I always get the question, “Why do you call yourself an afrofeminist?” to which I usually answer, “I don’t really… I just am.” And then the annoyed inquirer probes further, “Well what is it? What is afrofeminism?” And that’s the problem I’ve always had with western feminism — there’s too much emphasis on the what — the exhausting jargon-ridden definitions, and the why — the constant reiterations of problems, including whose fault it is, and not nearly enough on the how.
I was never indoctrinated into western feminism via thick gender studies textbooks or “critical readings” — and I prefer it that way. My ideals — which can certainly be described as feminist, progressive, radical etc. — come from my mother’s wisdom, solidarity with African women, including women of the Global South and other self-identified women of color, my personal values, and common sense. For me, the personal just isn’t political; the political should be personalized.
Yet, I’m often challenged by many self-identified feminists, gender studies academics etc., who dismiss my perspective on the claim that “formal education is better than no education.” But there’s something to be said when no “formal” (i.e. western, via written text) education in said subject equals “no introduction” in people’s minds.
I’m pretty sure this association is also part of the reason I’ve experienced many individuals in feminist circles prioritizing their “readings” over my life experiences — insisting that I read texts written by white and/or American women to gain more “perspective” or a “deeper understanding” of the “feminist framework” (i.e. an intellectualized framework for our shared experiences); why many insist theory comes before practicum when it’s often the reverse for marginalized communities who don’t have the luxury to sit around discussing the fact that they are marginalized.
I don’t refute the value of formal indoctrination in any subject — there is of course due merit in this approach — but I challenge indoctrination that has a history of failing to consider the diverse channels of education (oral histories, story-telling, relationships, cultural traditions etc), who is doing the educating (i.e. white women, american people vs. everyone else), and from within what context (i.e. US-based vs. immigrant and diaspora perspectives).
I don’t particularly enjoy speaking about my experiences in sound bites. So, when asked to define afrofeminism, I refuse. I do, however, continuously share my guiding afrofeminist principles (for now, follow the hashtags #afrifem, #afrofeminism & #afrofeminism2012 on twitter). Hence, the what should be way less important than who I am and how I live my life as an African person who does believe in the power of a more globally-minded feminism to positively impact the world, if applied (not just debated and orated about).
So, I invite you into my home. I may not give you books, but I will tell you stories. I will share with you my history and my aspirations for the future — for myself, for my community, and for the world we share together. I will repeatedly make declarative statements that, together, paint a picture of my character. You will learn how it is that I’ve come to the set of principles (not rules) that guide me, and how it is I intend to share them; certainly, not just via heavy texts, or conferences, but through personal manifestos, and the relationships I have with people…. people like you.
Through me, and my work, you will learn how afrofeminism has shaped and continues to shape me — inform my actions, and perhaps, you will adopt some of this for yourself. But if you’re fixated on the what — if you won’t do the work to experience me, get to know who I am — then you’ve already missed the point, and what I have to offer you will be less than satisfying. Hopefully, that won’t be the case.