How I became a Radical Black Feminist

By Hedgebrook Guest

  • 6
Categories: Alum Experiences, Women's Voices,

A day after the Oscars there is a media frenzy over the Patricia Arquette acceptance speech at the Oscars, where she called for an end to the wage disparity between men and women in the United States. I do not think that anyone can argue about whether that part of her speech was wrong in any way. However it seems her back stage comments resulted in a furor because she states that gays and people of color should join them in the fight for wage equality, the same way that they (white women presumably) fought for them.

I got involved in a heated argument on a friend’s Face Book post, a white male feminist. He posted his opinion about the speech but placed it in the greater context of Hollywood culture and the general lack of awareness of how interconnected the issues of gender equality, racism, sexism, homophobia, colorism and many forms of oppression were. A self- identified white feminist woman was critical of what she called “silencing of a woman by a male”, implying that by critiquing her speech my male feminist friend was silencing her. My friend politely disagreed with the complainant explaining that he was not silencing Patricia Arquette and he pointed out the rather obvious fact that she as a celebrity had a huge platform and that there was no way he could silence her even if he tried.

Several other voices joined the discussion and it quickly became about white male privilege and how men cannot speak on women’s issues, but that women only should do that and men simply be in solidarity. The heated argument turned sour when I challenged the notion that as a privileged white male he had no right criticizing a woman’s feminist ideas and that his white male privilege meant that his opinions were most likely to be heard (and taken seriously) over hers because she was a woman.

In the whole discussion, which I watched over several hours before commenting, I noted one thing. This twenty-eight year ‘privileged white male’ was the only one who noted the problematic backstage comments made by Arquette, and no one bothered to even ask why they would be viewed as problematic by women of color and other conscious people who have a firm grasp on the complex landscape of feminism and intersectionality. I noted the total disconnect once again of the older white feminist women to the younger generation of feminists (of all colors, ethnicities, genders and orientations) who have made intersectionality the fulcrum of their feminist ideology and practice. But this young white feminist male got it.

2-26-15_BlogPost_2

I joined the discussion stating in an initial post that I would sooner have a billion white male allies like my friend over some of the patriarchal white women who self- identified as feminists I had come across. These women were doing the women’s movement more harm than good by being dismissive or discursive about intersectionality of issues for women of color. These are the women who, for example, fail to see how a black woman in a domestic violence situation cannot just “call the police” when her black male partner beats her because of the complex relationship that black people have with the police and because there is a high likelihood that the partner may end up dead at the hands of the cops.

I also pointed out the masculinist white men who use their privilege to do real harm, like the guys who say the only way to end rape is to legalize it or those who state that white women are out to bring white males to extinction. These masculinists have huge followings and they are not as fringe as we think they are. So to attack a white male who uses his privilege to stand in support of women and who is not afraid to challenge a system that in essence he could easily benefit from, was to me absurd. Women such as myself have been looking for such allies, for the men who have the access to all male spaces that I will never have, to challenge the status quo that feeds and enables rape culture and all the other forms of violence against women, of which women of color suffer at disproportionate rates.

My post triggered a barrage of venomous statements directed at me from a colonial settler white woman with whom I have had a run in with before. That time it was over an article that Native Australian peoples (Aborigine) refused to send their kids to school because the teachings there contradicted the values that they were trying to instill in their kids. Her response on my wall was to tell me that I needed to do my research before I posted stuff that was misleading, that the Australian government had done all they could for these people and these people were ineducable and refused to be integrated into society and so on. Needless to say it did not end well because the phrase “these people”? No one in the right senses uses phrases like that on my wall and expects to get away with it. This “othering” triggers me big time.

Coming from a feminist who at some point saw herself as an ally and friend of mine, this ignorant and racist response shocked me. She lives in Australia and referred to disenfranchised Native Australians as “these people” and displayed a disconnect to the issues facing Native Australians that I found inexcusable. More so was the total blind spot that as a white woman of colonial descent who calls herself a feminist she should have recognized and acknowledged: the untold damage that colonization had done to Indigenous peoples all over the world and in her case Australia and South Africa, her original homeland which she left post- apartheid. This woman once asked me why black feminists won’t work with white feminists and I had no response for her at that time. Clearly my response outlining the issues that frustrate women of color where white feminists are concerned were things she was not prepared to hear.

The discussion ended with her stating that I had insulted her and had been racist towards her by my comments. I pointed out our previous encounters and the fact that while she was insisting that my male activist friend could “support” women but women should use their own voices, she runs a site where she writes about other women and their achievements and calls it giving voice to the voiceless. Every woman has a voice and every woman can tell her own story. But to write the stories and get credit for them is appropriation and to profit from those stories and give nothing back is criminal. She even put a link to her site in that conversation thread a shameless self- promotion plug to the over 4,000 followers that he has. She once asked if she could write my story, and I told her that I could write my own story. This marked the beginning of the end of that friendship.

The conversation ended with her deleting her racist rants but a friend took screenshots. She also wrote to our mutual friend that I was a radical black feminist and this was not to her liking! Not to her liking.

2-26-15_BlogPost_1

Well honestly I feel honored to be called a Radical Black Feminist (RBF) and I know that coming from that camp it is no compliment but I receive it as such, and certainly not something I would ever have dared to call myself. Radical black feminists are: Aissata Shakur, Angela Davis, Patricia McFadden, mama Isatou Toure, mama Leymah Gbowee, Betty Abah and the many beautiful black women who have laid down their bodies, minds and souls on the frontline for the upliftment of women of ALL colors and for social change. Women whose bones and blood pave the streets that we walk on today. Liberation sheroes like Nehanda of Zimbabwe, Nzinga of Angola and Harriet Tubman of the USA. Women like Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison whose pens are sharper than swords and those whose voices reverberate throughout history. All the young back women who struggle daily to make something of their lives bent over by the burdens that someone else has decided they should carry, these are radical black feminists. So I bow humbly and accept my new title of Radical black feminist and I say A(wo)men full of aspiration that this new mantle I wear, I will continue to grow into on a daily basis.

The irony that was totally lost on her in all of this is that as a radical black feminist I sisternize with progressive white male feminists….strange world but this is revolutionary yes?

If I am called a radical black feminist because I call out white privilege and male privilege then so be it. If being a radical black feminist is due to the fact that I speak out against a white patriarchal structure that has done untold damage to indigenous peoples across this entire planet then yes, I am that. If calling out white feminists women who operate in patriarchal ways and are dismissive of the concerns of women of color makes me a Radical Black Feminist then yes I am. If refusing to pander to their racist, egotistical, narcissistic, saviorism makes me a radical black feminist then yes, I am. If being a RBF is standing up for LGBTQI rights, condemning Islamophobia, tribalism, classism and all the other divisive -isms, then yes I am. If condemning hatred and the perpetuation of cycles of poverty by governments all over the world makes me a radical black feminist, then yes I am.

If calling out the NGO industrial complex and exposing the nefarious agendas of many “do gooders” in places like Africa makes me a RBF then yes I am. If I call the current scramble for Africa’s natural resources by western and eastern countries neocolonialism and am called radical, that is ok. If my insistence that I be respected, that I am given space to BE, that I demand to use my own voice to tell my story, that I resist any attempts by anyone to eclipse my light, or slow my steps or chart my path or dictate my style, my size or my hairdo, if the fact that I refuse for anyone to make my story about them makes me a radical black feminist then yes I am.

If my refusal to tolerate condescending, patronizing and ignorant commentary that perpetuates negative stereotypes of people of color and other marginalized peoples in my physical and online space makes me a radical black feminist, then yes I am. If by telling you to be quiet and just LISTEN not with your physical ears with the intention of responding, but with the ears of your heart with the intention of understanding, I am a radical black feminist, yes I am. If my desire for all of us to engage in the difficult, controversial and at times painful work to acknowledge one another’s struggles means that I will be in your face again and again until you SEE me, makes me a radical black feminist then yes I am. If I insist on interactions based on authenticity and mutual respect and that makes me a Radical Black Feminist then YES- YES- YES, I AM A RADICAL BLACK FEMINIST.

Barbara Mhangami (RBF).

 

About the Author:

Barbara Mhangami-RuwendeBarbara Mhangami-Ruwende is a scholar practitioner in public health with a focus on minority women’s sexual and reproductive health residing in The United States. She is originally from Zimbabwe. She is the founder of the Africa Research Foundation for the Safety of Women (ARFSW) and a member of Rotary International. She holds degrees from University of Glasgow, Scotland, Walden University and attended the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a writer published in the short story anthology Where to Now by AmaBooks Publishers, Zimbabwe, on Storytime online literary journal, on Her Zimbabwe feminist website, in the anthology of short stories, Still by Negative Press, London, in the Journal of African Writing, 2014, and in the annual short story Anthology, African Roar, 2013 and in the Caine Prize Anthology 2014, the Gonjon Pin and Other Stories by New Internationalist. Her poetry has been published in the anthology Muse for Women, 2013 and African Drum by Diaspora Publishers, 2013. She is a Hedgebrook (Women Authoring Change) Alumna currently working on her first novel.

 

 


Support Equal Voice and Women Authoring Change by donating to Hedgebrook today!

 

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

6 Comments

  • Deborah Davis
    8:55 PM - 26 February, 2015

    Wonderful piece, Barbara! Thank you.

    • barbara
      2:57 PM - 27 February, 2015

      Thank you Deborah.

  • Blair Robertson
    10:18 PM - 26 February, 2015

    Barbara, this is one of the best pieces of writing on this topic I’ve ever read. You are a true inspiration and teacher. I’m familiar with the thread to which you refer, and you are so right on about it. I was, at the time, failing to see the big picture, and you spoke from within the big picture. I am honored and proud to consider myself your student and friend.

    • Barbara
      3:00 PM - 27 February, 2015

      Humbled Blair. We are here to teach one another so we can bridge the chasms that threaten to keep us apart and therefore not able to build a true sisterhood. Thank you for “showing up”.

  • Carol Jean Gallo
    7:17 PM - 1 March, 2015

    Inspiring piece, dada! Thank you!

    • barbara
      2:18 PM - 3 March, 2015

      Asante sana dada wangu. nakupenda mpenzi Carol <3!

Leave a Comment