Your Guide to How Your Activism Can Uplift– and Not Silence– Black Women

When Eva Longoria dismissed the large role Black female voters played in the 2020 presidential election in a television interview with MSNBC, Black women everywhere were not surprised. 

Due to the efforts of Black women such as Stacey Abrams, former candidate for the role of Georgia’s governor, President-elect Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992. Nationwide, 90% of Black women voted for Biden, a higher percentage than any other demographic in the country. 

In the interview, Longoria said, “Of course, you saw in Georgia what Black women have done but Latina women were the real heroines here, beating men in turnout in every state and voting for Biden-Harris at an average rate of 3:1.” 

Following the online backlash, Longoria released an apology, stating “Watching this back I can see that this sounds like I’m comparing Latinas to Black women, which I would never do. I was comparing Latinas to their male counterparts, but my wording was not clear and I deeply regret that.”

Still, her words struck the wrong note. In a Refinery29 article, Afro-Latinx writer Jasely Molina stated, “When you diminish the work of Black women from within and without your community, from society, and from history, you are also invalidating their experiences, their roots, their identity, their existence.”

As a Black woman, the underlying message in Longoria’s original statement felt all too familiar. For me, as well as many others online, it was reminiscent of Gina Rodriguez’s many instances of anti-Blackness. One example is her complaint about the lack of Latinx representation in Marvel films during Black Panther’s 2018 release, all the while ignoring Tessa Thompson and Zoe Saldana, two Afro-Latinx women who recently had been given leading roles in Marvel films. 

Both Eva Longoria and Gina Rodriguez’s words reflect a larger trend of Black women’s achievements, influence, and efforts being erased in favor of uplifting another group. If you claim the title of activist, as Eva Longoria and Gina Rodriguez do, it’s critical to learn how to advocate for your community’s visibility without devaluing the work or accomplishments of another group.

Whether it’s our voices being overshadowed by men in the Black Lives Matter movement or white feminists not considering how race intersects with gender when discussing misogyny, Black women are in need of allies that uplift us, not “allies” who silence or dismiss us. Here’s how you can be one. 

Instead of speaking over Black women, speak from the “I” perspective 

In any space where you’re talking about issues relating to race, culture, or identity, speaking from your perspective can prevent you from speaking over others, as Eva Longoria did. It can be hard to decenter yourself from a conversation because so often we aim to put ourselves first. By speaking only from your perspective, you can better self-reflect on how the given topic affects you, while also listening to how it affects others.  

Give credit where credit is due

Dear Dark Skinned Girl writer Anya Carr wrote it best– “It’s no secret that Black culture is quite literally the blueprint for many trends in pop culture today.” Black women and girls in particular have had enormous influence over American fashion and style trends, but oftentimes our looks don’t become trendy until a white person claims it as stylish. When it comes to pop culture trends, showing that you understand where something came from can help end the consistent pattern of Black women’s influence going unacknowledged.

Outside of pop culture, credit also needs to be given to the crucial role Black women have played in some of America’s social justice and political movements, bringing me to my next point….

Don’t contribute to the erasure of Black women from social justice movements

Black women have worked at the forefront of many social justice movements, sometimes without much recognition. Despite the Black Lives Matter movement being created by three Black women– Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi– again and again, we’ve seen how the Black community has left the stories of Black women out of the movement. 

Within the feminist movement, a “white feminist” is a feminist who puts the issues of white women first. From the first suffragettes who ignored the voting rights of women of color to continued tone policing as Black women detail their experiences with discrimination, white feminism acts as a barrier to true progress.

When talking about gender-based discrimination, we also need to talk about race. When talking about race, we also need to talk about gender. Misogynoir– a term created by Black feminist Moya Bailey to describe the “the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward Black women”– captures the reality of the Black female experience that “misogyny” simply doesn’t.

Don’t leave Black women behind in your activism, simple as that. When police or domestic violence targets Black women be sure to step up the same as you would if it was a male victim. Within the Black community, we collectively need to stop trivializing Black women’s pain through jokes. Fighting for Black lives means fighting for Black women. 

Continue to educate yourself when you can, instead of relying on activists and community organizers to do all the heavy lifting

I genuinely love answering people’s questions and creating new content that helps people understand issues facing Black women and the Black community. But sometimes, it can be a lot, especially when the topic at hand is emotionally exhausting. Show your support for marginalized communities by continuing to do your own research, instead of letting one person or team be your all-encompassing source of information. This way, you can create your own informed opinions on a given topic, and contribute to the social justice conversation in a more meaningful way. 

Being Black does not automatically make us experts on social justice. We can’t all talk you through learning how to be an anti-racist, and consistently expecting that emotional labor from your Black peers is a misguided form of allyship. 

Understanding intersectionality when it comes to activism is a constant learning process. You can never know everything, but it’s best when you are willing to listen to BIPOC when they say changes need to be made. If people make the effort to acknowledge Black womens’ role in politics, pop culture, activism, and more, we can help lessen misogynoir’s impact on the lives of Black women.

Photo by Ira L. Black, found on WBUR.org