A recent op-ed in The Washington Post is telling the world to put some respect on the name “Black women” specifically. Written by columnist Donna F. Edwards and communications strategist Gwen McKinney, the article highlights why they believe the all-encompassing term “women of color” is problematic.
“The convenient catchall “women of color” (WOC) is an easy descriptor in a world obsessed with shorthand and acronyms. But, as Black women, we stiffen. The phrase evokes the subtlety and complexity of identities erased over the span of 401 years,” the piece opens.
Coined by a Black woman in the late 1970s, WOC was originally meant to infuse dignity, the op-ed states. It was a replacement for the insulting, yet widely-used term “minority.”
But Edwards and McKinney reject it because they said it has “become an amorphous monochrome” that neutralizes Black, Latina, Asian, Indigenous and Pacific Islander women’s specific heritages and identities.
“We are Black. The term is direct and invokes something visceral and difficult for those who are non-Black to embrace or understand. In our lifetime, the more comfortable identifiers have morphed from “Colored,” to “Negro,” to “Afro-American,” to “African American,” they wrote. “The explosion of multiculturalism created a “we are the world” rainbow. Through it all, we remained Black. Not a label or a color, Black is an experience; it is the glue of our unique legacy in this country.”
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The term “women of color” describes “everyone but no one,” Edwards and McKinney state. It also makes it more difficult for Black women – who are often unique in their position as the sole breadwinners and caretakers in their families – to get the much needed services and funding allocated to specific groups.
Summarily, Edwards and McKinney posit if women of color are awarded for diversity’s sake, that does not mean Black women, who often have the greatest need, are included.
The term also dilutes Black women’s unique contributions in politics, according to the op-ed.
“As Black women, we accept expressions celebrating WOC as the “backbone” of democratic change. And yet, data and election returns across the nation reveal it is specifically Black women who have emerged as the most consistent voting bloc, especially for the Democratic Party. “Black Girl Magic” over-performs and outdistances all other demographic groups,” the article further states. “Look at the 2016 presidential race in which 94 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton; the comparable percentages for Latinas and “other” women were lower by nearly one-third. It’s not true or fair to conflate Black women’s voting behavior with an impossible-to-quantify WOC electorate, far-flung across ethnicity, race and region.”
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They admonished others to recognize the uniqueness of Black women’s experiences, stating while it was fine for others to share in their experience, but not co-opt it for their own personal gain.
“The bottom line is that our lived experiences are not interchangeable. Therefore, the solution must be unapologetic identity politics that affirms and celebrates who we are: Black, Latina, Asian, Indigenous, biracial or whatever origin you claim and own. Each community deserves to shape and call out its specific name and narrative,” they wrote.
According to the authors, the reality of race is much more nuanced than the ideal of a kumbaya rainbow that has yet to actually materialize – and Black women’s identities as such should not be erased.
“Breaking down barriers across races, ethnicities and cultures is transformative. Our individual and collective experiences can bridge seemingly intractable divides. That is a wonderful goal. But the experiences of Black people, or any racially oppressed people, should not be subverted or erased in the quest for an idealized but elusive rainbow,” Edwards and McKinney wrote.