It’s an honor to open my column to Barbara Smith, the co-founder of the Combahee River Collective, and hear her talk about the Women’s Strike planned for March 8th.
On election night, my sister Beverly texted me to say that what we saw unfolding was a repudiation of everything that we had worked for our entire lives. As two Black women born into Jim Crow before the mid-point of the twentieth century, we were horrified to contemplate what lay ahead.
Like many Black people of my generation, I experienced an actual change in my social status during my lifetime as a result of Black political struggle. Because of the Civil Rights and Black liberation movements, by the time I was in my early twenties the perception of who I was in this country and what rights I could claim had been altered, despite the fact that institutionalized white supremacy was left intact.
Now, under this new regime, I am once again a second-class citizen if not a third or fourth class one, since I am also a woman, a lesbian, and a worker who cannot afford to retire.
Although there are many reasons that we find ourselves in the current crisis, I believe that this presidency has been brought to us most significantly by unexamined and unchallenged white supremacy. Not since the early twentieth century could a white man run for the nation’s highest office on a blatantly racist platform and win. Barry Goldwater tried it. George Wallace tried it. They could not pull it off because by the 1960’s their bigoted narratives about who Americans were and what America should be were being widely challenged. This is not to say that there have not been numerous presidents who have held racist views and implemented racist policies since the early twentieth century. They just could not afford to campaign explicitly on this message.
Now all that has changed. Racism was not delivered by dog whistles in the last campaign, but by bullhorns. Of those who voted, and that number is small, forty-five per cent of college educated white women had no problem voting for the Republican candidate because not only could they live with his egregious sexism and misogyny, but there was something about his xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism that they found appealing. And let’s not pretend that they merely overlooked his crude bigotry because they liked his economic populism.
Like many who benefit from racism in the United States they likely had only a superficial grasp of how racism functions and like many other trump supporters some must have found it exhilarating that someone was finally expressing racial views that so-called “political correctness” had kept underground.
The women who voted for Trump say something to me about different versions of feminism. One can assume that many of them believe that they have a right to make decisions, do meaningful work, not be discriminated against, be treated with respect, and not be subjected to violence. These are all desires that overlap with basic feminist demands. Yet they had no problem with supporting an individual who gave no evidence that he viewed women as anything but prey because there was something else they liked about him, which spoke to them, that is, white supremacy.
Unexamined and unchallenged white supremacy has always divided those who should be allies in this country and racism accounts for profound divisions among women including in the supposedly progressive context of feminist movements. Single issue “lean-in feminism” that only addresses the concerns of economically privileged, cis gendered, white women is extremely effective in maintaining the status quo. As a Black woman, this narrow type of feminism has never worked for me, which is why my sisters of color and I, usually unnoticed, have spent decades building an alternative.
I am excited to be a part of the effort to organize the International Women’s Strike on March 8th because it is grounded in a democratic vision of feminism that acknowledges and fights for the rights and freedom of all women. Our platform acknowledges that racism, economic exploitation, and imperialism as well as gender oppression destroy the lives of women and their families around the world. It states:
Against the open white supremacists in the current government and the far right and anti-Semites they have given confidence to, we stand for an uncompromising anti-racist and anti-colonial feminism. This means that movements such as Black Lives Matter, the struggle against police brutality and mass incarceration, the demand for open borders and for immigrant rights and for the decolonization of Palestine are for us the beating heart of this new feminist movement. We want to dismantle all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.
The Strike exemplifies the power of feminism for the 99 per cent and deploys it at a time when it could not be more needed.
The outpouring of protest and organizing that has been unleashed by this administration’s attempt to push us back to political, social, and economic conditions that mirror those of the early 1900s is inspiring. I know that what we are doing makes a difference and like the huge and historic women’s marches in January, the International Women’s Strike offers another opportunity to speak out and carry on the work.
Recognizing that everyone cannot take a day off from work on March 8th, there are many ways to participate.
Some will strike during their lunch hour and wear a sign to let people know that is what they are doing. Some women who are able to strike will wear the names of others who cannot. Women who do unwaged work or sex work are planning ways to be involved. In many cities there will be large visible public actions.
In whatever way you can, if you find being a second, third or fourth class resident of this nation unacceptable as I do, I urge you to join me and your sisters around the world on March 8th.
Barbara Smith is co-founder of the Combahee River Collective and of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press and the subject of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building With Barbara Smith, co-edited by Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks, SUNY Press.