Black women across the United States have been marching on the front lines of protests for decades, demanding justice and equality – but they are still disregarded by social justice movements, according to a new study.
“Black women are often overlooked in people’s conversations about racism and sexism even though they face a unique combination of both of these forms of discrimination simultaneously,” said Stewart Coles, lead researcher of the study published by the American Psychological Association.
“This ‘intersectional invisibility’ means that movements that are supposed to help Black women may be contributing to their marginalization.”
The study’s findings are based on data from 1,000 participants in the US who were asked whether 41 positive or negative stereotypical attributes – such as aggression, violence, ambitiousness, or sexual promiscuity – were associated with different races or groups.
The participants’ answers showed that they view a “typical woman” as being similar to a White woman rather than a Black woman, and that Black women have more similarities with Black men than they do White women or men.
The study also revealed that prototypes of groups made up of various race and gender intersections continuously erase and exclude Black women, which is likely the reason why feminist and anti-racist movements often fail to address the concerns of Black women.
“The operative word in defining how similar to other groups Black women are is more ‘Black’ and less ‘women,’” the study said.
“The underdifferentiation of Black women from Black men may also explain why movements against anti-Black racism have often been criticized for not doing enough to address the issues that affect Black women — not because people necessarily do not think of Black women as Black people, but because people think of Black women similarly to how they think of Black men. As a result, a one-size-fits-all approach to anti-Black racism leaves Black women’s concerns overlooked.”
Alexis Bass, a 22-year-old Black activist and artist who organizes with the Black Lives Matter movement in Georgia, agrees with the study’s findings.
She says Black community issues often overshadow Black women’s issues, which can be unique and complex. Diverse movements think of Black men and women as facing the same struggle. Meanwhile, the black community may prioritize issues of race over gender or sexuality. This leaves Black women feeling excluded from women’s movements and marginalized in their own community.
“Injustice against Black women affects the entire community, but sometimes we’re at the bottom of the totem pole,” Bass said.
As evidence, Bass pointed to nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer in late May. Bass noted that Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, in March didn’t garner nearly as much attention.
“All of these cases affect my community as a whole, but when it comes to Black women sharing experiences and injustices, our word and our lives suddenly don’t matter.”
The exclusion of Black women puts them at risk for greater harm, the study said.
“Intersectional invisibility suggests that Black women may be harmed when their unique experiences of both racism and sexism go unappreciated by larger movements.”