Thoughts of being an Ally

Recently, I began to dive into Black Feminist literature since my qualifying exam (my university’s milestone to becoming a doctoral candidate) is creeping closer and closer.  My dissertation will focus on Black women’s experiences accessing therapy, and I felt I had only scratched the surface of immersing myself in Black Feminist Theory.  This immersion has garnered several reactions.  First of all, why have I not encountered this literature in my ‘routine’ feminist readings?  I have been simultaneously over and under-whelmed by my descent into Black Feminist literature.  On the one hand, I am aghast that I this literature is not as ‘mainstream’ as other feminist literature.  In my privileged status as a White woman, it had not occurred to me so saliently before that so much of our feminist literature is White.  Particularly as a White woman, my privilege has served as a blind spot to recognizing the marginalization of Black Feminist Theory.  Once I embraced Black Feminist Theory though, the sidelining became difficult to ignore.  For instance, at a recent conference, I attended a presentation on Black Feminist Theory, and I was frantically writing down citation after citation of authors I was unfamiliar with (though the presenters spoke of these authors with great familiarity). 

Regarding my feelings of under-whelm (not really a word, but appropriate), my second reaction is that much of the research literature I have found is dated, except a handful of unpublished dissertation work.  As my passion for Black Feminist Theory is mounting, I keep hoping that I will suddenly use the correct search terms in the database and magically uncover a wealth of current Black Feminist Theory literature.  However, I am arriving closer and closer to the realization that such as wealth does not exist.  Instead, a dearth of research exists. 

Third, as I manage my guilt as a White feminist for not noticing certain blind spots and sadness that Black women have been further oppressed in that way, I am becoming further empowered and motivated as a White ally to Black women.  How can I use my White privilege to further the recognition of Black Feminist Theory?  Additionally, how can I as a White woman employ Black Feminist Theory in my research, advocacy, and clinical work?  Currently, my role as an ally is clearer regarding research and advocacy.  My clinical implementation of Black Feminist Theory seems more ambiguous, though I hope through my dissertation research to gain more knowledge and enhance my personal growth as an ally-identified clinician. 

As I feel my passion well in my heart and soul for the advancement of Black women, I am excited that I have been able to route my frustration and guilt into intentional action.  Intentional action is the crux of being an ally.  Otherwise, I am simply participating in the “armchair revolution” (the progressive elite’s discussion and inaction about injustice).  In closing, I am fortunate to have a strong, feminist network around me to help guide me out of my armchair revolution and into purposeful ally work as a White woman.  I hope to receive both encouragement and challenge from this network to pace and guide my personal growth.  I invite you personally to both encourage and challenge my never-ending growth as an ally.

Written by Katy Haynes Owen, M.Ed.

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