Life, Resources

The Black Feminist Glossary

Feminism is currently more popular than ever. While there’s no one way to be a feminist, here’s where I stand: if it’s not intersectional, we can’t talk. Considering the pervasiveness of white feminism and how it’s not just employed by white women, it’s important to give props and distinction to black feminism/womanism. These terms are not necessarily interchangeable but their usefulness as a way of life predates them as identity markers. Black women have long been pioneers of justice because of our lived experience, being simultaneously oppressed as both black people and women – thus the concept of intersectionality. Today, I’m concerned with how the phrase intersectionality and similar terms are thrown around without proper credit or context. I’d like to provide a space for people to learn, as well as context on the misuse I’m talking about. Enter the black feminism glossary*. I don’t intend to invent the wheel but rather give folks a toolbox for encountering feminism in modern social spaces**. In no way is this glossary extensive; it will be updated as necessary.

  • Anti-blackness – a mindset that devalues black people and our beliefs, values, and traditions (as varied as they are) solely because of their association with blackness
  • Black feminism – historically, black women have been asked to “pick sides” in liberation causes. White feminists have asked black women to align over gender (but not race) whereas black men have asked them to align over race (and not gender). Black feminism emphasizes that sexism and racism are linked, therefore the liberation of black women must consider both factors equally.
  • Colorism—in my definition, prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color” —Alice Walker, In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens. Coined in 1982, this term refers to discrimination faced by darker-skinned people. I’ve seen colorism used to refer to discrimination faced by light skin people and it should be noted that colorism is ultimately about power dynamics. Light skin people do face discrimination, but most times, colorism works in their favor. Common social -isms give attention to the more oppressed of any given group: sexism – women; racism – people of color. People with lighter skin hold more social power than those with dark skin, so implying reverse colorism doesn’t really add up. I won’t deny that the context can change, but use this term in reverse at your own discretion.
  • Intersectionality – coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, theorized by countless others. Refers to the ways in which multiple aspects of one’s identity affect their livelihood. This is a prime example of a term predating its coinage. The Combahee River Collective statement, a seminal black feminist text, was so influential because it highlighted how members not only faced oppressions as black people and women, but as lesbians too (don’t get me started on the hetero-/cis- washing of liberation causes). Intersectionality is a great starting point for thinking about how privilege is not a zero-sum game. You can be privileged in one way but not in others. Areas to consider: race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, etc
  • Internalization – as in internalized racism, sexism, transphobia, etc. When a person accepts prevailing (often negative) beliefs about a group that they belong to. Often, this is an unconscious process that happens through socialization, media exposure, and more. For example, women who slut shame likely have internalized the sexism of the culture they were socialized in.
  • Misogynoir –  discrimination against black women where both gender and race are factors; an intersection of misogyny and anti-blackness; Moya Bailey is the originator of this term.
  • People of color (POC) – this is a term that doesn’t really have a clear origin but is used to refer to non-white people. It has nothing to do with skin color; if you are a non-white person (white in the way it’s used in an American context), then you might be considered a person of color.
  • Transmisogynoir – also coined by Moya Bailey, this term refers to discrimination faced by trans feminine black people; an intersection of transphobia, misogyny, and antiblackness.
  • White Feminism – a concept as old as feminism itself; a mainstream type of women’s liberation that prioritizes the concerns of white women and simultaneously ignores that those of women of color may differ.
  • White supremacist capitalist patriarchy – how bell hooks defines America as a system (sometimes as “imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”). Like many of the phrases defined here, this one serves to remind us how systems of oppression work together. This country was founded on white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy; therefore the effects of these tools in the present-day can rarely be removed from one another.
  • Womanism – another term by Alice Walker, womanism centers all aspects of black womanhood and fosters respect for how black women inhabit the world. Furthermore, womanism emphasizes the liberation of all black people while combating gender oppression.

*It should be noted that these are terms that black female theorists came up with, but that it doesn’t necessarily mean that each theorist self-identifies as a black feminist or womanist. Furthermore, you don’t have to take on the identity of a black feminist to employ black feminism. The reasons why black women don’t always self-identify as feminist, well that’s a story that’s important and been written plenty times before.

**While priority was given to terms that were conceptualized by black women, not all of the terms listed fit this criteria. The goal is to arm people with terms that they may encounter in black feminist spaces.

 

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