March is Women’s History Month, and I find myself in a different space this year – a space that’s been decades in the making as I’ve worked to reconcile my role in the women’s movement as an African-American woman.
As a young reporter in the 1990s, I was clear on where I stood. I told my white, female colleagues curious why race, not gender, topped my priorities in newsroom diversity talks: “Because when I walk in a room, the first impression I make is that of a black woman.”
To boot, I’d continue, race not only introduces me, racism deals a double-whammy by way of those affected most negatively – black men.
I was reminded of that last year when a spate of police killings across the nation hit Southeast Raleigh and Akiel Denkins was shot and killed by an officer.
My recurring thought: “The women, though.”
Mothers burying sons without justice, wives witnessing husbands gunned down, returning home alone.
Something else bubbled up as Hillary Clinton became the first woman front-runner for U.S. president. Three women mobilized the Black Lives Matter movement. The mothers of Eric Gardner, Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin united on a national speaking circuit as Mothers of the Movement.
Historically, it’s been women who played unmistakable roles in social reform, women who have mustered the courage to overcome fear and adversity to break barriers and spawn change.
Think Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, or Eleanor Roosevelt, Victoria Woodhull, Sandra Day O’Connor, Indira Gandhi, Helen Keller and so many others.
And think the Women’s March worldwide Jan. 21, and International Women’s Day on March 8.
In September, I filled a seat at a Business and Professional Women – Triangle gathering to hear Michele Tracy Berger, an associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The topic: 4th Wave Feminism.
We credit the first wave of feminism with the right to vote; the second wave with the push for equal access and opportunity at work, for health care and childcare, sexual freedom, and an end to sexual discrimination and degradation, and poverty; and the third wave for space to talk about race and class, said Berger, author of several books.
The fourth wave of feminism, she said, can be defined by its intersection of race and gender and class and sexual identity. It is marked by an internet activism designed to reach larger audiences with the exchange of information and messages via writings, videos and hashtags.
Reagan Massey, a high school junior at St. Mary’s School, gets it.
“With the new administration and new politics, I have been thinking about whether I’m a woman first, or whether I am black first,” said Massey, 17, a member of the school’s Human Rights Alliance who recently led the Triangle Diversity Alliance Conference of private schools. “It speaks to history that I would have to choose ... because there hasn’t been a space where I can be both, where I could voice and speak about my experience as a black woman, in general.
“But what I’ve found in this new wave of feminism is I’m not having to choose as much,” added Massey, a day student from Wake Forest. “It’s no longer just about improving the lives of white women without acknowledging all the intersectional prejudices.”
It’s the idea of building bridges to universal sisterhood that bring even those who don’t have the means to be there to the forefront, said Lisa Sander, a high school science teacher.
It’s the kind of challenge that can’t end with a march or a call to representatives, but continues with being present at town hall meetings or running for office, Sander said.
“This is an entirely new political landscape, so this is a great time for reinvention, for reinvigorating the movement,” she said. “We all have to find out what works in this territory.”
To start, let’s all find a spot at the table.