Race in the Women’s March on Washington, and Why It Matters to a Basketball Player
BY MARIKA KROMBERG | EDITORIAL INTERN On Saturday morning, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, men and women across the United States gathered for the Women’s March on Washington and in other major cities around the world. The message was that feminism would not only survive under the Trump presidency, but grow in strength. Leading up to the march, however, the issue of race became prominent and contentious, and acted as a point of criticism of the march. Upset that racial diversity had not been highlighted enough in the rally, leaders of the march resigned. After reading a Facebook post that made her feel unwelcome as a white feminist, a woman cancelled her plane tickets days before the rally (New York Times). On the other hand, white women felt that race should not be such a dominant factor in a feminist protest. Though the march is now over, the issue of the separation between racism and sexism will remain, and is likely even to grow wider as liberal activism increases throughout Trump’s presidency. Race may have been disregarded in the initial days of the Women’s March, but it took steps to right those wrongs, and it must be given the opportunity for atonement. In a similar way, we must begin taking steps to right the wrongs of white feminism throughout our history, and, as a female basketball player, I believe sports is a good place to start.
In her blog post "Why I Do Not Support the March on Washington," Brittany Oliver, a women’s rights activist in Baltimore, has been vocally critical of the leadership and conduct of the march. She draws from another article by Ashley Dejean on Fusion.net, arguing that the root of this issue comes from its initial name—the Million Women March. The name was appropriated from the 1997 march by black women to address the struggles of black women. Oliver references historical moments of racism in the women’s suffrage movement, like when black suffragists were asked to walk at the back of the parade. But mostly, she is upset that the movements occurring today are continuing to silence the voices of black women, claiming that this is an example of “how white supremacy disguised as white feminism can be incredibly damaging to Black bodies, Black culture and Black herstory”.
In New York Times' "Women’s March on Washington Opens Contentious Dialogues About Race", Farah Stockman outlines the opposite perspective, sharing the stories of many white women and critics of the new focus on race in this rally. Jennifer Willis, a wedding minister from South Carolina, was discouraged from attending the March on Washington after encountering a piece by a black activist from Brooklyn’s that chided white women, reading, “‘You don’t just get to join because now you’re scared, too. I was born scared”. Confused, Mrs. Willis asked why the focus was now being shifted to this; why there was a sudden claim that white women don’t understand black women. Aren’t we all in this together? Women in Louisiana, reacting to the resignation of a volunteer coordinator asked the same question— “Why do you have to be so divisive?”
To me, there is truth in both of their opinions. Feminism has a history riddled with racism; its success was reached by stepping on the backs of many women of color. However, the Women’s March on Washington did not entirely mirror this background of oppression. It had moments of ignorance and imperfections, but it made purposeful efforts to right its wrongs. Upon the realization that the name had been appropriated from earlier black suffrage movements, the name of the march was changed. In Seattle, it was led by women of the First Nations tribes, and the marchers thanked them for allowing the use of their land for the march. Leadership was diverse and attempted inclusion. Although some say that later righting wrongs is not enough, that this provokes condoning the entire movement for good, there are few political movements that are unassailable. Those of us fighting for equality cannot afford to be divided, or to have supporters silenced for fear of not being welcomed because of their background. For this reason, I believe that march is open to criticism, but not complete denouncement.
To end this, I would like to draw on my experience as a white high school senior playing basketball in urban Seattle, and reflect on what this march, and its racial intonements, mean for the world of sports. Sports are often a place of racial diversity, a place many site as the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Perhaps looking to overcome white feminism, or privileged feminism, should begin in the sports world. Over the summer, the Minnesota Lynx took an admirable first step—black and white players alike demonstrating support for the Black Lives Matter movement. As we move into a new presidential era, there will be more and more barriers to overcome, as well as increasing opportunities to fight the oppression. Already, I have been finding and creating opportunities—in the world of basketball and in the world of politics— to fight the feminist fight. The conversation about race’s effect on feminism is beginning to take a national stage, and even Donald Trump can’t succeed in silencing the voice of women. It’s time to begin reflecting on the intersectionality of oppression, and there’s no better starting place than in sports.
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