The most challenging part about being an activist is that people create, and expect you to fit into certain boxes. The problem with me is that I am not a ventriloquist. I don’t like being put into boxes or to speak in ‘choreographed’ tones and therefore more often than not I do end up offending or disappointing some people but I can live with that. When you put yourself into the line of fire you can’t complain when the bullets come flying your way. If you catch one and bleed it’s just another day in the office. So, my attitude, when life happens, is to shape up or ship out. Mostly, I shape up. For me, the worst bullet is to have to fight another woman.
This past week, a racist online encounter made me realize that all these years my feminism has been naive, and deliberately oblivious to the complexity of the intersectionality of race and patriarchy in Africa. It was my own rude wake up call on how racism can impede feminism and aid patriarchy, presenting a double barreled problem for me as a feminist. I have always been a two pronged approach feminist activist i.e. (1) advocating for the unconditional empowerment of women (2) criticizing, and creating conversations about toxic governance in Africa. The latter naturally because of the cognizance that public policy and governance play a critical role in the empowerment of women.
However, a sub part of my activism now includes campaigning for racial equality and I will now attempt to explain.
In Africa, a caucasian woman is more likely to be educated and have more opportunities for economic empowerment than a woman of colour. In case of both having the same education, a caucasian woman is more likely to get a job over a woman of colour. This makes white women, just by virtue of their race, more powerful than their black counterparts and pits women against each other before they can join hands to face patriarchy. That white supremacy aspect stems from Africa’s racist and colonial past.
Africa’s history shows black people at the receiving end of racial brutality by the murderous colonial masters and architects of white supremacy. Racism has however evolved and become more subtle and blurred. It has now taken the form of white supremacy and black people continue to suffer from systems that were set up colonial masters to be exclusionary and discriminatory.
This is done via systematic annihilation of black advancement through imperialist capitalism and unwritten simple but effective tactics such as the majority of blacks not getting certain opportunities and therefore only able to progress to a certain level and thus maintaining the racial supremacy status quo.
I have recently been a lobbyist for African governments to use constitutional means to enable their people to achieve racial equality peacefully. That also involves having to speak out against my own people (and by that I mean black people) when they employ violence against white Africans in the name of protest and/or campaigning for racial equality. My doing so can, however, be misconstrued as being an apologist for the remaining blatant racists. Moreso, I am expected to be sympathetic to women racists just because I am a feminist.
I am not an apologist for racists. I advocate for non-violent lobbying to force governments to address the structural disenfranchisement of black people in Africa – which primarily came as a result of racism.
Having lived in South Africa and now living in Europe in addition to being a netizen, I noticed that some white people, for lack of a better phrase, always remark that ‘black people complain too much about racism’. I will therefore now speak as a black person; we complain too much because injustice hurts more the people at the receiving end than the perpetrators.
Race is always made an elephant in the room. You can’t really discuss race without being branded ‘the racist’. People are very quick to want to close the conversation as ‘uncomfortable’. ‘Oh do not mention the word black or white we are all just people’. But the reality is we are in fact different races and there is beauty in that diversity but the beauty is marred by racism and racial injustice.
Race is not an elephant in the room. It’s a reality and that makes it harder for me as a black woman not to speak out against women racists in the name of feminism. I have to call out racists even if they are women. This makes me ‘the bad guy’ but it’s all in a day’s work for a black feminist. Whenever a feminist criticizes another woman the context of their criticism is often ignored and their feminism is fictitiously found wanting.
But I believe that having an honest and objective conversation is a positive step towards acknowledging and addressing racism. Pretending that ‘we have come a long way’ and therefore things will work themselves out is a dangerous approach which, in broad terms, is causing violence in sub Saharan Africa (in South Africa where violent ‘decolonization’ protests are happening and Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe used racial inequality as justification to initiate illegal land grabbing from white Zimbabweans).
In unstable environments, women, black or white, tend to face more violence than men. So while racism and patriarchy is a double edged sword for black women, when the racism leads to violence, violence becomes a sharp sword against women in general.
All this presents a complex dilemma for me as a feminist because when faced with having to make a choice I will attack racism first irregardless of the perpetrator’s gender and even if by so doing I will help patriarchy.