Quite early in my life I felt and spoke out like a feminist. I didn’t know what a feminist was, let alone know that this feeling and way of being was in fact called feminism.
It was in my final year of high school I learnt the term feminist and about the feminist movement. Suddenly, I had a name for my constant behaviour of speaking out on injustices against women, minorities and what I perceived to be injustices in my society. As I became more immersed in this new identity and new group of like-minded people, I realised my references were very white and that there were several areas of conflict with my culture and heritage.
I was a white feminist in a black woman’s body.
I had little understanding of the concept of intersectionality of race and always argued women’s rights and topical debates from my white feminism vantage point. I have since learnt that one can’t talk about feminism, particularly of women’s rights, outside of race and class. Black women and by extension, black feminism, is significantly and fundamentally different to white feminism. White feminism claims to be a transformative movement, mainly led by white women, who themselves are silent beneficiaries of white privilege and patriarchy. The everyday sexism, structural barriers and misogyny white feminists rise against manifests itself in substantially different ways than it does for black women (and for people of colour in general). White feminism has often pictured perpetrators of misogyny, sexism and oppression in race-laden terms, e.g. we have learnt to associate ‘black men’ as violent perpetrators of injustices that “we feminists” rise against.
White feminism is not malleable to change, cultural nuances nor inclusive of the multifaceted African culture and contexts. A recent example is the twitter hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen that went viral on Monday 12th August. While the tag was meant as a debate starter to include white women who felt marginalised by the feminist debates, global responses and tweets provided insight into the biased nature of mainstream feminism.
In my view, black feminism broadly looks at systemic oppression and acts on these injustices (like white feminism does), but also deals with smashing and challenging racial/cultural stereotypes that are hegemonic in the main discourse of race and gender. As black feminists, we need a gender mainstreaming movement and by extension a feminism that takes into consideration and is aware of the intersections of race, class and gender. This intersectionality in our work is critical for black women’s and girls’ rights movements and should inform points of departure with our white allies in the dominant schools of feminism. Black feminism needs allies that are not only conscious of, but act upon the subtle nuances of racism and white privilege, that further compound and impede black women and girls participation in all levels of society.
As black women and feminists (of all genders), we need to document our dissent, speak up and be louder about our struggles so we become part of the main discourse of feminism.