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Frank Talk on Race Leads to Clashes Over Women’s March on Washington

Jan. 11, 2017

'Sometimes you are going to upset people'

The Women’s March on Washington is exposing divisions on race, the New York Times reports.

The March, planned for the day after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, is meant to “send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights,” according to the site. But in some corners of the country, the March is sparking tensions between women of color and white women — and members of different generations of feminism.

The Times reported that a Tennessee march contingent sparked controversy after changing the group’s name on Facebook from “Women’s March on Washington-Nashville” to “Power Together Tennessee, in solidarity with Women’s March on Washington.” The new name led some to complain that the march was a space only for black women. Candice Huber, a state coordinator for the March in Louisiana and a white woman, stepped down from her role because no minority women held leadership positions in the March at the time. Huber told the Times that she received criticism for “alienating white women after stepping down.

A Facebook post written by a Black activist on the March’s Facebook page sparked more controversy. “You don’t just get to join because now you’re scared, too,” the post read. “I was born scared.”

Jennifer Willis told the Times that she no longer plans to attend the March with her daughters after she saw the post. According to the Times, in response to comments of this sort, another woman responded: “I’m starting to feel not very welcome in this endeavor.”

Intersectional feminism, a driving force in the discourse here, focuses on elevating marginalized women — including women of color and queer women — and asks white women to accept or check their privilege. “Can you please tell me what that means?” Wills asked a Times reporter of privilege.

Studies show that women of color and queer women are disadvantaged while compared to white women, including when it comes to the pay gap and access to proper health care. These groups have expressed fears that they’ll suffer the most during Trump’s tenure.

As planning for the March was getting underway, one of the event’s organizers, Bob Bland, was implored to get more women of color involved in the planning process. Bland obliged, tapping Hispanic activist Carmen Perez and gun control activist Tamika Mallory. Gloria Steinem, an honorary co-chair for the March who has been criticized in the past for ignoring intersectional feminism, said the conversations about race were important. Other leaders for the March agreed.

“This was an opportunity to take the conversation to the deep places,” Linda Sarsour, a Muslim woman and co-chairwoman for the national march, told the Times. “Sometimes you are going to upset people.”

[The New York Times]