To Women Marchers: Just Because You Don’t Feel Welcome Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Belong

Issues that impact the womanhood of any one of us—directly or indirectly—impact all of us.
Zenobia ILLO.jpg

Shepard Fairey’s anti-Trump posters. YES! Illustration.

The Women’s March on Washington has been planned for months as a unifying moment to show women’s opposition to the Trump presidency, with sister marches in cities nationwide. But some Black organizers objected to the march for two reasons. First, with 94 percent of Black women having voted against Trump, organizers felt Black women had already demonstrated with their ballots. Second, the original organizers of the march did not include discrimination against people of color, immigration rights, police brutality, and other issues raised by the Movement for Black Lives in the platform, considering them “too political.” Affronts and apologies that began in Chicago soon spread; recently the NAACP of Portland pulled support from the local march. In the end, the platform for the march included those issues.

Some white women were offended by the online discussions that led to the final platform and charted that comments by Black women around discrimination and racism were divisive. One white woman was quoted in the New York Times saying that she had planned to take her daughters but decided not to because she didn’t feel welcome.

Such decisions are unfortunate.

Growing up, I learned about the leaders and organizers of the abolitionist, civil rights, Black Power, and liberation movements here in the United States, as well as in many African countries. They were all men. And although women were involved in these movements, I didn’t know their names or their stories. In fact, I learned about civil rights activist Jo Ann Robinson only two years ago. She’s the woman who organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott, following Rosa Parks’ arrest for not giving up her seat at the front of a bus. Robinson created thousands of flyers about the boycott and organized women to get the flyers out to African Americans all over Alabama. She and these other unsung organizers arranged carpools to get people to and from work during the boycott that lasted more than a year—381 days.

Robinson and other such women were relegated to the background. It wasn’t until later in life that I interpreted “in the background” to mean “the backbone” of these movements—the primary support and structural necessity that prevents collapse, as women usually are.

I understood this when reflecting on the way in which my maternal grandmother and her seven daughters were the backbones of their families. It was strange timing, then, that while these women were holding down the fort—in their homes and in their communities—“The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” report, well-known as the Moynihan Report, was released in 1965. It contrasted the “unstable, near breakdown” predicament of Black families to that of whites who “achieved a high degree of stability.” The inference was that Black women, who were the heads of households in many Black families then—and now—were the reason for that instability.

Black women have been living in the shadow of that report for over 50 years. Yet, they have collectively and individually made their way—taking on multiple jobs; piling on student-loan debt to go back to school; staying in abusive relationships for lack of choices, or leaving those relationships and subsequently struggling as a single parent; praying for better political representation as they cast their ballots, only to be disappointed term after term.

In many ways, their economic plight is similar to that of white and Latina women. They’re likewise similar to those who believe only they should be the decision-maker of issues concerning their bodies and that the value of their lives and experience are equal to that of men.

In many ways, Black mothers who live in violent communities and fear both the violence and the law enforcement parallel the fear of immigrant families who don’t know if their loved ones won’t return home one day because they’ve been deported or rounded up and taken to some detention center.

In so many struggles we are the same, all the while being backbones.

Yes, systemic racism, fueled by white male patriarchal supremacy, has exacerbated issues for Black and Brown and Native families, simultaneously praising the “normalcy” and “stability” of white families. And it has pitted the backbones—the women—of all these families against each another.

I applaud the planning committee of the upcoming Women’s March on Washington that chose to address issues that impact women of all racial and cultural backgrounds. I applaud them for coming together as Black, Latina, Native, Asian, East Indian, and white women, knowing that what impacts one of them—directly or indirectly—impacts all.

So, when someone says they’re not going to the march because they don’t feel welcome, I say few movements challenging the status quo are welcoming. Those Black women who organized the boycott in Montgomery weren’t welcome to sit in the front of buses, but surely they belonged. It’s conviction versus comfort: Standing up for social justice can be disruptive to anyone’s personal comfort zone, and that is just the way of it.

The commonality in our issues is our womanhood, and that doesn’t require you to agree with everyone, or anyone, who’s attending the march. What is it that you believe in? What is that you want to join forces with other women about—rape culture, domestic violence, protecting our reproductive rights, equal pay, immigration rights, mass incarceration, holding law enforcement accountable for their actions? As women we should stand together for them all, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

For more information on the Women’s March on Washington, or to find a local march visit, www.womensmarch.com.