Browse Tag: femisphere

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:
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?

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? 

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