a name that reflects our experience. We commit random acts of feminism (which often go unrecognized) and excuse them with, “I’m not a feminist but…” Many of us raise our children alone, single-handedly fulfilling both the mother and father roles. And, among the sistas, being outspoken is considered an asset. We often take these personal strengths for granted (and are often attacked for them by everyone from boyfriends to the U.S. government). Yet, they are the “do-for-self” traits that White feminists have been struggling to incorporate into their own lives for years.
           
In fact, Black women have been the invisible participants in almost every major political struggle in the U.S. Though few of us were given a chance to emerge in the forefront, we were the backbone of the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the Black power movement and even the Million Man March. The irony is that while our very existence in this racist, sexist country can be seen as a form of resistance, we remain in the political ghettos of every movement we have been a part of. Maybe that’s why so many black women now seem to share an apolitical attitude. Why should we jump at the idea of being the token Back woman in an organization run by White women or Black men? Who would find pleasure in working hard and never seeing their issues on the agenda?
           
Recently, I began to question my role as a Black feminist. Why can’t I call myself a feminist and get the same support as anyone else? Why can’t I claim the title without people assuming I’m forgetting my race? Why can’t I expect the typical feminist circle to be multicultural or even predominantly Black? I’m still trying to figure out where the handful of Black feminists like Patricia Hill-Collins, Audrey Lorde and bell hooks get their support.
           
Today I realize that Black women do have some of our own organizations, like church groups and sororities. These are the arenas where we can, at times, receive the recognition and support that we deserve. I took these groups for granted because they did not fit the status quo of mainstream feminism.
       
By the same token, there are definitely White women who want Black women and other women of color involved in feminist organizations and events. Still, at a number of women’s festivals and conferences I’ve attended, I noticed the “Women of Color” tent or the “Women of Color Information Table” and wondered how thousands of cultures could neatly fit in these designated areas. I began to feel as if these spaces were the only ones that I was allowed to hang out in.          

Until the day comes when I feel I don’t have to check my ethnicity or my womanhood at the door, I’ve decided on the title of “Ghetto Feminist.” Black women deserve to be full partners in the struggles of both women and the Black community-without being asked to choose one struggle over another. In many ways, it’s up to us to make sure our concerns are on the table. We have to get together to decide what our issues are before anyone else can help us fight for them. I’ve found a handful of cool organizations by and for Black women; groups which I hope will someday become household names the way NOW (National Organization for Women) has. In the meantime, ghetto feminists, let’s stand together—it’s kind of lonely out here.

HUES Magazine was published from 1992-99. To purchase back issues or individual articles from HUES, click here.

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