Sunday, August 10, 2008

Whatever Holds My Brother Down, Holds Me Down

I've been thinking recently about the forgotten, ignored and plowed over African American Feminists, whenever an essay about gender equality, written by a white woman, shows up somewhere online that I can see it. What's been getting at me, is my feeling of being lost and of either not recognizing names, or recognizing them but realizing I've never read them. I've been wondering where did my sense of self and sense of the need for equality come from.

So I did a couple of internet searches to see if there were women listed with such terms as Caribbean Feminists. And while I did find a couple papers within the first few minutes - it was the chapter titles that stopped me stunned where I sat. You see a chapter in one of the papers talked about the gender imbalance and inequality in the school system - something I'd experienced. Something my mother had complained about, and my friends' mothers. Something many accomplished and learned women I knew when I was younger, had also complained about; Women who were nurses and doctors and lawyers and bankers.

So like I said, something hit me.

I can remember distinctly how it felt to realize that I had passed a particularly important national exam, with a grade that would have gotten me into very good, the top ranked in fact, schools - if I were a boy. But girls had to get fifteen points more if they wanted to get into what had been, traditionally, all boys schools.

And then something else hit me. Dame Nita Barrow. A woman I'd looked up to, and had been told to look up to for most of my childhood.

And in thinking about Dame Barrow, I realized that the women who helped shape me into being who I am today, didn't label themselves feminists - not as far as I knew. They called themselves activists for social justice. I grew up knowing about them as activists for social justice. I grew up knowing there was a concern about, social justice and that I needed to be mindful of it and to make things better when I could.

So I sat there and it hit me why feminism has always felt odd to me, segregated and narrow focused. And I felt incredibly relieved, but also proud and overwhelmed; the happy kind. I've been angry for ages and ages now about the lack of intersectionality in the feminist movement. And I couldn't quite understand why I was so angry and so affronted and so disappointed. But I also couldn't understand why I'd so often mentally rejected the term feminist.

Now I know.

It may be a side affect of living far from home (extended family, not geography), and thus far from a cultural base to remind me of all the many wonderful and varied sides of being from the Caribbean. It may be (and far more likely) an effect of living in the US as a woman who is not white. When I wake up in the morning in the United States, I don't wake up as a woman, I wake up as a Black Woman. It's a lesson that had to be learned for me. It's one that had to be learned by varied members of my family. Thinking of myself like that and realizing that there were far more reasons to ally myself with Black Americans than to hold myself apart - I think I let go of, instead of integrating, parts of my heritage. Philosophy is so easily shaded and overlooked when you don't have a clear grasp on it. And a child isn't likely to have a clear grasp on something that just feels instinctual and is encouraged as instinctual.

I can remember as a child, discussing Apartheid in South Africa with my parent and family. And it wasn't a conversation about a problem in a far, far away land. It was about a grave social injustice that was affecting a huge amount of people; people just like me - children and mothers and fathers. I learned about Nelson Mandela when I was nine or ten years old and why he was important and what his role had been in fighting social injustice. I learned about Ghandi in the same way.

It was never those people and that leader and that country and its problems. It was social injustice in that place, being fought by these people who are like me, and who are being lead by these individuals who are like those individuals who are also fighting social injustice in that other place. It was always, always all tied together.

I learned that.

That's how I was brought up.

It didn't come out of nowhere, which is often how I've felt recently when I see blog after blog talking about how 'All women need to put aside xyz for this cause and how all women should be united against men because of abc.'

That's piecemeal.

That's cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Social Injustice should be fought everywhere, by everyone willing, in whatever way they can because it affects all of us; the world. It makes the world a smaller, pettier, more hateful and hurtful place. It creates imbalance. It raises the strong above the weak and makes the weak suffer. It steals voices.

The way I was brought up meant that Chilean Death Squads related to me. It meant The Disappeared in Argentina related to me. It meant that women being crippled in African nations related to me. It meant Apartheid related to me. It meant Independence Days were celebrations about throwing off the yokes of oppressors; of self definition, of pride, of a chance to stand alone a moment before holding out a hand to someone else. It meant that those suffering from cold and starving in Russia under communism mattered and related to me despite the miles between us and our varied spots relative to the equator.

And at least now I know why I couldn't think of Caribbean Feminists off the top of my head. American Feminists seem to quite often be all women. I grew up with Activists for Social Justice; they come in both genders, varied ages and skintones and a myriad of nationalities.


  1. I took a course in grad school on Caribbean feminism! I seem to recall there wasn't a whole lot on 'feminism 101' from Caribbean feminism and their writings had more to do with intersections between racism, colonialism and feminism...which I liked.

    I can look up names for you but I remember Peggy Antrobus was a big one :)

  2. This is a wonderful article. Thank you so much.

  3. This is a good piece. Thank you for writing it.

  4. Thank you, and yes. (I think this is a duplicate comment b/c I accidentally signed in on my sister's account.)