(Note: This version of my article is also published on my blog & available on my website www.oritvibes.com )
If I wasn’t 100% at home with the label Womanist, I simply wouldn’t apply it to my BLACKNESS! Labels… Ugh! I only use them to define what already exists within me, not to gain faux accolades or activate unneeded power plays for prestige… To perhaps find my kin folk, similar thinkers… My tribe. Further freedom for others and myself? Maybe. In any case, I am not a slave to any label, and if you observe me decidedly using one, it is solely for explaining my personal narrative… Nothing more, nothing less. Labels are not always a must to explain authenticity as it relates to self, but they are helpful in explaining things for people to understand… Important communication tools in building bridges, if you want others to make that trek, that is.
You see, I was missing something for so long from mainstream feminism, and I really wanted to ignore that emptiness… But it was gnawing at me. Mainstream feminism as it stands today, is steeped in white women fables and tall tales of inclusion of all women, whilst categorically ignoring every issue, that white privilege is privileged to allude. Revisionist history, that again, as with many things in this life, puts them( white women) as the originators and great fighters of all of us “incapable colored ones.” White Feminism is anti-patriarchal, yet dead set on replicating the same type of hierarchy in all women spaces, that both oppresses and silences Black Women and other Women of Color.
Black Women who were, and still are, the personification of strength and resiliency; standing up for Women’s Rights and Black People as a whole… Doing so in the pursuit for more equality and more freedom… Yes, it is Black Women who have also set the example for many white suffragettes and modern day feminists of today… Long before these white suffragette movements thought about forming, and pushing a way for their rights to manifest. Black Women were, by instinct and forced obligation, showcasing to white women, the possibility of pushing through anything, and creating greatness out of nothing.
Many white women learned strength from watching Black Women be everything to everyone, in the midst of harsh systematic racist oppression. An oppression that gave privilege to their whiteness, positioning them as benefactors and dependents; thereby protectors of the continuance of white supremacy at large.
White suffragettes desire for voting rights, and equal treatment to white men, were grossly using their status as white, to debase and ignore Black Women desiring to stand in solidarity with them… Black Women who were working towards not only suffrage, but also working toward freedom from racism and sexism. Yes, Black Suffragettes were treated with vicious racism and cast aside by middle class white suffragettes; many of whom were ironically self-proclaimed abolitionists.
See, a good number of white people were against slavery, but they didn’t want Black People to be equal with them, and the thought that Black Men might get the vote before white women; this caused their real feelings about Black People to lay bare… That’s the real tea! This same bigoted spirit is abounding amongst too many of their descendants, white feminists… Always spinning these blatant lies that say, “we’re all in this together.”
“The white men, reinforced by the educated white women, could ‘snow under’ the Negro vote in every State, and the white race would maintain its supremacy without corrupting or intimidating the Negroes. ~ Laura Clay (Founder of Kentucky’s 1st Suffragette Movement)
When white feminists call out the names of their racist suffragette ancestors with glee… Names like Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Laura Clay… Demanding that I, and my beautiful Black Sisters pour out their bottles of white tears as libation with them… I become enraged, and I do not want any parts of the charade. White women of the past and present, too many in fact, are continually and unapologetically denying the truth of Black Women and other Women of Color, and the reality of our issues that have many intersections. Oppressive systematic racism creates hierarchy; not all women are equally oppressed, and white women have the most privilege of all! For white feminists, men are the big nemesis… For a Black Woman like me, white men and women are equally oppressive… Then add in my gender, my non mainstream spirituality, my not so clear cut fluid or stationary sexual nature… It’s a lot!
There is a pressure in feminist circles to make Black Women water down, and sometimes completely drown out our BLACKNESS, in order to be a part of their mirage… To prove we believe that women’s rights are important, and our denial of our truths, and the overuse of our ingenuity, acceptable sacrifice for the good of ALL women. We’re all equally oppressed, right? Wrong!
I use to think to myself, I could just call myself a Black Feminist to carve out intentional and thoughtful space, in these heavily european centered mainstream feminist movings. A self-determination that many amazing Black Women have made, whilst affecting so much change and legacy, though mostly recognized to capacity among our own people. It seems white feminists have a way of dwindling the greatness of those undeniable giants, to fit their feats in a light that downcasts their BLACKNESS… To translate the truths and power of great Black Women Feminists into the language of a lesser god… Whiteness.
Black Feminist theory is a part of me… My Womanism overlaps with it in so many ways, though I see distinctions. I love and respect Black Feminism, but that title doesn’t seem to be a sure fit for me… Something still missing. Yet and still, I need accuracy… If I have to explain myself in terminology, I want it to be as close to my inward reality as possible!
It was/is the unapologetic disregard of white women in feminists spaces, that first alerted my soul, that my LOVE couldn’t be steady within its illusionary walls. Spaces steeped in erasure of people like me… A Black Woman who has systematic racist oppression to be concerned about, every moment of every day. For me and my entire community: Women, Men, Teens, Children… Feminine, Masculine, Non-Identifying, Combination Energies… Straight, Fluid, LGBTQIA, No Label … Old, Young, Middle Aged, Ageless… All of us dipped in this beautiful BLACKNESS, our intersections, and our cadences.
I become alive in the words of Alice Walker who coined the term Womanism and defined it extensively… Being Womanish. In short, Alice Walker beautifully describes a woman centered sphere of choice and rights, where Black Women reject patriarchy and center our issues within the framework of the entire Black Community. It’s a state of woman centered living that is not steeped in european framework, because we have our own… Our narrative, our needs, our desires have safe haven and sacred tabernacle in Womanism.
Womanism has a warmth and healing feel to it, because it promotes healing of the entire African Diaspora and Continent. Women’s issues, dismantling patriarchy, having women and our unparalleled power at the center of the entire community; whilst balancing, and in many cases initiating, our rightful place as equal with men… All of this is central in Womanism. More than just an internal heart position, but a community heartbeat that puts us all in position, through the proper centering of SHE/HER.
When I first became aware of Alice Walkers definition of Womanism, I exhaled… I loved it deeply! Womanism was and still is, more like ME… A label that properly defines my intrinsic nature; beautifully complimenting my understanding of having ORIGINAL running through my veins… Connecting me to SOURCE, and our shared truths as nuanced African People(s)… Our triumphs, and our woes.
As a freedom fighter, Creative, and Healer… A person who sees myself not only as interconnected with other Black Women and our issues, but with our entire community as well. Womanist is me, I am a womanist! Womanism is a way of life, an inclination from Spirit, that understands that no one will take care of us and chart our way properly, but us. It requires me to respond, and dedicate myself to making sure, more of that process happens in my lifetime… That’s Womanish! That’s exactly what it is!
There have been several great Black Women who have added critical theory to what Womanism is, like the great Lenora Hudson-Weems (USA) or Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi (Nigeria)… Both adding imperative dimensions and levels of understanding, colors and dimensions. I am so grateful for these elder-warrioresses, I honor their breaths. However, I do not agree with all they have concluded on every aspect of their similar, yet distinct interpretations of Womanism.
For example, Dr. Weems seems to feel that we, as womanist’s, must put our BLACKNESS before our Womanhood. I disagree on this point, because my people need me to be a whole Black Woman… My womanhood will heal my people, and working to dismantle patriarchy in me and my community; furthers us all together… My BLACKNESS cannot be separated from my feminine, because both are part of my divinity; therefore it is out of place to even suggest I honor one above the other….They are one with me.
What I love about Dr. Weems and Chikwenye Ogunyemi’s womanism theories, is the emphasis they put on the interconnected global African aspect, and the cooperative economics and responsibility needed amongst us. I often say that white supremacy is interconnected globally, therefore our unification as African Peoples, could better dismantle this oppressive system in lasting ways. Womanism, or Africana Womanism in their specific case, really emphasizes casting off selfishness through seeing yourself as each other. To me Womanism is the bolder shade of Black Feminism… As Alice Walker said: “ Womanism is to Feminism, as Purple is to lavender.”
So, how does Womanism, which seems more exclusive than Black Feminism, help the pulse of the world? Don’t we want all people to have freedom and be equal? Well, this is my perspective… Black People are the original drum cadence, and oppression has thrown our rhythm off. Everyone in the world relies on hearing our cadence, to sync theirs to ours, because their cadence has our basic structure. The whole world mimics what we do, even though it isn’t always at the right intervals, speed, timbre. The more we can break free of the oppression placed upon us and that now is embedded in our DNA, the more the entire vibration of the planet will synch and become more steady… A steady and harmonious om. Have you ever heard the phrase “Take care of home first?” Well that is the heartbeat of the Womanist… A Womanist wants harmony and healing for her people, and realizes that aiding in that happening, means good things for the entire planet.
Patriarchy, sexism, and every other oppressive behavior that Black Women face from Black Men, must be dismantled in order for us to thrive together. Womanism, in my minds eye, takes the stance of re-building our culture holistically, which includes the dismantling of patriarchy and fuck-boyisms. It is not something we can wait to correct when “racism ends.” No, we must correct it now, and every time it shows up… Until we can get closer to our original and untampered cadence. We must do all of this labor of love in the mindset of community, and how the individual is connected to the community; making sure SHE/HER becoming whole is centered and honored as top priority. I want to be the best woman I can be as I glow in this BLACKNESS… Free, open, holy, profane, giving, strong, vulnerable… Not just for me, but for my people as well.
I understand that those who choose to label as Black Feminist; this is very important to them… Just as Womanist is my accurate descriptor; thereby very important to me. I appreciate those who identify as Black Feminist, because they are purposely setting up the stones of remembrance in mainstream feminist spaces. Black Women have always, and still are contributing greatly, to all the things that they think they made up on their own.
White women learned strength from watching Black Women carry on, take care of them, work on their plantations, nurse their children… Black Women are their Womanist & Feminist Shero’s, whether they want to admit it or not. So sis, you who identify as a Black Feminist, I support and love you! If you are propelling our people forward and toward freedom, then that is all that matters! We all have to work according to what has been placed in us, and we all have a job/calling to do on this side of life. Words… Labels… Ugh! What matters most is truth, heart, intention, and how we act on all three. Define yourself as you will, but as for me…
I am Womanist.
ORIT © 2016