All lives matter? The implications of feminism without intersectionality


By: Beth Gallacher, BSc Criminology and Sociology student

In recent months, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained much more publicity than it originally had when it was founded in 2013 after Trayvon Martin, a young African American boy, was murdered and his murderer was acquitted. The movement aims to eradicate white supremacy and protect all Black lives – including, but not limited to, those who are transgender, disabled, non-binary and those who have a criminal record (Black Lives Matter, 2020). Though, the intersectional approach that the movement takes when discussing the subject of race is not taken by all movements.

Intersectionality & the issue of feminist approaches

Intersectionality is an outlook which understands the complexity of human experiences – events of social and political life are not usually affected by just one factor alone but usually a range of factors in multiple different ways. The different ways factors influence these events needs to be understood to understand the complexity of the world (Collins and Bilge, 2016).

Historically, feminist approaches have often focused primarily on white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle class women. This seriously invalidates the experiences that are unique to Black women. The issue is that, whilst all women experience varying levels sexism, Black women experience sexism and racism at the same time. Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ in the 1980s and  claimed Black women are excluded from feminist theory. In order to solve this issue, they cannot simply be included in the theory as it stands because does not represent their struggle – they don’t fit into it, which is exactly the issue. The entire framework needs to be rethought in order to accurately represent the experiences of Black women. Intersectionality is needed (Crenshaw, 1989).

Collins (2000) notes how Du Bois claimed that social hierarchies such as race, gender and class intersect and determine the access that African Americans have to status and power. Intersectional feminism doesn’t just recognise racial differences, it also acknowledges other factors such as class, ability and sexuality. It could be argued, however, that race is the most pressing issue. A lot of Black women are also the victims of classism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia. 

The main issue with feminism still is that it is too focused on white women and white women enable this. After Trump was elected as President in 2016, Women’s Marches united women across the world who were angry about the predatory and sexist comments he had made. Though, whilst it may seem as if this united women, this is not necessarily the case. Women of colour carried signs claiming that it was the white women who elected Trump and that white women are very privileged to only be angry now that they are the victims of sexism – they did not appear to care so much about Black women being victims of oppression before. White women do not have the same level of commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement as they do to ones that address the things that oppress them too (Brewer and Dundes, 2018).

Until women of colour are supported by white women, and not just when it suits them to be intersectional, feminism is never going to be inclusive. It is the responsibility of white women to recognise their privilege, instead of choosing to ignore it. They should attend Black Lives Matter protests with the same passion for the cause as they have for women’s marches. Conversations also need to occur within the home  and in public in order to perform this anti-racist intersectional behaviour. White women need to learn how to raise their children to be anti-racist and call out their racist friends. Until then, gender equality can never be achieved unless Black women gain equality to white women (Taylor, 2019).

#SayHerName

In 2006, Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement which gained popularity in 2017 as people came forward to expose their sexual assault experiences. Burke says there are many similarities between Me Too and the Black Lives Matter movement – both are fighting systems of oppression. She feels, however, that Black men who lose their lives in police custody receive more media attention than Black women do when the same thing happens to them (Gill and Rahman-Jones, 2020).

The #SayHerName movement, which is part of the Black Lives Matter movement, aims to gain recognition for the Black women killed by police whose murders do not attract the same level of attention as those of men. Most recently, the focus has been on Breonna Taylor who was killed a few months prior to George Floyd’s murder. Taylor was shot by police in her own apartment as they were investigating drugs – no drugs were found in her apartment. Her tragic death gained recognition following Floyd’s death, along with many other women who were victims of murder by police (BBC News, 2020).

Crenshaw notes how #SayHerName can also be used to recognise other state violence against Black Women, not just murder. There was little media coverage when a white police officer in Oklahoma was convicted of 18 charges (out of 36 accusations) of sexual assault against Black women. It is such a common form of police abuse, yet there is such little media coverage of it. Crenshaw notes how this is an example of how racism and sexism combine to affect Black women and cause harm to them and their bodies (Khaleeli, 2016).

All lives matter?

The Black Lives Matter movement has received plenty of criticism. Many people respond to the phrase by arguing that all lives matter. Whilst this is true, all lives should matter, it is an ignorant phrase which fails to recognise that it is actually very untrue. Romero (2018) notes how the phrase is colour-blind racism and implies that racism is not a factor in police brutality against Black people. Clearly not all lives do matter to these people as Black people are still being murdered and are still victims of oppression worldwide. Until Black lives matter, all lives matter can’t be true.

Reference List

  • BBC News (2020) Breonna Taylor: Protestors call on people to ‘say her name’, Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52956167 (Accessed: 27 January 2021)
  • Black Lives Matter (2020),  About, Available at: https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/ (Accessed: 27 January 2021)
  • Brewer, S. and Dundes, L. (2018) “Concerned, Meet Terrified: Intersectional Feminism and the Women’s March”, Women’s Studies International Forum 69, pp. 49-55. doi: 10.1016/j.wsif.2018.04.008.
  • Collins, P. H. (2000) “Gender, Black Feminism and Black Political Economy” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 568(1), pp. 41-53.
  • Crenshaw, K. (1989) “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”, University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1(8), pp. 138-167.
  • Gill, G. and Rahman-Jones, I. (2020) Me Too founder Tarana Burke: Movement is not over. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-53269751 (Accessed: 27 January 2021)
  • Hill, C. P. and Bilge, S. (2016) Intersectionality. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Khaleeli, H. (2016) #SayHerName: why Kimberle Crenshaw is fighting for forgotten women. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/may/30/sayhername-why-kimberle-crenshaw-is-fighting-for-forgotten-women (Accessed: 27 January 2021)
  • Romero, M. (2018) Introducing Intersectionality. Cambridge: Polity Press. 
  • Taylor, T. L. (2019) “Dear Nice White Ladies: A Womanist Response to Intersectional Feminism and Sexual Violence”, Women and language: WL, 42(1), pp. 187-190.

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