At the intersection of patriarchy and anti-Black racism stands the Black woman. There’s even a word for it: misogynoir. And it’s a necessary word, too, because multiple axes of oppression (like misogyny and anti-Black racism) do not compound each other by simple addition. Instead, they contort and magnify each other in a way that is distinct, and it works a lot more like multiplication.
Can Black women experience anti-Black racism in the same way Black men do? YES.
Can Black women experience misogyny in the same way white women do? OF COURSE.
Can Black women experience bigotry and oppression that is unique to the wholeness of their identities as “Black women”? YESSSSS.
And add LGBTQ+, disabled, or any other axes of privilege/oppression and the harm and marginalization multiply. Again.
There are white feminist women being racists toward Black women in the feminist movement (a well-documented phenomenon since the earliest feminist organizing that unfortunately continues to this very day). And Black men being misogynistic and patriarchal toward Black women (also a well-documented phenomenon).
Misogynoir manifests in too many ways to enumerate here, but one example that comes readily to mind is when police assume a Black woman who is dressed appropriately for warm weather is a sex worker, and they then proceed to degrade, harass, arrest or assault her. (Not that mistreating sex workers is EVER okay, in any context.) The misogynoir lies in the initial assumption: the stereotyping and overt sexualizing of Black women, because they are Black women. The consequence of that assumption is harm to Black women.
I have been privileged and honored to know and to work with Black women over the course of my time living in New York, and even more fortunate to count some Black women as my friends.* While they face not only sexism and anti-Black racism but their twisted cousin, misogynoir, in everyday life, my respect, empathy and anger on their behalf only continues to grow, as I do.
WAIT. Now I owe you all an apology! All of that^ was a way-too-wordy prelude (from the white woman who is supposed to be S-ing TFU and listening!) to introducing perhaps my favorite historical figure ever, a Black woman. It just felt necessary to emphasize this context in which she lived her life, because it makes her all the more extraordinary for being who she was, and doing what she did.
Her name is Florynce Rae Kennedy. A.k.a. Flo.
Her Wikipedia page makes a decent effort at doing her justice. The problem is that doing so is all but impossible, at least on a web page. (And this one is no exception.) Yes, the facts listed are true as far as they go, and they’re impressive. Flo Kennedy was indeed an American lawyer, radical feminist, civil rights advocate, lecturer and activist.
But it’s difficult to take all of it in and compose a complete picture of her. For instance, meet Flo Kennedy, the lawyer:
- Kennedy was the first black woman to graduate from Columbia Law School, in 1951. She had been denied admission at first, but got in after a meeting with the dean during which she threatened legal action on racial discrimination grounds.
- After graduation Kennedy started own law practice, and would eventually represent the estates of Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, the black power leader H Rap Brown and other Black Panthers.
- In 1968 Kennedy sued the Catholic Church on the grounds that its money spent on anti-abortion lobbying campaigns was an illegal violation of the separation of church and state, which threatened the Church’s tax-exempt status.
- She went after them again in 1972, this time filing tax evasion charges with the IRS against the Church.
- Kennedy was also a member of the legal team that successfully fought to weaken New York state’s abortion laws (pre-Roe).
I’d say that reflects one hell of a legal career. But Kennedy became disenchanted with the law as a tool to fight oppression; after all, the courts were (and still are) bigoted. So she threw herself into activist work: not just feminist and anti-racist, but anti-war, advancing LGBTQ+ rights, and sex worker rights, and civil- and human rights for other minorities.
Meet Flo Kennedy, the activist:
- Founded NOW (National Organization for Women).
- Founded the Media Workshop, to fight media discrimination.
- Founded the Feminist party, which ran Shirley Chisholm for U.S. president.
- Led the Consumer Coalition, fighting for wider representation in American media: “If we are successful in our fight to alter the pattern of television here in America, I would hope that we would come to know as much about the African woman as we know about football, basketball and tennis.”
That’s an A+ for activism.
The thing is, we could go on from here, and go further still to discuss Flo Kennedy the author, the lecturer, the civil rights advocate, all in great depth and detail, and still not see her for all that she was.
So this is the point where I really do STFU, and we can listen to Flo Kennedy in her own words, the only words that can ever really do her justice.
“It’s interesting to speculate how it developed that in two of the most anti-feminist institutions, the church and the law court, the men are wearing the dresses.”
—Flo Kennedy, from her book, Color Me Flo — My Hard Life and Good Times
“Unity in a Movement situation can be overrated. If you were the Establishment, which would you rather see coming in the door: one lion or five hundred mice?”
“The innocence of good people is inexcusable. Naivete is a luxury only the pigocrats can afford.”
(ON MARRIAGE) “Going in and out of a closet, your mind is on what you really want in there. But the minute the door locks, all you want is out.”
“Women who say they’re contented just having a nice husband and two beautiful children–fine; I’m glad. Of course, I always wonder what happens if one of the children isn’t beautiful…and if the housework is so rewarding, why don’t men do it, too? But this Movement isn’t about getting some woman to leave her husband. It’s about social justice.”
“People always ask if a woman can be a wife and mother and have a career at the same time. Why don’t they ask if she can be a hostess, chauffeur, cook, gardener, nurse, seamstress, social secretary, purchasing agent, baby machine, and courtesan–and a wife and a mother too?”
“I know we’re termites. But if all the termites got together, the house would fall down.”
MALE HECKLER: “Are you a lesbian?”
FLO KENNEDY: “Are you my alternative?”
“In a jockocratic society, you can turn on the TV and find out the score of some basketball game in Alaska–but you can’t find out how many states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. You can turn on the radio, and hear every score in the country repeated all day long–but you don’t hear how many women died from illegal abortions.”
“As the struggle intensifies, the oppressor tends to pick more attractive agents–frequently from among the oppressed.”
“Loserism is when oppressed people sit around and think up reasons why they can’t do something. Well just do it. Thinking up reasons why you can’t is the Establishment’s job.”
“If the ass is protecting the system, ass-kicking should be undertaken regardless of the sex, ethnicity, or charm of the ass involved.”
“My parents gave us a fantastic sense of security and worth. By the time the bigots got around to telling us that we were nobody, we already knew we were somebody.”
“Women have at least three kinds of power: Dollar Power, to boycott with; Vote Power, to take over structures with, and maybe even get somebody elected; and Body Power, to get out and support our friends and make a damned nuisance of ourselves with everybody else.”
“I may seem radical, but I’m not. I’m just a worm, turning.”
“You’ve got to rattle your cage door. You’ve got to let them know that you’re in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you’ll sure have a lot more fun.”
“Oppression has at least four dimensions: The personal or psychological–like when you yourself believe that you’re a big zero because society keeps telling you so. The private–like when some employer tries to make out with you when you ask for a job. The public–like when the government takes the money you need for child-care centers, and uses it to kill people in Indochina. And the cultural–like when the history books attribute everything we did and invented to some guy we worked for.”
“There are very few jobs that actually require a penis or vagina. All other jobs should be open to everybody.”
“At my age and in my condition, I’m going to do what I want – I haven’t got time for anything else.”
Flo Kennedy’s obituary in The Guardian noted that she:
was once called “the biggest, loudest and, indisputably the rudest, mouth on the battleground where feminist- activists and radical politics join in mostly common cause.”
If that could somehow end up on my tombstone, I would consider my life a resounding success.
Flo Kennedy, Rest in Power.
*Just a personal note: I do not consider people “friends” lightly, Facebook followers notwithstanding. Those people I do consider friends? I call them family. The concept of “chosen family” arose from the LGBTQ+ movement, as a term for those who were (and still are) being disowned, abused or otherwise mistreated by their families or origin, and who choose instead to surround themselves and bond with loving, supportive people. This paradigm is a gift available to anyone and everyone, LGBTQ+ or otherwise, whose ties have been cut with toxic families of origin.
Just FYI, here are some other stories I could have written about today:
REUTERS Special Report [CONTENT NOTE: linked story contains text, images and audio clips with offensive language.]
Local school officials across the United States are being inundated with threats of violence and other hostile messages from anonymous harassers nationwide, fueled by anger over culture-war issues. Reuters found 220 examples of such intimidation in a sampling of districts.
New York Times “New York Today” email briefing:
Black unemployment rates in New York City are stuck above 15 percent, The City reports.
New York Times “New York Today” email briefing (quote from a story about obstacles to New Jersey’s cannabis retail shops):
As recently as 2018, Black residents were more than three times as likely as white residents to be charged with possessing marijuana, although roughly the same numbers of Black and white New Jerseyans use marijuana.
Washington Post Trending News Alert:
In searing testimony Wednesday, an FBI analyst described racist texts and social media posts by the White men who killed Arbery. One man’s messages discussed violence against Black people. Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan have been convicted in state court of murdering Arbery. They are now on trial for federal hate crimes, and prosecutors must prove they targeted Arbery, 25, in part because he was Black.
Day 1 of Black History Month 2022 (Lori Teresa Yearwood) is here.
Day 2 (Mallence Bart-Williams) is here.
Day 3 (Emmett Till) is here.
Day 4 (A Tale of Two Citizens) is here.
Day 5 (Trayvon Martin) is here.
Day 6 (Franchesca Ramsey) is here.
Day 7 (National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and the Black Aids Institute) is here.
Day 8 (extreme racial disparities in marijuana arrests) is here.
Day 9 (Summer of Soul/1969 Harlem Cultural Festival) is here.
Day 10 (current and historic racist domestic terrorism, Steve Phillips/Democracy in Color) is here.
Day 11 (Gee’s Bend Quilters) is here.
Day 12 (egregious anti-Black (& anti LGBTQ+) behavior at a NY State high school is here.
Day 13 (Erin Jackson, 1st Black woman to win Olympic gold medal in speedskating) is here.
Day 14 (Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions) is here.
Day 15 (racial inequities in spiking vehicle death rates during the pandemic compound and are compounded by other racial inequities, and The New York Times buries the lede) is here.
Day 16 (criminalizing protest/Color of Change) is here.