Black women caught where sexism and racism intersect

Photo courtesy of U-M Tucker Center Dr. Nefertiti Walker

Second of three parts

Black women too often are both misunderstood and marginalized compared to their White counterparts. Dr. Nefertiti Walker calls this “intersectionality.”

“The reason why I use intersectionality to view issues and organizations in society is because it forces you to talk about how people are marginalized,” said Walker, an UMass vice chancellor and chief diversity officer.

She was among six Black women scholars who virtually appeared at the October 19 U of M Tucker Center Fall Lecture. Walker, who also is an associate sport management professor, specifically studies intersectionality as it applies to race, gender and culture in sport. 

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During a post-event phone interview, Walker explained, “Being Black and being a woman, you have a uniquely different experience because of these intersecting identities and marginalized identities of being both Black and a woman. You are not going to have the same experiences as Black men or as White women.”

However, Walker advised, “If we don’t consider the issues that impact Black women at the intersection of racism and sexism, we will never have equity or even inclusion in sport for Black women.”

A prime example of Walker’s intersectionality can be found in the WNBA, America’s longest running women’s professional basketball league. Even though it will celebrate its 25th season next year, the league still struggles for acceptance beyond its faithful fan base.

Sue Bird, who stars for this year’s W champions Seattle, said in a recent CNN interview that a possible reason is that her league is “tall, Black, gay” as opposed to other women’s sports, such as soccer.

“To be completely blunt,” Bird said, “soccer players generally are cute little White girls. We have…70 to 80 percent Black women. A lot of gay women. We’re tall. We’re big.”

Walker said she totally agrees with Bird’s assessment “because [women soccer players] fit the stereotypes of being physically appealing…that meet the taste of society when they are thinking about women.

“The WNBA is Black, and they are dealing with the racism,” she reiterated. “They are women that don’t fit the general standard of feminism—they are bigger and taller. Then you have a lot of gay women in the league.”

Since late May, America’s typically blind eyes and deaf ears opened to a new awakening, a widespread call for change, equity and inclusion. Walker was asked if she thinks this call will finally be answered

“I’m not sure or that optimistic, because over time and over history we’ve had those moments of social unrest and social reckoning around racism, a lot of attention, and then we go quiet.

“I think for me this moment, we had organizations coming out and making commitments and promises to becoming more anti-racist…in ways they haven’t before,” Walker said. “I think it is up to us as society and people who care about these issues to hold these organizations accountable.”

Walker also believes that once so-called normalcy returns, so will the status quo. “When we have status quo, we have Black women completely miserable, and the Black experience for the most part being marginalized.

“I think there needs to be a group of people that are constantly pushing organizations and people in leadership to keep their promises, to keep their commitment because if not, it is very easy to go back to where we were.”

Nonetheless, Walker saw commitments made to change, although they may have been perfunctory given the turbulence times. “I’m still happy that they did it, because now we have an artifact forever that these organizations made promises to Black folk and all of society to do better.”

Next, the Angry Black Woman Syndrome