Monday, November 8, 2010

Womanism, Women and the World

I started out being a feminist.  I learned very early in life that sexism greatly affected how people chose to interact with me and the limits that I was given.  As I searched for answers, feminism felt like a natural fit, but the more that I explored, the more that I realized that though gender is a site of oppression for me, my race complicated my interaction in feminist spheres.  I could not forget for one moment that as a Black woman I faced unique challenges that feminism seemed determine to ignore, or cheapen when it did bother to address them.  Though I found the works of feminists like bell hooks to be fascinating and affirming, in the end, it was not enough to heal the chasm that White feminists had created with their absolute desire to maintain their privilege. Once again I found myself searching for a label that would best describe my desire to work for change and properly support my political beliefs.  Africanna Womanism is a natural fit for me.

Over time I came to know more women that identified as womanists and not all of them have been Black.  I have also seen the backlash aimed at these women for choosing to identify as womanist by those who seek to keep a womanist identity as completely Black.  This is policing and privileging one group over another and it is no different than the White feminists who sought to exclude us from their organizing drives.  There can be no doubt that Black women face unique trials and that we have no institutional other, but that does not mean that race does not negatively effect the life chances of other women of colour.  Can we really afford to reduce racism to something White people do to Blacks, when it has become an institutional part of our communities, effecting every single Brown/Black and Asian woman on the planet?  Simply because the racism that other WOC experience manifests differently than when Black women are on the receiving end, does not make it any less soul destroying.

First Nations women are dying.  There are over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada alone.  Indigenous women are 5x more likely to die as a result of violence and 60% of the known perpetrators are White men.  Race and a history of colonialism very much effects the life chances of Indigenous Women.  Their presence in the media is minuscule, making the crimes against them that much more invisible.

Though Latina women are more visible in the media, (Note: preference is often given to those that pass as White) they are typically constructed are played as spicy hot women who breed like rabbits to attain legitimacy. They are often perceived socially as wanton sluts whose very wombs signify danger to White society, that is when they are not picking fruits, or working as maids. They exist to raise the children of White women but certainly not have any of their own to love and cherish. Think of the Latina women that you have seen in the media recently, what messages did their characters send you?

There is also the lie that Asian women are a special class who have completely been elevated to the status of honorary White women.  They are servile to a fault and desperate to correct so-called flaws, like their eyelids, which remind society that they are indeed Asian. The good Asian woman is a wilting lotus flower waiting for a White man to command her and the bad one is the evil dragon lady who refuses to fulfill her so-called natural submissive role.  Even who we call Asian is specifically designed to ignore those that are Brown creating yet another hierarchy within a group of marginalized women.

No matter where you go in the world, WOC must directly confront race and gender.  Even in countries like Japan, which is largely filled with indigenous people, western ideals (read:Whiteness) permeates the culture, creating false images of what constitutes desirable and acceptable. As long as one is outside of Whiteness, womanhood is complicated by race.  What does it mean given the pervasiveness of Whiteness to decide that the term WOC implies Black and that womanism is a movement meant to serve as a liberatory vehicle solely for Black women?  Are we not then employing the masters tools to recreate a hierarchy because it benefits us, even though the cost is a loss of solidarity with other WOC? 

We have been trained to distrust and abuse each other by Whiteness because such a division helps support White supremacy. We sin against one another, appropriating and shaming with will and determination, because we believe the lie that our elevation depends upon the cultural demise of another.  Hierarchy, hate, jealousy, fear -- this is what we have been taught -- and this is what we live. The blood that results is our own but we ignore the knife as it slides between our ribs and comes to rest in our breast, because what we truly need to kill, what we truly need to maim with our righteous rage remains ever illusive hidden behind the walls of so-called normalcy.  This is the evil of Whiteness; it divides even as it conquers.  It is the evil of patriarchy, because it teaches women to see each other as competition, even as it tell us that we are incompetent to pursue our life's aspirations.

I recognize that groups need private spaces where they can be free to discuss their various marginalizations, but if we place this kind of border on womanism, we risk recreating the very same conditions that have soured so many women on feminism.  WOC must incorporate all those who identify as non-White and womanism must be our activist arm, which we reify to fight for the justice that has been so long denied.  There are always going to be those that seek to fight the battle on behalf of patriarchy and Whiteness and we must not aid them in this mission by creating more walls, more barriers -- that is the job of the oppressor.