Social justice movements owe everything to Black women, who have been the primary movement-builders, theorists, and front-line organizers fighting for justice and equity for decades. But the unique experiences of Black women are still disregarded and misunderstood by social justice movements, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.
The study’s findings are based on interviews with 1,000 participants who were asked whether 41 racialized traits (such as aggression, ambition, hostility, or sexual promiscuity) were associated with different races or genders.
The study found that Black women did not fit the participants’ vision of a “typical woman” and that Black women were more aligned with “masculine” traits. Simultaneously, a majority of participants believed that Black men and women are more similar than different.
This underdifferentiation between Black men and women is congruous with previous research, which suggests that Blackness is automatically associated with Black maleness.
“Black women are often overlooked in people’s conversations about racism and sexism even though they face a unique combination of both of these forms of discrimination simultaneously,” said Stewart Coles, lead researcher of the study, in a press release. “This ‘intersectional invisibility’ means that movements that are supposed to help Black women may be contributing to their marginalization.”
It is no secret that Black women have been neglected by white feminists for decades. Mainstream feminist movements have failed to adequately address racialized sexism and have prioritized issues that predominately affect white women in part because Black women are assumed to either have the same experience of sexism as white women or to only experience racism rather than a complicated combination of the two.
This also explains why movements against anti-Black racism are frequently criticized for not doing enough address the needs of Black women, who are assumed to share the same experiences of oppression as Black men.
Alexis Bass, a 22-year-old Black activist who is currently organizing with the Movement for Black Lives in Georgia, agrees with the study’s findings.
Bass pointed to the lack of attention given to Black women who have been murdered by police officers as evidence of this exclusion. The #SayHerName campaign, founded by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 2014, means to address this issue. Black women have been murdered by police in many of the same circumstances as Black men but have been largely ignored by the movement.
“All of these cases affect my community as a whole, but when it comes to Black women sharing experiences and injustices, our word and our lives suddenly don’t matter,” said Bass.
What the researchers describe as “one-size-fits-all” approaches to addressing social injustice fails people with multiple marginalized identities.
The exclusion of Black women, in particular, puts them at greater risk of harm. Black women have historically shouldered the majority of the organizing labor of social justice movements but lack the leadership roles that allow them to prioritize the issues that affect them.
“The key often starts with listening to Black women about their concerns and what their needs are and then delivering accordingly,” said Coles.
Sources: The New Yorker 7/20/2020; CNN 7/18/2020; American Psychological Association 7/18/2020