I’m in the middle of a PMDD-induced haze of self-loathing, and my mind has decided to fixate on one of its easiest default obsessions: how terrible my writing is; all past, present and even future works that only exist at the moment as notes and excited text messages to friends. I’ve been thinking specifically about this post, which I wrote and posted hurriedly in 2015, propelled by my offended middle-class-but-still-conscious-how-dare-you sensibilities. Then, I had just started a graduate program, newly angry and always talking about my anger. I’m now drawing closer to graduation after having read a lot more and learnt to be even harder on myself than I thought was possible. I’ve disliked that post for a while, but haven’t had the time or energy to go back and underline all the moments in which I went wrong. At the time, I believed I was writing in response to an article I read which was calling on elite African women to re-focus their feminist praxis and prioritize the needs of women who have far less access to wealth and vital resources. In reality, I was telling on myself, bristling at this other writer’s use of the word “basic” to characterize what she believed African feminism should be. How dare she, I thought, suggest that “the life of letters” wasn’t a worthwhile pursuit for African feminists? I laid my anxieties bare when I wrote:
“The point I’m trying to make…is that we have to create an African feminist space that makes equal room for the women who are striving to achieve PHds, for stay at home mothers, for women who have suffered extreme gender-based violence, for sex-workers, for women who are organizing and rallying for policy change, for queer women, for women who are the breadwinners while men sit under trees and throw dice, for all of us.”
Girl…what? I’m sure at the time I was aware that there are no such thing as mutually exclusive ways of being as Kimberlé Crenshaw explains in her coining of the term intersectionality and her extensive body of work on Black women and the justice system in the US. [See “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color,” and “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.“) That I had this knowledge at that time isn’t very clear in the above passage, but I did, and do know so many women who exist in so many different locations where identities and oppressive systems meet. I made some tentative moves to acknowledge that I am in a position that relies on sustained oppression and violence towards other Ghanaian women,
“Yes, there are certain needs and concerns that are more immediate than others, but our struggles and identities are interconnected. One cannot be seen as more important than another because one woman has the cushion of higher education and class resting behind her neck while the other doesn’t.
I believe that we can make, and have been making space for each other to confront and dismantle these structures rather than upholding one cause over another as more deserving of space. It is also important within that space to realize how certain women benefit from the oppression of others based on their socioeconomic status and access (or lack thereof) to resources, and their visibility in social spaces. This is what must be undone.”
These days, I’m working to understand that power is a lot more complicated than I attempted to explain in that post, and that it was very dangerous for me to try so hard to validate the concerns of educated, middle-class women at the expense of the women whose oppression they have a hand in. I’m not exactly negating everything I wrote, but I wish I had spent more time pointing out the ways that elite Ghanaian women often throw their sisters under the bus while attempting to strive to their own liberation. I’m also thinking about many Ghanaian women who are trapped in violent, lonely partnerships because they have “married out” of poverty and have relatives relying on their continued support, women whose career advancement is blocked at every turn by misogyny in the workplace, women who have been able to collect one degree on top of another, but are perpetually held hostage financially, stifle creatively, abused emotionally and physically and many other combinations of oppressive circumstances.
These same women actively contribute to sustained violence and oppression against other women from other class spheres with less access to resources, wealth and personal freedom. We’re all caught in the matrix. I’m still learning this language, and most days I’m convinced I don’t have the range. bell hooks, whose range I can’t even begin to wrap my head around, writes in Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness, “margins have been both sites of repression and resistance.” In his article, “Provisional Notes on Feminism, Keguro Macharia thinks through the idea of “center” versus “margins” and how they canrather reinforce oppression, serving to keep the “racialized, working class, and poor dispossessed at the margin.”
I have found that I’m able to be a lot more critical and biting in my creative writing (most of the time, there are some tragedies hiding in the archives of this blog), leading to the conclusion that it would be better for all involved (myself, Sallie Mae, friends who have to endure my half-baked scholarly musings) to stay in my lane and stick to fiction. I’m doing a lot of work I’m excited about, but don’t talk about often because I struggle to see its merit if it has any at all. It is very ugly when PMDD, self-doubt and largely white and unsupportive classrooms collide. On Twitter, I tend to stick to sarcastic one-liners paired with GIFs–I can be pretty hilarious, ask about me– because I’m having trouble believing that my ideas and my work are and will be meaningful to others.
On a less self-deprecating note, I’m finishing up a directed study project about preserving memory in the African diaspora from a womanist perspective, and maybe one day you’ll catch me in a reader-friendly, *free* journal talking about this in more detail with no jargon or pretension. I’ve also been curating reading lists and resources on Black feminism and womanism for my job because intersectionality is not just a cool buzzword, time to read up! You can find some of those here.
Now that I’ve gotten this out of my system, I’m thinking of how I grew tired of the pressure I perceived to perform “African-ness” as an undergrad in DC, and how that lead me to make some harsh and unfair statements to other Black people from different parts of the diaspora. It was exhausting, I mean, person couldn’t just hide a tragic hair day under a headwrap and go unnoticed. I started lashing out in small ways, and the easy target became anything that felt like a caricature of “African culture.” These are things I now understand in much more complex terms than I did then, people who have painfully and beautifully come to terms with what it means to be “rooted” and fragmented, who are imagining futures out of the violence of slavery and colonialism.
Not every day sneer, “Ah, but this is not African” –Girl, what is “African” anyway– sometimes just be quiet and listen.
This is a topic for another post anyway…
(Header image: Lloyd K. Sarpong took this on my ashiest day of the year…I mean would you take a look at those knees? I could cry.)