In the last few weeks, three people have mistaken me as Feminist. But here’s the rub: I’m not. Never have been, never said I was. Ashamedly, long ago, I used to go around bold and brazen in my annoyance and even hatred of Feminism. As a young whipper snapper, I had an early aversion to Feminism. What I thought Feminists were? White, whiny, weak, complainers, bitching about making a dollar less per hr. than white men. Boo freaking hoo. I repulsed of Feminists. This was pre-Jesus-in-my-heart. Also, I was a petulant, angry, little teen-ager.
Now, a lot of people assume I’m a Feminist and I can see why. I’m educated –at least half a Masters of Divinity under my belt, post-modern, outspoken about women’s rights & I worked in ministry for years as a leader, teacher, preacher (yes, over men) & an outspoken advocate of women. I’m in an Egalitarian marriage, etc.
But before I was annoyed at white women by the ripe age of 14, a lot of other things happened.
For one, I didn’t understand a women’s worth and had zero compassion for any white women except my own mom and the 2-3 girlfriends in my inner circle.
The most salient issue in my life to that point was learning to survive the racist white people in my life. I carried that burden daily. The bigger burden constantly on my mind was this: how were blacks in general going to survive white people? My five African-American brothers had been whittled down to four, while the numbers of my African-American male friends in prison continued to increase. I was 14 with the weight of urban Detroit on my shoulders.
I grew up in the segregated, red-lined, racially divided, Detroit of the 1980’s where I watched the crack houses dot every other street and where I witnessed blacks dying in every conceivable way while whites grew up safely…to be all they could be. Often wondering why God wouldn’t concern Himself with my people.
I was 9 years old the first time I remembered worrying if my white step brother was going to kill me. Literally, kill me. I am not exaggerating.
I was 10 years old when my white Church denied me baptism for being half black.
I was 11 years old when my African-American father went to prison for God only knows how many years of sexually abusing me.
I was 12 years old when two African-American male friends were shot & killed by white cops.
I was 13 when I realized I was helpless to alleviate the sufferings of African-Americans and when I was sure I would not make it out of Detroit alive.
In other words, Feminism? No thanks. I had bigger fish to fry.
It’s 2013 now. I no longer live in Detroit. I’m no longer a racist. I’m no longer a be-littler of Feminists. I’m a Jesus follower. I’m married to a white man. I love lots & lots of beloved white women in my life. I even managed to *gasp* embrace my own whiteness. (Something I assumed would never happen). I managed to make it out of Detroit alive, without 3 baby-Daddies & I even went ahead & got myself an edumacation. Life is much, much different. Thanks be to God.
But no, I’m still not a Feminist.
This may be the greatest understatement of 2013 but I’ll say it anyway: I believe and agree, Feminism has it’s place. I believe in the battle for women. I believe in the battle for freedom. I believe in equal pay, equal leadership rights, equal everything. I believe women have the right to feel safe and be safe.
I understand that Feminists have defined, established and defended our political, economic & social rights for women. I benefit from the women who have studied gender equality so I could take my tail-feather to college and earn a degree, which, besides Jesus’ miraculous intervention, almost single-handedly saved me from a life on the streets.
I’m thankful for the work Feminists have done to protect women from domestic violence, sexual harassment & sexual assault. Because of Feminists’ labors of love, I was able to stay home with both of my sons for up to 8 weeks on a maternity leave, nursing them and sleeping only enough to be able to focus on changing mustard color diapers every hour.
Here me say this loud and clear: I’m thankful, I’m thankful, oh Lawd, am I thankful. There are Feminists I greatly admire, including the Rev. Jes Kast-Keat who is the most outwardly loving, action-oriented, deep-thinking Feminist that I seek to emulate on the regular. If I ever convert to Feminism, may I live as wholly and swim as deeply in the Feminist waters as this woman of God. I read Caris Adel’s heartbreaking journey through Feminism and I feel for her but can’t relate. I read Megan Westra’s Manifesto & my soul says “yes!” “hallelujah!” & “Amen.” I want that vision to be true for all women & I want to be part of it…just not as a Feminist.
Here’s the rub. Here’s where where race and feminism collide in ways I can’t reconcile.
First, the promotion and marketing of abortions in The United States of America was born out of an effort to control the population of African-Americans. Today, the largest majority of locations offering abortions are housed in African-American or Latino neighborhoods. One of every three abortions in the U.S. are African-American children. When numbers and statistics like these collide, I put it on the same level with Female Gendercide in China.
I understand that it’s convenient to go on promoting abortions as a ‘women’s rights issue’ without regard to the fact that abortion has cut into the African-American population by over 30 million lives, yet it’s appalling and reprehensible to ignore the facts.
For anyone to even consider that I could associate myself with a group of people -I don’t care who they are- who are actively fighting for the ‘right’ to continue to murder my people. Well, that’s asinine.
‘But, Grace, your making this a race issue.’ Yep, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Arguing that it’s not a race issue is living squarely in a perpetual state of selective ignorance, which is exactly what 14 yr. old me knew from the bottom of my heart, but 36 yr. old me chooses to face, educate, resource & deal with.
I have love, I have grace. I even have patience, but I don’t have identification. Not on this.
Until Feminism can reconcile a ‘women’s right’ with the fact that 30 million African-American souls have been lost, and that abortions are the #1 way African-Americans are dying (faster than even heart disease) I can’t do it. Not in a judgemental way, I’m hurting for my people. I say this from a place of pain, not of finger pointing judgement.
I’m waiting for someone to connect the dots on why the this makes any sense because all this looks like to me is another creative way to reduce the worthiness of blacks who have fought so hard for equality. Call me crazy but the right to live seems a fitting next step in equality.
Can I just pause here to say I know there are varied Feminist viewpoints? I know that mainstream Feminism is not representative of all streams of Feminism. I know there are Pro-Life Feminists. I know there are Black Feminists who believe that sexism, racism & oppression are inextricably bound together (I believe this as well). Though, I have no interest in identifying with Black Feminists who either hate or barely tolerate whites. No faction is perfect, but yes, I know I have options.
Secondly, I can’t associate myself with feminism while African-American men are reduced to the bottom of the heap. For every decade for the last 350 years black men living on American soil have not been safe. Every decade.
Who is fighting for them? These are the people that I love. The one who’s dignity I see. I can’t focus on women when my African-American brothers are dying or wasting away in a prison.
In the same token, I’m not interested in feminism when at least ½ the participants in the global slave trade are promoted and carried out by men of the world. Disturbed men in need of freedom. Yes, it’s a different freedom they need but needed all the same.
No one would have ever argued 150 years ago that Black American slaves were the only ones in need of freedom. If we fool ourselves into believing that white slavemasters of the day weren’t also in need of freedom we only perpetuate unhelpful cycles and leave people to rot in their condition.
Do we truly believe in God’s love & justice, peace & hope for the both the slave and the slave master? I do.
When thousands of men are willing to go into the Red Light District to rape infant children they are sorely in need of freedom and only God’s scandalous grace can save them. Scandalous, indeed.
It’s important to me that all people are free no matter what binds them.
Third, I believe in the rights of little boys, little girls, teen-aged boys, teen-aged girls. I believe in the rights of Iraqi’s, of Israeli’s, of Native-Americans, of the millions of children in Mumbai living out of the trash. Everything I want for these people, yes, I want for white men and African-American men alongside every good thing I want for women. I can’t separate the good I want for the all the occupants of the planet to merely women.
Finally, I’ve never felt resourced enough to concern myself with Feminism. My entire life I believed that everything that was wrong with me was because I was black. Everything. The almost insurmountable amount of mental work it’s taken to overcome those lies has left little else energy for other battles besides those which were mandatory. Comparatively, my biggest problem has always been being black, not being female. Does that make sense?
And so I say… Uncle. I surrender. It’s not my label to have. I don’t judge you if it’s yours. I may not agree with you on all facets of Feminism, but I don’t judge you for the life you live to alleviate women’s seemingly endless sufferings. Let me make myself clear, I do not judge you for the life you choose to lead as a Feminist. I will love you, I will stand by you, I’ll even march with you. I believe in your cause, I have done work for women & will continue to do so until my dying day.
Maybe one day, I’ll be able to divvy out my life like a pie chart, creating enough brain space to hold different theologies and practices in tension. For now, I’m not Liberal nor Conservative. I’m not Republican nor Democrat. I’m not a Feminist or any other label. Hell, I’m not even all the way white or all the way black. I have never felt the need to squeeze myself into the absurd labels humans -especially American humans- come up with up.
I’m just a proud biracial chick tryin’ to figure out how to the Love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind & strength doing justice, loving mercy & walk humbly with my God. That’s the only label I’ll allow you to assign me. This is what I can wrap my head around: justice. Mercy. Humility. Love. Advocacy.
I hope one day when I’m long gone, someone will say of me, “she was the best damn non-identifying feminist she could be. She loved many, many women well.”
People, learn this and learn it hard, it doesn’t take a label to love.