A black woman asked me why did I identify as a feminist instead of a womanist, my initial reaction was to tell her to shut the fuck up and mind her business. Instead, I told her that she asked a good question (because she did) so I sat with this question and I’ve realized that as much as I’ve grown and learned, I am still steadfast in my decision to not choose one over the other.
The home page of my blog includes both Feminist and Womanist because I’m both. I’ve never chosen one over the other and I’m not going to.
I don’t see why I have to choose one over the other when the foundation of both feminism and womanism was laid by African women, and given the fact that my black ass is of African descent, I feel that I can identify however I please. I am aware of the way white women have co-opted the feminist movement, I am aware that black women are marginalized in a movement that they created. I know that, and if anything that’s the main reason WHY I call myself a feminist. A black feminist, but a feminist nonetheless. I am affirming my feminist identity on behalf of the black women that fought before me. The black women who fought in Africa and the United States. The black women who were in Europe making moves. The black women in the islands that fought like hell! All the Afro-Latinas that didn’t ease up. They deserve more than to be erased from a movement that they had a heavy hand in molding.
The typical response to Feminism is to paint women as angry, bitter, lonely, unattractive, lesbians, or white (white adjacent). Modern day feminism is becoming more commercially acceptable as the days go by. It’s profitable. It’s palatable. People can claim it as an identity without engaging in the literature, theories, or principles, but the one constant is the hyper-focus on white women. That is a dangerous quality for a movement that preaches about equity, equality, and dismantlement to have. This new wave of modern day, commercial, and palatable feminism doesn’t match well with the social position of black women. So, if you are looking to a group of oppressed people to water-down their pursuance of liberation, don’t look to us. As I’ve said in several of my blogs, black women are faced with a unique challenge, we have to navigate racism and sexism, both individually and collectively. We’re not watering down shit, don’t ask. The problem is, we’ve been all but erased from the movement we created. Black women have been replaced, used, copied, and silenced within the feminism movement. But if history hasn’t taught me anything it’s taught me that you can’t stifle the oppressed forever. One way or another, we will be fucking heard. That is a promise. And as usual black women followed through with that promise and created a movement that centered us, our issues, our realities, both in and outside of our community. Womanism.
Much like feminism, womanism is about liberation and dismantling patriarchy, but unlike feminism, it is centered on the plight of black women.
Therein lies the beauty of womanism. If nothing else womanism teaches us that as black women, we are the standard. We are the sense of normalcy. We are neither subhuman nor superhuman because of our race or our gender, we are simply human. When studying the literature of womanism, we are able to see that on a global scale, the work of black women predates that of white women. Black women have BEEN here, we’ve BEEN doing this, and we’re STILL doing it. Black women were feminists before feminism was called feminism. So, not only have we been doing this work longer, but we also have been doing it on a level that goes beyond the scope of white women.
Womanism taught me about intersectionality, misogynoir, reproductive justice, etc.. Womanism taught me that feminism was more than the public leads people to believe. It taught me that feminism has always been present among black women, even if it doesn’t seem that way now. Feminism has a way of relating to black women and ostracizing us at the same time. While I may be able to relate to some things, I find it hard relating to everything. I know that my reality and my experiences are always going to be a little different, because I’m black. I also know that there are black women who can’t relate at all because of their class, access to education, poverty, etc.. Black women, much like black people in general, are not monolithic. Therefore, not every feminist principle or theory is going to resonate with all of us the same way. Furthermore, when a movement dedicated to the dismantlement of patriarchy focuses solely on white classed women, we will hardly be able to relate to it anyway. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the idea of liberation that modern-day feminism focused on did not include women that looked like me, talked like me, or thought like me. I assume that the foremothers of womanism felt the same.
After coming to this realization and studying womanism of the present and the past I realized that I couldn’t learn about womanism without being led back to feminism.
I soon realized that the common denominator of both movements was the work of black women and I decided that how I identify was not as important as my understanding of the work that black women have contributed to both feminism and womanism. It doesn’t mean shit how I identify if I don’t understand what they stand for. If I only engage with principles that resonate with me without thinking of the black women who can’t resonate with any of them at all, why does it matter if I am a feminist or a womanist? Learning, studying, applying, and empathizing is important, whether I identify as a feminist or womanist is not. Being questioned about my feminist identity has solidified that for me. Choosing to only identify as womanist or feminist seems almost impossible to me and compared to the shit that black women have to go through in life, the way we have to navigate racism, patriarchy, classism, and the like, whether or not we are feminists or womanists is trivial.
So, I’m not choosing one over the other, I embody both because I have spent time researching, studying, and learning both. I am both.