White Fragility and Black Agency in the quest for solidarity and acknowledgement, respectfully.
If you have been on social media recently you have seen the hashtag #thingschristianwomenhear, which features statements told to Christian Women that reinforce sexist ideas about women and their relation to life, faith and community. Recently, other hashtags followed suit including #thingsblackchristianwomanhear. After reading an article on Unfit Christian, I was compelled to share it via social media in solidarity with what the article stated; that namely in conversations of feminism and the female experience (particularly in Christian circles), the voices and experiences of WOC (particularly Black Women) are left out. What followed my post was a rather interesting conversation about exclusion, progress in feminist history, and ways we can attempt to create spaces where all people feel their experiences are equally valid.
At first, comments were general. "I'm afraid to read that," one commenter said. Black Women also commented, sharing specific hashtag responses that resonated with them. Then this question arose:
How do we figure out how to join our concerns without erasing distinctions? Do you think this is the measure of exclusion (the article)? If so, why, how can we honor women of color in this exchange or sharing of things only "we" hear? I can't help but think that Satan rejoices over ways we compete against one another, and over ways whites continue to silence black voices and women of color.
This is when the tables began to turn. Before we get into this, let me just add: the people in this thread are friends. I know them. I know that they intend to ask questions that help them to be better friends and supporters. And I know that these types of conversations are hard, especially via social media, and a lot can be lost in translation. But I believe that this interaction is important in surfacing some of the complexities and frustrations that surround this concept and question. What I hope to do in this blog is to try to frame the conversation, pull out some of those hidden and implicit themes, and to offer some ways forward. This may be a big task for a small blog, but I do this not to be exhaustive or stake any full claim on this discussion whatsoever. Rather, I hope to offer my thoughts and voice into a discussion that I am very involved in.
I am not expressing my particular concerns in a way that excludes you, but in acknowledgement of my own exclusion
When I first read the question from my friend, I was confused. Exclusion? Voices "we" hear? Competing against one another? I went back and read the article again. "No," I thought to myself, "I didn't get any of that from the article." I read her question again, eyebrows drawn together in intense concentration. Had I missed something? Then, the little woke angel who sits on my shoulder and slightly looks like Solange whispered in my ear: "White Fragility" she said. Ah yes, white fragility; the "state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves." (Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility). Could this be the cause for what prompted these questions? What is it about Black Christian Women having a hashtag that would even prompt such a question? (insert thinking emoji here)
The reason why I point first to white fragility in relation to my friend's question is not that the question was asked (although to some extent that can be the case) but how the question was asked. It is one thing to ask about spaces where we can honor each other's experiences, it is quite another to call a black woman's need for a hashtag something that "excludes" or indicates some type of competition. What this article and hashtag did was point to a truth, and that should make us all feel "some kind of way," but to use this type of language, especially when asking the person on the margins how to "join our concerns" is problematic. I am not expressing my particular concerns in a way that excludes you, but in acknowledgement of my own exclusion. When you attempt to turn this acknowledgement towards yourself in an attempt to name the ways in which I have done some kind of wrong, you are showing your fragile self, and I am just not here for it. Nevertheless, I wanted to be gracious:
I am not sure I understand the exclusion question. I think this article points to a history of the lack of understanding of the intersectionality of gender and race that is often found in feminist circles. I think there are so many layers to this article, though it does not mean that black women didn't relate to some of the things said in the original hashtag (and some did participate). What it (the original hashtag) does is it creates a space in which certain experiences are normalized and others are not. This article (and hashtag) pushes back against that. Not in a way that says those experiences are invalid, but that there is more to it for us...What's even more interesting is that these things said are not only a result of gender but of race as well (and often times by people of the same cultural background). I say all this to say it is complex and complicated, and often frustrating when you constantly have to nuance some grand narrative and make space for your experience even as you work with others in a fight for equality.
The bottom line for me is this: I understand your attempt in solidarity in creating spaces where everyone can express their experience without feeling marginalized. I understand your desire to see a world where these hashtags don't exist, and where black women (and other WOC) feel just as much at the center of the fight for gender equality as white women. But until you fully understand that "intersectionality" is not a new term (or an old term for that matter) but an embodied way in which I live (that cannot nor will not ever be categorized in any sociological term) and that I can never step out of my "blackness" in the ways that I approach my "femaleness" you will continue to feel "some kind of way" about the ways I name my experience. I cannot nuance that for you anymore than I can separate my culture and gender. I am a black woman; two words that have been in an intimate and complicated relationship for so long that I cannot begin to tell you which has more influence over the other, nor where one begins and ends. You just have to be there.
My experience will always be different.
I can't help but believe that even if feminist circles were overwhelmingly inclusive that the hashtag #thingsblackchristianwomenhear would still exist. Why? Well, the fact of the matter is this: my experience will always be different. Solidarity means creating spaces where everyone has equal voice, not the same voice. It's about naming the ways we have excluded people from the table, and making room. It does not mean that I now have to eat like you, or talk like you, or think like you. Sometimes solidarity isn't you getting me to help you think through a solution to the problem. Sometimes is just saying "selah," calling out your own shit, and letting me have the space to name my experience. When we can begin to do that, even when it makes us feel "some kind of way," we can begin our quest to solidarity.