Black Lives Matter figure calls for more inclusive feminism

Contact: Zack Plair

Alicia Garza, co-founder of the social media hashtag #blacklivesmatter and central figure for the Black Lives Matter movement, spoke Tuesday [March 8] in Lee Hall’s Bettersworth Auditorium. Her speech “Say Her Name: Gender, Feminism and the Black Lives Matter Movement” was part of the Mississippi State University Gender Studies Program’s celebration of Women’s History Month. (Photo by Megan Bean)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—In what Black Lives Matter’s Alicia Garza calls the “particular moment” in the history of civil rights, she wants to ensure black women aren’t left out.

The co-founder of the social media hashtag #blacklivesmatter and central figure of a national movement to end all forms of discrimination against African Americans spoke to a large crowd in Lee Hall’s Bettersworth Auditorium on Tuesday [March 8]. As part of the Mississippi State University Gender Studies program’s Women’s History Month Celebration, her speech “Say Her Name: Gender, Feminism and the Black Lives Matter Movement” also coincided with the 26th annual International Women’s Day.

The Black Lives Matter Movement came to the forefront in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a city police officer. The movement has sparked a widespread national effort to end socioeconomic and educational inequality, among other concerns.

Garza, who lives in Oakland, California, said most of the conversation about racial injustice focuses on black men, while most feminist dialogue centers on white women. Because of that, the struggles of black women often fall through the cracks.

“Black women are holding up the tatters of our democracy and our economy,” she said. “We are holding up two halves of a broken sail in the middle of a windstorm. But we know when the sail is broken, you can’t go forward.”

Garza said black women make 64 cents to each dollar white men make in the workplace, compared to the 78 cents on the dollar white women make. Plus, black women are the fastest growing incarcerated demographic and are three times more likely than white women to be heads of a household with children, she said. As black women are often concentrated in low wage jobs, such as food services, caregiving and other “domestic” fields, she said they are effectively marginalized in the economy.

The answer is not limited to placing more women of color in leadership roles in government and business, she added, rather it is ending the exploitation of all genders in the workplace. That means placing higher value on low wage jobs and creating a more inclusive economy.

“Black women are hard at work, but in our society, hard work doesn’t pay,” Garza said. “Intersectional and inclusive feminist practice calls for the redistribution of resources and power, not just access to it.”

She also called for better workplace protections for all workers, policies that better safeguard reproductive rights. Further, she called on practical feminism to view transgender women equally with natural born women.

As for the Black Lives Matter movement at large, she said many had mischaracterized it as one focused on ending police violence against black men. It’s actually, she said, a movement aimed at improving the quality of life for all black people so that “all lives” will one day matter.

“Practically, we don’t live in the world we aspire it to be,” she said. “I know we all want to live in a world where all lives matter, but to get there we have to acknowledge that we don’t live in that world. That’s step one. Step two is devoting the time we spend proclaiming that ‘All Lives Matter’ working to actually make that happen.”

Though Garza said the movement still had plenty of work to do, she admitted she sees progress. She charged students in attendance to be politically involved, seeking avenues to advance a message of equality and vote.

“We can see change in our lifetime,” she said. “How do I know? Because it’s happening now.”

Co-sponsors for Tuesday’s event were the College of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, Holmes Cultural Diversity Center, Department of Sociology, African American Studies Program, President’s Commission on the Status of Minorities and the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.