The name, iQWOC, came to me after I founded Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) and, all of a sudden, felt invisible in my own community. It seemed I had succeeded in creating a safe social space for black lesbians, asian queers, white allies, latina friends, young professionals, power couples etc., but somehow, forgot to include Africans or Immigrant queers as one of the beneficiaries of the group. It had dawned on me one day that although QWOC+ events were rich in cultural and age diversity, they were nationally homogeneous: almost everyone identified as American.
I began to write about this, and one day, I described myself as an iQWOC in my journal. iQWOC: an international/immigrant queer woman of color. I liked it – the techie in me in particular drooled over the lowercase “i” a la the age of Apple, Inc – and began using it online and offline.
Many people have asked why I choose to identify as an iQWOC – after all, QWOC should suffice. Sigh… people. So, below is a brief trajectory of my journey, and why you should never question my (or anyone’s) choice of label again:
- When I lived at home, I was simply an “Igbo” girl in a predominantly Yoruba state
- When I left home, and came to high school in the United States, my accent and “strange” (read: polite) behavior routinely gave me away and forced me to identify as “Nigerian” moreso than I ever had in my entire life
- Then frequently, people would call me “Black” and I’d stare at them blankly, trying to understand if they intended to offend me or not, cause sometimes, for reasons I couldn’t explain at the time, it did make me angry. The American media (read: movies I’d watched growing up) always painted “Black” as a bad thing and so of course I wanted no part in it. It also didn’t help that my parents had lived in a poor neighborhood in CA for a few years before moving back home, so all they remembered of the black people in their community was the gang violence, armed robberies, street loitering, and drugs. This made me cling to my “Nigerian” label even more vehemently.
- To make matters worse, I was bullied by a group of African-American kids for being “African”, having an accent, the way I dressed etc, for the two years I was in private school.
- In college, just after I’d gotten over my fear of “Black” people, women’s studies classes opened my eyes a little more to the racial dynamics of the northeast, and my own internalized racism; I began to empathize. By then, I’d also experienced a few years being treated like a “Black” person so the empathy factor deepened my interest in understanding racism, a social phenomenon I’d never thought about (outside of movies) before. I came to view my racially identity more politically as a “Person of Color” and enjoyed intellectual conversations about racial profiling, interracial dating, adoption, and the power/influence of hiphop music on pop culture.
- Just when I thought I’d figured everything out, I came to identify as queer, and my world shrank again right before my eyes: I was all of a sudden surrounded by white (American) lesbians, and.. well, that was strange. It was frustrating to feel alienated from my diverse group of straight culturally competent friends and feel stuck with a group of privileged white people (who didn’t think they were because they were queer).
- I thought diversifying my social network would ease the burden – hence the launch of QWOC+ Boston – but whereas having QPOC friends was rewarding in specific ways (I now at least had an extra pair of eyes to exchange “No she didn’t” glances with! yay!), I felt completely invisible as a Nigerian / international / immigrant woman.
- In the process of reaffirming my cultural roots, and reclaiming my FULL identity, I coined the term “iQWOC” for myself, which means International/Immigrant Queer Woman of Color.