But some of us are brave
The title is extracted from Gloria T. Hull’s book All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Male, But Some of Us Are Brave. Her work frames Black women’s methodology for survival considering our frustrated position vis-à-vis both Black studies and women’s studies, where because of White women’s racism and Black men’s sexism, there has been little room for serious consideration of Black women in either field.
The photo is a collage of brave, Black Bermudian women whom I admire deeply. They include but are not limited to Cathy Duffy, American International Group’s Country Manager in Bermuda, Berkeley Institute deputy principals Tianna Symonds and Nadia Robinson, and principal Keisha Douglas, writer and storyteller Kristin White, Maya Palacio of Media Maya, scientist extraordinaire Carika Weldon PhD, future lawyers Rakaya Simmons and Ciara Burrows, senior counsellor Cindy Smith, Hiscox finance graduate India Tara Bascombe, and my peers of Bermuda Youth Connect.
Feminism: a movement that fights to end sexist exploitation and oppression without neglecting other forms of oppression like racism, classism and ableism (hooks, 1984).
Womanist: a Black feminist or feminist of colour who opposes sexism in the Black community and racism throughout the feminist community. The womanist movement unites women of colour with the feminist movement (Walker, 1979).
Woman of colour: a woman who is non-White.
Few words empty a room filled with people the way “feminist” does. Reactions to feminism are always polarising, yet vary across identities. Whether people attach themselves to extreme sects of the movement or refute mischaracterised goals, our existing relationship with feminism is complicated or superficial at best.
Meanwhile, the feminist movement itself is severely fragmented. Black women feel alienated from the word “feminist” because throughout history, White women have thwarted contributions from feminists of colour. In response to exclusions, terms such as “womanist” emerged to readjust the academic lens of feminism, representing the lived experiences of WOC.
The whitewashing of the feminist movement is reflected in the #MeToo movement, founded by Tarana Burke, a Black woman who started #MeToo to advance the rights of WOC. However, most people associate #MeToo only with White women instead of the WOC it was created to represent. This article uses the term “feminist” to honour significant contributions made by women of colour despite the erasure they face.
Although there are scattered reactions to feminism, its principle ideology remains central to liberating all oppressed groups, reimagining society, and achieving world peace. Black women exist at the intersection of every lens of oppression, uniquely navigating subjugation from White women, White men and Black men. This experience is called “intersectional invisibility”, which describes that movements such as racial liberation, decolonisation and gender parity appear to help Black women but also contribute to their marginalisation (Coles, 2020).
Black women have occupied stifled positions in all systems of oppression, assuming multiple burdens of domestic labour, manual slave labour and sexual exploitation. The southern antebellum ideal of a “pure southern lady” was constructed in opposition to the “lascivious female slave”, reflecting present standards of femininity that oppress and exclude Black women (Hull, 1982). Today, Black women have the lowest marital rates and highest rates of sexual violence (Pew, 2020). Moreover, disrespecting women in various ways such as sexually examining underage school girls or complete strangers is a cultural norm.
The liberation of Black women should be at the forefront of every pursuit for freedom. Yet, depending exclusively on our gender and racial counterparts to validate the nuanced, underrepresented identity of the Black woman is a frustrating, self-destructive pursuit. This is why the late bell hooks urged Black women specifically to rekindle the spirit of feminism — clearing a path no longer unrecognised, victimised or afraid. To lead with love, take courageous steps (as you can) and move towards liberation (hooks, 1984).
I don’t expect White authors or Black men to represent an experience closer to mine. They have their niches, and nail it. However, myths of universality and relatability keep them at the centre of movements for change (Kannan, 2021). I reserve the right to critique an ecosystem that heroises and nourishes specific thought leaders at the expense of others (Kannan, 2021). Especially women left to single-parent while their counterparts pursued movements of liberation — propping up burdensome theories like the matriarchal Black family unit.
Although I describe the present position of Black women under various forms of oppression, this is not our collective destiny. Hope is an emotion borne only out of struggle, and the most powerful optimism starts with a brutal assessment of reality. We can remain optimistic and hopeful for the future if we are honest about our position, encourage men to lean into the spirit of inclusive feminism, and merge goals.
Feminist discourse empties rooms for reasons beyond gender pay gaps, political representation and other essential gender goals. In the book Sylvia Wynter: on being human as praxis, Katherine McKittrick implies that feminism draws the most criticism because it demands that we reimagine what it means to be human. Considering our cataclysmic global affairs, economic turmoil and sweeping domestic reforms, the demands to reinvent are ever-present in our reality. Black women have unique positions lending us to support the collective, leaving romantic fantasies of a single hero in the past, and lighting the way forward, fully supported.
Recommended readings for non-White gender perspectives
• Katherine McKittrick:Sylvia Wynters: On being human as praxis
• Gloria T. Hull:All the women are white, all the Blacks are men, but some of us are Brave
• bell hooks:Feminist Theory: From margin to centre
• bell hooks:Ain’t I A woman?
• Denise Noble: Decolonising and feminising freedom: A Caribbean Genealogy
Coles, Stewart. Intersectional Invisibility Revisited: How Group Prototypes Lead to the Erasure and Exclusion of Black Women (American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 2020).
Drysdale, Carla. Devastatingly Pervasive: 1 in 3 Women Globally Experience Violence (World Health Organisation, World Health Organisation, 2021).
hooks, bell. Ain't I A Woman (Pluto Press, 1982).
hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Routledge, 1984).
Hull, Gloria T., et al. But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies (The Feminist Press, 1982).
Kannan, Malavika. “I Love Sally Rooney's Novels, but They Aren't Written for Me” (Electric Literature, Electric Lit, 7 Oct 2021).
Livingston, Gretchen, and Anna Brown. “Trends and Patterns in Intermarriage” (Pew Research Centre’s Social and Demographic Trends Project (Pew Research Centre, 30 May 2020).
Philips, Layli. Womanist (Womanist.community, 2022)
• Tierrai Tull is a graduate of the Berkeley Institute and United World College, Armenia. Tierrai was the first Bermudian on the Armenian international campus. She is in her junior year at the University of Toronto & University College London, studying International Relations, Political Science and Public Policy. Tierrai founded Bermuda Youth Connect, is the president of Student Unions at the University of Toronto, the Tournament Director at Hart House Debates & Dialogues and an Equity Officer at the Womxn & Gender Minorities tournaments in Toronto