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Monday, January 23, 2017

Future of Feminism in Apartheid L.A.




By Sikivu Hutchinson

Bursting at the seams metro trains were the first sign my students and I had that the optics of public space in L.A. had shifted for a few rarefied hours. As we navigated South Central to the Women’s march downtown, masses of white women on the Blue, Red and Purple lines jammed in with folk of color who typically pack L.A.’s stratified public transportation system.  

After all the controversy surrounding the white origins of the Women’s March, L.A.’s event was a snapshot of the deep segregation and Euro privilege that shapes the city’s cultural geography.  Women of color demonstrators and a predominantly white female crowd of all generations and political backgrounds descended upon downtown in righteous fury against Trumpism. Home to the largest homeless population in the country, downtown L.A. is heavily contested space, having undergone a massive gentrification wave that has displaced and further ghettoized working class people of color. The well-heeled middle to upper middle class white demonstrators reflected this incursion. Thirty years ago, a predominantly white female crowd of this magnitude would have been inconceivable.  Back then, downtown east of Grand Avenue was considered an uninhabitable “wasteland” where white yuppies feared to tread.  Now, it’s a developer’s playground of multi-million dollar lofts replete with ground floor restaurants and hipster bars. 

Unlike other protests and demonstrations I’ve participated in, the police presence at the downtown march was vaporous.  With so much of white L.A. “in the house” it was a given that the LAPD would keep making white lives matter by maintaining a respectful distance in the background.

So, in many regards, Saturday’s massive white presence in the “rebranded” downtown business district was a perfect metaphor for the historic fissures of the white-dominated women’s movement.  The white nationalist rebuke of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s sexist/misogynist vitriol have galvanized millions of white women but black women activists have consistently questioned where these women were on issues of state violence, mass incarceration, economic justice, employment discrimination, undocumented immigrant rights and the apartheid education structure that undermines communities of color.  Some have pushed back against white feminists’ reductive focus on fighting the GOP and Religious Right’s assault on birth control and abortion as though they were unconnected to economic justice, anti-racism and critiques of capitalism.  The majority of white women who participated in the L.A. march benefit from the city’s historically rigid lines of de facto segregation, living in neighborhoods that are protected by access to high performing schools, park spaces, quality health care facilities and high wage job industries.

Yet, the students who attended the march with me from South L.A.’s Women’s Leadership Project(WLP) felt uplifted by the weekend display of solidarity and anti-Trump resistance.  It was the first public protest march for most of them, and, while they were turned off by its whiteness, they were also hopeful about possibilities for intersectional feminism.  Dreamer activist and Gardena High School alum Lizeth Soria has worked to provide educational resources and college access for AB540 undocumented students. WLP alum and first generation college student Imani Moses has been an outspoken voice for reproductive justice, abortion rights and sexual violence prevention for high school girls of color.  King-Drew Magnet High School tenth grader Cheyenne McClaren has challenged misogynoir and sexist violence against black women in the media as a peer facilitator for WLP’s youth forums.  All three young women expressed a desire to see Saturday’s energy develop into meaningful coalition building (the D.C. March organizers quickly posted a series of next steps online called the “next 100 days”) and policy change, especially when it comes to the systemic disenfranchisement of black girls and girls of color.  

Indeed, a stone’s throw from downtown’s march, the predominantly black homeless youth population—which includes large numbers of queer, trans, cis female and foster youth who are sexual assault and sex trafficking survivors—continues to struggle for visibility and services in a political landscape that marginalizes the needs of black sexual assault survivors.  Redressing this gap is part of the students’ long term agenda building, and a focus of their upcoming youth facilitated “Future of Feminism” conference in May.  These intersectional issues remain MIA in the mainstream women’s and civil rights movements, particularly in a city with some of the greatest extremes of wealth, income and residential mobility. While acknowledging racism and white supremacy within mainstream white feminism, Imani, Cheyenne and Liz are not waiting for white women to magically stop being racist to reclaim feminism, womanism and the legacy of revolutionary struggle indigenous women and black women forged long before nineteenth century first wave feminism.

Twitter @sikivuhutch