Woman’s Hour. Image courtesy of BBC.
On New Year’s Eve 2013, I took part in a BBC Radio 4 debate about the year in feminism.
Let’s be real. I’ve been involved in feminist activism for a number of years now, and this is the first year in my life that I have fielded such press attention. This goes hand in hand with the fact that this has been the first year in my life than I have publicly challenged racism in feminism. I have taken my lead from the black feminist thinkers who have done this before me. Intersectionality was the reason I was on the programme.
Think about the last time you heard a comprehensive description of the nature of structural racism in the mainstream media. These issues just don’t get the kind of airtime that feminism does in the UK press. Think hard about the last time you heard a person of colour challenge the virulently racist rhetoric around immigration in this country, or just state the plain fact that structural racism prevails because white people are treated more favourably in the society we live in. I was afforded the opportunity to do this live, on national radio. I didn’t take it lightly.
So I was shocked, to say the least, when Caroline Criado Perez used my point about racism in feminism to derail and talk about abuse she’d received, treading a line that closely linked intersectionality to abuse against white women. Furthermore, her comments read as though I was to be held accountable for the comments that have been levelled at her. I was practically lost for words, leaving the BBC studios feeling shaken up and disconcerted. It was odd, considering that both of us had been sat in a BBC recording studio less than a month ago to record BBC Nightwaves alongside Zoe Stavri and Julie Bindel- yet she hadn’t raised it then.
Caroline has since reflected and apologised online. The programme has been broadcast. You can read that apology here. I hope she takes the time to publicise her apology as much as she does her storifies about abuse. I also hope that others take some direction from this reflective lead.
After a concerted effort from many a white woman to portray black feminist thought as destructive and divisive, I’m aware that accepting these media requests is a double edged sword. It was Audre Lorde who said “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Though it sometimes feels like I am entering into a trap, I’m hyper aware that if I don’t accept these opportunities, black feminism will be mischaracterised and misrepresented by the priorities of the white feminists taking part in the conversation. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
I’m tired of this tribal deadlock. I meant what I said on the programme- the only way to foster any shared solidarity is to learn from each other’s struggles, and recognise the various privileges and disadvantages that we all enter the movement with.
To me, openly discussing structural racism and its manifestations is the most important part about my work. The most important part. We live in a society rife with denial of white privilege, where openly discussing racism can culminate in serious social consequences. I decided a long time ago that I’m willing to risk it. There’s plenty to be optimistic about – in 2013 I saw an unprecedented transformation in progressive attitudes towards structural racism. I’ve got a lot of hope. In 2014 I resolve not to be held back by narratives that force me into a marginal, combative position to get my point across.