as black femmes, we must let go of respectability politics and internalized misogyny

October 31, 2017
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By Ahlam Ali*/ RaceBaitR, AFROPUNK contributor

“still trying to try
to imagine
and black joy
black love
black life

— Jamal Lewis

I love Black women unconditionally. And with love comes a huge responsibility.

Imagining a new and less problematic narrative of Blackness is hard work that each one of us needs to be accountable for. We all play roles in maintaining the status quo and toxic hierarchies, and whether our involvement is a conscious one or not makes little difference in the long run.

If we have a desire to transform our current reality as Black people worldwide, we need to take critical, radical measures in holding ourselves and the collective to a standard of honesty. We must continuously unlearn the harming narratives we’ve been taught under white supremacy and its byproducts.

“We must now collectively undertake a rewriting of knowledge as we know it.”
—Sylvia Wynter

We are hurting for very valid reasons.

Our labour is often abused and unappreciated. We are constantly watching for our backs ’cause most of us learned the hard way that no one is there for us in a world that is fundamentally anti-Black and patriarchal. Often, we’re forced to ignore parts of ourselves. On the one hand, we are often told to ignore the intersectional aspects of oppression faced by non-cis, non-men folks in this quest for Black liberation. On the other, we have mainstream (white) feminism, a pro-capitalist political viewpoint that erases specific problems faced by non-white women.

And neither is a viable solution for the freedom and liberation of those who are too marginal or too complicated to fit.

It’s exhausting, I know! But I also believe in the collective responsibility bestowed upon us as a link connecting ancestral struggles with the possibility of a better future.

“When we face pain in relationships our first response is often to sever bonds rather than to maintain commitment.”
— bell hooks

We are all problematic, let’s start there.

We keep sustaining a system of inherited violence against Black feminine bodies and non-binary folks. We embraced the logic of pedestaling traditional Black masculinity and that has to stop. We need to take a hard look at ourselves and the roles we play to further the misogynistic hold on our narratives, and we should acknowledge that we’re participating in our own demise whenever we deny the humanity of the queer and trans people among us.

Oppression is an intertwined phenomena that needs to be dismantled entirely.

“What woman here is so enamored of her own oppression that she cannot see her heel print upon another women’s face?” — Audre Lorde

Until us sisters decide to stand in unison and let go of respectability politics and the deadly internalized misogyny that some of us are still holding on to, we will never be safe. And until we heal our relationship with our own bodies we won’t be able to move any further.

How do we expect to shield our siblings from harms we often perpetuate?

As Black femmes, we were never programmed to see the full autonomy and control of our bodies. We weren’t taught by the world to have healthy boundaries or to value our own physical vessel as we navigate this realm. Fannie Lou Hamer sums this up perfectly when she said “A black woman’s body was never hers alone.”

So, we grow up poisoned and willing to regularly put others before us. We were taught to fear the impact of rejection on other’s spirits without giving much thought to our own well-being. It’s using this conditioning, a conditioning we sometimes propagate, that predatory individuals are able to take advantage of Black girls and all Black children constantly.

“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.”
— Audre Lorde

I’m trying to deconstruct my own toxicity when it comes to criticizing views I strongly disagree with. I know the extent of the damage that was inflicted on our psyches and how growing out of it requires patience and compassion above all.

There’s a need to uproot ableist language, classicism and internalized misogyny from our narratives, which is a daily process of mindfulness and accountability. It’s a grey area where the boundaries can easily get blurred too! For if we aren’t careful we might be swallowed into the mess of someone else’s battles and unpacking process. To avoid this, we must trust our gut feelings and avoid extending labor to those who are not yet willing to listen our our experiences as Black femmes.

Balance between compassionate activism and self-care is a tricky goal to maintain when we’re still responsible for the liberation of our people.

Traumas are woven into the fabric of Blackness; it’s impossible to find a Black person who hasn’t had traumatic experiences. This is why I try my best to give myself and others room to process their scars and come to their own conclusions without demanding perfectly packaged responses or ways to channel our anger because I know such feelings will pass. Despite our initial resistance, I know we can arrive at the point of letting go of the pain and having a more clear objective to liberate the collective.

“i don’t want to spend my life reacting to other people’s cycles, their mistakes, lies, or ignorant projections, or the domination cycles of those who measure their humanity in false supremacy. those things will continue. but what we pay attention to grows. so i pay attention to the places we as a species are learning, changing, getting free, experiencing pleasure and joy.”
— Adrienne Maree Brown

This post in partnership with RaceBaitR.com

*Ahlam Ali a freelance writer and an introvert nomad who finds peace in books. Writing is the only therapy she needs.


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