by Chekwube O. Danladi
In April, more than 230 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the north-eastern Nigerian village of Chibok and it all feels very close.
My maternal family from Nigeria are based primarily around the federal district to Plateau State to Kano to Maiduguri. We are mostly Hausa speaking and follow a variety of religious traditions. We come from communities in Northern Nigeria like Chibok, and these 200+ girls, who look so much like us, who speak like us, whose voices and names and truths echo our own, are our girls. They are our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends.
News of the attacks came to me from my mother very late one night. She’d received a panicked phone call from her sister in Abuja asking if she had heard. In her late teens and early twenties, my mother lived in Borno state. When she called me with the news, her voice was angry and hurried and pained. As she spoke, I, too, was scared and hurt. We both felt it.
A Nigerian friend in New York emails me a few days later and tells me she too has heard the news and wants to organize and march with others in the city. In the days since, I have had conversations with other Nigerian women, from New York to Abuja to DC, who I am close with. We talk about the girls and our collective sorrow. There is a shared pain, that is visceral, and understanding that we are seeking an answer to a question we have been asking over several lifetimes and ancestries: Why are Black girls and women expendable?
It took Western media outlets weeks to report on the kidnappings and now that they are, they’re purporting to seek justice. Sorting through the inaccuracies in the reporting is a big task, but more broadly, the efforts are disingenuous because they completely disregard the safety and wellbeing of Black girls and women. The systems of inequality that fuel patriarchy, misogyny, racism, and imperialism have all been set up to work in such a way that these students—Black, African girls—are exactly the kind of people who can be kidnapped, brutalized, and sold into sexual slavery; only to have these tragedies and atrocities turned into sound bites and opportunities for white Westerners to take turns condemning Black nations.
Meanwhile, us Nigerian and Black women are speaking to our collective anger and frustration because of a global society that deems our bodies and lives disposable and irrelevant.
We are angry because this disregard is canonized and has become a fundamental truth in the world. Disregard of Black girls’bodies is why no international attention came until days after the kidnappings and when it did, it supported anti-Black misogyny, known as misogynoir. So-called truths about “Nigerian culture”and “Islamic tradition”were used against Nigerians and against these Black girls’bodies, turning them into a tragic consequence of poorly informed Western idealities of Blackness. These projections mean that people who know nothing about Nigeria and Nigerian societies get to speak for and over actual Nigerians.
This enables the treatment of school children as potential wives to be normalized in the context of Nigeria—and misognynoir isn’t simply an aspect of “Nigerian culture” as it is being implied. Misognynoir is part of a global culture that says it is not only justifiable, but an expectation to hate Black women and girls. This is as true in Nigeria as it is in any other part of the world.
The collusion of misognynoir, patriarchy, and colonialism work together to ensure everyone benefits from the exploitation of Black girls. President Goodluck Jonathan benefits, as does David Cameron. White celebrities and so-called experts who speak on our behalf, benefit. They benefit because they are maintaining; they are using Black women’s pain as a business venture, a speaking point, a political stepping stone, a military opportunity. The information these celebrities and politicians disperse is not only vitriolic and inaccurate; it is violent.
I am angry when I see white Westerners make headlines and be identified as the originators of activist efforts that were initiated from the pain of Black women. All outlets that are eager to propagate the familiar White savior cause, as its being led by the West, are working to support White supremacy at the expense of Black girls.
Black women are the ones who have taken the lead on speaking about the great miscarriage of justice that has taken place in Chibok, yet news outlets are hesitant to credit us for our work. Black women’s radical grassroots organizing has always been taken for granted and has always been co-opted by those who do not know the suffering that drives it. Our work has always been trampled on by patriarchy, colonialism, and white supremacy; it has always been swallowed up for profit while leaving us to carry the hurt alone.
Credit is due to the emotional and physical tax that these children are paying each day that they are gone. Credit is due to the mothers, whose pain and grief drives their action: proud fierce women who are afraid for their children and emboldened by it.
Credit is due to Nigerian schoolgirls taking up for their peers and sisters. I’ve been reading opinion pieces and calls to action. Nigerian women like Obiageli Ezekwesili, Chimananda Adichie, and Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, among others, have been speaking.
Black women have taken to the streets and courts and embassies, the impetus for our work stemming from collective pain and knowledge that tragedy of this scale isn’t new. Racism, colonialism, and misogyny have always been our burden. But resistance has always been our response.
My conversations with other Black and Nigerian women have centered on our struggle and fear; these conversations have been heartbreaking. We are afraid that under different circumstances, on a different day, in a different town, it could have been us. We are afraid that soon, no one will care.
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