Love Letter to Black Feminism By Desiree Napoleon


I’m a Black Feminist—and it doesn’t mean what a lot of folk think it means.

I know the picture many have of me in their heads.  I am…fatherless.  My mother, single as she was, raised me to be…strong.  Independent.  To ‘not need no man.’ (funny how it was OK for Biggie to say this of his own female child in a well-loved verse but this is not my business) I’ve probably got several children that I myself am raising alone and so have become embittered.  I’m probably fat and ugly (by toxic patriarchal standards, to be sure). In short, what the world has done to me, and my own ‘poor choices’ (per the ‘choose better, boo’ brigade) have made me into the monster most people imagine me, and Black Feminists, to be.

In a statistics course I took several years ago, I learned that in some population samples, there will be things far above the norm and some far below—the outliers.  Outliers exist, but they are not the standard.   The women that you picture in your heads when you imagine Black feminists are outliers.  I understand why they are as they are and why they feel as they do but just as one does not wish one Black man with his pants sagging to be representative of the Black male collective, so do I write and say to you that hater of Black men is not representative of the collective of Black feminists.

What I wrote above is in no way meant to me an exclamation of “Not me!  I’m not like them!” I see myself in every Black woman I know.

My fifth-grade girls who breeze through my classroom every day, full of chewing gum, eye-rolling and neck snapping learned at the knees of mothers, grandmothers and aunts—I used to be y’all.  Now I still expect you to sit here and get this math together with me, but I See you and Honor you as you are now. I love you all and you’re going to be ok if I have anything to say about it. The mothers and grandmothers tasked with raising children—your struggle is mine as well. You don’t need to tell me how easy it isn’t.  My little sisters with their heads in books and clouds.  The ones facing homelessness and addiction.  My sisters who love and build lives with other sisters. Those with mental and physical disabilities.  Those that the world calls trans—you are as much a woman and a sister as I.  Whether you be degree’d or not even completed high school.  Whether you are old, young, fat, thin.  You are me and I am you.

This is not an explanation or an apology to men or male-minded women who do not understand us, and would seek to harm us for lack of understanding.  This is my love letter—to you.  Be great.  You don’t mean what people think you do.  I See You and I fight for you.  My Black Feminism embraces you with the freedom to be whoever you need to be to survive.  You always have a seat at my table, with a hot plate waiting.