It’s no secret how difficult it is to find in depth & tangible information not colored in Caucasian perspective when it comes to pre-colonial Africa or black history in general.
However, with the history provided it’s evident that multiple civilisations across Africa already believed in non-binary gender norms with “equality” – at least not in the Western sense– not necessarily being the main focus in our fight for human development.
Documents show that in Africa –West Africa to be exact– contrary to today’s school of thought, the British actually reversed some of the developmental progress made in some African cultures.
Take for example the 1929 Ogu Umunwanyi (meaning Women’s War) -or in colonial books; the Aba Women’s Riot- where thousands of Igbo & Ibibio Women from the Bende District, Umuahia- & other regions in Eastern Nigeria– are led by the Oloko Trio in protest of the patriarchal British government who systematically removed women from political spheres. Traditionally; Igbo women- & men– participated in the political & domestic sectors in society, seeing value in both & not assigning any duties based on gender.
The British viewed these practises as “a manifestation of chaos and disorder”.
The First wave was from the 19th to 20th century. Emphasizing gaining legal equality for women through political power & the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Second in the 60s & 70s; which mainly focused on ending discrimination in education, the workplace & society. Finally the Third wave, which began in the early 1990s as a response to the perceived failures of the First wave.
It’s hard to find what “historians” say about the trail blazing Black African women. The Women’s War happened in 1929; given the Igbo people’s history you do the math.
Now imagine all the information & knowledge gaps we aren’t even privy to.
Back to alleged “First wave” of feminism –to keep you following, we have established the fact the Igbo & Ibibio women were already politically empowered before colonization.
In 1848 the first –documented– women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York.
From July 19-20 an event organized for women by women set to discuss the “social, civil, religious conditions and rights of women” took place. Historians say this was the spark that triggered solidarity within the Women’s Rights Movements in America.
So how come Frederick Douglas – a prominent Abolitionist leader & all round African- American Negro badass– was the only person of color invited to this convention?
The irony was lost on the white women fighting for equality, but only giving a platform for Negro women issues to a man. Themes of this still happen today where Caucasian women will actively seek a Negro partner while upholding the patriarchy & assisting in the oppression of the Negro woman.
Among some of the revered feminist that spoke during the Seneca Falls Convention was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton is said to be the real originator of the movement although her more popular less problematic colleague; Susan B Anthony gets most of the acknowledgment, as she was also the first woman on an American silver coin.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton; who self identified as an abolitionist is documented saying ‘We educated, virtuous white women are more worthy of the vote.’
& even more colorful statements like:
‘What will we and our daughters suffer if these degraded black men are allowed to have the rights that would make them even worse than our Saxon fathers?’
During the First wave of feminism, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the feminist leaders who encouraged white women to leverage their whiteness for equal rights with their male counterparts.
There is evidence that the Suffragist Feminists also leveraged racism to their advantage in an effort to pander to the Southern States for support. State suffrage organizations were allowed to segregate & only push for the advancement of the white woman’s vote.
The picture above is a Political cartoon “Just like the men!” from the New-York tribune, March 1, 1913, p. 9. Cartoon depicts a black suffragist being turned away by a white suffragist, with the caption “Votes for WHITE women.” Courtesy of South Central Regional Library Council.
In 1896 many of the Negro women blocked from obtaining membership to Caucasian women’s organization pulled together to form the National Association of Colored Women.
Prominent black women leaders like; Ida B. Wells-Barnett, & Mary Church Terrell denounced contemporary negative stereotypes about African-Americans & worked to increase public awareness of racial segregation, disfranchisement, & violence.
A 89 year Old Alice Stokes Paul – a Caucasian American suffragist, feminist & women’s right activist– recounted in her views the “greatest hurdle” at the Women’s Suffrage Parade held on March 3rd 1913 to a magazine in 1974.
She says it came when Mary Church Terrell wanted to bring a group from the National Association of Colored Women to join in the parade. Although all women were allegedly welcome, Paul knew the “racist members of the South won’t march”.
The compromise reached was for white women to march first, then the men’s section, & finally the Negro women’s section. Ida B. Wells-Barnett completely objected to this segregated parade & walked with the Illinois delegation.
Fast forward to more recent times; in October 2018 legendary songwriter, actress, film producer & self proclaim white ally; Bette Midler issued out this tweet:
After she receiving obvious –& well deserved– backlash served with a teaching on intersectionality from the actually “N- word” women of the world she claims to support, she immediately retracted her statement issuing out another tweet saying this:
but herein lies the problem;
with “feminism” or the manifestation thereof in a white world, it barely covers black women & their unique intersectionality, so for “white allies” we will always be an afterthought.
The 2016 American Presidential election shocked the world –for obvious reasons– but is also loosely supports this theory. Albeit the now American President had said so many disparaging things towards women like “grab her in the pussy” majority of the white women in America still voted on the side of their race.
Frankly speaking Negro -or women of color in general– women have much bigger fish to fry than symbolic equality with their male counterparts which seems is to be the crux of “White Feminism”.
Over 100 years later, the passionate “Ain’t I am Woman?” speech by Sojourners Truth is still relevant & still stands. In a world where the Negro woman is treated without regard to her femininity & then punished for the strength this injustice breeds through constant critiques like; not being “feminine” enough.
The Negro woman also fights for respect from her male counterparts. In a world where the Negro man is bred to be aggressively masculine, & hyper sexualized; so much so that a strong black women is either seen as an inconvenience to the Negro man or amusing; as something to be conquered, for entertainment, “refreshing” or cute.
A recently released Nollywood movie titled LIONHEART on Netflix gives incite to some of the complexities/themes Negro women go through fighting for equality & against the residue of patriarchy left behind in Africa.
The plot goes that a young & competent woman; Adaeze is overlooked from running her father’s ailing bus company based solely on her gender. Now Adaeze must find a way to work alongside her feckless uncle; Godswill –who is given the position to run because of his gender– in order to save her dad’s company.
“How would you stay in your husband’s house?”
“Where is your husband?”
“Don’t intervene between husband & wife”
“As a woman you must…(Insert whatever random task that isn’t gender based)”
Chances are if you were/are a biological woman born in the West of Africa you have heard one or more of the statements above.
These “teachings” or requirements for a woman are instilled in us from a tender age. How to keep a man, how a woman must “know” her place in society. The only thing consistently taught is that a woman’s place is always behind the African man. Intellect & wit is negligible along as you wield a penis.
“Don’t you know he’s a man?” another popular signal of a toxic cycle absolving the man of wrongdoing & accountability. It brands all his actions as gender based; masculine. Therefore he should be forgiven.
Many of these themes you find in the diaspora too. A recent Lifetime documentary called “Surviving R-Kelly” has social media in a storm, it explores the –once beloved– R’n’B singer’s lifestyle of allegedly sleeping with underage black girls.
Who were the singers biggest supporters you might ask?
Due to our intersectionality we are also overtly sexualized, viewed as more “promiscuous” although multiple studies already conclude otherwise. It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the voluptuous curves on our bodies makes the world project & sexualize us, while simultaneously hating us for it.
Many Negro woman have internalized this hate, perpetuating the patriarchy while condemning any Negro woman who dares for more & challenges this toxic status quo.
So we present these questions?
What is the word or term for our specific Negro issues within the black community?
If some of the earliest “feminists” didn’t see the value in the Negro woman fighting for equality why claim that title?
Is this just an argument based on semantics ?
In a Caucasian world where Negros are told to get in where they fit in, do we not deserve to reclaim our struggle & properly identify it; so we can begin to assess what toxic teachings we need to unlearn for personal development & the progression of the Negro family.
Some black Feminists agreed, & the “Womanism” movement was birth. However it is still often described as a “form” of feminism for black women. African/Negro/Black women just want equality for ALL.
Also why call ourselves “Feminist” when half of the people who claim the title historically do not –& probably will not– come out in support for us to fight for our black issues?