The Black Feminist movement means absolutely everything to me.
It has given me the tools with which I am able to look at and critique the world, to be able to do something to change the world. It has given me a group of Women who have loved me and held me, who have angered me and challenged me. Most importantly, for the purposes of this reflection, it has given me a set of principles and values with which I live, love and exist by. And it is these principles and values that I try to uphold in my relationships with others, with Black Women in particular.
As Black girls we are taught to make ourselves as small, insignificant and as quiet as possible. We are deliberately taught to disappear into our families, into our men. We are taught that space is not a concept made for us and one of the first things Black Feminism taught me was to take up space! To be present, to be seen, to be heard. Black Feminism is not meek, it is not docile and it is not a fucking lady. It is loud, it is confrontational, it will not be silenced. It is vocal and critical and big, beautiful and bold. It is creative and innovative and flexible. Strong, vulnerable and tender.
As I was seen once wrote on Facebook:
‘Black Women everywhere are writing the books; making the art; having the sex; raking the coins; healing the people; thinking the ideas; sharing the joy; building the movements. Being the great, the greater and the greatest’.
What this has meant for me in terms of relationships, both romantic and platonic, is to not allow myself to disappear into a relationship. To express my wants and desires and to maintain my individuality and hold onto the things that are important to me, even those that don’t necessarily work towards the benefit of the relationship. If it works towards its detriments then perhaps that relationship needs rethinking and reworking.
None of us are perfect Feminists.
As a Black Queer Feminist I have learned to introspect. None of us are perfect Feminists. Feminism is not a destination we rush to reach, it is a lifelong road of intention, intention to live up to and uphold the ideas and values of Black feminism. Introspection is critical because we are in a constant state of unlearning. We were all raised in a society that hates Black people and Women, and Gays, and poverty. We were raised in a society that uses violence to keep our despised identities oppressed. We have adopted that violence and that hate and we work intentionally to rid ourselves of it and sometimes we are not successful. We need to constantly introspect to be able to see when we are fucky and hateful and violent and then make a conscious decision to do better next time. In a relationship that means being aware that it is not always the other person that is in the wrong, that ‘wrongness’ often takes two to tango because we do not exist in a vacuum, our actions have consequences.
Black Feminism has taught me to afford Black Women like myself, who are beaten and raped and sworn at and thought of as ‘less than’, a gentleness that the world deliberately keeps from us. It has taught me to choose us first, always, regardless. And this is not to say that Black Women cannot be violent and oppressive and downright fucky. We can be! We are! But we are deserving of engagement, of challenging, of tough love so we can unlearn and unshackle ourselves. My Black Feminism dictates that I always, without fail, put Black Women first. It dictates that they, more than others, are deserving of both my love and my forgiveness. Because if they don’t receive this unwavering love and solidarity from me, there is nowhere else in the entire fucking galaxy that they will get it from, that I will get it from.
Sometimes taking up space in relationships means we forget that the space available is not infinite
Come us here now to the hard part. The part where we are in actual, real, non-theoretical, can touch, feel and hurt her, relationships with Black Women. I feel like sometimes I am failing dismally to uphold all the wonderful things I have mentioned and to give the real life Black Women in my life the love, understanding, gentleness and solidarity that they deserve. Fuck, even me I feel like I am being failed by some of the Black Women in my life in terms of loving and supporting me, hearing me and seeing me and affording me an understanding that looks beyond my fucky behaviour.
But I feel like expecting Black Women to understand and love me through my fuckiness is fucky, no?
Sometimes taking up space in relationships means we forget that the space available is not infinite and the more we take and the more we flourish the less there is for the other person. What becomes of them and their ability to exist also in the ways that they would like to when we are sucking up all the oxygen and filling all the room?
Sometimes introspection is shallow and we are unable to see past our own pain, past our own construction of what we think reality is. Sometimes we can critique the fuck out of why we behaved a certain way in relation to what somebody else did to us. We can break down how their behaviour led to our actions but can we remove ourselves from that, and critique our own behaviour without blaming anyone else because we are autonomous beings?
Sometimes we want to believe the worst about people. We want to believe that they hurt us intentionally because they are bad people. We don’t want to acknowledge that often a situation is not only painful for one party, that as much pain as we are in, so are they and they did not hurt us because they are ugly people. Because sometimes life is difficult and we are unable to act in ways that are beautiful when life is not beautiful.
How do we find the balance between loving ourselves and loving others?
How do we draw the line between solidarity and compromising our politics?
How do we find the balance between understanding your own pain and acknowledging the pain of another?
How do we draw the line between self-preservation and self-destruction to show another the love you wish they would show you?
How do we find the balance between showing gentleness and holding people accountable?
I want to practise an intentional and radical love for Black Women but I too am a Black Woman, I want to practise an intentional and radical love for myself. But sometimes those things seem to be in direct contrast. When loving myself and doing what I feel will truly make me happy makes a Black Woman in my life feel unwanted and discarded. When loving a Black Woman and giving her the space to do what truly makes her happy makes me feel unwanted and discarded.
I believe there is a something very sacred and spiritual about the bonds, seen or unseen, between Black Women but we don’t always act in ways that show that we are aware of how special our relationships with each other are. We carry out an internalised misogyny that expects other Black Women to be our homes, to carry us, to hold us even when we are hurting them. We forget that they are of us, they are us, and not a long drop for us to throw all our shit into because we feel they are supposed to love us regardless. We are wounded, we are battling but maybe we are our space to heal, not our space to continue to die.
The loving and upliftement of Black Women will always, for me, be a political project. Something I take seriously. Something I hold dear. Something deserving of my time and my sweat, my tears and all my love. Ngiyanithanda bafazi abamnyama. I promise to always be intentional about it, to be vulnerable and allow myself to feel all the things for you. I may not always succeed but I will always, always try.