Your Silence Will Not Protect You

Welcome June! Suffice to say, the expectations are not particularly high this year, so do your worst.

I met a friend for a (government approved) coffee in a park yesterday and we talked about books and writing. These are the only things I can talk about these days without you know what. I generally try to be as conscious of my privilege, white and otherwise, as I can. It is being properly rubbed in these days, which feels both visceral and welcome.

I have written a lot about New York, which is my half-imaginary, half literary refuge where my favourite writers and journalists (who are mostly white/ Jewish intelligentsia (Fran Lebowitz, Tessa Brodesser-Akner, Cathleen Schine, Vivian Gornick, even Rebecca Solnit (from paternal side) reign supreme and somehow represent the majority’s mindset, which in my fantasy is educated and very liberal.

I am aware that my imaginary Lockdown- La-La-Land is very muchísimas far from reality, but I have been stubborn in my chase. Until about very recently, when the escalation in the real world started to seep into my fantasy world and out came the old feminist theory books again.
While I do not have any authority to write about race, the current events are strongly interlinked with feminism.

While we can all happily sing from the same songbook and agree that attaining collective empowerment, the goal of feminism, requires women’s economic independence, control of their own bodies and freedom of all forms of violence and sexual coercion, it absolutely also requires

the eradication of racial oppression.

There’s a lot of talk about feminist intersectionality, and the above is roughly in one sentence what it means. Feminism does not mean achieving equal opportunities for white women only. It goes deeper into structural inequalities (girls’ access to education, resourcing schools where pupils are predominantly of colour, the whole colonialist entanglement via international financing, systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic everything).

What goes on in the world at the moment (and, of course, has been going on for a very long time) is also a feminist issue.

Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books” said bell hooks, American feminist, professor and social activist. Herewith a small selection of personal favourites to help make sense of the world as well as to offer insights and escape:

bell hooks: Feminist Theory, from margin to center.
An important book to remind yet again how mainstream feminism continues to rely almost exclusively on white, middle-class spokeswomen in advancing its goals. hooks makes a tour de table of sexual politics and argues how we must acknowledge all women’s experiences in order to create a movement that ultimately will benefit all – and end women’s oppression.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: We Should All Be Feminists and Americanah
“We should all be feminists” is a small booklet that is a modified version of her TED-talk in 2012. It is only some 40 pages, but extremely powerful and absolute must read. And no, having a Cristian Dior T-shirt bearing the logo does not count as having read her manifesto.

Americanah is a beautiful novel that masterfully moves the story from Lagos to London to Princeton, New Jersey. Almost every political issue we’ve come to face in the 21st century, ranging from race, privilege, terrorism and immigration is intertwined in a story of a Nigerian teenager, who escapes her country’s dictatorship to Princeton to study. Her Nigerian boyfriend is denied access to the US following the 9/11, and ends up in London as an undocumented immigrant. The couple meet again in Nigeria after many years apart, and that’s as much as I will give away about the plot.
I read Americanah years ago (it was published in 2013) and loved it.

Zadie Smith: Swing Time and Feel Free
I have extensively covered Smith’s oeuvre in my blog – I love reading her, and during the lockdown I’ve also come to love listening to her speak in various literary podcasts. Feel Free is a non-fiction essay collection (can we take a minute to appreciate how f***ing spot on her essay about Facebook is, considering current developments?)
Swing Time is a novel that moves from London to West Africa, and includes a lot of dancing, celebrities and white people adopting kids in Africa. (There’s a certain American singer who very much comes to mind when reading Swing Time.)

Audre Lorde: Your Silence Will Not Protect You
An American feminist poet and writer, Lorde’s collection of essays and poems is a powerful book that does not hold back on rage and anger on topics that cover racism, sexism and homophobia. Lorde’s quotes might be familiar to many who peruse feminist instagram accounts where they continue to make the rounds:

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even if her shackles are different from my own.”
“Caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

The essay “Uses of Anger” asks the question what do we do in times when we are filled with anger. How do we use that anger? Lorde does not mince her words and her texts are as topical as ever, despite most of them being decades old (Lorde passed in 1992).

Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.

Everything can be used
Except what is wasteful
(you will need
to remember this
when you are accused of destruction

Final point: The above is a selection of books by black women writer. I wish to put on the record that it is, however, not the responsibility of people of colour to explain race and racism to white people.

There’s a book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge (who also wrote a preface to Lorde’s above essay collection), whose blog-post about the topic went viral in 2014 and prompted her to expand on that topic. I have not yet read it, but here’s a quote from the original blog post:

“So I’m no longer talking to white people about race. I don’t have a huge amount of power to change the way the world works, but I can set boundaries. I can halt the entitlement they feel towards me and I’ll start that by stopping the conversation. The balance is too far swung in their favour. Their intent is often not to listen or learn, but to exert their power, to prove me wrong, to emotionally drain me, and to rebalance the status quo. I’m not talking to white people about race unless I absolutely have to. If there’s something like a media or conference appearance that means that someone might hear what I’m saying and feel less alone, then I’ll participate. But I’m no longer dealing with people who don’t want to hear it, wish to ridicule it and, frankly, don’t deserve it.”

Same, if slightly different thing about gender equality: it is not women’s duty to educate men about feminism and explain why it is important. To quote from above:Their intent is often not to listen or learn, but to exert their power, to prove me wrong, to emotionally drain me, and to rebalance the status quo.”

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