Making Separatist Connections: The Issue is Woman Identification

By Margaret Sloan-Hunter, 1976

From For Lesbians Only, edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Julia Penelope (OnlyWomen Press, 1988)

The interview with Margie Adam in Plexus (Feb. '76) surfaced feelings of anger and sadness in me, and caused me to reflect on my involvement in the Civil Rights Movement that led to my later involvement in the Feminist Movement.

As a black lesbian feminist, I am constantly amazed to see that our Feminist Movement cannot learn from Movements that have preceded it in recorded time. I find it distressing that years after this 'second wave' began, we are still debating and discussing the issue of men with all the energy we brought to that subject 10 years ago.

After Black Power and 'Black is Beautiful,' blacks for the most part stopped reacting to white people and racism, and most of our energy went into developing our psychic survival. Whites were moved out of Civil Rights organizations, and although some whites didn't understand this and were angry, most of the whites that had any sense were supportive and understanding.

A people that had been alienated from one another had a need to put energy into themselves and heal wounds that had been created by racism. It was not too necessary to have meetings and events labeled 'black only,' because whites simply knew they had better not come. Whites who were in close friendships or intimate relationships with blacks felt somewhat left out, but those who were sincere met with other whites and tried to deal with racism where it had begun: with them.

Inside those meetings we blacks did not have lengthy debates on whether whites should be admitted, nor did we agonize and make statements like: 'What about whites; they're human beings too?' Those blacks that were resistant had their consciousness raised on the spot or stayed home. But our female caste, which has been separated since just after that 'gynocratic' age that Elizabeth Gould Davis speaks of in her book The First Sex, is still feeling the need to include, and defer and apologize to men.

The issue is not closed or open concerts. The issue is woman identification. Lesbians have had a painful herstory in the Feminist Movement. And yet, we have always been there, whether it be on the board of N.O.W., or organizing radical feminist groups. For the most part, we have founded the presses, the bookstores, the credit unions, the women's centers. It is we who will carry on the culture in our poetry, prose and song. In spite of all the energy that has been generated by lesbians in the Feminist Movement, we are still at the place of 'excuse me.' If, as a Movement, we had really taken ourselves seriously, there would be no debate over open or closed concerts, meetings and dances. Men would simply know not to come because our Movement had been very clear, and proudly so, about our message.

Black separatism as a physical reality failed because most blacks didn't want the state of Rhode Island or a plot of land to till. The concept didn't fail, however. Black separatism failed because most blacks developed a black identification and made the revolutionary discovery that we didn't need white people. That was important because we thought we did and had depended on white people so much we couldn't imagine how we could exist without that support. Many of us blacks are now free to have equal relationships with whites, not because we need them, but because we want them.

If Lesbian separatism fails it will be because women are so together that we will just exude woman identification wherever we go. But since sexism is much older than racism, it seems that we must for now embrace separatism, at least psychically, for health and consciousness sake. This is a revolution, not a public relations campaign, we must keep reminding ourselves.

I am reminded of an incident in Chicago during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. A meeting had been announced to deal with Black Power, and it was understood by most that it was for blacks only. But a black woman showed up with her white man friend. A black woman felt extremely threatened by this and spoke up. Debates over 'what harm can one white do?' etc. went on for a few minutes. Then the woman stood up and shouted, somewhat frustrated: 'You don't understand. I am uncomfortable with his presence. I don't even know him, but I don't want him here.' At which point the black woman who had brought the white man turned to him and said, 'I'm sorry, you will have to leave; if one sister is uncomfortable, that is enough.' He left.

When those kinds of priorities are placed on us by ourselves and we put ourselves as women first above everyone else, then the racist and sexist society will know we mean business. After all, it is we who are changing the world.