The Shelter Movement for Women of ColorIntroductionAs puzzling and contradictory as it sounds, the revolutionary image of second-wave feminism in the shelter movement is both accurate and delusive. Similar to almost all social movements, the shelter movement is having many aspects. Feminists of this movement differ according to ideology of racism and sexism, strategy, goals, and the manner in which activities take place. Unfortunately, there exists a fixed and unalterable division between white women and women of color.
As the feminist movement matured, clear distinctions between the two divisions of the women became more pronounced. In fact, women of color often do not describe themselves as feminists at all because of the racism they encounter in the shelter movement. Racism in the shelter movement took the form of being excluded from leadership positions, being disregarded when concerns that mostly affected women of color were considered, and by an unwillingness to investigate the coherence of oppressions, actually compelling women of color to make choice between gender and racial struggles. This racism has made it problematic for women of color to self-define as feminists even though many of them are strong advocates of feminist beliefs.
The Women of Color: Racial Tensions within the Shelter MovementEmotional strains between women of color and white women within the shelter environment did not reach the same level of active dislike and hostility as did the controversies between politicos and feminists or traditionalists and homosexuals, for example. However, there was a recognizable sense of uneasiness about race issues within the shelter movement. White women were uncomfortable about their whiteness and felt guilty about their bourgeoisie origins.
White women also were uneasy about the fact that women of color, in particular radical black women, would make fun of their claims of pressure and tensions.In fact, racial discrimination in feminist movements is not a new phenomenon and is deeply rooted in the history. Early in the shelter movement, racism was often occurring and offensively noticeable. For example, one radical white feminist indicated when the issue was considered about including radical black women’s groups in their planning conference scheduled for August 1968 at Sandy Springs, Maryland: “I don’t want to go to a conference and hear a militant black woman tell me she is more oppressed and what am I going to do about it” (Echols 389). At the same time, white women did not think about this response on the part of black women. Instead they were told so definitely: “It is time that definitions be made clear,” a woman of color stated in an interview with the Black interviewer. “Blacks are oppressed.
White women are suppressed and there is a difference” (Morrison 15).Why do women of color want to keep their distance from the white women’s shelter movement? White women’s emphasis made on the tyrannical institutions of marriage and the family in addition to their anxiety regarding sexuality led black women to come to the conclusion that women’s movement was “basically a family quarrel between White women and White men” (LaRue 61). Even when women of color admitted that they supported some of the goals of the shelter movement, they were unwilling and reluctant to join white women’s movement. Their unwillingness, actually, has deep historical roots, as Toni Morrison stated in his article written for the New York Times Magazine.
“Too many movements and organizations,” she indicated, “have made deliberate overtures to enroll blacks and have ended up rolling over them.” As Morrison notes, the very “whiteness” of the women’s movement engendered a deep sense of doubts and suspicions in women of color: “They [black women] look at White women and see the enemy – for racism is not confined to the White man” (Morrison 15).Divided loyalties also stopped women of color from joining the women’s shelter movement in any large numbers. Although women of color activists are aware of the existence of discrimination on the basis of sex, they claim that the struggle against racism is more important at the moment. White women are often reluctant to pay attention to the oppression of women by black men, even as they recognized the fact of its existence.
They were anxious about the fact that their active participation in the shelter movement would be considered as a formal accusation of black men when they preferred to place the blame for black sexism straight on the shoulders of the final oppressor: white men.Even as Morrison expressed strong disapproval of the women’s movement for its emphasis on issues unimportant to the concerns of women of color, she indicated the possibility that white and black women could find common issues to work on through the formation of a women’s political movement, for example.Race and RacismSpeaking of the racism within the shelter movement, some white women indicate that when they think about including women of color to the movement they send out notices.
They never came to the business table as equal members of the movement. In fact, women of color join the movement on white women’s terms (Babies 1003).White women grew up in a society penetrated with the belief that white values, culture, and lifestyle is higher in rank than black. Therefore, one can assume that regardless of the white women’s rejection of the concept, they still act out of those stereotypes. The same anger and frustrations that white women have in dealing with men whose sexism is not immediately obvious, not offensively noticeable, is the frustration and anger women of color must feel toward white women.Like in the whole American society, racism in the battered women’s movement is perceived on many levels.
For example, in shelters, it is seen in the selection of food, books, writing, and in the methods for child rearing. All this tends to some extent to reflect a white middle class superior position. It is also easy to see in assumptions that all shelter participants have the same needs. For instance, a shelter rule indicating that percipients cannot call their families for the first seventy-two hours of their stay removes black women and Latinas from maintaining contact with extended families and communities.In shelter movement, where staff is for the most part white, workers are often unaware of differences in family models and social experiences. Therefore, workers are not necessarily responsive to the impact of racism on women’s lives. In particular, the fact that women of color may cope with violence in different manner in comparison with white women, for example, is repeatedly ignored.
The black woman has been accustomed to live with instances of physical force on an everyday basis. She may see daily in the community physical violence between people inflicted in states of great annoyance; rage, sexual exploitation, and adjustment for goods and services, in addition to family violence, and be without power or authority to take a decisive role. Or, black woman may find she must defend herself against attack because she does not expect that anyone can come to help her or protect her from physical and/or emotional damage, even the police representatives. In this manner the woman learns to not only protect herself or avoid attacks, but to counterattack if it is necessary.Because of both this racism and the reality of being constantly not having enough staff, shelter may fail to provide the different kinds of services that women’s different needs require. When some worker spends a lot of time doing outreach to women of color the shelter may not like that the worker spends so much of time this way.Because of the white middle class bias of most battered women’s programs, some women of color have found that shelter environment is inhospitable to their cultural differences. When they participate in the shelter movement, they often feel isolated or excluded.
In the previous years, out of the necessity to find a way for women of all races to exist together in peace in the shelter, many programs launched some form of racism awareness instructions. When this practice brought little success, it sometimes led to strictly obliged affirmative action hiring practices and regulated racism awareness training by white and women of color. But this produced little changes.
However, there are still many problems encountered by women of color. The women of color who work in the movement often have complaints about the fact that they have been thoughtlessly assigned the task of making white women sensitive about racism (Babies 1020).In addition, among women of color, there are major controversies regarding the issue whether violence against them is result of sexism or the racism and powerlessness black men experience. More women of color are now defining themselves as feminists and are trying to explain what this means for themselves and their communities. Therefore, an urgent dialogue is necessary among women of color and between them and white women so that radical activists can gain knowledge from one another, make political differences clear and easy to understand, enlarge theory, and ignore stereotypes.ConclusionWomen of color often find that their racial and cultural priorities are not taken into account by white feminists. They sometimes find that their politics are disregarded.
Taking into account the fact that the United States has the history of racism, it is easy to understand why women of color define issues, problems, and priorities differently than this do white feminists. It can be suggested that in order to bridge the gap between women of color and the shelter movement the following issues should be considered:1. Incensement of sensitivity to issues of importance to women of color and to facilitate cultural exchange in the shelter movement.
2. Active promotion of the leadership of women of color in the shelter.3.
Insuring that the concerns of women of color are integrated into the plan and actions of the shelter movement.Works CitedBabies, B., “Racial Imagery And Stereotypes: The African -American Woman And The Battered Woman Syndrome”, Wisconsin Law Review, 1995, 1003-1080.Echols, A. Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.LaRue, J. M.
“Black Liberation and Women’s Liberation,” Trans-Action (November-December 1970), 61.Morrison, T. “What the Black Woman Thinks about Women’s Lib,” New York Times Magazine, Sunday, August 22, 1971, 15.Morrison, T.
“What the Black Woman Thinks about Women’s Lib,” New York Times Magazine, Sunday, August 22, 1971, 15.