"I’m not sure when or why I separated my black identity/reality from my feminist ideals, and when they became separate things. I think that the feminist movement is so dominated by white women and the experience of especially middle class white women, that I forget that I exist, saddled with further battles to climb"
It was only a few months ago I made it to my first Black Feminist meeting. When we finished exchanging pleasantries and sat down with the other seven women, I realised that I had never sat with so many black women before in my life, let alone black feminists. I was almost 25. Having attended marches, festivals, protests and activists meetings, it was a proper moment for me. An – “OH. Oh god.” moment. A moment where I realised that I had separated my blackness from my feminism with such clear lines it scared me.
The only other time I’m in a room with other black women is when I’m with my family. Brilliant, funny, inspirational women who I’ve taken a lot from, but not feminists. When I’m with them, I’m a black woman, and my queer, femme, feminist identity is stuffed inside my messenger bag.
I’m not sure when or why I separated my black identity/reality from my feminist ideals, and when they became separate things. I think that the feminist movement is so dominated by white women and the experience of especially middle class white women, that I forget that I exist, saddled with further battles to climb. When activists campaign on fairer working conditions for women, the white woman’s struggle comes front and centre. But it’s important to note this obscures other people’s challenges. Because it has been reported that, while the unemployment rate for white women in 2011 was 6.8%, the unemployment rate for black women was 17.7% and Pakistani/Bangladeshi women was 20.5%. Trans* women also face huge difficulties in the workplace – a 2007 Trans Research Review survey has found that 29% of trans* people who responded received verbal and physical abuse where they work (see page 67 of the report). When you start to look into the facts gathered, the feminist struggle is often perceived as the white women’s struggle, and the white women’s struggle is not the same fight all self defining women have to go through. Perhaps it’s this alienation that can push marginalised women away and make them feel invisible.
I can’t say for sure, because I do not speak for all marginalised women. And yet – it’s a question I’ve been asked repeatedly in the past – people asking me why black people are missing from politics lectures, in the arts, protests, music festivals (though this is changing, slowly) etc. I figure if you’re asking me you’re already way off course and I couldn’t “help” you even if I wanted to. I don’t know enough black women to save your half hearted crusade in the first place!
What I have realised is that I have split my queer / black / feminist aspects of me into disparate geographies. I think I did it because I thought I’d be protecting myself. The scale of microaggressions, patronisation, questioning, scrutinising I have experienced on every aspect of my identity has set me on a hair trigger for the next attack. I guess when under siege, you want to cut yourself off and keep yourself safe. But it’s left me feeling lonely amongst friends, because I’m scared that all of me all at once is too much and certain parts will be made invisible to fit in with everyone else. This unfair thought made me very angry with myself in the past. It’s the kind of thought that convinces you have nothing to say and no way to back it up.
But now, I’m beginning to realise that I’m already here, present, in the world. If only in my fat body and bright clothes, I will take up time, space and bus seats. No matter what I do, I am perceived in this world already, judgements formed, unable to hide. As Audre Lorde says in A Litany for Survival:
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
What this means to me is that my existence is a revolutionary act. My presence in the world provides a different viewpoint that can challenge others, and all the power inherent within that different voice. This is awesome.
So when I introduce myself as a queer black fat femme feminist, I cannot present myself in any lesser way. I’ve been questioned by others on this (mostly white men, unfortunately) that it’s a bit much, that I’m putting myself into boxes when I’m just human. My sensible, adult response to that is “fuck off”! I refuse cut myself into smaller parts to fit any longer. It is as damning and extreme as I make that last sentence sound. When I’m in intersectional spaces, my heart glows. I gain something I didn’t realise was missing; of which its absence had hurt me so much and caused so much damage.
I cannot give you an academic, infographic blow by blow demonstrating the point where queer self defining women suffer because of their colour, gender or sexuality. I would like to be that person right now, but I’m not. I’ve decided not to beat myself up about it because my voice is still valid, present, true and potent. All these things in the end matter more than so-called common sense authority that I’m supposed to be striving for.
Colour wheel made up of merging oval shapes against a black background, creating a flower-like appearance. The colours are red, green, blue, yellow, Cyan (mix of green and blue) and Magenta (mix of red and blue). The Wikimedia Commons page for this image also describes four seasonal solid colour undertones. By Chris.urs o, shared under a creative commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.