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Sun Dec 11 11:55:20 SAST 2016

The Big Read: Tyranny of the patriarchs

Panashe Chigumadzi | 2016-01-28 00:23:24.0
Panashe Chigumadzi is the 2015 Ruth First Fellow.
Image by: Panashe Chigumadzi via Twitter

'Stop this thing, you are trying to divide us."

They were angry words, spoken in the low, threatening voices of our male student counterparts. They were feeling frustrated that, in the middle of what black students had begun to refer to as a "revolution", a group of black women had come together to disrupt the culture of patriarchy and misogyny that was undermining women student leaders and threatening the safety of women protesters.

What exactly was "this thing"? It was the feminism that had led to the formation of #MbokodoLead, a response by black women members of the Wits Fees Must Fall movement to the patriarchy that characterised it. "This thing" was our feminism, which recognised the intersections between our blackness and our gender.

The accusation that black women are divisive is a familiar one and often leads black patriarchs to demand to know whether we are "black or women first?"

Just this week, I had a young black man demand the answer from me on Twitter and I answered, "I'm a black woman, thanks." Predictably, he responded angrily and proceeded to tell me that I should "prioritise" the black struggle.

Similarly, feminist writer and activist Sisonke Msimang was asked by Mzwanele Manyi (on Twitter) if she was black or a woman, after her endorsement of an article by Eusebius McKaiser on the issue of anti-racist activists' blindness to patriarchy.

Not too long ago I would have answered without missing a beat: "I am black first".

Seek ye first the liberation of blacks (men) and all else shall follow, the logic goes. One struggle at a time.

This misguided logic ignores the words of queer Afro-Caribbean scholar and activist Audre Lorde: "There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives."

We are not black on most days, women on other days, lesbian on public holidays and transgender in leap years. We are all of these things at the same time.

The trouble was that I, like many others, had not accounted for the experiences of black women across aspects such as class, sexuality and religion. Having had knowledge only of Steve Biko's black consciousness, and never having heard of the scholarship of black and African feminists such as Oyeronke Oyewumi, Ifi Amadiume, Angela Davis, Pumla Gqola and Zine Magubane, I agreed with the black patriarchs.

The kind of anger displayed by black-consciousness patriarchs when black feminists insist that they are black women and not just "black first" is similar to the anger displayed by white women when black feminists insist that they are not just "women first".

But here comes the snag. Black women can remove themselves relatively easily from the often wilfully ignorant and oppressive politics of white feminists, who ask that they "stop dividing us with race", but it has always been more difficult to remove ourselves from the often wilfully ignorant and oppressive politics of black-consciousness patriarchs, who ask that black women "stop dividing us with gender".

Why? Well, black men, as our fathers, brothers and sons, often share the same beds, houses, buses, taxis and streets with us.

Black-consciousness patriarchs knew this and so ignored the cries of black women. But it seems this is no longer a reliable crutch. There is a new militancy among black women.

A couple of weeks ago, the black women of UCT's Rhodes Must Fall movement grew tired of the violent misogyny and patriarchy in their nominally intersectional movement and literally kicked out black men, declaring, "The revolution will be black-led and intersectional, or it will be bullshit"; and, "This revolution is led by black queer women."

Many of the patriarchs were quite shaken and angry at the steps taken by the women, whom they labelled "ideologically confused", "opportunistic" and - surprise, surprise - "divisive".

Black patriarchs, it is quite simple. If you don't want us to divide black people with our feminism, don't divide us with your patriarchy.

I have wondered aloud why this solution isn't clear to the frustrated black patriarchs. Over time, however, the answer to that question has become dangerously clear.

To black patriarchs, black women are just a source of labour in the struggle of black men to attain equal status with white men.

It seems that, to black patriarchs, black women and our struggles do not exist. We are just collateral damage.

Following the lead of the Rhodes Must Fall women, black women are saying, "No more!"

To borrow the title of a seminal book by feminists of colour (Gloria T Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith): "All of the women were white, all the men were black, but some of us were brave".

Black patriarchs, black feminists' actions will move faster than your consciousness.

This is the generation of the Nzinga Collective, the Feminist Stokvel, For Black Girls Only, The Trans Collective, MbokodoLead and many other formations of black feminists brave enough to demand an end to the divisiveness of patriarchy and to struggle for the liberation of all black people.

Black patriarchs, you will be left behind.

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