If I wasn’t 100 percent at home with the label womanist, I wouldn’t apply it to my blackness. Labels… ugh. I only use them to define what already exists within me, not to gain faux accolades or activate unneeded power plays for prestige. I'll use them to perhaps find my kin folk, similar thinkers, my tribe. In any case, I'm not a slave to any label, and if you observe me decidedly using one, it's solely for explaining my personal narrative…nothing more, nothing less.
You see, I was missing something from mainstream feminism for so long, and I really wanted to ignore that emptiness…but it was gnawing at me. Mainstream feminism as it stands today is steeped in white-washed tall tales of inclusion of all women, whilst categorically ignoring every issue that white privilege is lucky to allude. Revisionist history puts white women as the originators and great fighters for all of us. White Feminism is anti-patriarchal, yet dead set on replicating the same type of hierarchy it uses in all women spaces that both oppresses and silences black women and other women of color.
But it is black women who have also set the example for many white suffragettes and modern day feminists long before these white suffragette movements thought about forming and pushing away everything in order for their rights to manifest. Black Women were, by instinct and forced obligation, showcasing the possibility of pushing through anything and creating greatness out of nothing to white women.
Many white women learned strength from watching black women be everything to everyone in the midst of harsh systematic racist oppression. An oppression that gave privilege to their whiteness, positioning them as benefactors and dependents; thereby protectors of the continuance of white supremacy at large.
White suffragists' desire for voting rights and equal treatment to white men led them to grossly use their status as white to debase and ignore black women desiring to stand in solidarity with them, black women who were working toward not only suffrage but also freedom from racism and sexism. Yes, black suffragists were treated with vicious racism and cast aside by middle-class white suffragettes; many of whom were ironically self-proclaimed abolitionists.
See, a good number of white people were against slavery, but they didn't want black people to be equal to them or black men to get to vote before white women; this caused their real feelings about black people to be laid bare…that’s the real tea! This same bigoted spirit is abounding amongst too many of their descendants, white feminists who are always spinning these blatant lies that say, “we’re all in this together.”
“The white men, reinforced by the educated white women, could ‘snow under’ the Negro vote in every State, and the white race would maintain its supremacy without corrupting or intimidating the Negroes. - Laura Clay (Founder of Kentucky’s First Suffragette Movement)
When white feminists call out the names of their racist suffragette ancestors with glee, names such as Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Laura Clay, demanding that my beautiful black sisters and I pour out their bottles of white tears as libation with them, I become enraged and don't want any parts of the charade. White women of the past and present, too many in fact, are continually and unapologetically denying the truths of black women and other women of color and the reality of our issues that have many intersections. Oppressive systematic racism creates hierarchy; not all women are equally oppressed, and white women have the most privilege of all. For white feminists, men are the big nemesis… for a Black Woman like me, white men and women are equally oppressive… Then add in my gender, my nonmainstream spirituality, my not so clear cut fluid or stationary sexual nature… It’s a lot!
Oppressive systematic racism creates hierarchy; not all women are equally oppressed, and white women have the most privilege of all. For white feminists, men are the big nemesis. For a black woman like me, white men and women are often equally oppressive. Then add in my gender, my nonmainstream spirituality, my not-so-clear-cut fluid or stationary sexual nature… it’s a lot!
There is a pressure in feminist circles to make black women water down and sometimes completely drown out our BLACKNESS in order to be a part of their mirage and to prove we believe that women's rights are important, and our denial of our truths, and the overuse of our ingenuity, acceptable sacrifice for the good of ALL women. We’re all equally oppressed, right? Wrong.
I used to think that I could just call myself a black feminist to carve out intentional and thoughtful space in these heavily European-centered mainstream feminist movements. It's a self-determination that many amazing black women have made whilst affecting so much change and legacy. It seems white feminists have a way of dwindling the greatness of those undeniable giants to fit their feats in a light that downcasts their blackness and to translate the truths and power of great black women feminists.
Black feminist theory is a part of me… My womanism overlaps with it in so many ways, though I see distinctions. I love and respect black feminism, but that title doesn’t seem to be a sure fit for me. Something is still missing. Yet and still, I need accuracy. If I have to explain myself in terminology, I want it to be as close to my inward reality as possible.
It was/is the unapologetic disregard of women of color in feminist spaces that first alerted my soul that my love couldn’t be steady within the illusionary walls of feminism. Those spaces were steeped in erasure of people like me, A black woman who has systematic racist oppression to be concerned about every moment of every day. This is a reality for me and my entire community: women, men, teens, children, feminine, masculine, non-identifying, combination energies, straight, fluid, LGBTQIA, no label, old, young, middle-aged, ageless; all of us dipped in this beautiful blacknes, our intersections included.
I become alive in the words of Alice Walker, who coined the term womanism and defined it extensively as being Womanish. In short, Alice Walker beautifully describes a woman-centered sphere of choice and rights, where black women reject patriarchy and center our issues within the framework of the entire black community. It’s a state of woman-centered living that is not steeped in European framework because we have our own. Our narrative, our needs and our desires have a safe haven and sacred tabernacle in womanism.
Womanism has a warmth and healing feel to it because it promotes healing of the entire African Diaspora and continent. Women’s issues, dismantling patriarchy, having women and our unparalleled power at the center of the entire community whilst balancing, and in many cases initiating, our rightful place as equal with men — all of this is central in womanism. More than just an internal heart position, but a community heartbeat that puts us all in position through the proper centering of she/her.
When I first became aware of Alice Walker's definition of womanism, I exhaled. I loved it deeply. Womanism was and still is more like me. It's a label that properly defines my intrinsic nature, beautifully complimenting my understanding of having originality running through my veins. It connected me to a source and our shared truths as nuanced African people(s) — our triumphs, and our woes.
As a freedom fighter, creative, and healer, a person who sees themselves not only as interconnected with other black women and our issues, but with our entire community as well. Womanist is me, I am a womanist. Womanism is a way of life, an inclination from spirit that understands that no one will take care of us and chart our way properly but us. It requires me to respond and dedicate myself to making sure more of that process happens in my lifetime. That’s womanish. That’s exactly what it is.
There have been several great Black Women who have added critical theory to what womanism is, such as the great Lenora Hudson-Weems (USA) or Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi (Nigeria), both adding imperative dimensions and levels of understanding, colors and dimensions. I am so grateful for these elder-warrioresses, I honor their breaths. However, I don't agree with all they have concluded on every aspect of their similar, yet distinct interpretations of womanism.
For example, Dr. Weems seems to feel that we, as womanists, must put our blackness before our womanhood. I disagree on this point because my people need me to be a whole black woman. My womanhood will heal my people and work to dismantle patriarchy in me and my community. My blackness cannot be separated from my feminine because both are part of my divinity; therefore, it is out of place to even suggest I honor one above the other. They are one with me.
What I love about Dr. Weems and Chikwenye Ogunyemi’s womanist theories, is the emphasis they put on the interconnected global African aspect and the cooperative economics and responsibility needed amongst us. I often say that white supremacy is interconnected globally, therefore, our unification as African People could better dismantle this oppressive system in lasting ways. womanism, or Africana womanism in their specific cases, really emphasizes casting off selfishness through seeing yourself as each other. To me, womanism is the bolder shade of black feminism. As Alice Walker said: “Womanism is to feminism, as purple is to lavender.”
So, how does womanism, which seems more exclusive than black feminism, help the pulse of the world? Don’t we want all people to have freedom and be equal? Well, I htink black people are the original drum cadence, and oppression has thrown our rhythm off. Everyone in the world relies on hearing our cadence to sync theirs to ours, because their cadence has our basic structure. The whole world mimics what we do, even though it isn’t always at the right intervals, speed or timbre. The more we can break free of the oppression placed upon us and that now is embedded in our DNA, the more the entire vibration of the planet will synch and become more steady. Have you ever heard the phrase “Take care of home first?” Well that is the heartbeat of the womanist… A womanist wants harmony and healing for their people, and realizes that aiding in that happening means good things for the entire planet.
Patriarchy, sexism and every other oppressive behavior that Black Women face from Black Men, must be dismantled in order for us to thrive together. Womanism, in my mind's eye, takes the stance of re-building our culture holistically, which includes the dismantling of patriarchy. It is not something we can wait to correct "when racism ends.” No, we must correct it now and every time it shows up until we can get closer to our original and untampered cadence. We must do all of this labor of love in the mindset of a community. I want to be the best woman I can be as I glow in this blackness: free, open, holy, profane, giving, strong, vulnerable; not just for me, but for my people as well.
I understand that those who choose to label themselves as black feminists; this is very important to them, just as womanist is my accurate descriptor; thereby very important to me. I appreciate those who identify as black feminists because they are purposely setting up the stones of remembrance in mainstream feminist spaces.
White women learned strength from watching black women carry on, take care of them, work on their plantations and nurse their children. Black women are their womanist and feminist sheroes, whether they want to admit it or not. So sis, you who identify as black feminists, I support and love you! If you are propelling our people forward and toward freedom, then that is all that matters! We all have to work according to what has been placed in us, and we all have a job/calling to do on this side of life. Words and labels? Ugh. What matters most is the truth, heart, intention and how we act on all three. Define yourself as you will, but as for me…
I am a womanist.
ORIT is a Lover of G-D / Freedom Fighter/Author/ Poet/ Wordsmith/ Healer/ Performing Artist (Singer-Actress-Dancer) / Sarcasm Connoisseur/ Humor Enthusiast/ among many other things. She is uniquely of Pan-African (African-American and Ethiopian Jewish ) descent, and currently resides outside of Columbus, Ohio. ORIT has a passion for unfiltered truth, and helping people in real ways.