Browse Category: Press and Mentions

This Is What an African Feminist Looks Like

The following interview was originally published on July 13, 2012 at Ms. Magazine via the Femisphere, a profile interview series about feminists in the blogsphere curated by Avital Norman Nathman (@mamafesto). The series featured three Nigerian feminists, prompting my reflection on “internet lists” via the post, “What Does an African Feminist Look Like?” (and even a head-nod from Melissa Harris-Perry!). I’m reposting it on here because, apparently, some of my readers missed the original interview, and had trouble finding it on the Ms. Magazine site. Enjoy.  

The Femisphere: African Feminist Bloggers

Spectra High Res

Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer and women’s rights activist, and the voice behind Spectra Speaks, which publishes news, opinions and personal stories about gender, media and diversity as they pertain to Africa and the Diaspora. She is also founder and executive editor of Queer Women of Color Media Wire, a media advocacy and publishing organization that amplifies the voices of lesbian, bisexual, queer and/or transgender women of color, diaspora and other racial/ethnic minorities around the world.

Located: Somewhere in southern Africa Website: www.spectraspeaks.com
Twitter: @spectraspeaks
Blog Post Pride: Saying No to Saviorism and Celebrating Africa’s Resistance“Reflections from a Woman of Color on the War on Women: My Sisters-in-Arms, We Are NOT United”

What topics do you find you write about most frequently?

My writing isn’t so much about the topics I write about as it is how I write about them. There are the usual suspects–women, gender, LGBT and other identity issues–filtered through an international lens due to my Nigerian heritage and media advocacy and development work in Africa. But I also take the approach of highlighting solutions versus contributing to the constant re-articulation of problems I find over-saturates the feminist blogosphere. I pride myself on thinking forward, and so I push myself to write from a place of hope and positivity. I believe that personal relationships, not just rhetoric, are the building blocks of progress, and that winning hearts–not just arguments–are what bring about real change. My Afrofeminist principles are a roadmap for navigating the spaces between us as human beings, towards deeper, more empathic connections. My mantra is “Love is My Revolution”.

How has Afrofeminism informed what you write/focus on?

Afrofeminism is how I move through the world; how I live, learn and evolve. Afrofeminism is my personal compass, a way for me to stay centered as I navigate life as an idealist using a constellation of frameworks–feminism, social justice, spirituality and others. Afrofeminism guides every step I take forward, as it is grounded in my multi-layered, trans-national identity and personal experiences. For instance, as an African woman, my feminism manifests as an unapologetic focus on the empowerment of other African women and the diaspora. As the executive editor of Queer Women of Color Media Wire (QWOC Media Wire), I’m intentional about publishing content that portrays the diversity of voices and experiences of the diaspora from all over the world, not just western countries.

Have you found that blogging/Twitter/the Internet in general helps the reach/impact of African feminists, and if so, in what ways (or why not)?

Absolutely. I once thought I was the only queer Nigerian on the web. I tweeted that one day, only to have it retweeted by at least five other queer Nigerians. And with that, we each found community. The same has been true for finding other African feminists. I’d felt excluded from mainstream feminist spaces as a woman of color in the United States (and furthermore as an African immigrant, even within women of color feminist spaces). Writing about African women’s issues has exposed me to an entire network of inspiring African women writers, activists and feminists online.

Earlier on this year, a group of us decided to start using the hashtag #afrifem to organize conversations around African feminist issues on Twitter. I now follow it religiously to stay up to date on what my sisters are doing in different parts of the world and, of course, engage in challenging, important conversations with other African feminists. Yet, the benefits of this haven’t just been experienced virtually; using online tools has also made it possible to connect with African feminists offline, too. Earlier this year, for instance, online relationships directly resulted in an invitation from one of my tweets to participate as a panelist at a development conference in Cape Town, South Africa, where I met dozens more African feminists–including many of the women I’d already been chatting with daily for months, and LGBT African activists, some of whom I’m working with to host storytelling workshops for African women this [year].

What pitfalls/challenges have you experienced as an African feminist?

The experience of merging my online and offline African feminist network has been incredibly affirming of the power of using online tools to build community. Yet, it is also important to acknowledge that there are many African women who do not have access to the Web, and thus are left out of many important conversations. Where possible, I use my privilege as a writer to highlight work being done by people who are unable to do so themselves, but I’ve on occasion been faced with the question about whether or not something I’ve written is good advocacy or appropriation. For now, my rule of thumb as a media activist is ‘highlight, don’t re-tell,’ but this gray area remain challenging to navigate.

One other challenge has been far less potent than I imagined it would be, but is still worth highlighting, as it happens in almost every cultural context. My queer identity has at times called my ‘Africanness’ into question. And in instances when it hasn’t, LGBT African issues are often sidelined, treated as fringe or tangential. This has been frustrating, as I don’t want to see the African women’s movement repeat the same mistakes as the women’s movement in the U.S.–leading with ‘umbrella unity’ instead of an intentional approach to diversity.

How do you ensure that your voice/opinion/story is heard within Western/American feminism?

Frankly, ensuring my voice is heard within Western/American feminist spaces isn’t something I prioritize in my work; not because engaging people across cultures isn’t important (it is), but because constantly responding to what western feminism is or isn’t (doing) constricts my voice to being reactive (i.e., delivering constant criticism). I believe my voice as an African woman is more powerful when it proactively works alongside other African voices to tell our own stories, set our own agenda and come up with solutions for ourselves. As I’ve lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, however, I do engage with western feminists; building bridges is necessary since we’re all working towards similar goals. To this end, by writing and producing media as an African feminist, I not only do my part towards the achievement of those goals, but hold western feminists and media accountable to my perspective and highlight the work of other African woman and [people of the] Diaspora.

What does feminism look like to you from within your own cultural context? Does your spirituality inform your feminism (or other framework for navigating the world) as mine does?

My BET.com Interview about LGBT Africa and the Media: “Being Gay in Africa Is Neither Good Nor Bad”

Great news! I was recently interviewed by BET.com about my work as an LGBT activist. The piece highlighted my new media volunteer project, which has been training African women and LGBTI organizations to use new media to tell their own stories. #win

My favorite part of the interview has got to be the title, African Gay Rights Activist Rewrites the Story of a Struggle. 

Because I’ve chosen to lend my talents as a wordsmith to social justice and philanthropy, and am often very immersed in discussing (and being recognized for) the issues I’m writing about, even I sometimes forget what is that I’m actually doing i.e. writing to change the world, and encouraging others to do the same.

Above anything else, I’m a writer and a storyteller. So, even though the title of the interview felt a tad grandiose (and made me do a double take: “Whoa! Is that me??”), I really am honored that BET.com decided to recognize my efforts and profile me in such a generous way.

I must admit, however, that the opening line from the article gave me pause: “Believe it or not, it’s good to be gay in Africa.” 

I should probably point out that the aim of my work isn’t just to see more “positive” news about LGBTI African in mainstream media; I believe that “Being gay in Africa is bad” and “Being gay in Africa is good” are both overly simplistic, reductive narratives we should avoid in mass scale. Instead of “positive” stories, I want real stories, authentic, complex stories. Thus, even though it was refreshing to see a positive slant to LGBTI Africa coverage, I wouldn’t be enthused if LGBTI Africa was constantly depicted wearing a smiley face.

Now, with so much sensationalism and victimization of LGBTI African people in the media, it’s understandable that a fervent call to the media to share more stories of resistance and empowerment could be taken as saying “all is good.” But let’s be clear: all is not good. While the current narrative (i.e. “Being gay in Africa is bad”) reinforces stigma within communities and chips away at the already dwindling hope of young queer Africans living on the continent, the reverse could do just as much (if not more) harm.

For instance, the BET.com article highlighted a few of the organizations I’ve worked with who are leading change; Iranti.org, a media advocacy organization based in South Africa, and WHER, a community-building organization for queer Nigerian women, to name a few. Many of these organizations would not be able to operate in the absence of international support; LGBTI Africans are barely permitted to exist in certain countries, let alone organize.

What if funding for LGBTI organizations like SMUG of Uganda and TIER Nigeria were left at the mercy of their homophobic governments? How would activists such as Zanele Muholi, continue to receive support from individuals overseas for her work photographing south African black lesbians in the townships if the story of LGBTI Africa was presented as “all good”?

Last I checked, all is not good. But my point is that all is not bad, either; we need complexity, we need balance.

Check out an excerpt from the interview here: 

With the spread of technology and social media, today’s African LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) communities have greater access to resources and their greatest asset to speak of: each other.

However, given the mainstream news coverage of Africa’s many LGBTI communities that exploits the narrative of a sad, shameful Africa, it’s hard to imagine that anything other than repression and brutal violence is happening. Nigerian LGBTI activist Spectra says that although Africa has its issues, gay rights activists on the continent are seeing success in their movement for equality.

“We’re constantly hearing about people being murdered, constantly hearing about women being raped,” Spectra told BET.com. “It’s the very, very reductive, very simplistic narrative, and what’s missing is everything else quite honestly.”

Final Thoughts: The more stories we have in the media, the more likelihood we’ll see the range of experiences needed to reflect what is wholly true about LGBTI Africans; that our experiences are neither good, nor bad, that we face challenges from our governments and from each other, that there is pain and suffering, healing and joy in being queer and African, in being human; no single “positive” or “negative” story is capable of conveying our humanity.

My story is one of many, just as the BET.com article is one of many that contributes to LGBTI Africa’s depiction in the big picture. There’s still more work to be done. Let’s get “write” to it. ;)

Relevant Links on My Blog:

Africans for Africa: Press Coverage of GlobalGiving Social Media and Online Fundraising Workshop in Johannesburg

I just received a scanned image of an article that was printed in a local Johannesburg paper about my Social Media and Online Fundraising training for African NGOs!

In case you didn’t know, GlobalGiving is an online fundraising platform that brings donors and non-profits together in an online marketplace i.e. they connect the people who are leading innovative social impact projects to the people who would like to donate money to support them.

They have partner non-profits all over the world, including about over a hundred in Southern Africa, who have been helping me reach out to other NGOs who were interested in learning more about social media and online fundraising. It’s been a great opportunity to volunteer for an amazing foundation in an area I’m so passionate about (new media for social impact) — and get encouraging feedback in return.

Since I myself raised over $15,000 in 30 days to fund this project, I’ve been able to use myself as a case study, which I feel has really resonated (and been helpful) for my participants; I have a whole bag of personal anecdotes, lessons, tips, tricks, and strategies inspired by a real life successful case study to pull from. Thank you all so much for that — your support of my campaign has really contributed to my success here.

Here’s what some attendees had to say about the Johannesburg Social Media & Online Fundraising workshop:

“The workshop was wonderfully presented, fresh, exciting and to the point! Well rounded presentation to give a kick-start to online funding and using social media.” — Keep the Dream

“I found the group discussions and advice from Spectra resulting from the discussion feedback most useful.” — Cresset House

“The workshop gave insight and opened our minds to the endless possibilities of on-line fundraising! I left excited and somewhat anxious to get moving on the Social networks!” — Joburg Child Welfare

The feedback I’ve received from workshop participants in three cities — Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, has been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t have imagined being any more satisfied with the way things went in South Africa. This press coverage from a local community paper is more icing on the cake!

Here’s the full article, transcribed below:

Various charities in and around Johannesburg will add impetus to their fundraising drive if Spectra has anything to do with it. Representatives of different charities gathered at Craighall Park’s Reea Foundation for Global Giving’s online fundraising and social media workshop led by Asala.

“The most important hing to teach NGO’s about social media is that online work is not that different ofoffline relationship-building,” Asala told representatives from various organizations. These included Horses Helping People, Khulumani support Group, Cotlands, Keep the Dream, Leseding Community Development Projects, Youthworx Development Association, Cresset House, Cabsa, Dona’s Mates, and the Papillon Foundation.

“I point out tools available to the organizations, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and e explore different steps they can take to raise awareness, engage with people online, and solicit donations.”

According to Asala, charitable donations received through social media increased by 29% last year; an impressive figure considering the funding crisis currently experienced by charities around the world.

“While online giving is growing, it does not replace offline fundraising. It’s an alternative source of funding, and relationships must be established and maintained. It might be digital technology you’re working with, but your’e still speaking to people,” said Asala.

According to the media-savvy Asala, the foundatino of the workshops is getting people to understand the value of social media as a business tool.

“I find people often don’t realize how much they actually know about social media or just how easy it is to use. Workshops like this often make people say, “I can do this,” she said.

Dtetails: www.globalgiving.org or www.spectraspeaks.com

I’m so grateful to the REEA Foundation for hosting the Johannesburg workshop (even supplying cake for the attendees!) and being all-round accommodating of this crazy activist’s on-the-fly / last minute arrangements due to a constantly changing itinerary. It was a really fun day, a wonderful trip, and an encouraging kick-off to my trip.

Next up: Namibia and Bostwana!

Melissa Harris Perry, Host of MSNBC Show, Digs My Principles of Afrofeminism

Melissa Harris Perry (who hosts her own NBC show) says my interview at Ms. Magazine, during which I talk about my Principles of Afrofeminism, is now one of her favorite reads. Okay, I can die now.

 

Note: This interview was published on Ms. Magazine’s via The Femisphere Series by Avital Norman Nathman (@TheMamaFesto). The latest installment focused on profiling African Feminists in the blogsphere. I was one of three, so I’m honored that MHP picked my interview to share.

When I decided to concept my own personal framework, afrofeminism (not to be confused with a contraction for African Feminism, because neither feminism, social justice, spirituality etc — all frameworks I pull from — have ever been enough for me), I secretly thought it was silly and that no one would get it.

Thus, to have MHP — a reputable, brilliant, woman of color feminist — affirm my ideas, including that Love as a Revolution is meaningful, is absolutely everything.

A little bit about her — and why I’m honored that she shared my interview with nearly 100,000 Twitter followers:

Melissa Harris Perry is the host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry” (which airs on Saturdays and Sundays from 10AM to noon ET). In addition to hosting her own show on MSNBC she provides expert commentary on U.S. elections, racial issues, religious questions and gender concerns for Politics Nation with Reverend Al Sharpton, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and other MSNBC shows.

She is a regular commentator on Keeping it Real Radio with Reverend Al Sharpton and for many print and radio sources in the U.S. and abroad. Her new book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (Yale 2011), argues that persistent harmful stereotypes-invisible to many but painfully familiar to black women-profoundly shape black women’s politics, contribute to policies that treat them unfairly, and make it difficult for black women to assert their rights in the political arena.

Her academic research is inspired by a desire to investigate the challenges facing contemporary black Americans and to better understand the multiple, creative ways that African Americans respond to these challenges. Her work is published in scholarly journals and edited volumes and her interests include the study of African American political thought, black religious ideas and practice, and social and clinical psychology.

Thank you, Melissa Harris Perry! I so wanna be like you when I grow up!

Check it out my interview on Ms. Magazine if you haven’t already; I share the core concepts behind Afrofeminism, including Love and personal relationships as a framework for change.

You can also read about my thoughts on Ms. Magazine’s Femisphere series: What Does an African Feminist Look Like?

This Is What a Lesbian Looks Like: My CURVE Magazine Debut

Thoughts on CURVE MAGAZINE INTERVIEW (FEBRUARY 2010)

I was recently interviewed for Curve Magazine’s “This Is What A Lesbian Looks Like” monthly feature. It’s taken so long to feel whole and integrated as a trans-national, multi- cultured and layered individual; Nigerian, African, queer, afrofeminist, nerdy etc. It feels awesome in so many ways, and yet, so surreal. I haven’t picked up a copy yet and I keep thinking that when I do, and I flip through the pages, I won’t be there.

Invisibility, as much as it enrages and motivates me to speak out and up for others, had become comforting it seems. Safe. But I haven’t been invisible at all, I’m realizing. I’ve simply been in denial. Perhaps as a way of dealing with my fear.

But today, I reflect on the pride I have for myself for pushing through fear and remaining visible to others who are like me (in so many different ways), in order to provide them with hope, love, and affirmation. I have mixed feelings about my face being all over the country right now (yikes), and wondering who could be reading this, my parent’s friends, my friends, old classmates, etc? It may sound funny, but it feels like I’m having my first “coming out” experience. Isn’t that crazy?

(Yeah, let’s pretend that I don’t own a blog that’s read both nationally and internationally, or that I haven’t founded an organization with regional reach… perhaps I have been for the past years.)

I shared this tearsheet on my Facebook wall and one of my Nigerian queer friends commented:

Congratulations! I want a copy of that issue. Shoot, I may show it to my own parents some day. “See mom and dad. I am not the only one, there are others!”

I’m gonna read this anytime I feel myself shrinking because this will remind me that every little bit I do counts for something.

Many heartfelt thanks to Rachel Shatto from Curve, for handling this warrior woman with care and for an article I can be proud to send to my own parents. For someone whose work has often been mishandled by journalists and photographers alike, I can’t express how appreciate I am of her writing (and sensitivity in handling this piece). You rock, Rachel. Thank you so much.

Explain what “iQWOC” means and why you chose to identify that way.

iQWOC means Immigrant/International Queer Woman of Color. Funny enough, after a few years of organizing around LGBT/women’s issues, specifically within the women of color community, I began to feel invisible at my own events. In a room full of people of color, I felt alone because I couldn’t identify any other Africans, immigrants, or people who were originally from a different country. I remembered all of a sudden that “woman of color” had been adopted by me as an identity label only after I realized I was queer. But I’d never in my life identified as a person of color until I came to the United States for school when I was 17 and people started to refer to me that way. For the years I spent in school here, I was part of the African students club, all my friends were from countries around the world… we discussed our national identities more so than our racial ones. But beyond the politics of ‘labels’, I realized that my perspective on a lot of issues was different from the larger group’s because I wasn’t American. I added the “i” to the “QWOC” label to remind others to acknowledge a fourth part to my identity.

How does your Nigerian roots inform your politics?
I recently got accepted to the Emerge Program, which trains democratic women to run for office. That’s a long way from the political apathy I’d come to feel after growing up under a corrupt military government. Also, as I’m from a different country, immigration is an issue that’s very personal, and not just from a policy/legal standpoint; I care very much about the experience of whole or fragmented families coming to a new country to create a life, while navigating issues of race, cultural and language barriers, preserving oral histories etc. My Nigerian/international background has definitely affected the way I organize QWOC+ Boston for sure. You’ll always be able to find some international or global component to our programming.

Who is Spectra? How is she different from your regular persona?

Haha. Spectra is a warrior woman, a revolutionary, who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks as long as they think at all. She’s constantly makes friends of enemies and enemies of allies because she has no affiliation with anyone but herself, and will always speak the truth. She believes that her voice is powerful, really powerful, and that we can all harness our collective power if we dare to speak up for ourselves. My regular persona on the other hand is an introverted reader of comic books who would rather live on a ranch with lots of animals. She thinks Spectra needs to relax; the revolution will be there tomorrow.

Do you have a life philosophy?
Too many. But I’m often motivated by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous quote, “Well-behaved women have rarely ever made history.”


Plugin from the creators ofBrindes Personalizados :: More at PlulzWordpress Plugins