Apologies for not being able to blog with as much regularity as I would have liked. Commitments (academic and otherwise) have kept me crazily occupied. In the midst of the madness, was a group presentation on essentialism and black feminism that got over today, thereby making me breathe all over again. 🙂
Reproduced here are excerpts of the monologue and dialogue that we performed in class. Parts of it have been penned by me and parts borrowed from another text.
Dialogue between a Black man, white woman (American) and a Black woman (African-American)
Pete: Hello people! I’m Black and my name is Pete. Do you wonder why I call out my colour before I call out my name? It is because that is the identity that I have grown up with. It doesn’t matter if I’m a Pete, a Jack or a Jason. I’m Black and that’s a reality so embedded in my everyday life that nothing can possibly make me forget it.
I live in America—a country that has a glorious history. Glorious indeed! A history that stinks of racism. People like us were used as slaves, bonded labourers, treated worse than objects. Even animals were treated better than us. My ancestors have tens and thousands of stories to tell you that will horrify any one into numbness. How they bled for their masters. How they served unconditionally and yet were kicked in their butts. How they were hardly paid to make ends meet.
You talk of suffrage movement? The right to vote? We never even had the right to live, unless our masters wanted us to. If you think that by being a man, I still don’t have to face what Black women do, you’re wrong. I live with the everyday stereotype of being called a rapist. My colour makes everyone associate me with my inherent ‘bad’ character. They say I look like a rapist. Tell me. Does a rapist have a typical face? No, you say? Of course he does. That of a Black man. I go buy my cigarette and the white lady gives me a look of contempt. My colour makes her insecure. It reminds her of the fact that I possess the aggressiveness to pounce on her any time. Funny, isn’t it? White lady insecure of me. Scared of me. History tells me we were scared of them. They controlled our lives.
We continue to be oppressed, stereotyped. You talk of feminist struggles and gender issues. Doesn’t this bother you? Isn’t equality one of your agendas? How is a society equal if it’s racial and archaic in its thinking?
Susan: Hello! I’m Susan and I wish to talk about us. We, the American women have struggled historically against certain paradigms of inferiority that all women experience.
The female identity is different according to each culture and their customs, but many cultures are based on a patriarchal past where men wield more power than women. Women worldwide experience subjugation in the form of jobs,education, sexuality and reproductive choice.
American women have strived to overcome these stereotypes and have gained a place of near equality in many societal constructs. In the United States today, men and women enjoy almost equal social standing. Women can and do vote, own businesses, hold political office and have a full spectrum of rights. They have reproductive and social rights to divorce, abortion and birth control. They can wear whatever they choose. Laws are in place protecting them from sexual assault and physical abuse. There are, however, media constructions of gender that portray clear stereotypes of men and women. Women are portrayed in the media as sexual objects: thin, large breasted, demure and flawless. Even though they hold powerful jobs and play valuable roles in a variety of social constructs, the paradigm of the American housewife prevails.
Sethe: Hello one and all! I’m Sethe. I’m an Afro-American lesbian feminist. Yeah…you guessed it right. I’m marginalized in every way possible—owing to my gender, race, sexuality and sexual orientation. When I’m a minority, and hence oppressed, on so many levels, how can I separate them?
You call us Third World feminists with Third World concerns. You say we focus more on race than gender issues, thus, burdening the responsibility of feminism and the feminist movement. But how can I, an African-American woman, separate the two identities? I’m not just a woman but a woman who is embedded deeply in America’s racial history. My great grandmothers were involved in the Abolitionist movement. I grew up listening to and reading about Angela Davis. My race can never be segregated from my gender. Neither would I, as a Black feminist, want it to.
You First World feminists never understood our concerns. We thought you were liberal; you were radical; you were broad-minded and wise. But no! You’re stuck in the web of gender discrimination and fighting against it. Don’t you understand the simple theory that there are multiple forms of oppressions? Is gender your only lens? Isn’t feminism about addressing inequality, recognizing oppression and discrimination and granting equal rights to one and all? Then how can you ignore crucial parameters like class and race that are inextricably linked to gender?
Feminism is fundamentally a political movement. Realize that. Understand that men are also oppressed. Recognize the different sources of oppression. It is because of your narrow-minded approach that we have felt the need to start a movement separately. We suffer in isolation. We’ve been victims to your ignorant attitudes. You’ve rarely let the subaltern speak.
Some feminists and critics call us “outsiders within” owing to our black identity in a largely white society. That we have a combination of nearness and remoteness, concern and indifference owing to this very identity. But my central struggle has been to break several stereotypes associated with me. I have to wage an everyday battle to break the myths that surround me as a Black woman. No, I’m not voluptuous. No, I don’t have insatiable sexual desires. No, I’m not rude and sharp-tongued all the time. Neither am I a passive, docile, malleable like the white women.
I wish to get away from this Madonna-whore dichotomy. I wish to challenge these stereotypes and prove that they may not necessarily be true and by doing so I wish to question canonical articulations. I know I represent a psychologically damaged history. And that is why I believe that the “need for feminism arises from the desire to create a world in which women are not oppressed.” (Cheryl Johnson Odim)
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Here is the link: http://vimeo.com/5453316