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Women of Color Facing Feminism ~ Creating Our Space at Liberation's Table: A Report on the Chicago Foundation for Women's "F" Series

By Lessane, Patricia Williams | Journal of Pan African Studies, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Women of Color Facing Feminism ~ Creating Our Space at Liberation's Table: A Report on the Chicago Foundation for Women's "F" Series


Lessane, Patricia Williams, Journal of Pan African Studies


We had to create a space at the table. That was a long struggle ... and be ok with the fact that you can deal with women's equality in a substantive way ... We split from male-led Chicano organizations and looked to White feminists for guidance ...(Alpert).

--Estel Lopez, "F" Series panelist

This is the real work of women of color feminists: to resists acquiescence to fatality and guilt, to become warriors of conscious and action who resist death in all its myriad manifestations: poverty, cultural assimilation, child abuse, motherless mothering, gentrification, mental illness, welfare cuts, the prison system, racial profiling, immigrant and queer bashing, invasion and imperialism at home and at war.

--Cherrie Moraga (Hernadez and Rehman: xiv)

In 2006, the Chicago Foundation for Women convened a series of public forums around the meaning(s) and place of feminism in the lives of women of color in the city of Chicago. The "F" Series offered Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and Latinas the space to voice our identification or lack there of with feminism, the feminist movement, and feminist epistemologies. Planned by the Chicago Foundation For Women's Leadership Councils and co-sponsored by Columbia College's Center for the Study of Gender in the Media and Arts, the series gave collective voice to those issues most relevant to the experiences of contemporary women of color as well as examined historical tensions around race and class within the second wave of feminism which marginalized and rendered women of color invisible within the earlier struggle for liberation.

Each of the panels covered a wide range of topics including the intersections of race, class, gender, reproductive rights, violence against women, and many of the panelists expressed the need for using public policy as a means to advance the status of women and girls in the United States and abroad. Much of the dialogue also emphasized the important roles that culture, religion, and ethnicity play in our development as women first and as feminists second. In many ways, the personal narrative of each woman elucidated the dialectic between feminist thinking and deeply rooted cultural values, as well as the ways race, gender, and class ascribe the experiences of minority women, and shape political thinking at the same time. (1)

The sentiment of some of the speakers echoes those of many women of color who don't believe feminism is a viable liberation strategy that addresses their specific racial, cultural, or class experiences. Yet, many of the speakers clearly identified themselves as feminists and embraced feminist thinking, while others embraced a feminist ideology, while never calling themselves as such.

This reluctance to call oneself a feminist reflects the historical hesitance of many women of color, namely African-American women and Latinas, to join the feminist movement. When asked whether or not they were feminists, many recounted personal stories to describe their journey to feminism. For most, becoming a feminist had been a long, contentious battle between traditional values, responsibilities to the race, and the reality of White women's privilege at work within the movement. There was, it seemed, no place for us at liberation's table ...

Again, this arduous road towards feminism for women of color is nothing new. It underscores the work of scholar-feminists of color including bell hooks, Cherrie Moraga, and Barbara Smith. It is not surprising then that the majority of speakers, respondents, and audience participants typically spoke of having this reluctance to identifying as feminists at different points in their lives. More often than not, this feeling was rooted in the memories of racism and classism women of color faced within the feminist movement during the '70s.

Victoria Romero's belief that "the Feminist Movement wasn't made for us ... it was made for middle-class White women,"(Alpert) reflects this very same sentiment.

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