16 January 2012 ~ 23 Comments

White Women, Black Men & African Feminists

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6089739101 a8b20b6bd4 White Women, Black Men & African Feminists
Occasionally I worry I’ll hurt my mum with some of the stuff that I write about white people, or that my dad will be offended by my criticism of African men. Then I visit them in Lagos and I’m reminded of how, and why, my concerns are completely unnecessary. They expected, and are pleased, with who I’ve become or they would not have had me reading comics like Mafalda at the age of four.

And I need to speak about these things. As an African (black, mixed race, biracial, insert racial label) woman and feminist I experience silencing from multiple angles.

Firstly, from those white feminists who produce general knowledge about womanhood and male oppression without taking into account that gendered racism is part of many women’s lives. We don’t all experience womanhood similarly. I cannot separate race from womanhood the way a white feminist (thinks she) can.
In white feminist scholarship, African feminists are often accused of ‘undertheorising’. And It is true that feminist theory thrives in western academia in a way that it doesn’t in the academies in Africa, but that’s largely because feminists in the west have more resources. African feminists do produce theory like Obioma Nnaemeka’s Nego-Feminism, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie’s Stiwanism, Catherine Acholonu’s Motherism, Wanjira Muthoni’s and Chikwenye Ogunyemi’s African Womanism to name a few. However, with limited access to funding, technology and a huge publishing industry, the kind of theoretical imperialism where white feminist work is considered theory while feminist work in Africa is considered practical is possible.

I cannot simply speak as an African either. This space is occupied by the African (heterosexual) male narrative. Although I share experiences of racial oppression with African men, as the cultural gatekeepers of African history and social theory, African male thinkers generally speaking have not included struggles with sexism into “our” story of African-ness.

Perhaps this well-intended comment from Harvard scholar, Dr Shabazz can help explain my point:

Peace my sister. I think it is a grave error to equate white women’s affiliation with white power with black men’s affiliation with patriarchy. They are hardly analogues. White American men routinely brutalize and incarcerate their black American “brothers.” African Americans make of a majority of the US prison population even though blacks only make up about 12% of the US population. Black American men suffer from obscene suicide rates. Black on black violence is still plaguing our communities. Black men are disappearing from university. These are all functions of ongoing white supremacy.

Yes, men of African heritage around the world are harshly affected by white supremacy and that is not something I take lightly. However, what Dr Shabazz failed to understand as he argued against my stance that feminism is NOT unAfrican is how similarly male supremacy affects women and particularly women of colour.
For example 70% of the world’s poor are women, two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are women, one in three women has been subject to sexual assault, women own 1% of the world’s property, the primary victims of wars are civilian women and their children, not soldiers
Therefore as Africans and as women affected both by racism and sexism it seems that white female- and African male supremacy in fact are analogous.

I don’t suggest we throw the baby out with the bath water by abandoning dialogues with our white feminists sisters unless they are inefficient (and sometimes they are), or by invalidating the oft-insightful corpus of work by white feminists. However, we mustn’t overlook fabricated perceptions of African womanhood that fails to listen to what African women have to say.  Nor should we cease to dialogue with our African brethren of whom many are increasingly beginning to adopt a holistic view on African issues but we must pay attention to not neglecting our stories and concerns in favour of protecting some idea of manhood.
Solidarity shouldn’t blind us in looking at the specific situation/s faced by us as women of African heritage. We must not choose between race and gender, but keep creating spaces where we narrate (and define) the intersection of both.

In the words of Audre Lorde:

The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.

Do you have any thoughts, experiences, concerns?

cc White Women, Black Men & African Feminists photo credit: ssoosay



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