Browse Tag: afrofeminism

Love and Afrofeminism: Introducing a New Blog Series and #AfroFemLove Twitter Chat

Dear Readers, I wanted to let you know that I’ll be hosting a brand new guest blog at Bitch Magazine on “Love and Afrofeminism”!

I welcome this break from discussing politics to exploring Love, a topic I’m very passionate about, and the foundation for all my work, so I hope you’ll support me by reading along. You can expect posts (and, as always, vibrant discussions) about the usual suspects: gender roles, queer romance, masculinity/femininity, racism, transphobia, and exoticism in dating preferences, feminism, sex, and BDSM, self-love and martyrdom in activism, and a whole lot more. Check out the full post below.

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For the past ten years, my work has focused on using media to facilitate conversations around important feminist issues: gender, sexism, racism, media, etc. So when the editors at Bitch invited me to guest blog this summer, I surprised even myself when I told them I wasn’t interested in writing about any of those things; instead, I wanted to write about Love.

What Is Afrofeminist Love?
The more I thought about the idea of blog series exploring Love and Relationships through an afrofeminist lens, the more it made sense. Here are a few reasons why…

I attempted suicide when I was in college; the culmination of my experiences with bullying, homophobia, sexual assault, racism, not to mention the absence of affirming images of “me” anywhere in the media, eroded my self worth and left me with no hope one night. Even though I recovered and resolved to persist for the sake of my friends and family, my failure to practice self-love kept me in a dark place of depression for years after.

It was ultimately the love I discovered for and from community—friends, fellow immigrants, queers, women of color, Africans, etc.—that saved my life; both the sense of belonging and accountability that came via my role as a community organizer (Founding Director of QWOC Media Wire) were enough to give me the hope and affirmation I needed to better tend to my mental health, and join the ranks of the people who fight every day to make the world a little bit better.

I fell in love, with the wrong woman, and ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship—an “on-again, off-again, perpetual invalidation of my needs, bad sex, and thoughts of purchasing a one-way ticket to an island I couldn’t pronounce” type of relationship, in which I was a survivor who was constantly portrayed as the abuser because of my more masculine gender presentation. Contrary to the overly simplistic narratives in the L Word, being in and out of love as a young queer woman of color, struggling to make ends meet and affirm my identity as masculine of center (without being pigeon-holed into having unsatisfying sex) didn’t turn out to be all that glamorous.

When I finally fell in love with the right woman, and dared to daydream of our queer, afrofeminist, Nigerian-Puertominican wedding, it dawned on me that hate crimes against gender non-conforming people of color, traditionalist anti-gay legislation in African countries, and white-male-led campaigns for equal marriage, weren’t just issues, but very real circumstances in my life; it occurred to me that my political perspective on diamonds would become a personal obstacle as both my partner and I wrestled with ways to validate our future engagement to our immigrant parents (who still think being gay is an “American thing”). We laugh about how we’re caving to societal pressure when we pontificate on the more superficial elements of our life-threatening wedding ceremony in Nigeria: rings or no rings? Should our fathers still “give us away” (provided they don’t disown us for attempting to get married in the first place)? And wouldn’t it be fun to force our brothers to wear bridesmaids dresses? But I digress.

Love, Actually, Is All Around Us
This isn’t just about me, my terrible and awesome relationships, or even just about the politicization of marriage. My definition of love is far more expansive due to my work as an activist; I see very clearly how love in various forms (for self, for others, for community) can influence and drive so many parts of our lives.

I’ve seen queer women of color struggle to find love and acceptance outside of their families, and, despite messages that influence so many people into hinging their finding the “perfect partner’ on serendipitious, accidental, meet-cutes, how the act of “choosing” love can lead to more fuilfilling partnerships, and sex lives! I’ve spoken with teachers who have lost youth to suicide, and seen the love of community birth political leaders from personal tragedy. I’ve watched girls wither away from lack of self-love at the hand of the media’s white, thin, standard of beauty; and I’ve seen girls with so much self-love check them on that BS.

Love is absolutely a feminist issue, a recurring theme in various parts of the political landscape. But we’ve grown so accustomed to framing our discussions and ideas for progress around everything but love—instead, facts, figures, statistics, issues, enlightement or problematicness—that I fear we’ve inadvertently distanced ourselves from the most important part of any of this: our lives and experiences as people.

Hence, this series will be dedicated to discussing and exploring love through a very personal lens, including Love for Self, Love for Others, and Love for Our Community and/or Environment—and the pop culture messages that influence our relationship with Love.

What I’ll Be Writing About
You can expect posts (and hopefully, vibrant discussions) about the usual suspects: gender roles, queer romance, masculinity/femininity and estate management, racism, transmisogyny, exoticism in dating preferences, feminism and BDSM, self-love and martyrdom in activism, and more.

Incidentally, I was recently featured in the Femisphere series at Ms. magazine, during which I talked about love as the propelling force behind all my work. I also discussed afrofeminism, the framework I created for myself to move through the world, and through which I believe that personal relationships—and the love that facilitates them—are the building blocks of progress. So, I encourage you all to read it as this is the “place” from which I’ll be writing.

Join My Twitter Chats on #AfroFemLove 
In addition to my blog posts, I’ll be leading discussions on Love and many peripheral subjects on Twitter! I’ve already started hosting impromptu Twitter chats about Love and Afrofeminism, which I hope will inform and/or complement my posts. I encourage you to follow me @spectraspeaks and join the conversation by also following and using the hashtag #afrofemlove.

What Do You Want to Talk About?
Lastly, I’m open to suggestions for topics to include/tackle in my series, so if you’ve been dying to discuss something, please leave a comment below with your idea. I’m looking forward to exploring, evolving, and learning to love better, with all of you.

What Does an African Feminist Look Like? Ms. Magazine Features African Feminist Bloggers

I was recently interviewed by writer, feminist, and #africansforafrica ally, , for her Femisphere series on the reknowned Ms. Magazine.

The Femisphere is “a blog series of the many diverse corners of the feminist blogsphere,” and the latest installment featured three African feminists, Minna Salami (aka Afropolitan)Lesley Agams, and yours truly. Here’s the introduction to the series:

Despite centuries of cultural practice that has routinely silenced the voices of African women, one of the most vibrant and vocal online global feminist communities comes from Africa. The online writers from the African feminist movement are nuanced and complex as they share their stories, their lives, their struggles and their triumphs.

And here’s an excerpt from my interview:

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 blogsphere.

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”.

You can read my full interview here, during which I share my principles of Afrofeminism for the first time. Also, check out Minna and Lesley‘s interviews as well.

Diversity Is Important within the Context of Discussing Africans, Too

The series is titled “The Femisphere: African Feminist Bloggers”, but I think it’s important to note that all of the feminists included in this round are West African.

As I applauded the voices of my sisters, Lesley and Minna, I thought instantly of other African feminists I know, and wondered how they would feel about seeing a list of “African Feminists” occupied by mainly west Africans, and specifically Nigerians. Though African women’s voices are marginalized in western media, the fact still remains that Nigeria is one of the most economically advantaged countries in Africa, and its citizens, the most tech-savvy Africans on the web. Hence, we often dominate (or at least take up a lot of space on) Twitter lists, “Top __ lists”, and important media conversations about Africa.

Still, to expect that Ms. Magazine could capture all of this in a series featuring just three African bloggers is unrealistic. The short list certainly created obstacles to featuring a more diverse set of African feminist voices, but this is generally the case when we expect westerners to highlight our work; we’re either presented as special interest and thrown into the same bucket, or by way of tokenization, pitted against each other as we struggle for the few seats at the table, or in this case, slots in a blog series. (Must-Read: Ms Afropolitan’s piece on the problem with reductive Twitter lists).

I must add at this point, that Minna and Lesley inspire me daily, and that all three of us (including our Twitter #afrifem family) were absolutely thrilled and proud of this series. For this reason, I’m grateful to the writer for the work she put in researching this topic, seeking out writers/bloggers — including myself, and crafting questions that gave us enough room to talk about the complexity our work and present original viewpoints, versus react to reductive questions e.g. how is African feminism different from western feminism? Oy, if I had a penny for every time a white woman asked me to explain my experiences in relation to hers, I’d be rich.

Whose Responsibility Is It to Highlight African Feminism?

Too often, due to our voices being excluded in the media, our stories and perspectives are constantly re-presented, re-told, and/or reduced to incidental testimonies; due to the hegemony of western narratives, implicit in so many questions about Africa (and African feminists) is the fallacy that our stories come second, our perspectives are deduced from outside of the continent, and that our stories only exist to add context to other people’s conversations about us. So, over and over again, we’re asked to frame what we say about who we are around a western narratives; this is tiring, to say the least. Hence, the opportunity to share what I perceive as the nuances within my own framework, #afrofeminism, was (and is always) welcome.

Nonetheless, the responsibility lies on us as African women — and this is true for any group, LGBT, people of color, disabled etc — to create our own spaces, big enough to hold all our complex, nuanced perspectives. It is ultimately the responsibility of every African feminist to speak up, contribute to the conversation, create our own media spaces so that we don’t rely on westerners to portray African feminism authentically. As we continue to have conversations amongst ourselves, and define who we are, our stories and perspectives will carry more weight.

As Lesley Agams states so eloquently:

White feminism drowned out our voices with their privileged access to the media. I’ve heard their stories, I want to hear from my African sisters and not just the ones with Ph.D’s. Before the internet I mostly heard what white feminism and their black students had to say about me and about us. Now I can hear what my African sisters say about me and about us and compare our experiences, our priorities and our needs and articulate those when speaking to white feminisms. Maybe then when we speak in a loud voice together they will actually listen to us.

When people visit Ms. Magazine to read about “African Feminists” what will they walk away with? How are we unique? What experiences do we share? More importantly, given the short length of the list, what assumptions about African feminists are being perpetuated? Are we all Nigerian? Does it matter what country we’re from or where we’re living? (Yes, I think it does). What kind of language do we use? What spaces do we typically occupy?

What does an African Feminist look like? 

Keeping the Faith: Religion, Sexuality, and My Best Friend’s Pool Party

A faithful friend is a strong defence: and he that hath found him, hath found a treasure. — Ecclesiasticus 6:14

My best friend from college; she’s the woman who taught me how to laugh, how to REALLY laugh… and then, when I came out, we stopped laughing together. We lost each other’s smiles for nearly four years as we both searched for self in different directions; I as an out queer activist, she as a deeply spitual Christian.

It was painful. But Love, wherever it touches, always wins.

My best friend found me again after reading a guest post written by my sister about being an ally; she left three heartfelt comments back to back; I’m sorry, I miss you, I still love you. I was so happy to have my friend back. It was as though no time had passed at all. We were back to laughing, so hard, at everything. And, like my siblings, our friendship proved that relationships are far more powerful than rhetoric when it comes to tolerance; Love always wins.

She recently threw a fundraiser for me in Texas for my #africansforafrica project. Four missed flights and connections, and a desperate additional one-way ticket to TX later just to make the party, it rained, and still we laughed. When the sun came out right when we had set up the DJ indoors, we laughed some more. And when we tallied the donations raised against the cost of planning the party, we laughed then, too.

Amidst all that laughter, I cherished you, and wouldn’t have asked for anything more; I was with my friend, laughing once more before setting off on my way, filled with Love.

So when I received notification of the donation she’d made, I lost all composure. $1000. For me, to go with to Africa where I hoped to heal women like me who’d lost their friends, lost their laughter, and needed to rediscover Love. “Chi Chi, why?” I cried. “‘Cause you’re my friend and I love you and I’m so proud of you.”

There was no laughter then, but for a good reason this time. That crazy woman in the pool. That smile of hers… let it assure you, your friends will come back to you, too. How I love her so.

Join our army of love.

Lessons from my Mother: African Women and Feminism

Yesterday, countries around the world celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD), a day during which thousands of events — political rallies, business conferences, government activities, networking events, local women’s craft markets, theatric performances, fashion parades and more — are held to inspire women and celebrate achievements in gender equality.

This year’s theme, “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” called for intentionally including young girls in the discussion and creatively brainstorming solutions for bridging the divide between generations. Hence, Gender Across Borders hosted a successful live blogging event, in which over 200 blogs explored a plethora of ideas such working with girls in conflict areasprotesting female genital cuttinginvesting in girls leadership,  and — the piece I wrote — women writing their way back into history. In an attempt to highlight African women’s contributions to IWD, I also created a “Africa on IWD” board on Pinterest. You can view the board here.

Looking at the colorful collection of images, videos, and blog posts of African women celebrating all across the continent invoked mixed feelings; on one hand, I was proud to see African women, both individuals and organizations, respond in droves to the call, but on the other hand, being so far away from home on IWD made me a tad homesick, causing me to reflect on how it is I came to be so involved in women’s issues.

I attended an international primary school, where International Women’s Day was a chance for all of us to celebrate women from different cultures via music, art, dance, and charity. Often, students would read inspiring facts about women from their home countries, followed by traditional dance and music performances, international food expos, and a myrid of opportunities for students and their families to learn and give back. Yet, global women’s activism wasn’t just tied to my school’s programming.

Growing up in Nigeria, the idea that improving the lives of women was a cause worth fighting for didn’t just come from organizations, or brochures, or formal programming; I had strong women around me who constantly put this into practice in the every day, including my own mother.

As a child of the Biafran war and the first daughter of her family, my mother faced the heavy burden of supporting her family through the loss of a number of relatives, including her own mother who died from sickness. To this day, she credits the support of women’s organizations for her survival. And thus, she committed herself to charity from a very early age. I remember my mother telling me about the one night she’d prayed the hardest to God; it was during a bomb raid. She’d close her eyes and clasp her hands together as she’d recount the promise she made to God that if she made it through the night, she’d dedicate the rest of her life helping people, much like the older women — human rights advocates, volunteers, missionaries — who had risked their lives during the war in order to deliver relief to the region in which she lived — food, clothing, sanitary pads. She’d trek over 10 miles back and forth every day just to deliver food and drinking water to her family, but she never really emphasized the distance; what remains with her is the memory of dedicated women that were waiting to receive her on the other side.

My mother’s life was spared and she kept her promise. Inspired by the circumstances she’d witnessed her own family go through after the loss of her own mother, she founded and led the first program in the country to advocate for the rights of women who had lost the heads of their households and had young children to care for (The Widows Trust Fund).  Later on, she became president of the International Women’s Society, an organization that works for the advancement of women and children in Nigeria. As a social entrepreneur, she founded Garden of Zinnia, an organization that creates holiday gift baskets — a popular tradition in Nigeria — by partnering with local vendors i.e. market women, local artists and craftspeople. Every year, hundreds of people — from the elderly basket-weavers to the young girls who sell the wrapping ribbons — rely on my mother’s unwavering commitment to supporting women who are working to support their families.

As a young girl, I remember accompanying my mother to meetings, fundraisers, award ceremonies and the like filled to the brim with inspiring African women. I witnessed my mother giving awards as well as receiving them. I didn’t understand the word “feminism” when I first heard it, but I watched my mother’s active mentorship of the young women she invited into our home and took under her wing. I didn’t understand the term “economic empowerment” when I first heard it, but I saw my mother apply this principle in her work as a business owner each year she refused to replace local products in her gift baskets with expensive imports from overseas. My family never sat around discussing women’s liberation at the dinner table; my mother never thought to write about her experience as an African woman navigating gender, war, and poverty; she simply lived the principles she believed in. It is because I watched my mother, that I strongly believe in applied advocacy for women’s issues in all its forms — gender equality, LGBT human rights, and women’s visibility in media — not just as a celebration on a single day, but as a way of life; not just as ideas to be talked about, but work to be done.

I appreciate the 2012 International Women’s Day theme — Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures — for the reminder that women’s contributions to the world don’t always have to come in press releases, or conferences, or non-profit programs to make a difference; that sometimes, the greatest impact is felt within the scope of the every day; that my mother is a woman worth celebrating; and that, I — the first daughter of my family, a proud afrofeminist, women’s and media activist, tirelessly fighting for gender equality — am the future she inspired.

Question to Readers: Did your relationship with your mother — or other parental figure — shape your activism? influence your politics? If so, how?

Reflections of a Straight Girl: What Does It Mean to Be an Ally?

REPOST from http://www.zarachiron.com/

My sister Zara, wrote this recently for me (it is also posted on her blog @ ZaraChiron.com). If you have siblings, parents, family members etc, that haven’t yet come around, I hope you find inspiration in this piece, to be patient (and brave) enough to remain open to their own journey of moving closer to you so that one day, you’ll be as fortunate as I am to know what it means to be loved by an ally.

Summer 2006, my world was redefined by a simple act of bravery.

My sister Spectra, sheepishly and hurriedly flung a letter at me while I slept ever-so-lazily on her frame-less futon, amidst the fur balls also known as her tuxedo kitties, and then exited the room. For a second, I thought I had dreamed it, but noticed the curious expression of the dude-cat as he put his wet nose to the paper.

As I sat up and began to read, I wondered, “Geez! What could I have done this time?” since my sister had taken to reprimanding me through written notes ever since I started living with her so as to avoid full on conflict. I was greatly unaware of the depth and power of the words on the page I held in my hands, words that would reshape the world as I knew it, and raise my personal level of consciousness. By the time I finished reading what I now regard as the “Coming Out Letter” (which I still have in my treasure bag of memorable goodies) I was – simply put – instantaneously changed; and for the better.

At first I felt relieved, grateful, even flattered that she would share something so personal with me at all, given our shared understanding; that in Nigerian culture and society, it is both socially unacceptable and illegal to be gay. As in, literally, illegal! I am thoroughly embarrassed and saddened to admit that a gay person is seen as spiritually abominable, emotionally unstable, mentally ill and generally perceived as decadent. No doubt, these perceptions are hypocritical and outrageously revolting to me — especially since there is so much that is truly decadent about the greedy puppets that control (and perpetuate further corruption of) Nigerian society. But how would my sister have known how I felt? Am I not Nigerian — like her? Did we not both grow up in the same homophobic environment riddled with discriminatory vocabulary, aggressive ignorance and deep-rooted disapproval of the gay community?

Her bravery was deeply touching and evoked an emotional response in me. I began to cry; not because she let me in on something so delicately significant, but because she had taken the monumental step to face, accept and explore the truth about the person she is; a spirit that will not, cannot be dictated by society or even manipulated by an intelligent, yet societally programmed mind; this person she was revealing to me could only ever be expressed and seen by an open heart.

I felt I had been given the ultimate gift: a chance to Love.

Even more beautiful than having somebody love you is having someone to let down their armor, open a door to let you love them in return; when they say, “This is me and I am giving you permission to know and love the entire person that I am” it is nothing less than absolute power bestowed, and that comes with a depth of responsibility.

My sister had kept out of sight, watching my expression through the hinge cracks, no doubt nerves on-end as I read the letter and began to cry. She peeked into the room, and as I sniffled confirmed that it was safe to enter. As she crouched next to me on the carpet, crying and reaching out for a hug, I remember, I said to her — a little choked up, how “I had never loved her more.” I meant it, and her relief in form of free-flow weeping confirmed that she understood, but I am not sure she truly grasped my words or the meaning behind them. Still, I recognized the moment for what it was; a beginning. And, I promised myself I would evolve along with Spectra and be a better sister to her — to every aspect of who she is so that one day she would come to know those words of mine to be as deeply true.

The transition has not been entirely smooth. I had to banish any and all remnants of cast-off ignorance that lingered in my system and get to know my sister all over again, as queer; this is still and always should be work in progress. And by work, I mean ‘work’ from both parties. I’ve been resourceful — what would I have done without my handy cousin Google, the L Word, Will & Grace, and a whole lot of QWOC+ events?! It helped that my sister was constantly inviting me to ‘see’ her, to be a part of something she’d once been afraid to share. Whether it was a QWOC+ event she wanted me to help her with, a lesbian film she wanted to watch (and could actually relate to, “Saving Face”!), a book for me to digest and discuss with her, etc, she always showed me that she wanted me to be a part of her life. I’ve had many illuminating conversations with Spectra herself, but I’m sure she will agree that we’d never have gotten to the point where we are now — sisters, friends, and loyal allies to each others causes — if I didn’t keep pushing myself to learn, and grow.

It is easy to not notice prejudice when you have the luxury of not needing to do so. It is easy to overlook, neglect and breeze over things that “do not (directly) concern you.” It is even easier to not acknowledge your own privilege, dismiss obvious inequalities under a countless number of justifications and excuses, because in so doing, you rid yourself of the only humane course of action — to take a stand for something.

Sure, it’s not that hard to continue pretending (especially to yourself) that you are all that and a bag of gummy bears when it comes to your “open-mindedness” and “inclusivity” (“Hey, look, I’ve got so many gay friends!”), but you cannot escape the truth; it will always find you and test you in the most personal way. What then will you do? When “the truth” cannot be hidden under a phony political discussion over cocktails to make you appear like the conscious intellectual sort? What will you do when the “issue” is now a “person” that you know and claim to love?

Before Spectra really let me in, I honestly felt like I was “for” the “gay community”, but now I understand that being an ally is way more than just a social or political “stance” on an “issue” — it is truly personal. When it comes to justice and equality for human beings, there is no in between, no neutrality; passivity might as well be aggression for you are either for or against. Period. I am a person who loves my sister, all parts of her, and will stand up to anyone, movement, person, or drunken slurr-throwing a**hole to protect her. There’s nothing political about that.

I do, of course, recognize my privilege in the knowledge that I am a straight, petite “girly” young woman who loves stilettos and baby doll dresses with a heterosexual preference for men that is globally accepted, but I passionately honor my personal linkage to the fight for LGBT equality and for the right for anyone to express the “self” by speaking out in spaces in which my sister is not as comfortable or present. It’s one thing to be an ally at QWOC+ events, it’s another thing to be an ally when you’re outnumbered by narrow-minded and/or ignorant straight men and women. But trust, l am always ready! Lock and Load! *half-kidding*

I may not be a direct member of the community–but I am sure as Helen a sister to it because at the end of the day, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, gender-queer and everyone in between who refuse to adhere to “labels” are human beings like me; we are all just people. And we all should have the right to be ourselves. We are all human beings and citizens of this interesting (and often twisted) world of ours. So — my sister aside — that is reason enough for me to care enough to want to read a book (or RSVP “yes” to all 300 QWOC+ events on Facebook).

As human beings, the more we connect to each other; recognize, explore, accept and even celebrate how we differ-the more we see of who we are inside of our own individual selves. I feel connected to more people in the world than I did before and, in turn, my world has expanded, my experiences are more conscious, and I am a much better person.

So I call on all of you, friends, brothers, parents, sisters, school teachers etc., of the brave people of the LGBT/Queer community. Push yourselves. Check yourselves. And grow, via  healthy balance of stepping out of your comfort zones, listening, asking questions, and seeking new ways to learn about the struggles (and victories!) of your loved ones. If you don’t do this — become a more purposeful ally to someone else — for someone you claim to love, then at least do it for yourself.


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