'You can't sit with us': Black women and feminism

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Over the years during my undergraduate degree, I have taken my fair share of women based courses, whether it pertained to the politics realm or within the African studies context. As much as I did not want to admit it, I deep down thought I was a feminist. I believed in the concept of equality amongst both males and females, and I genuinely enjoyed standing up for women’s rights. However, despite the variety of courses that I took surrounding woman and feminism, there always seemed to be one issue in common – that of which, each narrative or dialogue seems to exclude or ‘other’ woman whomever ‘they’ ( they in this context pertains to white women) felt did not belong to their narrative of feminist equality. What would any white women know about the experiences of being a black women in the west? and, for that matter, why would they even care?

The reality of the feminist movement was simple. It was originally built by affluent western white women for affluent western white women. The main goal of feminist was to challenge the notion of a white woman’s place within their society.

The choice to leave our the narratives of coloured women during the founding stages of feminism was a cautious one. They could careless about telling the story of any coloured woman simply because the reality was nobody else truly cared. With that being said, my overall perception of feminism changed. I started to graviate towards the ‘no labels, ‘I just like everyone’ team. As I began to learn more and read more, I became familiar with the concept of black feminism. And, that concept was quite peculiar for me. I was never been able to truly grasp how the African narratives fits into the feminist concept. The initial feminist umbrella seemed to have created a certain limitation that essentially excludes Africans out of the overall dialogue. So, my question to you is: How do African feminist fit into the feminist dialogue?

I can understand why African women feel the need to participate within feminism dialogues, as a whole, it does have an appeal to every sort of women. Women almost everywhere, for example, could get on board the whole “equality” train, or even unite to deal with the anti oppression aspects of feminism, however for me, I could never label myself as a total feminist simply because of three key issues:

1. Traditional western feminist rights emerge from individualism within the context of their societies. Many western feminist fail to comprehend the fact that African women do not feel the same urgency or need to be liberated from their traditional gender roles.

2. The second issue, I find with Western Feminism is that understanding of equality. In the western realm, equality solely implies to the issues surrounding “what a man can do vs. what a woman can’t do”. That particular ideology is not one relatable to African women.

3. White feminism forced African women outside of the traditional gender roles due to racist limitation of which these feminist attempted to liberate themselves from. African women do not and will not belong within the framework of western feminism.

The reality is that African feminist do not and will not fit into the western context of feminism as it is a middle/upper-class white female phenomenon. Western feminism focuses on promoting unrealistic gender equalism for women who have traditional enjoyed a pampered, and privileged life, whereas African women do not come from the same conditions. How can one fit Africans into the framework of feminism in the west? The reality is that we do not. We must make sub-branch or alternative forms to address our issues in society, but fundamentally feminism will not and does not embrace us.

In the words of novelist Chimamanda Adichie, who managed to sum up my own understanding of women’s rights:

“…being a feminist is about more than outrage; it is about being a woman who likes and stands up for other women.”

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