Last month, over 200 Black men penned an open letter to President Barack Obama to express their concerns on the exclusion of Black girls and women from the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative (MBK). In solidarity, 200+ Black Men, including Rev. James M. Lawson, Danny Glover and Charles Mills, concluded with the following:
As Black men we believe that if the nation chooses to “save” only Black males from a house on fire, we will have walked away from a set of problems that we will be compelled to return to when we finally realize the raging fire has consumed the Black women and girls we left behind.
Signatories of the open letter pushed for an intersectional initiative that centers the “denunciation of male privilege, sexism and rape culture in the quest for racial justice.” In recognizing the multiple forms of oppression experienced by Black women and girls, the signatories highlight that the exclusion of girls and women from MBK will once again relegate Black girls and women to the space they have occupied for far too long in the journeys to racial and sexual equity—in the margins. Given that Black girls and women have remained at their side through the struggle of social, economic and political disparity, the 200+ Black men were disappointed to learn that MBK only addresses the needs of half those involved in the centuries long quest for justice. The brothers want to know where their sisters fit into “the White House’s vision of racial justice?”
Girls and young women must be included in all our efforts to lift up the life chances of youth of color. To those who would urge us to settle for some separate initiative, we need only recall that separate but equal has never worked in conditions of inequality, nor will it work for girls and women of color here. – Why We Can’t Wait: Women of Color Urge Inclusion in “My Brother’s Keeper”
Black women themselves have pushed for the inclusion of girls and women in the MBK initiative and with an open letter to President Obama, 1000+ Women of Color joined the concerns of the 200+ Black men. The open letter of 1000+ Women of Color noted that girls and women of color remain oppressed in areas of education, economics, sexual assault, and homicide. The 1000+ Women of Color argued that while the crisis facing Black boys and men is quite urgent, addressing the needs of Black boys and men should not, and must not, occur at the expense of girls and women of color. Put simply, this is not a zero sum game. As a collective culture, the liberation of Black boys and men necessarily requires the inclusion of girls and women of color—the same girls and women of color who live with and love the boys and men who are the focus of MBK. The 1000+ Women of Color contend that is not enough to say that issues facing girls and women of color can be addressed through the White House Council on Women and Girls (WHCWG) as the “specific needs of communities of color” are addressed through MBK.
What we can examine through the dialogue of MBK and WHCWG is the unique location of Black women here in the United States of America. A position illustrated through cases like DeGraffenreid V. General Motors. Black women are often forced to dichotomize their existence. We can be women or we can be Black. The 200+ Black men and 1000+ Women of Color are urging President Obama to acknowledge the inextricable intertwining of race and sex for women of color. The collective is asking that, when it comes to seeking remedy for historically and currently oppressive conditions, Women of Color not be forced to choose anymore.
Without the inclusion of girls and women in MBK, we stifle future generations of girls and women of color who build on the legacies Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Y. Davis, Kristie Dotson, Patricia Hill Collins, Dream Hampton, Janet Mock and Dorothy Roberts. Without the inclusion of girls and women in MBK, we tell girls and women of color that their existence— their health, education and liberation— is secondary. We tell girls and women of color that women will always be white and Blacks will always be men, and that they can only find their place in one of these spaces, disallowing them to be whole. But what we know, what we have always known, is that some of us are brave and some 1000+ of us will demand inclusion.
Concluding the open letter, the 1000+ Women of Color stand as women of color have for so long— “ready to work together to realize the aspirations that we all share for our youth and for our community.” Women of Color want to stand with their brothers, through struggle and remedy, and the 200+ Black Men have made it clear they will have it no other way. Do you hear us, Mr. President?
Full disclosure: The author, Erica A. Thurman, is included among the 1000+ Women of Color who signed the open letter to President Obama