by Shama Nathan
When I was nine years old, I started to question my “role” as a woman and how society and my parents wanted me to be. Growing up, I was bombarded with myths that suggested my value depended on my purity and submissiveness. I was told that as a Black woman, it was my duty to support my strong, Black husband while protecting and building the Black family. Of course, my budding queerness conflicted with nuclear values of family and began to plant righteous little seeds of curiosity. Today, six years later, I am fixated with studying societal, cultural, and historical pressures that have shaped Black women, how we are perceived, how we are treated, and our roles within community. At nine, I did not know the definitions of misogyny, patriarchy, or the complex ways that men and women interacted, but I did recognize them.
I began to write about what the people around me refused to address, the oppressive treatment of women that is considered normal and acceptable within our cultural spaces and movements. In response, “conscious”, Black, cis men have called me names, have attempted to silence my concern by accusing me of being angry. I AM angry. I am angry at the idea that women do not own our bodies or sexualities. I am angry that male supremacy, homophobia, and transphobia intertwines in secular culture and religion. But, most importantly, I feel that there isn’t enough love directed towards Black women, especially queer Black women, period.
So, in search for community and shared perspective, I started to identify as a queer feminist and attempted to write for small feminist blogs, but I was told that they wanted a more “light” approach to the issue of Black, queer empowerment. I tried to find more voices like myself but realized that Black women were still not getting the recognition they deserved, that the current pop-feminist movement refused to actively acknowledge the struggles of any non-western women or women of color. I felt frustrated by the misogyny in “conscious” Black community and the racism in queer, feminist community.
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I started to believe that feminism was the enemy, that the Black men who said it was a tool to destroy our race were right. But, after seeking out different blogs, I came across Black Girl Dangerous. It was here that I read the stories of strong, queer, feminist, Black women with voices that equipped me with tools and language to survive the intersections. They showed me that it was possible to be a conscious, queer woman of color. Wearing my feminist title with pride became, once again, crucial to understanding how I, as a young, queer woman, could navigate moving within the community that reared me.
Those voices helped me realized that I am here to do something different, so I joined the legions of queer, Black women who dared to speak up, speak out, and speak back. Consequently, my voice and others who navigate the same online spaces have been slandered by our own community. The words “man hater” and “crazy femininazi” have been hurled at us through the screen. They make irrational, patriarchal arguments like: “It’s clear that Black women have a hatred for Black men” or “This is just another division tactic to benefit Black women.”
These men attempt to portray themselves as pillars of the true “Black power movement.” Tell me, in 2014, why do they still think we can build without acknowledging women and giving us equal space to voice our opinion? How can we really discuss the issues that face our community without pushing against gender inequities and oppression? What really is dividing our community is the idea that we have no internal problems, that women are content being forced into hierarchical subordination. Before we can beat white supremacy, we have to first listen to and amplify the voices of our sisters, our mothers and our daughters. Most importantly, we must acknowledge that some of us are queer and/or trans and/or lesbian, that some of us don’t identify with any labels at all—but that all of us must persist in speaking up for ourselves and advocating for each other.
Growing up, I was proudly made aware of my history and my roots. But the story was one-sided, solely focusing on the accomplishments of men, so I decided to do my own research and was amazed at the legacies of powerful, Black women such as Frances E.W Harper. People are often unaware of the many articles, collections of poems, and books she published from 1866 to1893. In them, she sheds light on some of the sexism and male supremacy that existed—yes, even within the Black community.
Women like her and their legacies are why I am here.
I want to say to all of my young, queer sisters who are made to feel silenced and excluded:
I see you.
I feel you.
I am sorry that we are painted to be opponents to our own community, sometimes to each other. Although some of our struggles are different, one thing we all have in common is that, as queer Black women, our voices are not being heard as loud as they should. History has proven that there are two factors that contribute to our survival: our vigorous and brave defiance and our voice. We have to speak to each other, and we have to speak alongside each other. As Audre Lorde reminds us, “your silence will not protect you.” In a world where we have been psychologically imprisoned by white supremacy, sexism and misogyny, it is okay to raise our voices and build solidarities against these forces.
To those of you writers, organizers, and activists who have offered me illumination, community, and motivation through your words, thank you for making your voices known in a world that tells you that you are unwanted. And thank you, also, to the queer men and the gender non-conforming who are also being thrown away and slandered in the movement. Thank you for realizing we are not opponents, as I need more voices like yours.
And to my straight, cis brothers who claim to be the pillars of, and victims within, the movement, the question still remains: what is the goal here? What is the revolution and justice that you are looking for? Moreover, how are you going to achieve it without acknowledging the existence, the legacy, the voice, and the oppression of women and queer people? We no longer have the option to use theories with no practical solutions. I am tired of the jargon. We cannot uplift Black people without uplifting all of us. We are not against you. We might not present or perform the way you want, but we are standing on the front lines. We are just as much a part of the community as you.
Let’s begin an authentic, open, loving dialogue.
I am here. I am waiting.
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Shama Nathan is not your typical sweet sixteen. With a voice for feminist issues, she’s working on her first non-fiction novel The Dark Side of Our World. She is a lover of chocolate, currently floating in the Caribbean Sea.