Black Women Don’t Need an Invite to Sit at the ‘Feminism’ Table

There was much debate after the women’s marches that took place all over the world this past weekend about whether or not black women felt “invited” to participate in this event. While I was unable to attend the one held in Chicago, I was vigilant in watching news coverage of the various marches, as well as the newsfeeds of friends and other folks I follow on social media who were in attendance. From what I could see, the audiences looked overwhelmingly white, but there seemed to be an OK presence of women of color in the mix as well.

Yes. That’s to be expected.

One of the common arguments I saw from black women was that this particular event didn’t seem like it was “for me,” so a lot of them didn’t go. And this is fine. But I just couldn’t help but wonder: If Ida B. Wells or Mary Church Terrell or Frances Harper had waited for their invitation to “join” the movement and to fight for women’s rights, or if they had waited for their seat to be pulled out for them at this proverbial “table,” where would we be today? Because if black women want a seat at the “feminism” table, we can’t wait for an invitation. In fact, we shouldn’t. Because, as those who came before us learned, that offer may never come.

We’re all familiar with the “seat at the table” concept, and we recognize that if those at the table are not diverse, then the ones not seated will not be represented and, thus, left behind. Sometimes we get so frustrated that we just create our own table (and most times, this is what we need to do), but this work right here is not one that should be done in a silo. Because we need everybody to understand that we’re still only getting paid 64 cents for every dollar a white man makes (compared to 78 cents for white women). We need everybody to understand that while we’re 2.8 times as likely as our white counterparts to aspire to a position of power in the workplace, only about 5 percent of managerial and professional positions are held by black women. We need everybody to understand that this ain’t even the 1950s and 60s, and we are still fearing for our black lives and mourning those who have been unjustly killed by the police, who suffer no consequences after committing murder. We need everybody to understand that diseases such as cervical cancer are killing us at a rate higher than white women due, in part, to lack of awareness and access to health care. We need everybody to understand that the reason there were no arrests made at this particular march was because, well, a lot of y’all were white.

We need to tell our stories. We are responsible for that. And we are responsible for telling other black women to do the same because there is no hierarchy of issues we need to tackle. My blackness is just as important as my being a woman. Those two things are intertwined — there is no way to separate them. (And you don’t get to separate them when patriarchy and misogyny are ingrained in the psyche of our black men, too.) So, the need for us to participate in a march on women’s rights is just as important as participating in a march for Black Lives Matter. There is no either or, there is no “black women will be more helpful showing up for [insert cause here].” We need all of us everywhere because that’s the only way change is going to happen.

Even the idea that being black comes first for black women is a reminder of how we have been viewed since we’ve been in this country. Black women have been masculinized since slavery, as we worked the same jobs as the men and received the same punishment as them, too. We were bred like animals and then had our children stolen from us. We were raped because we were said to be loose and sexually aggressive, because we were whores and jezebels, because we weren’t seen as human beings. We weren’t seen as women — not in the way that white women were. This is an idea that still lingers with us today, and it’s a shame to say that it’s been internalized among some black people as well.

Shirley Chisholm once said: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.” We don’t need to be asked or invited to show up, we just need to do it. And even if you can’t show up in the form of participating in a march or protest, show up by using your platform to speak out. Show up by using your talents to educate people about your story and the nuances of your particular life experience. Show up by volunteering in your community. Show up by teaching your daughters and sons and nieces and nephews that the only thing different about girls and boys is their anatomy — not their skills or intelligence or athletic capabilities or anything else. Showing up is perhaps my biggest goal this year because there is too much on the line right now. Black women are doing so much to fight for their rights on their own, but there is strength in numbers, and we have to show up to tell our own story because no one else will.

So get your fucking folding chair.