I have been, or rather I am always thinking about what my feminism means to me. How it informs my PhD research; how it shapes my interactions; how I frame my reactions to situations, what it means to be every day a feminist. I tried to explain this “every day a feminist” position in a tweet referencing someone who criticised what he termed as my “feminist tinted glasses”. My words were “I, unapologetically; view everything through a black African intersectional feminist lens.” I got a rather sarcastic tweet back saying “that must be nice.” I refrained from tweeting my gut response which would have been “its fucking exhausting, that’s what it is!” Instead I decided to do what I always do in situations such as this; I moved my conversation out of the space that he had tried to create. (Side note 1: My “every day a feminist” position has taught me that I can set the terms for my own conversations. My “every day a feminist” stance reminds me that my participation in “conversations at large” is not an invitation to individuals to engage me in one-to-one discussions of their choosing.) I decided to reflect on why my gut reaction was to call this every day a feminist life exhausting, on whether “nice” is a word I would use to describe this feminist life. Are the two mutually exclusive? Is either one a suitable descriptor? And of course I find myself back to the question I ask myself “what does my every day a feminist life mean for me?” But this time I’m also thinking about a different question, “What does my every day a feminist life mean for others?” (Side note 2: I am very deliberate here, I am not asking what this means to others because my every day a feminist life shall not be defined by other people.)
It sounds like a lot of words, black African intersectional feminist, but all these words, in this order are necessary. And, yes, I fully recognise how problematic and limiting labels can be, but this is one label I wear with pride. It lets others know that my every day a feminist life recognises that our social, biological, economic and geographical categorisations, such as race, gender, class, ability, and sexual orientation interact on multiple and simultaneous levels and contribute to systematic injustice and social inequality (Side note 3: Here I am relying on definitions provided by a long line of black intersectional feminists but mainly Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins). This label is a warning sign to others that my every day a feminist life resists any and all forms of social justice work that seeks only to address a single form of discrimination or oppression. (Side note 4: This is one example of how I would answer, “what does my every day a feminist life mean for others?”) Most importantly, because this is often overlooked, the label black African intersectional feminist is in direct response to all those who seek to label feminism as un-African. As my mother said, feminism “was not imposed on us [Africans] by the United Nations or by Western feminists, but has an independent history.” That is why this label is necessary – long as it is – it is an abbreviation for the theoretical underpinnings of my feminism and if black African intersectional feminist is the theory then every day a feminist is the practice.
I use the term “every day a feminist” to convey the unbroken and consistent existence of my feminism. (Side note 5: I purposely use “every day” as opposed to “everyday” because there is nothing commonplace or normal about the feminism I practice. Its very existence is to challenge the norm.) It is who I am, it is who I have always been, it is what I do, it is what I have always done, it is what I believe, it is what I have always believed. As Lola Okolosie says of her own identity as a black feminist, the naming happened after the fact. Perhaps this is why my initial reaction was to describe it as exhausting, because 30 something years, every day a feminist can get tiring but it is also something I enjoy. I particularly enjoy the interaction, love and support present within intersectional feminists spaces so yes maybe it is nice too. Both of these words, I guess are ok when it comes to describing this every day a feminist life, but I still think they are not enough. Between nice and exhausting (if this was a spectrum – which I don’t think it is) there is a whole lot more. “Nice” and “exhausting” speak to moments, instances that occur as part of my every day a feminist journey. In thinking of every day a feminist as a lived experience, that has a past, present and future I much prefer Nyaboe Makiya’s conceptualization of feminism as survival. The label is black African intersectional feminist, every day a feminist is how I live this label and I live every day a feminist as an act of survival.
I first came to live in England in 1982 and as a young child the racism I experienced was so unbearable that I would tell my parents I wanted to go back to Kenya because England didn’t like me. Then finally returning to Kenya in 1986 only for my father to be detained without trial by the Kenyan Government. Four years later being back in the UK, this time as asylum seekers/refugees because clearly Kenya didn’t like me either. And we all know how the UK feels about immigrants. This time we lived in a council estate and I attended a failing inner city London school. It was the early 1990s, surrounded by people who looked like me, but just like when I was in Kenya I learned that this was not enough. Other black students would “joke” that I came from Africa on an elephant. A careers advisor, a black woman, told me instead of working towards law school I should, at the end of my GCSEs, consider employment at a supermarket. My good grades be damned because apparently something about me rendered a university education unattainable. Finally attending university and realising that race was not a part of the law curriculum; gender however, was and I was encouraged to think about how the law (according to white feminists) affected me as a woman, because this was apparently the only identity that mattered. Later in life, working in development with white men who insist they cannot be racist because they are helping poor people in Africa. While out at a bar in Lancaster with my siblings a random white woman approaches us and without invitation, conversation or approval on our part takes out her camera and starts to take pictures of us. I confronted her, her response “I thought you were famous”. The list goes on. Initially I couldn’t articulate how I felt about these instances because I was too young. Later on, while at university I would stumble on the works of Collins, Crenshaw, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela P. Harris (to name a few) and it all made sense. I understood now why my parents had insisted I only play with black dolls and why my at home reading consisted of nothing but writers of colour. I thought that every time they had stood in and stood up for me was simply because they were my parents. I understood now that while it was of course motivated by parental love, it was a love rooted in black African intersectional feminism. How could I as an adult reject the practice that had helped me survive? I didn’t know any other way to navigate this world, I still don’t know any other way to do so and even if I did I wouldn’t choose any other way.
I am an every day a feminist because that is how I am able to survive, but black African intersectional feminism reminds me that it is not enough for me to survive; others have to survive too and my every day a feminist life calls on me to (1) support others so that they can survive and (2) make sure that I am not complicit in the un-survivability of others. This is perhaps the most important answer to the question “what does my every day a feminist life mean for others?” In recognizing the intersectionality of identities and systems of oppressions, I am also acknowledging that I can be both a victim and beneficiary of these power structures. Being an every day feminist means that I too, as a western living/educated, middle class heterosexual cis-gendered and able-bodied person, must check my privilege. My every day a feminist approach makes me suspicious of forms of feminism that are not intersectional. My every day feminist stance is unforgiving of human rights artivism that relies on misogyny. My every day feminist life has no patience for “wait your turn” anti-oppression work that deems the struggles of LGTBQI people as not important right now. White tears will never dampen my every day a feminist life. For those that come at me with “not all white people” and/or “not all men” my every day a feminist voice will yell back “Shut up your face!” And by now, people really should know the answer to the question “why is everything about patriarchy?” but for those who wonder, every day a feminist means every thing through feminism. Honestly though, I am too busy living this every day a feminist life to educate those who continually un-hear the voices of other intersectional feminists.
I was before; I am now and always will be a black African intersectional feminist. I live every day a feminist because the alternatives make my life and the lives of so many other people un-liveable. Every day a feminist, unapologetically.