By Guest Contributor Luam Kidane
as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of international women’s day i am reminded of a spoken wisdom in Tigrinya, my first language, which when written reads dance, dance but don’t forget your responsibility.
it is in this spirit that i offer my words.
as i participate in my graduate classes, organizational meetings and certain activist spaces my body feels what i theoretically know to be true – the battle cries of womyn of colour continue to only be heard if they remain in the margins – to be exoticized and then discarded.
this may seem disorienting considering that these spaces are often quick to announce themselves feminist.
if we consider the journey that feminism has taken we might find orientation by understanding that the foundations of mainstream feminist thought formations were informed by imperial and colonial viewpoints. historically the women’s movement in the global north has been designated as a building space firstly for white, upwardly mobile, heterosexual women. if womyn of colour were included in the discourse it was only to relegate us to in between spaces.
caught between white supremacy and patriarchy, we survived.
then came the waves of feminism.
it is said that with each wave more of us were included in the movement but was the movement becoming less white-centric?
construction doesn’t always signify healing.
whiteness was still the bottom line narrative on which the mainstream global north feminist struggle was being built on. numbering waves did not change this.
prompted by love and rebellion womyn of colour expressed their refusal to engage a women’s movement that necessitated their subjugation in order to articulate itself.
situated in the margins womyn of colour were perceived to be safe. our elders, the very ones discarded by their white comrades, were no longer attempting to break down the doors which had kept them out for so long. they were building new doors. the margins were transformed.
destruction doesn’t always equal ruin.
he calls to action rang out- reverberating from the front lines to the home- feminism is not synonymous with whiteness. we have for far too long been the backbone of resistance movements while simultaneously being marginalized. we are not tokens to be used when a space/protest/panel needs to fulfill its diversity quota.
we are warriors.
we are organizers.
we are caregivers.
we are in and of the front lines.
we are womyn of colour in the most militant tradition of our ancestors.
we are ancestral beauty in the flesh.
our elders insisted and we continue to insist that our comrades in the struggle heed our calls to action.
so how then can we, learning from our past, interrupt and de-center the colonial and imperial trajectory of early feminist thought formations?
first we need to recognize that the mainstream global north women’s movement perceived itself as global simply because it included womyn of colour. it failed to consider that the points of intersection between womyn of colour and white womyn were defined while not recognizing the diversity of ideas surrounding feminisms. womyn of colour were not given the space to determine their own role in the struggle. in this sense the points of intersection, though they did and do exist, are not arrived at through an equal distribution of power.
convergence of ideas does not necessarily create a convergence of proposed actions.
unequal power distribution is not only confined to the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor but also exists within the intersectionality that creates solidarity movements among and with oppressed peoples. if we are going to attempt the building of a global solidarity movement this does not absolve us from the responsibility of analyzing the power dynamics within solidarity movements themselves and determining their potential effects.
so as our agency as womyn of colour is continually being attacked (consider the recent brutal sexual assault of Sudanese activist Safia Ishaq or the recent racist anti-choice billboard ads in new york city**) i call on our comrades to fight alongside us, to act as allies, and to continually question the way they act on their politic.
on March 8th i will dance but i cannot forget the responsibility we continue to have in ensuring that the voices of all womyn in the struggle are not only heard but also honoured.