Recently, I came across the Facebook event page for the 2018 Los Angeles Women’s March.
To date, 9,600 people have indicated they are attending the march, while another almost 40,000 people have expressed interest in going. Yet, despite these impressive numbers, there’s at least one woman in Los Angeles County who will not be in attendance. You guessed it: yours truly!
And it’s not because I have a prior engagement. In fact, I really don’t have anything to do that day. The reason I’m not going is because after having attended the march last year, I am well aware that the Women’s March is not for women like me.
Last year around this time, a dark shadow had been cast over the nation. Forty-five had won the presidential election and the country was about to embark on the downward spiral we currently find ourselves in.
Teresa Shook, a retired attorney and grandmother from Hawaii, took her outrage over Trump’s win to the one place we all go to air out our grievances: Facebook. Creating an event calling for women to march on Washington in protest of the newly elected president, Shook has since been credited for igniting the spark that eventually became the record-breaking Women’s March.
Originally called the Million Women March, but later changed after it was brought to organizers’ attention that black women had organized and marched under that name in 1997 (read on for full appreciation of the irony), the Women’s March drew millions of women and allies in cities across the world, all united in protest against the new administration and its policies.
In Los Angeles alone, it is estimated that 350,000 people attended the march. And I was one of them.
When my friend asked me to go to the march with her, I didn’t hesitate. Unlike many others in attendance that day, the Women’s March was not my first time at the social activism rodeo.
As an undergraduate and law student, I joined in protests against my alma mater’s apathetic, borderline non-existent policies regarding minority enrollment and retention and incidents of racism on campus. And in my adult life, I’ve marched against police brutality and the killing of unarmed black and brown people too many times.
I have always been a seeker of social equity and justice; not just through organized protest, but through my career and involvement in community-based organizations. After doing some research on the Women’s March and learning that some of its organizers were women of color with impressive backgrounds in human rights and social justice, I was further encouraged to attend.
We arrived at the march, I with my sign in tow that read in bold letters: “NOT My President. Sincerely, A Nasty Woman and member of ‘The African Americans’” – a snarky reference to Trump’s misogynistic and ignorant comments while on the campaign trail.
We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people present. The streets of downtown LA were so congested, at times, it felt as if we had been dropped into the middle of a mosh pit.
As the march got underway, a couple of women complimented me on my sign. “Yes,” they exclaimed while pumping their fists, “Nasty women unite!” This happened a few more times. And I immediately noticed it. The nine or 10 white women who had gone out of their way to compliment my sign only acknowledged the “nasty woman” reference. They offered no remarks about the equally bold and visible, “The African Americans.”
In fact, the only people who said anything about that part of my sign were black women, who raised fists, told me they loved it, and even asked to take pictures with the sign.
I could feel a mixture of disappointment and annoyance starting to bubble at the surface.
We marched for hours and recited and re-recited every protest chant under the sun: “Whose streets? Our Streets,” “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA,” “The people! United! Will never be defeated,” “Love Trumps Hate,” “Say It Loud, Say It Clear, Immigrants Are Welcome Here,” “My Body, My Choice,” “Show Me What Democracy Looks Like. This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” and so on.
However, in a sea of thousands, at an event billed as a means of advancing the causes affecting all women, the first and last time I heard “Black Lives Matter” chanted was when my two girlfriends and I began the chant. About 40 to 50 others joined in, a comparatively pathetic response to the previous chorus given to the other chants. At that point, I was ready to go home.
Please do not misunderstand. My disappointment had little to do with my sign and chants themselves. It had to do with what white women’s intentional decision to ignore them represented. It represented the continued neglect, dismissal and disregard of the issues affecting black women and other women of color.
It is the type of disregard evidenced by the scene at another protest held in the same exact location a couple of years earlier. In 2014, I, along with several hundred other people, marched in protest against the shooting of Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man killed by the Los Angeles police just days after the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And whereas the Women’s March felt like a mosh pit, the Ford protest felt more like an empty parking lot, with protesters walking freely down open streets alongside normal traffic, their movements unrestricted by a voluminous crowd.
While there were certainly some white allies present joining their voices in solidarity, noticeably absent from the Ford protest were the throngs of white women I saw at the Women’s March: the soccer moms, the college students, the housewives with their children in tow, the grandmothers, the career women, the retirees and so on.
Instead, the majority of those present were the regulars, black and brown folks, and in particular, women. On that day, as we have before and have since, we found ourselves alone in our pain. We found ourselves alone in our pleas and cries for justice, for the end to the killing of our children and husbands and fathers and brothers, for the cessation of the systematic dismantling of our families, and for recognition that our lives and the lives of the ones we love do matter.
This willful blind eye, this deliberate ignorance, fosters a culture where millions protest when white women’s access to health care is threatened, but when black maternal death rates in the United States are on par with women in countries like Mexico and Uzbekistan, there is no national outrage or call for reform or worldwide protest.
It is these issues affecting women of color, along with the effects of mass incarceration on our communities, the rate at which our children are disproportionately punished in schools, the lack of access to quality and affordable health care, the threat of destroying families as a result of deportation, the disproportionately high number of black trans women that are murdered, and so on, that are often met by deafening silence by our white sisters.
We found ourselves alone in our pleas and cries for justice, for the end to the killing of our children and husbands and fathers and brothers.
This has always been my problem with traditional feminism. Its lack of intersectionality is exclusionary. When feminists proclaim “women’s rights are human rights” it feels more like they mean “white women’s rights are human rights.” I am a black woman, and I will not be made to choose between my womanhood and blackness. So while white women can choose to ignore racism and systemic oppression, I cannot. My very survival is dependent on confronting these issues head on.
When I got home that night and hopped on social media, I found that I wasn’t alone in my feelings about the Women’s March. In cities all over the U.S., black women, some I knew and some I didn’t, expressed their frustrations over feeling as though their voices, their issues, and their concerns and causes weren’t given nearly as much as value as those of the majority.
One of the most circulated posts from that day was of a black woman holding a sign that read, “Don’t forget: White Women Voted for Trump.” Yeah, 53 percent to be exact.
It perfectly summed up another reason for my apathy towards the march. Ninety-four percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, yet here we all are at a march, protesting the person you put in office, and we can’t even get you to affirm that yes, black lives do matter. It’s indicative of an overall trend of black women showing up for this nation, while continuously having their own issues and concerns summarily dismissed.
Just take a look at recent events. Black voters in Alabama, specifically 98 percent of black women, prevented Roy Moore, a homophobic, racist and alleged sexual predator from being elected to the United States Senate. Whereas 63 percent of white women in that same election cast their vote in favor of Moore. Time Magazine selected “The Silence Breakers” of the #MeToo movement as their 2017 person of the year, while failing to place the black woman who created the Me Too movement in 2006, Tarana Burke, on its cover. And black female politicians like, Senator Kamala Harris and Representatives Maxine Waters, Frederica Wilson and Karen Bass continue to hold this administration’s feet to the fire, despite efforts to silence them through intimidation and humiliation.
So, no, I won’t be attending this year’s Women’s March. Until OUR issues become all of our issues, I cannot continue to lend my voice, my strength and my power to a movement or a brand of feminism that seeks to end the oppression of some of its members, while some of its members continue to aid in the oppression of others.
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