By Natasha Mayer
The Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York is committed to ensuring diversity in our grant makers. In the greater New York area alone, there are 66,000 women of color in the Jewish community. We’d like to introduce you to four of them: Yavilah McCoy, Shoshana Brown, Tamara Fish, and Natasha Nelson. Come hear their stories about being both insiders and outsiders.
The event will take place on June 7, 2017 from 6:00-8:00pm at Central Synagogue and is generously sponsored by the Cornell/Weinstein Family Foundation. In anticipation of that event, we will be publishing a number of posts here on the subject of women of color in the Jewish community.
Since the Women’s March earlier this year, intersectional feminism has been increasingly present in news coverage, but some of us may still have questions about the term’s definition and origin, and how to incorporate it into our own best practices as advocates for women and girls.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a celebrated law scholar, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia, and co-founder of the African American Policy Forum, coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 after reading the story of Emma DeGraffenreid. DeGraffenreid, an African American woman, applied for a position at a car manufacturing company and was not hired. She brought a lawsuit against the company because she was a victim of racial and gender discrimination. The judge dismissed her suit because the company in question did in fact hire African-American people and women. But the judge failed to note that all of the African-American people working in the company were men, and all of the women hired were white. DeGraffenreid was a victim of discrimination not because she was black, or because she was a woman, but because she was a black woman. This is where intersectionality comes in.
Intersectionality is a framework to better understand the interactions between multiple social identities. While Crenshaw originated the term intersectionality to discuss the experience of black women, it is now also used to discuss people of other social identities as well, such as LGBTQIA people, people with disabilities, and members of religious minorities, such as Jewish people.
Be’chol Lashon estimates based on U.S. Census and National Jewish Population Study data that 20% of the approximately 6 million Jews living in the United States are people of color. And presumably about half of those 1.2 million Jews of color are women. This is no small number, yet we rarely hear their voices.
When we bring Jewish women of color into our social circles and our activism, we need to hear their stories through an intersectional lens. They face antisemitism and sexism differently than Jewish women who are (or who appear to be) white. With this in mind, we can best practice advocacy by listening with an open mind and an open heart to people whose experiences differ from our own, and to amplify their voices rather than attempting to speak for them. By doing so, we can work with kindness and sensitivity, and direct our efforts where they are most needed.
For more information or to RSVP to the Women of Color in the Jewish Community event on June 7, 2017, please email Natasha@JewishWomenNY.org.
For more information on intersectionality, you can watch Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk here. Please be warned that her discussion of state violence against black people may be upsetting to some viewers.