Portrait of Audre Lorde by Robert Alexander, 1983. (Photo via AfroDiaspores)
I did not identify as a feminist long ago, in fact I would squirm, roll my eyes, groan and shoo away any mention of feminism with a simple wave of my hand. Feminism was a word I detested, that I deplored, that I viewed as nothing more than a means to strap myself boldly to the very mechanism which has for so long abused so many and prolonged the imperialist adventures across my land, and others. And why? Why would I have denounced feminism, whilst I now unashamedly hold it tightly in the palms of my hands?
A simply question which requires an answer riddled with complexity; because the mainstream voices of feminism are those of privilege; the ‘western voices’, the ‘modern’ and often-white and overwhelmingly orientalist voices, who for so long have lined their pockets with magazine covers drenched in black-face or in their obsession with the many variations of the Muslim veil (headscarf) which wreaks of white mans burden. This colonial feminism, which uses the sufferings of women in order to promote occupation, destruction and the wiping away of an entire people in order to sell the latest photograph of a destroyed, battle-scar covered woman, to sell their white faces and white hands clutching and caressing black children, to sell us stories of an Africa which can be fed with help from you, their loyal sponsors, for only $1 a day. This is the feminism that I saw. It was pounded into my head, that this was feminism. That those who regularly stand atop podiums and rail against the burqa or niqab as being “oppressive“, who deny a woman’s choice of dress, who belittled a woman’s choice of language or religion – I, like many, assumed that these were the sole examples of feminism. And I wanted nothing to do with this brand of feminism. I would spit and swear and rant and rave and refuse to join them in their crusades. And why would I? I want nothing to do with those who wish to profit off the suffering of the subjugated, nor do I want anything to do with those who use women as mere props in their propaganda campaigns – selling liberation behind white masks of occupation.
And for these reasons, and a laundry-list of others, for which I detested feminism astonishingly became reasons which lured me towards feminism. Post-colonial feminism. I am a woman of colour who is reclaiming her voice and telling her story so that aforementioned ’western feminists’ will no longer own our narratives, so that they will not sell our flesh and market our faces for their so-called campaigns for ‘freedom’ – they will not be able to tread across our lands and lull so many into a deep slumber with their propaganda. No more.
It is enough that we are pawns in your game of liberation. It is enough that we are made inferior against your nakedness for choosing to cover our flesh or fawned over should we also decide not to. It is enough that our black and brown faces are plastered on your television screens, your books, your magazine covers: For $1 a day you can save this brown child. For $3.50 you can read more about this veiled woman appearing on our magazine. For less than $5.00 a week you can adopt an African child. Support our military endeavors and save Africa. Help us expand our drone bases across the Middle East-North Africa so we may free these distressed women.
Our flesh bought and sold for nothing more than feel-good campaigns, photoshopped of dignity and intentionally disassociated with the imperialism which caused the immeasurable suffering they are here to relieve us of.
And so, the boundless layers which describe my womanhood, and my humanity, will not be watered down and marketed for western audiences so that I may appear just-like-you, nor will they be hustled by western feminists, many of whom have built their entire carriers by breaking the backs of so many women of colour.
By refusing to submit to this brand of feminism I reclaimed my tongue, my identity and I reclaimed myself.
Post-colonial feminist authors worth mentioning, a select few of many:
Chandra Talpade Mohanty