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Navigating a ‘Crooked Room’: Reflections From Black Women on Their Experiences in Progressive Spaces

February 25, 2015

Historically, and still today, politically progressive spaces in the United States have focused on maintaining middle-class values, meaning that people who are working class, working poor, and poor are typically not centered in these conversations. As a strategy, progressives are also committed to reforming local government and using it as a tool on the range of issues that address gender, class, and health-access disparities. In theory, this broad strategy sounds good; however, when practiced, it tends to either omit the grassroots political bloc of women of color, LGBTQ people of color, and youth of color in leadership, or it perpetuates systemic issues that affect these communities when those interests become politically and economically viable.

Black women do not expect much from those whose inhumane social, political, and economic interests challenge our human rights, but we do expect respect, support, and trust from our progressive allies, who supposedly are on our side.

Yet when called upon to join progressive spaces, resilient groups, particularly Black women, typically find themselves navigating psychologically violent and racial microaggressions in what Melissa Harris-Perry describes as a “crooked room,” in which Black women manage “to get themselves more or less upright regardless of how crooked the surrounding images [of their humanity] were.” This is an ongoing process for Black women of “carving out a life that suits [our] own desires rather than conforming to the limiting and soul-crushing expectations that others have of [us],” writes Harris-Perry in Sister Citizen. These microaggressions come in the form of coded language delivered by well-intentioned, yet problematic allies whose “self-image of being good, moral, decent human beings is challenged when they realize at an unconscious level they have biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings that harm people of color.”


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