What is this black in #blackfeminisms?

Polish 800m runner, Joanna Jozwik is reported as saying she felt like a silver medalist even though she placed fifth:

“I’m glad I’m the first European, the second white.”

The top three places in the 800m went to African women: South Africa’s Caster Semenya, Burundi’s  Francine Niyonsaba and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui.

By Jozwik’s logic these three African women are not women. The only women are white women which is why she states that she is proud to be the second white to cross the finish line.

The category “woman” is saturated with whiteness, with white femininity.   Black women’s exclusion from this category also marks our exclusion from the human.

Radical black Caribbean intellectual, Sylvia Wynter argues that the project of Black Studies that emerged in the 1960s was NOT one of an ethnic studies a la multiculturalism but the undoing of the entire system of Western thought itself and the racist, ecological and anti-human violence which it supports.

That must be the goal of any feminism worth having. Not leaning in to an unsustainable lifestyle based on consumption on white, Western bourgeois terms.

Garinagu involvement in revolutionary movements in Honduras similarly identifies the confluence of white supremacy and global capitalist interests in ecological destruction, repressive violence against activists and threats to the livity of Indigenous and African peoples. As the leader interviewed in the video states:

We have to challenge this model of living, because it is a predatory one, a murderous one which dehumanises us.

Black feminisms ask:

How do we create a world where we value each other, all human and non-human animals and the environment of which we are a part?

How do we create a world where the most marginalized among us can learn to trust our own consciousness?

A world which recognises multiple ways of being and being human.

A world that makes rural living sustainable.

A world that recognises Black and Indigenous Peoples’ right to be.

A world without prisons, warfare, violence.

A world where gender is not a source of violence.

A world that is not disabling.

Black feminisms is not an ethnicized, separatist, compartmentalised standpoint. It is not a sedimented, essentialist, atavistic identity politics.  (Don’t let the white supremacists nor the black nationalists fool you.)

Black feminisms and the solidarity communities we make with the sources of our strength, these are the feminisms and movements that we need now.

View the #blackfeminisms blog carnival entries here and submit your own stories.

Learn more about AWID’s Black Feminisms Forum here.  CODE RED for gender justice is proud to be a Black Feminisms Forum content partner.

 

 

Radical Self-Care as Resistance #blackfeminisms

Radical Self-Care as Resistance by Fatimah Jackson-Best

In the last several months I’ve seen a number of articles and think-pieces about self-care from mainstream websites aimed at women, and sites that focus on Black women specifically. Many highlight self-care engaged in by the individual, which is sometimes made up of doing things for oneself like having a spa day, taking time off work, or buying something as a reward. While combing through those resources I found a beautiful quote from former Black Panther and Prison Abolitionist, Angela Davis on the topic of self-care. She said, “Self-care and healing and attention to the body and the spiritual dimension—all of this is now a part of radical social justice struggles.” (Angela Davis, 2016). I appreciated that she uses the word ‘now’. Maybe she is reflecting on how self-care was or wasn’t prioritized when she was a younger activist. In this quote Professor Davis is speaking about changes she’s seen to what is considered radical, the spiritual work that she’s engaged in now, and how this is reflected in her social justice work around prison abolition. She speaks of bridging our personal and social worlds so that we can become better activists, and I’ll add- better people. To her this kind of work is radical, and worthy of our personal and collective investment. And when someone like Angela Davis is impressing upon us the importance of integrating this into our lives and work then I know we have to listen.

Lately I have been speaking and thinking a lot about self-care beyond practices of buying or purchasing things (which I am not vilifying at all- I have and do engage in these kinds of practices myself). I started thinking about self-care and more recently radical methods of self-care at the end of my PhD when I was working hard to finish my dissertation, and having constant fears that I would be a failure. I had an idea that self-care was important, but I didn’t know of a clear way to pursue it or even the concrete reasons for why it was so critical. With some time and distance between that experience and now, and inspired by Audre Lorde and Angela Davis, I want to share methods of radical self-care that I hope each of can pursue where ever we are and with what ever means we have.

  1. The Work of Grounding One’s Self

Grounding One’s Self is the act of acknowledging where you are right now, honouring what you are engaged in doing, and being present in your life as it is happening. Grounding one’s self is based on the belief that our actions should be framed by an awareness of where we are in this moment and what has led us to the space we are inhabiting, and the work we are doing.

We all know that person who is doing a lot and from the outside we don’t know how they are accomplishing it all. They are able to write amazing think pieces, have successful relationships, and fight the power all at the same time. And now think about if that this description, more or less, is of you? And it’s possible that even you don’t know how you are managing to do everything. Yet on most days you wake up to do a little more and push a little further.

If this kind of behaviour sounds familiar, that’s because it’s part of the ways that many of us seek legitimacy and acceptance by being exceptional. But we forget that exceptionalism has a process and a price. Sometimes that process and price looks like having to choose between being with your loved ones to attend a conference, or staying up all night to make sure your writing is done only to head to work to make sure your bills can be paid.

Grounding yourself requires you to be still and acknowledge where you are right now, in this current moment, and realize that your progress was not by accident or luck: it is the outcome of tremendous work and effort. Grounding yourself is the acknowledgement of where you are and giving it respect. In doing this work we become mindful and present so that we can truly experience everything that is going on around us and for us. Without doing this work we risk becoming numb and walking through life and our biggest accomplishments not knowing how they really felt.

Grounding one’s self will look different for each of us. But for me it looks like finding stillness and sitting with it. It looks like deep breathing to release my fears of failure and appreciate that every single one of my falls has allowed me to rise and try again. It is being mindful and intentional about everything I do. The everydayness of grounding oneself allows us to constantly work towards self-care, and by doing that work we endlessly invest and reinvest in ourselves.

  1. The Work of “Undoing”

The Work of Undoing was inspired by a friend who left the Caribbean at 18 years old to attend University in North America. In conversation we shared our experiences being Black women in Universities that had small populations of Black people, and how this forced us to learn to cope and manage with that reality which becomes work in itself. My friend called it the Work of Undoing and she said, “I wish someone had told me that my simple presence would be a contested space and helped me to understand what that meant”.  For my friend, being a Black, non-American, queer woman made her the target of daily assaults and micro-aggressions that she wasn’t prepared for. She was constantly feeling like she didn’t belong in the places she had earned the right to be in, and every time she turned a corner or faced a difficult task another would crop up and this kept her feeling like everything in the world was conspiring against her to push her out.

Most of these the issues are systemic and deeply engrained in our Universities, institutions, and communities which is precisely why they are so successful in keeping us from feeling like we can really belong. But the Work of Undoing is about doing exactly what my friend and I did while talking about our similar experiences in academia: it’s about finding people who can identify with your experiences and frustrations, getting together because of this commonality, and unpacking and challenging it together. The Work of Undoing requires that when you get together you name and confront these things using whatever means available to you. This may look like talking to each other in open and honest ways about what is going on, journaling, or organizing formal or informal spaces for women of colour, people of colour, and LGBTQ people. It may be sharing stories and strategies for survival. It may look like developing a listserve, whatsapp, or Facebook groups to share resources and check in with one another. And it may look like finding that one person where ever you are and supporting each other throughout. The Work of Undoing is collective work, but the collective does not necessarily mean a mass of people- it can be just 2 of you, but it should not and cannot just be you.

  1. The Actual Work of Care

The Actual Work of Care is totally dependent on what you envision it to be. But I want to be careful about falling into those narrow consumerist-driven techniques for caring for one’s self. I am cognizant and critical of the fact that telling women who may have constricted financial circumstances that the Work of Caring for themselves only looks like a spa-day, or buying something nice, or taking the day off work. We know that these kinds self-care techniques do not pay attention to class, access, and the privilege of being able to seek out care in these ways and that excludes many women.

That’s not say that The Actual Work of Care cannot involve those kinds of things, but I want to expand our understandings of what is underlying the Actual Work of Care, and that is the fundamental practice of putting yourself first and being unapologetic about it. To me that is what Audre Lorde meant when she said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” (Lorde, 1988). She is speaking of investing passionately and radically into ourselves and our holistic wellness as much as we invest in our degrees, social justice causes, and advocacy. Doing this kind of radical self-care work is sometimes perceived as being selfish only because we have constructed our personal wellness as being somehow outside of the pursuit for justice. That false distinction is probably the biggest lie we can tell ourselves. We have to know that being well is a right, and not a privilege. And each of us has the right to what we need in order to feel our best and perform our best. This means that simple things like eating well, sleeping well, loving well, speaking well, thinking well, and living as well are all techniques for engaging in the Work of self-care, and it’s our right and responsibility to pursue them radically and unapologetically.

Fatimah Jackson-Best blogs at Hijabi Revolution. Read the other submissions to our Black Feminisms Blog Carnival.

Every Now Has its Before

Active Voice

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The column below from a couple of weeks ago about the need for a #poorlivesmatter campaign in Jamaica has been getting some attention. #Blacklivesmatter as a rallying call has little traction in Jamaica where if you’re black but middle class or upper class you’re–for all intents and purposes–an honorary white. Social blackness is reserved for those who are black and poor, not just those who may be dark-skinned, regardless of class.

I thought as much when I saw Fabian Thomas’s ‘Black Bodies’ almost a year ago–a play that aimed to “tell the stories and honour the memories of four Jamaicans (Vanessa Kirkland, Jhaneel Goulbourne, Michael Gayle, and Mario Deane) killed by the police or while in police custody” while attempting to draw a somewhat facile connection with the US’s #blacklivesmatter campaign which was then just beginning to gain momentum.

And in a move to rival the truth in strangeness, a…

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A 4 AM Conversation with Annie John #blackfeminisms

A 4 AM Conversation with Annie John

by Georgia G.P. Love

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Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid may have been the dark rabbit hole that led me tumbling unconsciously into a world of black feminisms. At 13 years old when many of my classmates had decided it was “nasty” and “weird” because of its explorations of sexuality and intimacy between women, I remember devouring it and feeling an intuitional ease with Annie.

It was set in the Caribbean, the region where I grew up, and her persona and life mirrored mine with her melancholic disposition, stable family home and top tier education all with their lessons about womanhood and separation from inherited legacies. Here I am 22 years later engaged in my own feminist crisis of faith and I return to Annie as I move into a kind of dark night of the soul.

Black Feminisms

When Audre Lorde says “the erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women”, similarly blackness has been libeled and used against black women. Images of black as savage, unfeminine, undesirable and inadequate. From the vantage point of their blackness womanists/feminists astutely pointed out that feminism can’t be a single issue movement as long as we live multi issue lives. The organizers of the Black Feminisms Forum have deliberately pluralized feminisms because black women are night women who often push forward in several different ways with only the moonlight to guide our feet. Black women may never get their due for their contributions to feminism, because as Doreen St. Felix said in her article about Rihanna, to be a black woman and genius, is to be perpetually owed.

Black women help us unsettle binaries and position intersections in social and personal identities as an analytical cornerstone. From this cornerstone we can explore blackness in its breadth and variance in our feminisms. Black women quickly learned that light-less conditions often require patience, to allow our eyes to adjust so we can see. With our hidden secrets tucked in our darkest places to guard our erotic power, it’s our nimbleness in unchartered dark territories, where uncertain futures have been our only birthright and our willingness to engage places of unknowing which fuel our rage against racism and misogyny. We’ve dived into social and intellectual black holes in order “to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, [our] work becomes a conscious decision—a longed-for bed, which [we] enter gracefully and from which [we] rise up empowered.”

Sacred Withdrawal

However, right now while I know I’m still a black feminist, do I feel empowered? I’m not sure. I don’t feel empowered in that triumphant sense, but I hope that my black feminism can be more than an endless chase for triumphs and fixing outward signs of ailments. Given the thankless drudgery of this work we must be allowed periods of sacred withdrawal from our camps of familiarity. It’s my hope that community can enable moments for us to sit with things we don’t want to look at because it’s what we may most need to see.

Like Annie I once enjoyed “special bath(s) in which the barks and flowers of many different trees, [melded] together with all sorts of oils, [as we sat]…in darkened room(s) with strange-smelling candle(s) burning away.” I welcomed those spaces of intimacy to share secrets with my Sisters of The Dark as I found faith within chapels of black women activists. But now I need space to acknowledge that my feminist faith is shaken, and as I search, I hope a Ma Chess (Annie’s grandmother) will find me and hold me in ways that help restore my trust and belief. More so than defeating an enemy, my black feminism must change me and help me navigate tenuous relationships. Audre Lorde said “the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us”. The oppressor’s wrongdoing is the oppression she inflicts, as well as her certitude and sense of entitlement. We are most in danger of stumbling when we think we know where we’re going.

For centuries black women have shared the generational secrets of using indigo and dyes to transform everyday white cotton into prized deep blue cloth. Most recently I experience my blackness and my black feminism as more indigo than achromatic absolute, stainy and unpredictable like purple dressing or gentian violet. Gentian violet, a rudimentary antiseptic dye used by many Caribbean people for cuts and infections that makes healing a very exposed process. Now I must heal the faith-rattling wounds we all experience when you’re vulnerable, and when you trust and are betrayed. Like Annie I have begun “to feel alternately too big and too small. First, I grew so big that I took up the whole street; then I grew so small that nobody could see me — not even if I cried out.” Just as Annie stood before an endless sea, facing “la noche oscura” she knew that at some point we all need freedom more than we need a home.

What kinds of painful/difficult questions have you grappled with inside your black feminism? How have you dealt with separation and estrangement within your feminist communities? Email Georgia Love at blackjacobines@gmail.com ; Twitter @findmisslove

Read all the entries in our Black Feminisms Blog Carnival here

States of Conscious Anger: Love Poem to Black Unicorns #blackfeminisms

by Angelique V. Nixon

States of Conscious Anger: Love Poem to Black Unicorns

The black unicorn is restless
the black unicorn is unrelenting
the black unicorn is not
free

– Audre Lorde

My rage is genetic memory, fueled through the daily knowing & seeing all the ways our lives are in danger. Interlocking experiences. Submerged in blood & labor.

to be black and female
to be black, female, & queer
to be brown/black while walking
to be young black/brown male and made criminal or enemy
to be sex positive, self loving, aggressive, or confident
to be gay, lesbian, same-sex loving, bisexual, or not straight
to be woman & masculine, to be man & feminine
to be gender non-conforming, refusing labels, existing outside
to not fit into boxes or comfort zones
to walk streets of power hungry, male-dominated whiteness
to be poor, hungry, undernourished
to be unemployed, underemployed
to be a worker, to be underclass
to be forgotten & left out
to be the problem, as if our lives don’t matter
to be any of these & also of color
to be any of these & also a migrant of color
to be any of these…

Too many lives stolen through fear & hate
sometimes our own fingers drip in their/our blood
also from our silence, our fears, our denial
holding onto scraps of privilege/status if you can
but that won’t save you.

I take up my voice, my fists, speak out against injustice
I speak out against systems of control & benevolent empire
I speak out against a prison system that refuses justice
I speak out against silence & fear of difference
I speak out against intolerance & hate
I speak out against unending wars & violence.

I speak out with unrelenting force,
People of Color, our lives matter
Black lives matter
Brown lives matter
Indigenous lives matter
Trans lives matter
Women’s lives matter
Queer lives matter
Poor lives matter
Migrant lives matter

Black Unicorns, where is our magic & fury now?
Are your horns still growing? Where is our collective rage?

Injustice and violence on our bodies,
Our lands, hearts, minds, spirits,
Everyday, it is sometimes
too much to speak, too much to bare,

But we must speak it & know it deeply,
listen to our ancestors, as they rage through us,
in all our bodies & blood ripe with
the weight of lies & distorted truths.

We must claim our truths & tell our stories
so wildly & boldly, they cannot stop us.
We must decolonize our hearts/minds/bodies,
love ourselves & heal from the root.

To love ourselves is radical, to love each other
to love blackness, browness, all-we-shades-colors-mixes
to love difference, is radical,
to love with fyah feeding spirit
to love the feminine in each one of us
to love the earth & every creature we share it with, is radical.

Love Self. Rage More. Make Furious Our Survival.

 

Angelique V. Nixon is an Afro-Caribbean writer, artist, teacher, scholar, activist, and poet – born and raised in The Bahamas. Her research, cultural criticism, and poetry have been published widely. She strives through her activism, writing, and art to disrupt silences and carve spaces for resistance and desire. She is a Lecturer at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago.

An earlier version of this poem originally appeared in my creative essay titled “States of Anger: Black Women & Furious Survival” – published in Zora Magazine, Summer 2014, Special Issue, Notes on Anger.  It is republished here as part of ourBlack Feminisms Blog Carnival.

States of Healing Anger: Love Letter to my GirlChildSelf #blackfeminisms

By Angelique V. Nixon

 

States of Healing Anger: Love Letter to my GirlChildSelf

“I want us to get to a place where tenderness is possible”
– June Jordan

It’s time to release pain & transform anger.
It’s time to love yourself & be enough for you.
No one is coming to rescue you. Except for me.
Grown, sexy, fearless, defiant & unafraid of you
or the depths of our sorrow.

It used to feel like if I started crying for you, for myself, I would never stop, but today Spirit spoke to me, reminding me of all the work done to get to here. Time to let it come through me, all that no longer serves me – the sadness, so deep, we could never see the end of it. Spirit told me she can hold all of it and me, and you, and so together in our darkness, we dive deep inside the core of the earth and let go.

I whispered in this place, the center of my being where I hold you.
“I’m sorry for all that you lost (in this life & ones before)
and how lonely this journey has been.”
I stand with you on this full moon and rip into these dark places.
I grasp you tightly with all my heart, releasing the pain, bringing in love & hope,
we scream tears and spill our words, our truth, our stories,
knowing it is better to speak, knowing we were never meant to survive.

To love & be loved—to speak, it is better—that is our resistance.
If others can’t handle our survival or see us—they too must be let go.

We deserve love that is not painful, burning, blinding, unbalanced, or no good for we spirit. I stand with you on this full pensive moon, releasing old harmful patterns.

I journey into heartspace (belly core) healing with conscious desire & rhythms.
I journey with songs of compassion for myself & others.

Being enough. I am enough. My love is enough. I am loveable.
My ancestors are with me & their pain is my strength.

I am strong. I am un/broken. Broken No Longer.
I am reborn, a place of tenderness, where Black love,
Black woman love, Black queer love, and loving openly
is more than possible, it is the place of freedom, of revolution.

Angelique V. Nixon is an Afro-Caribbean writer, artist, teacher, scholar, activist, and poet – born and raised in The Bahamas. Her research, cultural criticism, and poetry have been published widely. She strives through her activism, writing, and art to disrupt silences and carve spaces for resistance and desire. She is a Lecturer at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago.

An earlier version of this poem originally appeared in my creative essay titled “States of Anger: Black Women & Furious Survival” – published in Zora Magazine, Summer 2014, Special Issue, Notes on Anger.  It is republished here as part of our Black Feminisms Blog Carnival.

From Wimbledon to Zimbabwe: Watching The Williams Sisters by @fungaijustbeing #blackfeminisms

By Fungai Machirori

I always thought it was Venus who would be the more decorated tennis player of the Williams sisters.

Perhaps it was something to do with the way she was constructed in the media. She was, as I was made to understand all those years ago, the more “lithe” of the two sisters; in other words, even if her skin colour didn’t conform to the normative standard of the time she and Serena entered the fray, her physique approximated better what a conventional tennis player of that time ‘should’ look like.

I felt elated at watching Venus win her first Wimbledon title back in 2000. As she smiled and leapt across the court – having beaten Lindsay Davenport in straight sets – the match commentators all but confirmed her ascent to tennis queendom. The older of the Williams sisters, Venus finally had a Grand Slam title to match that of her sister.  And the Venus Rosewater Dish, her trophy, could not have been more aptly named.

I was 16 years old back then; the greatest of my concerns my mid-year exams, and perhaps a little further down in my line of thought my year-end Ordinary Level exams. Zimbabwe was a different place back then, but already displaying the cracks across its socio-political terrain that would widen over the years into the chasms of dissent and disenchantment that many now know the country for. By 2000, however, the only national broadcaster – which would eventually feature less and less international content in a move to create a more indigenous and insular media – still featured live Wimbledon finals broadcasts, something which has since been dispensed with.

Watching Wimbledon finals had been a tradition for me in my childhood as I became acquainted with the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Jana Novotna, among others. But Wimbledon was the only of the four grand slams that was broadcast live to us. And I wonder if it was given this place of tennis prestige as a result of not only Zimbabwe’s British colonial history, but a strong national inclination towards British sensibilities.  It’s been mentioned before as a contradiction of Zimbabwe’s now fractured relationship with Britain how President Robert Mugabe speaks impeccable ‘Queen’s English’.

Locally, tennis interests had also been piqued through the famous Black family – consisting of Cara, Wayne and Byron –  who had helped grow Zimbabweans’ interest in the sport, competing fiercely at grand slam events and other prestigious international tournaments. But as with other elite sports like rugby, cricket and hockey, high standard performance in tennis in Zimbabwe was almost entirely the preserve of the middle class, with the white middle class predominant.

To watch Venus win Wimbledon, therefore, was to disrupt everything I thought I understood about tennis. To see her prance and twirl across Centre Court was to challenge many things I understood and had internalised about this sport. It was to see myself represented, to feel as though I was there somewhere in that arena, offering an excited ovation, even if I was really thousands of miles away.

One of my most endearing memories as a tennis fan is when in my second year of university, I camped out at a seedy bar to watch the women’s Wimbledon final, again featuring Venus and Davenport. By this time, tennis was no longer being shown on national television anymore and this bar served affordable (read ‘cheap’) drinks and had a satellite television link; a compromised win for me.  And so there I sat, confounding many of the patrons as I sipped slowly on my orders of ginger ale, entirely focused on the large screen overhead. To most of them, this was confounding and a disruption of their perceived ideas of a woman’s ‘role’ or ‘place’ in a bar.

Watching Venus and Serena, their braids and beads sweeping across their sweaty, determined faces as they have fought their way from many places – both personal and professional – that many wouldn’t recover from has been an absolute inspiration.

And watching their recent doubles final win at Wimbledon was particularly emotional.

I wondered how many more of these spectacular moments I would get to witness from these two. How many more moments of this defiant excellence I would get experience in the years to come.

It’s 16 years since that first win that converted me into the tennis enthusiast that I have become. Venus didn’t quite become who the pundits thought she would, but her seven singles slam titles are glorious and memorable. And of course, Serena stands majestic and uncontested at 22 grand slam titles, with the drive and talent to win even more.

Much has changed in my life, and sometimes I yearn for my teenage years when my biggest concern was a slew of assignments and exam papers.

I yearn also for another Zimbabwe; one that might offer stability and nurturing for dreams as big as those the Williams sisters have birthed. And I hope for a world in which black excellence, is less of a novelty, and more of a norm.

Yes, it is 16 years later.

But somehow, some things have remained constant.

 

Fungai Machirori is a Zimbabwean writer with interests in feminism, identity and historicisation. You can follow her on Twitter at @fungaijustbeing. This article is part of the Black Feminisms Forum ahead of the 13th International AWID Forum.

CODE RED for gender justice is hosting a #blackfeminisms blog carnival during August. Submit to us here.