Browse Tag: blogging

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? 

For Women’s History Month: Writing Our Way Back into History

Happy Women’s History Month!

There is a lot to say about women’s history. Yet, what is always at the forefront of my mind is that women’s history starts with me sharing my own story, contributing to the movement of millions of other women doing the same.

All morning I’ve been reading tweets about great women who inspired change — politically, socially, within the fields of science, music, the arts etc. It’s inspiring to see so much media that sheds light about amazing womens’ contributions to the history of the world, but let’s face it — not all of us are going to get interviewed on BBC, speak at a UN convention, amass the most followers on Twitter, or write a book that makes Oprah’s highly coveted reading list.

Does this reality make any of us less important? I don’t think so — but how many women from the everyday do? How many inspiring women — mothers, wives, teachers, students, scientists, artists etc — equate being a part of history with being a famous celebrity, or tech innovator, winning an election, or leading a political revolution? My guess is many. But, history doesn’t always have to be so dramatic to count — it just needs to be documented.

History, contrary to the popular misconception that the word is derived from “his” and “story” put together, actually has its roots in an ancient Greek word ἱστορία (hístōr), which can mean “inquiry,” “knowledge so obtained,” or — my favorite — “a written account of one’s inquiries, narrative, history.” Note that no part of the definition of history inherently suggests a limitation of “written accounts” to men, or white people, or any other marginalized group for that matter. So why have women’s stories been (and continue to be) left out of history?

Perhaps rehashing the etymological roots of a single word won’t change the  fact that history has long been recounted from the viewpoint of dominant society; Hollywood, arguably the world’s most influential movie industry is still run by white people, or men, or Americans (depending on which way you look at it); the op-ed pages of major news outlets — through which policy and thought leadership are driven — are also dominated by men who don’t understand women’s issues; and while stories of minority groups do make their way into history archives, the fact that they are often told from the point of view of the oppressor often leads to unrealistic, dehumanizing, biased portrayals of the people whose history is being documented for them. But, embracing the revelation that history is simply “a narrative accounted for” actually makes things less complicated:

In order to address the dearth of women’s histories — our stories, and voices being undocumented, under-valued, and falsely represented without reprimand — women must begin telling their own stories; we must essentially write our way back into history.

Incidentally, one doesn’t always have to “do” something huge to be someone important  — sometimes sharing the complex, intersecting pieces about ourselves (and inspiring others to do the same) can do just as much, if not more, to change the world.

For instance, I recently asked my straight, conservative, Christian brother — who does not consider himself a writer, by the way — to contribute a guest blog about his personal experience spending his first Christmas with me and my partner. At first he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to hear from him; he even stated in the piece that he’s just “a regular guy from Nigeria.” Well, three months later, I still get emails from so many young people telling me that they used his piece to come out as gay to their families. Three months later, I still have African students walk up to me after I’ve given a talk to let me know that my brother’s piece changed their lives, that his “writing” gave them hope. I’m about to hire one of them as an intern this summer, an opportunity she describes as opening her world up to more African community than she’s ever been exposed to before.

And in case you’re tempted to point out that my brother’s a guy, it was no different when my younger sister contributed a similar piece, Confessions of a Straight Girl, two years ago; a high school teacher reached out to me then for permission to use her piece to lead a gender and sexuality studies class.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well, even if I want to write, my life is not that interesting. I’m just a [insert perceived mundane role here that has everyone wondering why you’re being so self-deprecating] with nothing to say…” That is simply not true. Bertrand Russell (a man) once said, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” When I think about how many boring history textbooks written by men are out there, it motivates me to keep writing, no matter how insignificant the voices in my head insist my perspective (on anything) is. And if positive-thinking doesn’t work for you, here are some other factors to consider:

  • Women are less likely to run for office in  part because they don’t feel “qualified enough”
  • “Mommy Blogging” has gotten the attention of a $750 million blog marketing industry; companies want to know what moms — not “experts” — think before they spend a dime developing new products
  • The It Gets Better campaign — videos created by regular people — has dramatically increased awareness of issues facing LGBT youth
  • There are too many men who really shouldn’t be talking (Rush Limbaugh and David Bahati come to mind) writing and saying all kinds of things, and even worse influencing millions of people with their biased point of view — shouldn’t we at least join them?

See, the problem with women not telling their stories isn’t just an issue of “balance” (i.e. we need men and women’s voices in equal measure), but an issue of “influence.” Thus, the reason I write as often as I do is not because I think I have more to say, but rather, there’s too much at stake in the world if I don’t say enough. So, in moments when I doubt my power to impact others, I’ve learned to tap into the deep dread I feel at the thought of someone else speaking for me, especially after I’m gone; someone giving my children their version of who I was instead of doing the work to make sure my children get to read my words. My writing ensures accountability to my voice, my perspective, my journey, my history, which is worth telling, and worth telling right.

So, for women’s history month, I challenge you to take charge of your own history, by writing it. Instead of passively sharing women’s history as recounted by others, how about you begin the process of formally documenting — journaling, blogging, creating art and media etc — about your own life? It’s simple enough these days: you could create your own blog using a free Blogger or WordPress account, sign up for Twitter and share snippets of your history using #myherstory.

Blogging and tweeting may seem trivial given the bigger picture of revolutionizing history, but tell that to the voters (29 and under) who  leveraged the power of social media to elect the first US Black president, or the people of the Arab Spring who tweeted, YouTubed and shared their revolution with the world, and in turn sparked many more revolutions — the occupy movements — worldwide. Yours truly will be participating in Gender Across Border’s Blog for International Women’s Day, thus joining thousands of women all over the world to celebrate this year’s theme, “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.” Why not be one of them? Your words matter. Our words matter. Women’s words matter.

Whether you’re a teacher who educates young girls in a classroom, a mother of four who loves to write erotica, a hiphop artist who has a thing to say about gender discrimination in the music industry, a bus driver who bakes cupcakes, a sibling with an outspoken, queer, activist of a sister, please speak. Please say something. You have to — the world is counting on you.

To Hell With Mainstream Press Coverage: Women, People of Color, and Trans People Should Create and Control Their Own Media Stories

For those of you who don’t know, my group – QWOC+ Boston – produces a week-long multicultural pride (LGBTQ) festival every year. It’s an impressive (if I do say so myself) array of art, music, discussion, and social justice events for LGBTQ people of color and diversity-conscious allies. We’ve spent the past 3 months creating these events and now they’re ready to go out via official announcements!

Next Steps: Generating so much buzz that people from neighboring states visit Boston to attend the events (and in so doing, validate our weeks of hard work).

As I prepared to send out the official QWOC Week Calendar today, I paused to take a look at my really long ‘Press/PR’ to-do list and noted the slightly underwhelming list of journalist contacts. Some would call that a #fail on press release day, but where there arguably should be an uppity list of noteworthy press contacts, I have, instead, a list of connectors — bloggers, event producers, community organizers, and crucial tweeps to reach out to for grassroots promotional support. This came as no surprise to me since I’ve been pretty successful leveraging social media to do outreach, promotions, and build QWOC+ Boston’s brand. Plus, mainstream media has routinely pissed me off with their half-ass coverage of issues pertaining to people of color, much less about LGBT people of color.

In the past, the media coverage QWOC+ Boston events have received has been light and fluffy at best — who-what-when just about summarizes the general approach, with opinion or speculation — usually from the lucky friend of a friend of an editor — driving the why-and-how portion (vs any sort of ‘investigative’ reporting). At this point, I’ve become accustomed to the two or three paragraphs (usually a composite piece) dedicated to highlighting “people of color” (usually the male, LGBT, african-american community) during pride, and not much else in terms of press coverage (unless of course it’s around the AIDS epidemic); women’s/feminist grassroots movements are almost always an afterthought (or viewed as ‘cute’  and thus, not ‘news-worthy’), so a part of me has given up on hoping for more.

But it’s not that New England papers don’t know how to cover POC issues (or women’s issues for that matter) — they should be treated as every other subject matter — with tact, professionalism, and thoroughness; it’s that they’re too lazy to challenge themselves to do more than just ‘highlight’ and ‘profile’ and deep down, they don’t think that we’re important enough. However, they’re notorious for shadily snapping photos of the 2-3 brown people at every mainstream event and then featuring them in their next media blast when everyone knows there were practically no people of color present. I’ll never forget the year my friend and I (unbeknown to us) made it the front page of Bay Windows as part of a “success!” news story on the popular Fenway Health Women’s Dinner event (see picture on the right). Great job! You scored a QWOC and a trans guy.

Incidentally, a few years ago, QWOC+ Boston received a front page profile piece in Bay Windows, written by Ethan Jacobs, a former staff writer. It was a well-written article I think because my bestie (who works in PR/Communications) prepped me for the interview; she gave me client-strong guidance as to how to manage the ‘reporter’, how to ‘brief my organizers’, how to make sure I got my ‘sound bites’ in, how to ask for the questions ahead of time etc. The result was a well-rounded story on QWOC+ Boston’s contributions to the local scene and our plans for the future. They did introduce us as “new” (I guess if white and mainstream media isn’t writing about you then you don’t exist, right?) even though we’d been around for two years, but at least it was a start; QWOC+ Boston was given visibility, credibility, and that article, which featured an overzealous quote by yours truly about our future, was the inception of QWOC Week.

Since then, we’ve been covered mainly via pretty pictures and short sporadic event blurbs within which they routinely misquote me, misspell my name, and repeatedly refer to us as “QWOC Friends” or worse, “QWOC” (without the plus, without the f**king plus), no matter how many times we insist on including this symbol (which represents our valued ally supporters) or having our name spelled out — Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) — so that new people can recognize that we’re an LGBTQ organization that mainly caters to women of color. [Seriously, what does “QWOC” mean to a grad student who just moved here from Tenessee and is seeking community outside her stark and stoic chem lab at MIT?]

I posted an angry Facebook update about this recently, and a friend of mine who’s the director of Villa Victoria Center for (Latino) Arts and Culture sent me some timely words of empathy, along with a sample media kit — a short and simple PDF document that outlines some branding rules which you can make available to press contacts / journalists looking to write about you. It was a godsend — and my intern just recreated one for us. [Please feel free to download and use as a template for your org!].

No doubt, the consistent time and effort I’ve invested in building QWOC+ Boston via partnerships and collaborations has given me a visible position within a strong network of leaders — women, people of color, lgbt, african activists, social entrepreneurs etc. — whom I can not only count on for support, but for professional guidance as well. However, for many people, (practical) tips such as how to work with journalists or even design a press kit aren’t that easy (or cheap) to come by. I feel for non-profit/grassroots leaders who, like me, must often ‘wing’ it, learn by trial and error, or (per the reason of this post), suffer bad press by remaining at the mercy of privileged, mis-informed media professionals.

But as leaders of social change, we aren’t in a position to suffer “bad” press — which in our field, often means mis-informed, mis-quoted, downplayed, and at times, downright inaccurate press coverage on the social justice issues we care about. Our causes — “brands” for the sake of argument —  aren’t celebrities who can afford to say “any press is good press” and wait for the next scandal to hit the stands.

Africa has been receiving a lot of negative press lately around the “atrocities” being committed against queer/LGBT people. But which Africans (I include myself in this) are writing about the spike in homophobia as a manifestation of resistance to bullying from the west? That’s not a narrative you hear or read about everyday, but I assure you it exists beyond the popular argument that Africa is full of barbarians.

Remember the news coverage on the two “gay” men that were facing a harsh prison sentence in Malawi? — they both weren’t “gay”, one of them was a transgender woman. And whereas I do object to the west enforcing their labels on Africa, the fact that many mainstream news outlets blatantly disregarded her gender should be viewed as yet another wakeup call to all of us that taking a passive approach to media will almost always result in the insensitive, inaccurate face-value recounts of events we’re inundated with today (vs. insightful commentary on news stories, which by the way, we really should be telling ourselves).

The great news is, social media is saturated with media consumers, not as many (in fact, in my opinion, too few) media producers; we all have the power to create content in the form of our own stories, and in so doing, make a difference. We shouldn’t have to wait to be ‘given’ press coverage or “be written about”. For what we have at stake, this approach to gaining visibility and expanding influence is too passive to be worth our consideration. This is not to say that mainstream media coverage isn’t worth anything at all; I’m just concerned that if marginalized groups — women, people of color, trans people, immigrants, blue collar, anyone whose voice is always missing/mis-represented — put all their eggs into a basket that’s already filled with a bunch of privileged, cocky, a**holes then our stories are bound to seep through the cracks.

My intern and I worked on a blog post that discusses the concept of “Activism During QWOC Weekin lieu of an official press release. Our words, our vision, our perspective. And it’s been truly liberating to pass the link around to people and receive direct feedback. We’re planning to do several posts about QWOC Week in order to highlight different aspects of the week; inter-generational conversations, music and the arts, etc. See, by creating and controlling your own content, you aren’t subjected to anyone else’s perspective on what’s “important.” Incidentally, we just found out that “Family Week in PTOWN” is happening during QWOC Week and thus Bay Windows Ad prices are for a Special Edition print out that week. I’ve already received several recommendations to pitch a story around our “Family Day in the Park” to see if Bay Windows “decides” to run a story on it. But who cares if Bay Windows wants to cover us or not? We run our own blog!

I encourage you — whoever you are, you’re still reading so you must have something to say — to start contributing your voice to the mass media that’s being consumed by millions of users… every – day. In the short term, we should probably all come together, sit down, and brainstorm  how to proactively gain press coverage for our organizations, movements and causes. But who wants to plan this? Anyone? Not me — I’m too busy changing the world to worry about press releases, and I’m pretty sure you are too. So while we’re waiting for someone else to take this on…

Start a blog. Write an opinion piece — it doesn’t have to be that long. Just make a statement — any statement; celebrities do it all the time. Create a video on your fancy MacBook (so that’s it’s worth the 1000-something-dollars you paid for it) — people love to watch videos. (Did you know they’re the most popularly shared media type on the web?) Write an Op-Ed response to your neighborhood newspaper about an article that pissed you off. Just contribute something. Anywhere.

You are important. Your voice is important. Your content should be shared on Facebook. Damn it.

—-

Update: We win! Bay Windows profiled QWOC Week in this piece here, aaaaand the reporter pretty much copy-pasted the blog piece that my intern and I wrote on our blog. The result? A well-rounded profile on QWOC Week (save a few errors — really, she estimated 2 dozen people showed up because she arrived at the beginning and was POC-shy so awkwardly approached a few people with her notepad, took a few notes, and jetted. Ah, white people… why are POC still so scary to you in 2010?)


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