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Gender Block: black feminism

Hillary Di Menna

At the end of December, social media addressed singer Ani DiFranco’s choice of venue for a feminist song writing retreat: a former slave plantation. DiFranco writes on her website, after cancelling the June event to be held in Louisianna at Nottoway Plantation, “I did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness. I imagined instead that the setting would become a participant in the event. This was doubtless to be a gathering of progressive and engaged people, so I imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were.“ Instead, many deemed her decision an example of “white feminist cluelessness.”

“In terms of being an ally there are many ways that white women can help,” says Stephanie Phillips, a member of Black Feminists.  “The best way is to listen to black women when we air our issues and not look for negatives or loopholes in our story. If you are running a feminist campaign or organisation it is also useful to think about whether your organization takes into account Black women’s issues when running campaigns.”

Black Feminists is a group that began three years ago. The organization focuses on issues affecting black women that are often ignored by the mainstream feminist movement. Meetings are held throughout England, but it is their online presence that garners much attention.

The meetings are for black women only: “It is important to hold black women only discussion for similar reasons that it is important to hold women only meetings. It is very rare that black women get to fully talk through all of the issues and hardships that affect them. At Black Feminist meetings we are able to offer women a safe space where they can share their concerns and hopes with others that understand and have experienced what they’re talking about.”

This isn’t to say black feminism is about separatism. “We firmly believe that an intersectional approach is essential to all feminist thought and action,” says Phillips. “We aim to incorporate this belief into all aspects of our group. We also try to self criticize, and be aware of when we could be doing better.”

As easy as it would be to lump every feminist together, all women are different, and there are different struggles to address. Admitting to privilege is often confused with admitting to personal inherit maliciousness. Whereas it can really be a stepping stone to empathy, understanding and reaching the end game of a united, more powerful movement.

A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna writes Gender Block every week and maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.

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