Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Black Feminism and its Haters

so...my friend Fabian, who i've had many conversations with, is in the habit of criticizing black feminism, so much so that he has felt the need to write a short essay detailing his issues with the movement. i'll show his paper and then my response to it:

Mattress: The cries of captured women in their enslaver’s house

"Bokùnrin réjo bobìnrin pa á, kéjo má sa ti lo" (If a man sees a snake and a woman kills it, what matters is the death of the snake). -Yoruba proverb

"Tokotobo lo n sise oko Ido." (Both the vagina and the penis should work together for success on Idos farm) -Yoruba proverb

"Nwa-agbogho Ugwuta si nne ya na otu nwoke ka ya na-agara onwe ya, o wee tuburu ya raa. Nne ya wee si ya gaa rakwuru. O gaa, a rachie ya ozo." (An Ugwuta (Oguta) girl told her mother that as she was going on her way,a man came and thew her down and sexed her. Her mother told her to go and retaliate. She went, and was sexed again.) -Igbo proverb

"Anaghi atu ikpu ukwu egwu maka na o bughi ya gaara ownwe ya." (One cannot be afraid of the wide vagina because it cannot sex itself). -Igbo Proverb

“The African woman seems to have achieved that economic independence for which our women are clamoring”. -Mary French-Sheldon

Feminism and its short comings have already been explored by people such as Esther Vilar and Jack Kammer. This paper will not continue on that journey because beating on a dead horse is not our interest; however this paper will explore the oxymoron known as “black feminism”. This paper will highlight some myopic tendencies of the “black feminist” movement. It will also shed light on black heroines of the past who had no need for any sort of feminism and it will hopefully give black women the tools needed to create a true movement based on their history.

Many African women especially those in America (where the headquarters of black feminism seems to be located) are under the false oppression that they are oppressed by all of society and at the head of this oppression gang are black men. Let us not forget that in America more African women attend college and university than African men do. (link here), the fact still remains that African men die on average much earlier than African women. (link here), and African women not only earn more income compared to African men, (link here). They are more likely to be employed than African men (even in this “recession”) (link here). So it is very confusing that African women would identify with such a movement.

To label one a Black “feminist” is detrimental towards history. Because by calling themselves feminists legitimate concerns especially those regarding “race” get usurped by gender issues that black women cant possibly face from their economically powerless African men. When Fela Kuti called his music “Afrobeat” he was following the ancient African custom of placing importance on names. He could have simply called his music “Afrofunkjazz” but by doing such he would have ended up as a footnote in jazz’s or Funk’s history. Such is the fate of black feminists who will inevitably become footnotes in the history of the feminist movement.

African women do however need a movement to educate their black men and sons of their historical importance and power that they wielded before all the isms of Europe. Take for example the issue of sexism within the black panthers movement, most of the women were only allowed cooking and clerical roles. Many of the men were probably ignorant of the fact that African women historically shared the burden of the battle field with their men, the Candace’s of Ethiopia, the aba women of 1912 and the Amazons of dahomey are fine examples of black women wanting to be more than baby pushers and meal makers unlike their European counterparts whose only example of battlefield prowess (Joan of arc) was burned.

Historically speaking African women had no need for “ feminism” women such as Queen Nanny of Jamaica, and Queen Nzingha of Angola would more than likely laugh at modern day African women who are hell bent on copying the supposed “patriarchy”, (Chinweizu has already shown the matriarchy that it truly is in his book titled “ The anatomy of female power) how is it that black women who historically controlled the marketplace( they still do in America if one is to look at the fact that more African women work than African men) ever faced gender oppression from black men. Bell Hooks in many of her analyses has shown us that capitalism and “patriarchy” go hand in hand. My question is how can African men can be patriarchal when they have no capital to accumulate and they are more likely to be in jail than in school, (watch here) .Many black feminists should realize that the oppression they do face is not because of their gender but because of their race. The book “White Women’s Rights” by Louise Michelle Newman goes to great lengths in proving this point. Below is a discourse between Ida B Wells and white feminist Frances Willard found in her book.

The confrontation between Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells began with an interview

given in October 1890, in which Willard expressed her belief that white Southerners

were mostly “kindly intentioned towards the coloured man” and sympathized

with them over their “immeasurable” problem. She went on to portray black men as

illiterate alcoholics who multiplied like the “locusts of Egypt,” concurring that in the

South, black men represented a physical threat to white women, who were in constant

need of white men’s surveillance and protection: “the safety of [the white]

woman, of childhood, of the home,” Willard proclaimed, “is menaced in a thousand

localities at this moment, so that the [white] men dare not go beyond the sight of their

own roof-tree.”49

These pronouncements outraged Wells, and she exposed these depictions as racist

myths in her pamphlet Southern Horrors. Wells argued that accusations concerning black

men’s lack of sexual control were used to cover up the fact that interracial sexual liaisons

between black men and white women were voluntarily engaged in by white


“The miscegenation laws of the South . . . leave the white man free to seduce all

the colored girls he can, but it is death to the colored man who yields to the force and

advances of a similar attraction in white women. White men lynch the offending Afro-

American, not because he is a despoiler of virtue, but because he succumbs to the

smiles of white women.”50

Willard took great offense at this representation of the moral character of white

women, and attacked Wells for casting doubt on the racial-sexual purity of white

women. “It is my firm belief,” Willard wrote, “that in the statements made by Miss

Wells concerning white women having taken the initiative in nameless acts between

the races, she has put an imputation upon [the female] half of the white race . . .

that is unjust.” Wells, in turn, objected to this misrepresentation of her position, and

pointed out that she never put such an imputation on white women. All she had said

was that “colored men have been lynched for assault upon [white] women, when the

facts were plain that the relationship between the victim lynched and the alleged victim

of his assault was voluntary, clandestine, and illicit.”(1999, p.68-69) [from the book- White Women's Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States by Louise Michele Newman]

Why did Mrs. Wells not instantly jump on the bandwagon of gender? Why are more African women not taking her example even though in America your black sons are more likely to be in jail than white men, your black babies die more than white babies (here) such inadequacies will never be looked at because by joining the gender binaries of Europeans your pressing issues take a back seat.

The more black women copy the colonial economic system of the Europeans the more they will need feminism, the more they will see cultural practices such as polygamy as oppressive, because most African cultural customs are only oppressive when practiced under colonial and capitalist domination. Mary French-Sheldon an early feminist and traveler had this to say of African polygamy:

“A man accumulates more land or more cattle than his first wife can attend; he purchases

another wife, and so on. The wives are far from being jealous of each other; in

truth are delighted to welcome a new wife, and make great preparations for her. Each

wife has her own hut. . . . She has control of her own plantations, and has the

supreme right to her children. Her moral standard is exactly the same as her husband’s.”

The fact that a “feminist” could see it as a system that helped to alleviate housework and increase female autonomy and power is a testament to the myopia affecting black feminists. This same well traveled feminist even went ahead to state that she was never treated with more chivalry anywhere in the world than by the “oppressive sexist African man”

In summation the ancient Africans understood there is significance in a name and the fact that my African women have decided to name themselves after their oppressor’s movement is a problem. I hope they can use this paper to distance themselves from a movement that is nothing more than colonialism by feminine means and be motivated to create a new female movement based on African history and reality. We African men are not supposed to speak for women but we speak of them (as an elder reminded me) however as their son and brother I cannot help to see my mothers and sisters being misled into adopting a misguided system and not speaking up on it or as Fela speaks to African women in this song (here).


since i've began identifying with feminism, i've heard these sentiments quite often. especially from men of color. luckily, i don't see these as a challenge, i see them as an opportunity to strengthen my arguments and my commitment to the struggle.
from what i've gathered, the synopsis of black (colored) feminism from the eyes of men of color is....colored women joining forces with white women to villanize men of color and at as the more oppressed victims simultaneously denying or disregarding the oppression men of color experience. and that is aside from the stereotypes of feminists being lesbians hell bent on hating men and.... worshiping pussies or some craziness. and considering we've (most of us that identify with feminism) grown up in colonized countries, in which patriarchy runs deep, it is not a surprise that the voice against patriarchy is condemned.

for one, there is a misunderstanding of feminism altogether. black feminism, more so. feminism is simply a movement that aims to focus on the issues directly and indirectly impacting the lives of women. historically, this began as a white woman's movement, and not surprisingly, was not exempt from racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, capitalism, cissexism, etc. this is the issue many women and men of color have with aligning themselves with the movement, as my friend raised in his essay. why women of color who experience very different experiences from white women would align themselves with these women is a valid question. however, feminism for women of color, to my understanding, has very little in common with the white feminism of the 30's, headed by women such as Susan B. Anthony and Julia Ward Howe and later on women like Gloria Steinem. a major problem with people, particularly men, attempting to criticize feminism is that they simply do not know enough about it. picking up a Betty Friedan book for a college course and watching The Color Purple does not make you an expert or even knowledgeable on feminism enough to criticize it. after you've read some bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Angela Davis, and the like, maybe then we can have a constructive dialogue.

considering my friend looks to combat black feminism, i'll be speaking from that perspective, although it is closely connected (if not synonymous) with feminism of all women of color. black feminism looks to end racial, sexual, class, and gender inequalities (although the issues i mentioned earlier are recent additions). and while many feminists of color may have various paths they believe will result in equality, these are the main tenets of feminism. and the more and more i read authors like bell hooks and Toni Cade Bambara, the more i come to the understanding that patriarchy sometimes comes on the form of a woman, in the same way that oppression of colored people can also come from people of color. so, villanizing men is not our goal or means of gaining equality. women perpetuate patriarchy and sometimes even misogyny just as men do. men are oppressed under patriarchy just as women are. men are not and have not been the "enemy" of black feminism because there is not one set "enemy" of feminism. in addition, black feminism aims to end all forms of oppression for all people. not just women. not just women of color. the aim is at women of color because our voices, our perspectives, our well-being has been the most neglected in this and many other countries for most of history. bell hooks, who always seems to have the right words to say, wrote this in her book Talking Back: Thinking Feminist. Thinking Black:

"Emphasizing paradigms of domination that call attention to woman;s capacity to dominate is one way to deconstruct and challenge the simplistic notion that man is the enemy, woman the victim; the notion that men have always been the oppressors. such thinking enables us to examine our role as women in the perpetuation and maintenance of systems of domination. to understand domination, we must understand that our capacity as women and men to be either dominated or dominating is a point of connection, of commonality. ...i understand that in many places of the world oppressed and oppressor share the same color. i understand that right here in this room, oppressed and oppressor share the same gender. ...it is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist-the potential victim within that we must rescue-otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation."

i would agree or at least respect the stance my friend has for wanting to get back to our traditional societies. i think looking towards African, Native American, Indian, Aboriginal, and Asian traditions concerning gender could be a positive force in the movement (or at least examining the relationships from a feminist perspective).

also, this whole idea that feminists are somehow choosing gender over race is a farce and just another example of mis-education concerning black feminism. we are not and have never aimed to choose gender over race or race over gender. i think one of the most important discourses in colored feminist circles is understanding that these two dichotomies intersect at our being; we live at the intersections of these two struggles. i am who i am and have experienced the things i have experiences because i am a black woman; i am a woman that is black. there is no separation of that. my relation to white women is different to the black man's relation to them; my relation and history with white men has been different than that experienced by black men; my ideals of womanhood, historically and currently, have been in relation to black men-my life has been a perspective and the experience of the intersection of those two dichotomies; the combination of the two. not one or the other. so questions concerning why i'm aligning myself with white women comes only from people who have not truly examined the intersections of various struggles. the same applies to gay black males who experience different kinds of oppression based on their sexuality AND their race. or Muslim women who experience oppression based on their gender AND their religion (in the US). these are all unique points of view whose respective struggles cannot be distinguished.

in any case, i think that feminism is a strong force that has the power to change our society for the better. no other movement is aiming to tackle all forms of oppression and domination at the same time. and i think people in colored communities should look to open more dialogues with each other concerning how our men and women interact; how women interact with each other; how men communicate with other males; how our stereotypes, preferences, and beliefs concerning sexuality, domination, and love have affected our communities and how it can repair them.

comment. think. criticize.


  1. in any case, i think that feminism is a strong force that has the power to change our society for the better.


    Really if I was living in the time of Queen Nzingha and the rest (as it is painted to be by people today), perhaps I wouldn't have any need for feminism. However, the fact that I am a woman in today's world who has gone through (and watched other women go through) certain experiences that are/were unique to Yoruba Nigerian culture, makes it absolutely necessary for me to identify with the feminist movement. I constantly see things that suggest to me that in this country and continent, women are not regarded as fully human and in the face of this, certain things within our culture have to change.

    I dislike the white-washing African history as much as I hate the debasement of it. If empires and kingdoms in Africa's history were such gender utopias, then frankly we would know more about the women in our history. Why is that from the whole African continent the women that come up again and again in terms of powerful women in our history are Nzinga, Amina and Nandi? Why don't we know more, apart from the Candances and the Amazons of Dahomey. Why don't people call different names in every other essay on how African women have it easy, only if we knew, as if our lived experiences are nothing.

    Seeing how large the African continent is, there should have been many more brave women that existed in our history (they most likely were) and if our cultures were gender utopias, we wouldn't have to dig deep to learn about more women in our history. We would be taught about them in school, I have written before on how I was surprised to learn of the women who fought alongside men for Nigeria's independence because the only names I learnt were those of men. I must say that I know of the Aba women's riots but that was an exception not the rule.

    And considering that the Amazons of Dahomey were actually assembled because there was a lack of male warriors in the kingdom and even at that the women warriors were not allowed to marry (for whatever reason) something that their male counterparts could do btw shows that not everything was rose-tinted. How is that equality?

    I'm also keen to know how FGM and other customs (such as bride-kidnapping which happened in many African cultures in the bygone eras) fit into this?

    As we would say in Nigeria; abeg abeg abeg!

  2. exactly! were we living at a time when patriarchy (be it from colonialism or not) is the norm, then of course we wouldn't need feminism. there are many things that we do today in order to get back to peace that we wouldn't have needed back then, but they does not change the fact of our current society.

    and true, i want to see 10 Queen Nzingas for every 10 Shaka Zulus. not 5 female warriors being recalled for every 200 male leaders. and the fact that many people today citing this history and ignoring the few women they can find is just another reason why feminism is necessary. i don't know that much about African history (YET), but someone could equally look at US society and name Shirley Chisolm and Condoleeza Rice and use it as a source to claim gender equality, but that would be far from the truth.

    and yes, i would like to know how certain practices such as FGM fit into the arrangement. and quite honestly, these men (thats the only people i've heard claiming that there wasn't patriarchy in our traditional cultures)claiming that there was no patriarchy traditionally, are men who barely know enough about patriarchy and domination to discern it from anything else.

    i think the biggest issue men of color have with feminism is that they fell as though we are separating ourselves from them, when in actuality, they are separating themselves from our more holistic way of fighting oppression.

  3. Sometimes in reading African history it seems great/influential female warriors/leaders are added as an afterthought. Just to make us (the women and/or feminists) happy. However it is just not enough. I like the comparison you drew with the US.

    I really will not be surprised that when it comes to FGM, we would be told that it is a good practice with benefits or something as crazy as that. I personally am very uncomfortable with the suggestion that the whole of Africa was some sort of utopia before the 'evil white men' came and ruined everything. I can't accept that logic and I'm anticolonial. I know it may not be much to go by but from the historic written records of non-African travellers (such as the Chinese and Arabs) in the continent, we can see that there was no utopia even after sorting through the biases of the writers.

    I think you may be interested in this if you haven't read it already. I've actually met a few men of colour (including Nigerian men) who have understood the need for black African feminism and for that I am eternally grateful because after a while you just start feeling that no one can understand where we are coming from.

  4. yes, i've always found that interesting. i think most black people think all traditional African societies were gender utopias. actually, i think most colonized peoples believe their indigenous societies were gender, economic, and ethnic utopias. i haven't figured out whether thats wishful thinking of a perpetuation of a lie/convenient misunderstanding. i have to learn much more about traditional Africa before i can even hold an opinion on it. but it'll be interesting to look into as a feminist. and even then it may take me some time to figure out whats what.
    for example, theres this practice among some Native American peoples in which the women are separated to separated housing/dwelling area during their menstrual periods. they aren't allowed to participate in certain ceremonies or even be touched or looked at in some cased. as a typical westerner, i assumed for quite some time that this was patriarchal and that it was this continuation of the "soiling" of the female; this pessimism regarding a natural female cycle. but i've read some literature for some Native women recently in which they say the women do this because they become too powerful during these periods of time; their energy can disrupt the....homeostasis of the community? the balance of the spirit and non-spirit world? something along those lines...
    so, now its a question of whether i look at these things through a western (European) gaze or whether i just initially see it for what it really is. ??

    oh, and i'll definitely check out that website.

  5. The comments posted above are not only missing the point they are exposing serious flaws in the arguments of feminist's. not once did the critics mention any concrete points they simply used my paper as an excuse to hide behind a shield claiming that it was some sort of attack on feminism. the facts regarding birthrates, incarceration, income and an overall low life-quality for both black men and women were transparent to the critics. my writing is not casper the ghost, until they come out and fight i will always continue to point out that the shield they hide behind conveniently is designed to leave their part exposed.As for the crying of a lack of women in top positions i would fear that these women are not educated in the ways of their grandmothers and foremothers who came before them because if they were and they did describe the life of a shaka zulu to their mothers and female ancestors, they would be greeted with an overwhelming laugh. why would we do such when ur grandfather was willing to do it? but then again i rage on like a sisyphus, as much as u recomend me to read the bell hooks and other female writers( which i have and u again ignored that and instead brought up MEN instead of me) i encourage you to read foucault, chinweizu and esther vilar only then will our discourse be truly "live" as they say in brooklyn as always it is a pleasure
    Fabian Egbesu Ohore

  6. for one, i'm not "a critic". i have a name. second, i think i addressed the points in the paper i thought were most relevant. they may not have been the points YOU thought were top priority, but they were the ones that stood out to me. there were some generalizations in the paper that i felt needed some clarity before further discussion on the...globalization of black feminism or the proposition of a new name for Black Feminism (which i don't think is necessary for us to distinguish ourselves from the issues of white feminism).

    there are plenty of issues that effect both men and women of color, sometimes more than women (i.e. birthrates, incarceration, income, etc.), however it does not change the fact that we live in a gender oppression culture, and those issues need to be addressed as well. i have even addressed those issues on my blog, but just because men experience them just as women experience them does not mean that patriarchy, gender oppression, and gender relations are on good terms. men of color are not nor have they been then "enemy" of feminism. your point is an attempt to show that the supposed enemy is oppressed as well. and that is true, but it is a misunderstanding to say that men of color are the enemies of black feminism. as i stated in my initial response, men and women are equally oppressed under patriarchy.

    and also, where is the evidence that suggests our female ancestors chose not to do the work of male warriors and leaders, besides their exclusion from it??? are there any historical records (be them oral or not...) that suggest traditional African women had the social standing and means to advance to the position of a cheif, warrior, or revolutionary leader??

    also, i am currently reading Chinweizu, and he sucks balls.
    thanks for the comment

  7. My dearest buddy old pal

    dont love tap me. as they say in that eccentric yoruba language "bolekaja" which means come down and fight.look through the list of african women that i sent to you especially the ghanian asentewa and u will see greatness ur gender limitations are to the extent to which u allow them. My issue is back to the ancient african practice of placing an importance on names a wise man once said u cant make a franchise chain out of the name feminism. it is what you answer to that i have an issue with. foucault by the way does an excellent job of pointing out the geneology of gender and bio politics. so to say that ur solution is to end biopolitics with a movement that grew as an offshoot of the very thing u and i want to combat is bodering on the insane and again if u read foucault you will see what our people are doing to the insane...as for your comment to chinweizu it is troubling that for a woman who puts up pictures of transgender african men in high heels who obviously suck the balls that you say chinweizu partakes in is proof that you dont believe approve of their ball sucking. ( dont feel bad most women encourage gay men as long as its not their brothers, husbands or dads)......but then again as prometheus i am tired of having my liver kissed if i am guilty of stealing the fire of truth called masculanism at least eat the liver all the way however i am not surprised because no matter how many chronicles are written if the quest is to find elephants that look like eagles then one will never find elephants even if that person is in the middle of a herd of elephants....
    as always it is a pleasure
    Fabian Egbesu Ohore

  8. you don't know what a fight is. i crushed you 6 years ago and you have yet to realize it my dearest BUDDY old PAL. you are writhing on the ground in agony and you're saying "come down and fight"?? it's the epitome of denial, but i can entertain your DELUSIONS for now.

    yes, i saw the list of African women, but isn't it a shame that there needs to be a list in the first place? how long will the list of male African leaders, revolutionaries and chiefs be? more and likely 10 times that of the female list. but the attempt at a list is a good start. i don't know enough about African history of have a definite stance on the gender relations of traditional societies, however, i don't think the evidence supports this idea that there was a gender utopia or balance.
    my gender limitations are to the extent to which i allow them, yes, but i speak from a collective stance. and that is not the case for all women. and that stance does not take into account the SYSTEMIC gender oppression that is and has been done against women since...forever. misogyny, amongst other things, is embedded in the make-up of our society, is evident in many religions (mainly the major world religions. i.e. Abrahamic religions), and part of law codes of many nations. to act as if it is (only)something internal and personal is as nonsensical as saying racism is internal and personal.
    the MAN (what man? when? does he know anything about feminism? who has he read??) that says you can't turn feminism into a franchise does not deserve the word "wise" as a description.
    no one is trying to make feminism into a McDonalds-esque type franchise. the only idea of feminism that has been taken from the original (white) feminists is the female-centered approach to life, politics, and social reform. that is IT. there are various feminist all over the world with their own brand of feminism that has no connection to white feminism of the 30's and 40's. and this OBSESSION with criticizing the name, which clearly has no connection with black/muslim/chicana/native american/indian/ etc. feminism, is a cop out and an attempt to avoid truly criticizing feminism. and men, particularly men of color, that run away from truly criticizing feminism are really just afraid of genuinely looking at feminism because they're afraid they would agree with it. maybe that is your beef with it-you are in denial about your inner feminist.

    when Chinweizu takes a respectable approach to feminism and male/female relations, i will give him a real critique. but as of yet (halfway through his book), he has only shown insanity and victimhood coupled with outright and subliminal misogyny....drenched in foolishness.

    again, the comment is appreciated.