Watch: Debating ‘Black Female Privilege’

The Root staffers unpack reactions to the use of this phrase in a recent piece. What can this conversation teach us about the sensitivities that surround discussions of race, gender, fear and power?

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It struck some people as an oxymoron. They couldn’t wrap their minds around how the words “black women” and “privilege” were being used in the same sentence in this article, let alone how they were being used to describe anything having to do with the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. That I said Brown’s death made me more aware of the privileges I hold as a black woman seemed “ahistorical” to some readers and treasonous to others.

They—understandably—wanted me to make mention of how we black women, too, are subjected to police brutality, and how we are often on the receiving end of senseless acts of violence inflicted upon us by ordinary civilians. Take Renisha McBride’s death in Detroit, Marissa Alexander’s ordeal down in Florida, or Marlene Pinnock, the middle-aged woman who was pummeled on the side of a California highway by a white cop. Josie Pickens, writing at The Root, summed up these sentiments here, asserting that the degree to which black people protest about injustices committed against black men is often much more heightened, visible and impassioned than it is when the victims are women.This disparity, she argued, created a false sense of security among black women and could even put us in danger. 

Taking into consideration all of the responses—and recognizing the many harms suffered by black women in this country because of racism, sexism and, while we’re at it, sexual orientation—I still maintain that I enjoy certain benefits as a woman that evade black men. One commentator contributed to the discussion in an interesting way, tweeting, “While many [black females] would have [black men] admit to patriarchy, they rarely consider the privilege of being alive.” Another woman who shared my point of view said, “I think my black female privilege has allowed me to challenge authority with zero fear of execution.”

I’m curious about what is behind what felt like a gag order issued by some commenters on any reference to the advantages I believe I enjoy as a black woman. I reject the presumption that black women are somehow negating the trials and tribulations we experience when we speak about, and acknowledge, the advantages that our gender affords us. Does black culture even allow us the space and agency to explore the upsides of our black womanhood? 

In The Root TV video below, I discuss some of these ideas with editorial fellow Diamond Sharp:

Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beatsa Web series that features expert advice for TV and film’s most complex characters. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.

The Root 100 People's Choice Awards  
Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM