Sunday, May 16, 2010

i have never taken a “women’s studies” class.


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via Freedom Fighter by aliciasanchezgill on 5/16/10

but I am a woman. a black woman. a boricua. a queer woman. and I know in my heart my need to fight for, love with, stand with and be in solidarity with other women. some might call this feminism. and after years of reading books, working at rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters and going back to school for my master's in social work, I will call it feminism too.  in thinking about feminism, I was brought back to the moment when I read the combahee river collective statement. that ah-hah moment of head nodding and recognition. that moment of gratefulness in knowing. in feeling less alone.

Above all else, Our politics initially sprang from the shared belief that Black women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else's may because of our need as human persons for autonomy. This may seem so obvious as to sound simplistic, but it is apparent that no other ostensibly progressive movement has ever considered our specific oppression as a priority or worked seriously for the ending of that oppression. Merely naming the pejorative stereotypes attributed to Black women (e.g. mammy, matriarch, Sapphire, whore, bulldagger), let alone cataloguing the cruel, often murderous, treatment we receive, Indicates how little value has been placed upon our lives during four centuries of bondage in the Western hemisphere.

I have been thinking about how i came to feminism (strongly) without a classroom in a desire to make sense of my own life. my undergraduate degree is in classical voice performance. i was not particularly political around "women's" issues in college, except the lgbt student union and the occasional howard university rally/march. but the more work i did in my community, the more i became obsessed with trying to understand and name the dynamics i was experiencing.

and today, i think more and more about ways to engage young women and women of color in movements that have left us out for so long. and those women who have feminist values without using the label- a label that for many, just doesn't connect to many brown, poor, women. and the ways in which women who don't have access to the same resources (education) as we do, can interpret their own feminism. even when it doesn't look the way some folks might expect it to.

The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two, but instead to address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess anyone of these types of privilege have.

in particular I am thinking about my little sister. and for that matter, all of our little sisters. and aunts, and play cousins. the ones who didn't sit in classrooms to learn the theory of oppression. the ones who have dealt with their oppression, and been aware of it for years, the ones who fought back, and the ones who were just too tired to fight. the ones who felt like they were going crazy, drowning in a world that didn't want them to survive or believe in their ability to be whole. women who might not be "good feminists" in the academic sense of the word, who didn't go to college, or read bell hooks, or women who are using drugs, or women engaged in sex-work. those women we don't see on our shiny feminist blogs, and magazines. i posted the same comment on my facebook page and got some amazing insight, and discussion and ideas, especially from my friend courtney, who shared this quote with me:

By deconstructing the concept "woman," [Sojourner] Truth proved herself to be a formidable intellectual. And yet Truth was a former slave who never learned to read or write. Examining the contributions of women like Sojourner Truth suggests that the concept of "intellectual" must itself be deconstructed. Not all Black women intellectuals are educated. Not all Black women intellectuals work in academia. Furthermore, not all highly educated Black women, especially those who are employed by U.S. colleges and universities are automatically intellectuals. U.S. Black women intellectuals are not a female segment of William E.B. Dubois' notion of the "talented tenth." One is neither born an intellectual nor does one become one by earning a degree. Rather, doing intellectual work of the sort envisioned within Black feminism requires a process of self-conscious struggle on behalf of Black women, regardless of the actual social location where that thought occurs. -Black Feminist Thought, edited by Patricia Hill Collins

I mean, I didn't always know I was feminist. it wasn't a word that we used in my house, schools, church. I knew I was brave. im a survivor. I knew I could survive. I knew how to do that. I knew that what was happening around me was not ok. I knew that the double standards I was experiencing felt unfair. I didn't know I was feminist. but I always questioned. I questioned everything. much to my mother's dismay. I wanted to understand why I had to sit through getting my hair straightened for easter, when we both knew I was going to go outside, and play, and my hair would be right back where it started- a bushy curly mess of hair, ponytails awry, sideways, frizzy and sweaty. the only explanation she could give me was because it was prettier. as if my natural hair wasn't pretty enough. enter the interconnections of racism and sexism.

but feminism gave me context. gave me the language I could use to describe my experience. it gave me perspective. it made me realize that I wasn't alone. that what I was experiencing was not a figment of my over-active imagination, but real social constructs happening right now. every time I breathe.

Black feminists often talk about their feelings of craziness before becoming conscious of the concepts of sexual politics, patriarchal rule, and most importantly, feminism, the political analysis and practice that we women use to struggle against our oppression. The fact that racial politics and indeed racism are pervasive factors in our lives did not allow us, and still does not allow most Black women, to look more deeply into our own experiences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a politics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression.

claiming my feminism gives me solidarity. having the space to share, read, create, and do collective work is fabulous. and in moving back and forth between direct service work, volunteer work, organizing work, where i am working in collaboration with folks that have very different (but many times, very similar) life experiences, and women who dropped out of high school, and taking that back to academia, it feels like an incredible privilege. watching women who are making sense of their rapes, and understanding their rape in larger social constructs brings realness and healing into what would otherwise be just theories about our lives.

We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.

but, if "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" (audre lorde) how do we continue to build solidarity with other women, especially other women of color, and what do we use to understand our collective, yet varying experiences? how do we do that outside classrooms, yet continue to inform policy, and research?


Things you can do from here:


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