By Yula Burin
Black feminist thought is a body of ideas that offers black women a means of exploring and generating understanding of our lives, and that provides a basis for black women to create strategies for survival, resistance, social justice and change.
To be a Black feminist means being engaged in creativity of the deepest kind, because the project we are advocating and acting on has the capacity to change the world as we know it. Black feminism teaches me that Black women have to be the architects of our liberation. As a group, Black women have a lot of creative energy at our disposal – the world makes use of our creativity but we do not receive the respect, recognition and rewards we deserve. So, the development of Black feminist thought is an arena where we put our concerns dead centre, and it is also where we can begin the process of valuing ourselves and our experiences. We can give each other the support we need to resist our multiple oppressions and to establish structures and organisations that meet our needs.
We are having to overcome historical momentum, one aspect of which is dealing with the aftermath of enslavement, colonialism and imperialism. Furthermore, we are having to overcome thousands of years of the paradigm that determines the basis our relationships: domination and submission. This relational mode seems so deep-rooted that we believe it is immovable and an essential ingredient of our humanness. But the impulse for equality and social justice that so many women can see the need for, challenges the notion that change in our patterns of relating to each other is impossible.
Black feminist thought teaches me that it is absolutely essential to resist white supremacy and privilege, male privilege and the rapaciousness of capitalism. In short, any ideology or set of practices that denies Black women our full humanity. Resistance is the sanest response to political and economic realities whose effects often pathological.
Black feminist thought allows me to name my experience, to struggle against being silenced, to speak the words that need to be spoken and which oftentimes the world does not want to listen to and take on board. Audre Lorde says, “Your silence will not protect you”. And she is right. My silence has not protected me. My silence has been taken as a sign of my agreement with the status quo, and with political actions and structures that are inimical to life. My silence is an accomplice to injustice – do I allow myself to fall into the pit of insanity when confronted with the manifold difficulties that Black women contend with on a daily basis? I suspect that the statistics available concerning Black women’s situation in the world are less than comprehensive, less than accurate, and there are reasons why this is the case.
Black women are facing unprecedented levels of violence in all areas of our lives. We have to do something about this. We have to resist this violence with all the means at our disposal, and we need to gather together in this endeavour. And this resistance against violence recognises no borders because violence against Black women recognises no borders. We have to collectivise our resistance.
In common with most, if not all, women, Black women are socialised within patriarchy; we are raised to serve patriarchal interests. Therefore, any expression of strong female energy is pathologised. Black women are blamed for the ills of Black peoples everywhere. The positive expression of Black female strength and energy is viewed negatively because there isn’t always a Black man around to control that energy. Apparently, there is something very wrong if Black women deviate in any way from the patriarchal script and we are made to suffer as a result.
I want all Black women to be liberated and free to determine what their lives will be. For me, Black feminist thought has transcendent potential and not just a reformist agenda. If every single Black woman was fully empowered and self-actualised our world would truly be a different place. We would not have to waste our energies battling, deflecting, hiding from or medicating ourselves against white supremacist ideology, the politics of domination and the life-denying effects of capitalism.
Black feminism recognises that Black women, as a group, are in need of restitution, respect and recognition. Restitution of our complete and whole humanity. Respect for the sacrifices we make for our families, our communities, our employers. Recognition for the hard works this entails day in, day out. We also need to have our economic and political needs met – it’s all so very simple and clear-cut what our task is as Black feminists. Black feminist thought nourishes Black women’s acts of resistance to the many erasures we live with politically, economically, culturally. Our acts of resistance will continue until we are all liberated.