The Women’s March on Washington drew massive crowds intent upon sending a clear message of resistance to the incoming political regime. This demonstration has been widely heralded as a powerful symbol of women’s collective dissent. But many women of color viewed it with wary skepticism from the very beginning — forcefully denouncing our absence in its leadership.
The damage of this marginalization was not overcome when the dynamic trio of feminists of color joined as National Co-Chairs. Many women of color opted to stay home. As noted writer, Jamilah Lemieux, put it, “I’m really tired of Black and Brown women routinely being tasked with fixing White folks’ messes. I’m tired of being the moral compass of the United States.”
Now history appears to be repeating itself. The upcoming National Pride March is following the same racially problematic script as the Women’s March. Unfortunately, it’s a familiar script: white organizers plan an event on behalf of an entire community and then invite input from people of color after key decisions have been made.
One may question the criticism of this script. Isn’t this how inclusive leadership operates? Isn’t it enough just to ensure that all stakeholders have a seat at the table?
Having a seat at the proverbial table isn’t exactly a bad thing, but within diverse political movements the seat alone remains problematic. The planning committee has offered seats after the table has been set and the appetizers have been served. Put differently: a guest is not a partner. A guest departs when it’s time to tidy up, or make future plans, or decide whom to invite to the next meal.
Without significant structural and behavioral change, this march — ostensibly proposed to unify the LGBTQIA community and motivate sustained political action — has ironically left many queer people of color (QPOC) on the planning committee feeling more alienated than before.
As a queer black feminist displaced within mainstream feminist and LGBTQIA movements, I will lend my suggestions to the chorus of QPOC advocating for equity within the proposed march.
Decentering whiteness is the first step toward rectifying our alienation. Our shared belonging within the LGBTQIA community is not a singularly unifying factor. We are not immune from the racism and xenophobia that runs rampant in this country. From our vantage point, the mainstream queer community offers no safe haven to the racially marginalized. This is a pivotal moment for non-QPOC to check their white privilege and commence the hard work of addressing their positionality within white supremacy.
In practical terms, I would suggest forming a planning committee that includes respected QPOC advocates as National Co-Chairs. It is grossly inadequate to maintain white senior leadership that merely consults with QPOC. Meaningful inclusion requires sharing decision making authority, not simply offering seats while stifling the voices of those who take them.
One cannot guarantee that this necessary shift will compel QPOC en masse to participate in the march. Centuries of institutional racism cannot be redressed in a few months of planning, or even by a few hours of hand holding on the National Mall. However, heeding the sentiments of QPOC may be a critical first step toward signaling to wary and skeptical QPOC that our voices have not only been heard, but have, more importantly, been heeded.
We have an amazing opportunity to galvanize the progressive political energy of the moment to work collectively and strategically to demand the unfettered recognition of our shared humanity. I hope this opportunity is not squandered in the months leading up to the march or in its wake when the true political work is undertaken.
Anika Simpson, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at Morgan State University. She serves as the coordinator of MSU’s Women’s and Gender Studies program. She is also co-chair of the National Black Justice Coalition’s HBCU LGBTQ-Equality Initiative Advisory Council. Follower her on Twitter @anikamaaza.