Where Are The Voices Of Elite/Middle Class Black Women? By Cheryl Roberts

1 Dec

Why are black women (all women who are not white), not achieving collective power so necessary to contest, disrupt and challenge the system of power and forces which ensure male hegemony, white privilege and class control in South African society? Why do those black women who have attained some power and position in society and life seemingly go quiet and don’t join the frontline of women’s battles and resistance?
Are elite, professional, middle class and wealthy black women becoming complaint with and accepting of systems of control by men over women’s lives? Why are black women’s voices not amplified against patriarchy, white women’s privilege and male hegemony?
It was black consciousness philosopher and human rights activist Steve Biko who said ‘black man you are on your own/. Today, our black women’s rallying call is ‘black women must in unison support black women’s resistance’.
The reality is that black women’s existence and relationship in society is becoming fractured with deepening chisms amongst black women being formed. At this juncture, there are just not enough black women’s voices speaking out against patriarchy, sexism, gender injustices and inequalities.
And the women who are guilty of this are especially those black women who have managed to attain an upwardly mobile and elite status within society because of their education, job portfolio, employment ranking, public profile.
Seemingly, once black women have achieved their personal objectives and ambitions and subsequent higher climbing of the social ladder, they become less noisy about prevailing gender inequalities and injustices impacting on black and working class women’s lives.
Their voices are quiet; hardly heard. They rarely talk out against sexism, gender, class, colour and sexual injustices and patriarchy, or call out male hegemony and privilege.
These black women, particularly the elite and middle class black women, are more individualistic, concerned solely about themselves and personal gains and how much they can get for themselves; seemingly unbothered about fighting the struggle for the women.
It is not unheard of, or to think its impossible, to have black women being bullies and behaving as ‘oppressors’ of other women when they attain positions of power; this happens when women get some power in their work and use this very power to keep women down and to further strangle and suffocate black women from advancing.
Black women who have attained positions and made movements in South African society have done so largely because of the struggles of oppressed women which spoke out against discrimination and oppression of black women. No black woman has advanced in society without the support of women’s struggles which spotlighted women’s oppressed position in an unequal and unjust South African society.
Why don’t elite, professional middle class women speak out? Obviously, they become comfortable with their ‘personal achievements and promotions’. They latch on very quickly to their personal power and don’t want to see other women breaking their chains and claiming their power. These women seemingly put on a front about desiring the toppling of a male-dominated and controlled society. From their silence it would appear that what these elite, professional, middle class women want is for women to be controlled and kept in subordination and for their personal selves to get the higher positions of appointment and achievement.
It’s difficult to believe that black women can be bullies when they attain some power. There’s a difference between being assertive, confident and strong and trying to keep down other women.
We know about the existence of white privilege and white woman’s privilege. At the same time we need to challenge black women who bully, suffocate and keep down other women. Such women are all over; you find them in government, corporate domains, higher education, sport, NGO’s, civil society structures. When it suits them they show solidarity with women and women’s voices. But this happens on an ad hoc basis, now and then.
If we are to challenge and dismantle patriarchy, sexism and a male-dominated society, then all black women have got to be on guard all day, all the time. And all black women must speak in unison and support women’s struggles and women’s voices calling out patriarchy and male-hegemony.
For women to have power and to challenge domination of their lives, for women to disrupt and agitate against all forces which subordinate and suffocate women, then it’s the power of the black women’s collective which will achieve this disruption and contestation, leading to a breakdown of male power.
But if some black women are going to be content with what they attained in life and how far they’ve come, and are not going to speak out, especially those who have the power to do just this, then the power of women will be significantly broken down into weakened layers. And these layers will find black women challenging each other, questioning where black women stand in relation as a black women’s collective.
It won’t be long before we, who challenge and disrupt power and control of women’s lives, declare elite, middle class, privileged black women as enemies of black women’s struggles and resistance.

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