By Amanda Hodgeson
“#ForBlackGirlsOnly, is a pro-Black, pro-women feminist space for Black women ONLY. #ForBlackGirlsOnly is deliberately and unapologetically committed to the upliftment of Black women. This space is for support, creativity, healing, love, tending to wounds, learning, unlearning, interrogating, mourning, and celebrating the lives and experiences of Black Women.”
This black feminist heaven took place in Johannesburg on Sunday, 31 January, 2016. It was glorious! Before the event, there was – of course there was – a bit of an uproar about the space being exclusively for black women. A number of white women, and some black women, claimed the space was exclusionary (reverse racism, they called it) because: how can we hope to fight the fire of racism with the fire of exclusion? Some argued that we, black women, should not be excluding white women, but should be taking them under our wing and “teaching” them. I was mildly (okay, extremely) annoyed and went on Facebook to vent. I wrote:
Going through the comments of the #ForBlackGirlsOnly event. There are comments from very passive aggressive white women who have issues with the fact that the event is strictly for black women. They defend this position by stating that they have biracial kids and the space should be one where we (black women) are teaching and sharing with them how to be decent human beings (paraphrase nyana) Sigh. I have heard, many times, that black people in this country are entitled. That they want to be handed everything on a silver platter. White women who complain about being excluded from a space that is meant for the loving and upliftment of black women. White Americans who trash #BlackLivesMatter by saying shit like #AllLivesMatter. Shit people who say why be a Feminist, you should be a humanist. WHO is entitled hey??? To need to be in all spaces, all the fucking time, just taking and taking. You feel hard done by because it is you who is fucking entitled, to every fucking thing and how dare anyone take an inch from your entire fucking pie. Because if you didn’t feel entitled, if you didn’t eat, breathe and shit privilege you would scroll the fuck past this event without having to lift your leg to pee all over it like a goddam puppy who needs all my attention, all the goddam time! Hai tsek man. Niya nyanyisa
Needless to say, I had a few extremely unhappy Facebook friends! One of them suggested that she doesn’t “see” race and that, to solve the problem of racism, neither should anyone else.
I have thought extensively about this conversation, this way of seeing the world, this way of wanting to solve the problems of the world, and I am deeply troubled. I am deeply troubled that the solution to racism is to just pretend it doesn’t exist. And that, if we pretend long enough, it will disappear.
I was fortunate to be born into a family that, at the time, had money. In 1993, my father was building a house, with money owned by him and not the bank, in what is now known as the north of Johannesburg. I went to a multiracial nursery school, primary school, and high school. I did not have to worry about whether or not I was going to go to university. And even when my family did hit a rough patch, my mother still had a job and connections to people who made sure I got a bursary and, later, my first job.
So I have been around white people my entire life. More often than not, I have been the only black girl around white girls, and I have heard all the things that black girls growing up around white girls and their families are told (as “compliments”):
You are so pretty for a black girl
You’re so well spoken
You’re not like the “others,” I really like you
It wasn’t strange for me to be the only black girl. It had been that way my entire life. And for the most part, I was naively unaware of my blackness. Probably because I also grew up at a time when being racist towards the only black girl in your class was a cardinal rainbow nation sin. I think the first time I realized my skin was a “hindrance” was when I figured out that the (white) boy I liked would never ask me out, not because I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough, but because I was…black!
Surviving as a black girl in a white world also meant I did a lot, unknowingly, to compensate for my blackness, and I was glad when someone said anything about me that contradicted my blackness or black features. If someone asked me if I was mixed because my skin was too yellow and my hair too long or not kinky enough. If someone said that I sounded white on the phone. I was well spoken and not loud or confrontational like the “ghetto girls.” I was the “better” black.
Which brings me back to my thoughts about this colour-blind solution to racism. I grew up in a world that resembles this wannabe colour-blind mentality.
Where issues of whiteness and blackness are not spoken about. Where you are just my friend Amanda, not my black friend Amanda (except that I AM the black Amanda, not the blonde one). Where we try to focus on “what we have in common.” Where, because we are able to ignore our racial difference we can’t comprehend why others “choose” to focus on it. Where my white friend thinks she is well versed in issues of racism and transformation purely because she has one black friend (who is pretending to be white).
I have been an active and willing participant in that world. So hear me, friends, when I say that the point of this world is not to erase colour, but to erase blackness. Because, of course, it’s easy to co-exist and even “like” black folk if they listen to the same music you do, if they (kinda) have the same hair, if they also hate loudness and “ghettoness” and all those characteristics we associate with blackness and, best of all, if they agree that apartheid is over and that we should all just move on, wearing our colour-blind, rose-tinted glasses.
But let’s, for a minute, say that I and every single person on the planet agreed with this perspective and decided (because, of course, we can decide such things) to stop “seeing” colour. Would racism end? Let’s try this with some other things as well. If women stopped wearing miniskirts – pay attention, John Magufuli – would rape cease to exist? If Khwezi* hadn’t worn a kanga, would Jacob Zuma have spared her his m’shini? If black people just stopped being so “lazy,” would they stop being poor? The answer is simple, my friends. NO!
Men rape women who are wearing short skirts, long skirts, crop tops, or shirts. Tracksuits or bum shorts. Kanga or burka. Feminine presenting or masculine. Because rape isn’t about your choice of wardrobe. It’s about power; it’s about terrorising and subjugating women.
The HIV infection rate is not higher in women because they don’t carry condoms on their person. The HIV infection rate is higher in women because condom negotiating plays itself out in a patriarchal society that believes men own their wives, girlfriends, and daughters and doesn’t believe women should be negotiating anything to do with their own bodies or their own sex.
Black people are not poor because they are lazy. They are poor because of a racist and capitalist system that makes sure the means of production remain in the hands of the elite, white, few.
So no! Racism will not end because you decide that people are no longer black or white and are rather just people. Racism isn’t sustained and perpetuated by the presence or absence of melanin (and blackness and whiteness is reliant on so much more than that)!
You cannot dismantle patriarchy (the nesting place of racism and sexism) by pretending it doesn’t exist. If only life was that simple. If you could walk up to Papa Patriarchy and say “I am going to ignore you and make you disappear.” The joke is on you bhabha. Papa Patriarchy has survived all these years precisely by pretending not to exist. So you are not working to dismantle him, you are working to make sure he continues his reign of oppression.
What “I choose to be colour-blind” says is that, instead of doing the very hard, very uncomfortable and painful work of actively working to dismantle racism, the very hard, very uncomfortable and painful work of coming to terms with your privilege, instead of realizing your position and your power and reckoning with it and then realizing that you are only at the beginning of your activism, you would rather dismiss every single oppressive, suppressive, violent aspect of black life. Because, let’s face it, you might as well call me dirty and a kaffir and a monkey if your measure of “non-racism” is how nicely you play with black people who have assimilated into your whiteness.