I recently attended a lecture entitled “Working with Race” about confronting race in a classroom setting and how to create a space where race can be openly explored. Originally, I attended because my favorite professor was on the panel, but am glad I went as the lecture has spawned great discussions with fellow feminists.
I was intrigued by the labeling of our society as “post racial” and the realization that the discussion boiled down to a discussion about confronting black-ness. I was disturbed by this for three reasons. 1) there was no discussion of what “post racial” meant; 2) if, in fact, we are living in a post racial society, what does that mean that we only discussed white and black? and 3) what does it mean for people hailing from a women’s studies discipline (which focuses on giving voice to people who have been marginalized and oppressed) to disregard or to lump all minorities in with African-American?
“Post racial” society. The leader of the discussion who deemed this a “post racial” society cited President Barack Obama as prove of this, meaning that we must be beyond race if we have elected a black president. However, Obama is mixed rather than black, a point which gets forgotten when convenient. The fact that he is mixed, I think points more to a “post racial” society more than simply because he is a powerful black man. My point is this: why is a post racial society contingent on the election of a black man? Why is Black the marker for post-racial society, or for us to supposedly be beyond racism? Furthermore, why is it contingent on the success of a black man? Wouldn’t the true marker of “post racial” be one where all minorities, both men and women, can achieve the same level of success and have access to the same opportunities as white men? Additionally, as pointed out here and here, the election of a Black man does not mean that all other issues facing minority men and women will be immediately solved.
I struggle with the idea that race is black and white that seems to be prevalent in discussions about race, whether in the field of women’s studies, or in general conversations. The second wave of feminism opened up a new approach when Black women clarified to the predominately white-led movement that they did not appreciate being spoken for. The concerns and issues facing Black women and white women were different, are still are. From this, came the wonderful writings of bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde, to name a few. The rise of multicultural feminism and global feminism gave women from all cultures the forum to raise their own issues and to not have white women speak on their behalf. How, then, can the discipline of women’s studies partake in discussions of race that leave out anyone but white and black? How can a field that is so conscious of the detriments of marginalization accept a discussion that effectively marginalizes any other minority group? It is as if we have created a hierarchy of race issues that says “we can only deal with black issues right now. we’ll get to the rest later.” To me, this is eerily reminiscent of those second wave white women who declared the issues of women (meaning white, middle class women) to be more important than the issues of black or other minority women. Even feminists who discuss the implications of race tend to generalize all women of color as having the same Black experience. This piece points out some of the debate surrounding race and feminism, and this is a great piece about issues concerning women of color. While both are great discussions of race and feminism, both also illustrate my point about discussion of race being very broadly about all minorities, until examples are given which are limited to experiences of Black women. Why does the term “women of color” become another way to talk about the experience of Black women?
I am not saying that the election of President Obama is not a marker of how race relations have progressed, or that continued discussions concerning white and black are somehow unnecessary or undeserved. We need to keep having those discussions. But we need to start having them about other minority groups as well.