Race Matters

Coming out as a Black Feminist

I started identifying as a feminist two years ago, when I began studying for my A-Levels in college. In secondary school, I was weary of claiming the feminist title, I was worried that I would be stigmatised and wasn't ready for that battle.

I had been exposed to mainstream ideas on feminism, and popular 'truths' about feminists being lesbians, hating men or the most laughable of all, not wearing bras. It was only when I studied Sociology at A-Level that I came to know the feminist ideologies that the media makes a mockery off.

I began learning about activists and writers such as Sojourner Truth, bell hooks and Harriet Tubman, who left a tremendous imprint on the world of black feminism. I came to a better understanding on how destructive patriarchy was for both women and men. Most importantly, I came to accept myself as a feminist.

As a black woman, it is incredibly important to me that race factors are highlighted within the feminist discourse. Feminism is seen as something for white middle class women, who categorise all women’s problem under the same umbrella. The lack of racial discourse in mainstream feminism is alienating and excludes women of colour.

The acknowledgment that the oppressions women face are different because of the contrasting life experiences led to the rise of intersectional feminism. This is the understanding that class, race and gender are interconnected and create different experiences for women.

Being a black intersectional feminist is an important part of my identity and I wear with pride. Patriarchy and racism are oppressive systems that affect me and the way people see me within society. The hypersexuality of both black men and women has led to increased fetishisation, which allows most people to view us as property. Black women’s bodies has especially been cast as the phenotype that deserves lust, harassment and clowning (see: Sara Baartman) to the extent that we are indirectly told that we somehow deserve sexual assaults because of our bodies.

One of my favorite Nigerian authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, did a Ted Talk where she outlined the pressure women have to "compete with each other for the attention of men" rather than for job prospects or climbing up the social ladder. Patriarchy dictates to women that they aren't 'whole' without marriage or children but a man is still a man without all those things.   Hearing Chimamanda speak on these matters was especially important to me as a Nigerian because I am aware of the plague of patriarchy over there.

'Coming out' as a black feminist meant me accepting that there’s a problem in society, and claiming this sisterhood, together with our male allies, would help push forward to fix it. As important as it is to challenge patriarchy for women, we must also do so for men. We must critically discuss how problematic the pressure on men put in place as the 'natural' breadwinner and that not doing so 'emasculates' the man or makes him less of a man. We must also break down the false idea that in order to be a man, emotion must not be shown; that tears should not fall from a man’s eyes. We must recognise that men are emotional beings that are allowed to feel anything and everything. bell hooks scintillating book, We real cool: black men and masculinity, perfectly sketches out how patriarchy affects men negatively. Intersectional feminism looks at all of this from a holistic approach and that is why i am a black feminist. We have to shun the white washed portrayal of feminism in order to wear our own title with pride.

Find Chinyere on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Flickr/ Javier Sánchez

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