As I avidly followed news coverage of the melting pot that is Ferguson, with heavy spirit and emotions, something in me clicked. As a young woman, I had always recognized the racism inherent in western societal structures towards people of colour. Though I had recognized it, I have always considered it a political fight and not a feminist one. Watching events unfold last night, I can no longer separate my feminism from my politics. It has become fundamentally clear to me that feminism cannot simply be a tool to examine the situation of women in the world. For black women in particular, it must be a tool for political and economic liberation for the entire race. It must be a tool for healing, for dialogue, and for reconciliation. It must be a tool for self-love, which as stated by the legendary Audre Lorde, is not merely an act of preservation but of political warfare.
Reading through my Facebook feed during this event i noticed that:
1. White feminists groups seemed unbothered by the event, with very minimal (if even) reporting of the lack of justice that is so evident in the American judicial system. They failed to challenge the privilege that the system accords their men in relation to people of colour. Instead, these feminist groups carried on with their usual contents of challenging patriarchy as it relates to them. There is nothing wrong with that of course, patriarchy must be challenged, but must be done together with anti-black racism.
2. The silence of the ordinary white people on my feed. This tells me that they are of course, not as bothered about the situation because it does not directly affect them.
Noting these two points, it became clear to me that just because you are a feminist doesn’t make you an ally if you recognize patriarchy and its violence towards women while failing to recognize the violence of racism towards men and women of colour. As a feminist, you should not be questioning the validity of my pain and the source of my pain. My pain is older and bigger than just me. It is pain from my grandparents, from ancestors transferred to me, and will be transferred to my children. It is collective pain, collective trauma.
Traumatic transmission across generation is the leftover pain, the unbearable weight of it on our mothers, our fathers. This grief is transferred to us across multiple vectors. The transferring of trauma is also a transferring of tasks. Once solidarity is created in the process, the new generation must now find ways to deal with the pain. We must find new ways to represent our pains, to discuss them, and to heal.
As a feminist, whether a white liberal or radical feminist, you are absolutely wrong to question how I express this pain.
My feminism is now political because my body is political. Because my actions and even reactions have become political. Because the value of my life is now lower than the cost of a cigarette. What was the civil rights movement all about? What was the decolonization movement in Africa all about?
My feminism is political because I fear for the lives of my brothers and sisters, for my life. I fear for the life of my children still unborn. I fear… to live in fear of your own existence.
The fact of the matter is the white people are oblivious to the struggles that blacks and people of colour have to face. Black people have to learn how to interact around white people to not appear too black. We have to learn how to talk a certain way to be considered decent people. We have to dress in a specific way to not warrant unnecessary scrutiny from non-blacks. The truth is, respectability politics is an inherent instrument in directing how blacks interact around whites. Let’s consider the other scenario, whites do not have to alter their way of speaking for anyone, they do not have to justify their way of dressing to anyone – they just exist in their selves.
The continuous existence of black people is a political act. Conditioning ourselves to be decent will not stop the police from harassing us, and will not stop the KKK from existing. The way we speak across the world is a political act, the way we present ourselves is a political act, the foods we eat are a political act, the songs we listen to, the books we read, the places we shop, our entire being and doings, has been, is and will remain political. We dare not forget that.
I hope for black people the world over that the events in Ferguson keep you alert. The events should keep your mind alert, they should keep you critical of the state of the black man, woman and child not only in the US, but the world over.