Even today black girls are taught, implicitly or indirectly, to be loyal to family and community first. And many of us see ourselves, above all, as part of the collective black family. We may consider ourselves feminists but we don’t wear it on our sleeves. We see feminism not as a political statement but as a state of mind.
That’s why black women in South Carolina closed ranks and supported Obama during that state’s primary when he came under withering attack by the Clintons and their political surrogates. And that’s why black women came out in full force for Obama across the country during yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries.
It’s also why we view the criticisms of Oprah as pure hypocrisy and give the back of the hand to those accusing her of being solely guided by race, yet see no contradiction in wanting her to be guided solely by gender.
Let’s be real, the primary concerns of the average black woman are not that closely aligned with those of white women. Black mothers fear for their sons who, if current statistics prove true, have a higher chance of ending up in jail than in college — or of being victims of violence. Black mothers wonder if their daughters will marry or have children, now that black women have the lowest marriage rates in the country and, if they are professional black women, also the lowest birth rates. Black men have the highest level of unemployment in the country. And black women are contracting HIV at unprecedented rates. With so many pressing issues bearing down on our communities, is it any wonder why gender has yet to trump race?
So if we’re going to talk about solidarity, let’s really talk. We’d like to see more of our white feminists sisters marching for increased federal funding to fight the HIV epidemic that is now among the leading causes of death for black women in many parts of the US and Africa. We’d like if they helped more of us crash through the corporate glass ceiling that many of them have managed to breach. We’d like them to speak out about the dismal state of our urban public schools even if their own children go to good private or suburban schools.
To be sure, there are many concerns about important issues that women share across racial lines — domestic violence, affordable child care, sex discrimination, access to health insurance — but until white women have walked in our shoes, they may never understand why we march to a different tune.
Marjorie Valbrun is a Washington, D.C. based journalist.