A year in Black Feminism

By Reni Eddo-Lodge

It’s been an interesting year for black feminism, with a very current spotlight shone on black feminism as a political identity, and eagerness to openly discuss what this means. The sudden popularity of intersectionality has resulted in very public discussions of day to day manifestations of white supremacy, and honesty about structural racism and exclusion.

However, we have not come to this point without a great personal cost to the black women who have stuck their necks on the line to challenge the status quo. As the year draws to a close, I’d like to pay homage to some pivotal moments for black feminism in 2013.

Featured Image: Leyla Hussein on the Cruel Cut.

1. FGM hit the headlines

Daughters of Eve (Leyla Hussein, Nimko Ali and Sainab Abdi) is dedicated to end the practice of female genital mutilation, a practice that disproportionality affects women and girls from the African, Asian and Middle Eastern diaspora. In June of this year, Daughters of Eve teamed up with the NSPCC to launch a helpline to protect girls at risk from the abuse. In November, Leyla Hussein broadcast a powerful documentary about the abuse with Channel 4, entitled The Cruel Cut, taking FGM to the front of public consciousness. A Daughters of Eve’s petition, aimed at decision makers in the Home Office, is rapidly nearing the 100,000 signatures required to see the topic discussed in parliament.

2. Intersectionality went mainstream

Just a year ago, you’d be hard pressed to find an article discussing the personal impact of structural racism in the mainstream media. Now, an increasing number of women are redefining themselves as intersectional, as the broad church of feminism recognises a need to embrace a critical analysis that includes, but is not limited to, gendered oppression. 2013 saw high profile cases involving white female pop stars such as Lily Allen preaching feminism but using black women’s bodies to make a political point.

Earlier in the year, Mikki Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen trended on twitter, inadvertently serving as a tool for black women to air out some of the issues from years of putting up with racism and whiteness in feminist spaces. There is still a long way to go and much self-reflection to be had before all our feminisms are truly inclusive, but this year saw a tidal wave of change.

3. Muslim women said no to FEMEN

Topless Ukrainian group FEMEN bared their breasts in a number of protests this year, but their activism has been consistently marred by Islamophobic themes in their messaging. In May, FEMEN organised International Topless Jihad Day- a protest against what they called Islam’s mistreatment of women. But Muslim women swiftly bit back, culminating in a popular Facebook page called ‘Muslim Women Against FEMEN’. On the page, they said ‘We have had enough of western feminists imposing their values on us. We are taking a stand to make our voices heard and reclaim our agency.’ Then, in August, Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina Sbou left the group, telling the Huffington Post: “I do not want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organisation.”

Muslim Women Against Femen

Image courtesy of Muslim Women Against Femen

4. Southall Black Sisters took on the UK Border Agency

For decades, Southall Black Sisters have worked with immigrant women escaping for abusive relationships, and their work recognises the impact political attitudes to immigration have on the lives of these women. This year state approved racial profiling resulted in document checks at tube stations. White men in uniforms yielded their power to stop and search anyone who looked vaguely ‘illegal’ – a physical act of othering that stoked racial tensions in a context where the likes of the EDL’s Tommy Robinson and UKIP’s Nigel Farage already get disproportionate airtime on our television screens. When a UKBA van parked up outside their office this year, Southall Black Sisters fought back with direct action, and when the Home Office launched its anti-immigrant ‘Go Home’ campaign, SBS organised a mass protest.

Feminist Times visits Southall Balck Sisters protest against current immigration policy. from Feminist Times on Vimeo.

5. Dark Girls premiered in the UK

Dark Girls, a US-based film about the impact of white supremacist beauty ideals on black and brown women and girls across the globe, was released. In September, Dr Jude Smith Rachele, CEO of Abundant Sun brought the film to the UK. The film’s premiere ignited conversations about the consequences of beauty ideals, even bringing a short discussion of the topic to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. For black women, Dark Girls stirred memories of shadeism in our own communities and the importance of principled resistance to toxic beauty ideals that were never meant for us in the first place.

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a black feminist writer and campaigner based in London. She blogs at http://renieddolodge.co.uk/ and tweets @renireni

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