Updated: Aug 14, 2021
On women’s day 2017, Prof. Gabeba Baderoon from Penn State University gave a key-note address at a conference of Research Committee 07 “Women and Politics in the Global South” of the International Political Science Association (IPSA) hosted by the SARChi Chair in Gender Politics at Stellenbosch University. She spoke of the pristine and beautiful white calm facades you see everywhere in Stellenbosch. She spoke of how these beautiful clean white buildings with perfectly manicured gardens, hide a brutal and bloody history; a history of slavery and apartheid. These white calm facades make lily white, make clinically clean the depraved dehumanization of indigenous African people. People that were required as labor in the very buildings of the town of Stellenbosch. Prof. Baderoon spoke to how the aesthetic representation of this lily-white place illustrates the concerted efforts that have sought and continue to seek, to hide ourselves from ourselves, hid ourselves from our collective history.
Stellenbosch University is my alma mater. This is the context from which I write as a black queer student. I write with a hypersensitivity and an awareness of the various aesthetic representations that sanitize and minimize a violent South African history. A violence whose violations of black women are unannounced and uninvited. An epistemic violence whose timing, place and impact works with a ruthless precision I’ve had the unfortunate privilege to witness unfold. In short and more directly to the point, the various herstories of #FeesMustFall are being written out of the rendition of mainstream history of #FeesMustFall. My immersion in the different hashtag movements of 2015/2016 has heightened my awareness and as such I am a key witness to the erasure from the ‘official’ historical discourse taking place. To clarify, herstories are the lived experiences of the various womxn that formed the backbone of the #FeesMustFall movement, who without, there would have been no movement.
To compound this problem of erasure, Stellenbosch University (SU) is not featured in any of the authoritative accounts of #FeesMustFall as prominently as the other historically white universities (Wits, UCT etc.). It is as if, #FeesMustFall did not occur at Stellenbosch University. It is as if, Stellenbosch University escaped being touched by the student movement. But it did happen and it did not escape and ours, our #FMF struggle; the Stellenbosch Fees Must Fall (#SFMF) Collective was mostly black queer led and so what faces us is the problem of double erasure. To be sure, these are two erasures that occur simultaneously for me and it is the starting point from which I write.
The first erasure is that of the narratives and herstories of the Radical Black Feminists and our emphasis on intersectionality as praxis during #FeesMustFall from history. This is because history, are indeed ‘his stories’ and as ‘his stories’ the ‘he’, man not woman, becomes the central figure, the driving change agents in the movement. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that black womxn create and write our own knowledge because without this very deliberate activity we can rest assured that our herstories, all our herstories, will be forgotten but the histories will remain and endure.
The second erasure is that of the narratives of #FeesMustFall as it occurred at Stellenbosch University, that veritable birthplace of not only the Apartheid ideology as theory but of the epistemic and spiritual justification of the system of Apartheid. In all the research and reading I’ve done, you will be lucky to find a paragraph let alone a whole chapter dedicated to unpacking the various dynamics at play at Stellenbosch University during #FeesMustFall. Maybe I have not read far enough but the general sense is that Stellenbosch University is hardly if at all mentioned; the Stellenbosch FMF narrative is unsurprisingly, missing. A conversation with a black woman I randomly struck up a conversation with one day in 2017 on a My Citi bus to town highlighted this for me perfectly. In response to my saying ‘I was part of #FeesMustFall at Stellenbosch’ she said: “Oh, #FeesMustFall happened at Stellenbosch? You lie!!”
The experiences we had, the dialectic that unfolded at Stellenbosch University in the historical moment that was Fees Must Fall is going to disappear if we do not write our stories. If we do not share our experiences and the lessons we’ve learnt. Consequently, the manifestation of the movement in Stellenbosch produced a dynamic that was very different to the historically white universities that had large numbers of black students in their student body. The emphasis on intersectionality as praxis was incredibly visceral at SU because firstly our numbers were small and secondly, we were mostly womxn. Intersectionality is central in understanding how the collective functioned at Stellenbosch, arguably more so than at Wits or UCT where patriarchy was firmly established and to challenge it meant removal as a ‘credible leader.’
The intersectional praxis exhibited by the radical black feminists of #FeesMustFall articulated a praxis that is identifiably different to those before it. Prof Baderoon noted in her women’s day speech that for the first time in South African history, gender was not pushed aside in the name of black solidarity. The explicit rejection of bearing the historical costs of revolutionary participation as black women was articulated in the #FeesMustFall slogan “this revolution will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” And further, when the big men of #FeesMustFall did not want to practice intersectionality as per the slogan, the refusal to bear the historical costs of revolutionary participation was manifested in various breakaway movements and protest moments from #FeesMustFall – most famously #RUReferenceList – namely, #TransCollective, #PatriarchyMustFall, #EndRapeCulture, #RememberKhwezi.
CLASS, LANGUAGE & POSITIONALITY
Instead of laying out the what, how and when of #FMF at Stellenbosch University, I will address the class factor of #FeesMustFall that makes this movement a very complex one. The what, how and when narratives are similar but the manifestations of experience are different. Student protests at university in a post-apartheid context is not a new phenomenon, but is rather an extension of an unresolved past. In an opinion piece I penned titled Blacks With Access (Kunene 2017), I argued that #FeesMustFall is an example of what happens when Blacks with Access (proximity to whiteness) self-organize to do things differently. The narrative of decolonizing higher education was put on the national agenda in 2015 because blacks who studied on the stoep of the masters house started making as much noise as their fellow students at Fort Hare, VUT, TUT, WSU etc. Historically black universities have been protesting against inaccessibility and the commodification of higher education since before democracy. This issue only became a ‘serious’ one worth national attention when the ‘better’ blacks, the Blacks with Access joined the protest. #FeesMustFall was indeed a middle class student movement, Wits, SU, UCT, UCKAR – as historically white universities are the alma mater of many who either hold or have access to the androcentric and asymmetrical levers of power in this country. In a white supremacist state, it is only when enough white people are uncomfortable do the things that normally remain unseen become starkly visible. (Kunene 2017)
In response to my article, I received a LinkedIn message on 12 October 2017, from Tiisetso
Moleko, a young person from Warrenton in the North West who shared his view on
#FeesMustFall with me,
Hello Ashanti, I would like to thank you for the article that was published by News24 yesterday "Blacks with Access", it meant a lot to me as it has clarified some of the vague concepts I've been thinking of. I would like to get clarity from you on the way you view the #FeesMustFall movement.... In your article you wrote. .... "#FeesMustFall is an example of what happens when Blacks with Access (proximity to whiteness) self-organize to do things differently." I say, the only reason we saw the birth of that movement was because of the fact that the "Blacks with Access" were now faced with the possibility of becoming "Normal" Blacks (normal because a majority of us are poor at the moment and a black with access is viewed by us as an abnormal being). The fees increased and they could now no longer pay from their pockets and were left with the option of going to the WSU's, TUT's of this world.
Knowing the poor conditions at these 'black' institutions they took to the streets to threaten the destruction of the whole academic system of the country because they were not willing to go to these intellectual gas chambers. My view will be supported by the fact that when Zuma announced that there'll be no fee increases at universities, Blacks with access declared victory and the numbers of people toy toying decreased with those who continued toy toying labelled as Hooligans who love chaos. The protests will be intense again when they can't afford to pay for the fees. I say that the #FeesMustFall movement was a fight for continued access to power and not the fight for the expansion of access to all, including the poor of WSU's. Would you agree with my view? Or did I talk prematurely as 'Rome was not built in one day?
Writing in hindsight, this was indeed, among other things, about continued access to sociopolitical
and epistemic power, about continued access to whiteness. Access to power for black students is directly equivalent to ones ability to maneuver and function within whiteness, within white spaces, within the system without seeming too foreign. The better you are able to do this, the more ‘power’ one has. This ability once learned, can only be practiced within white spaces like the historically white university; one cannot live white in black spaces and so continued access to whiteness was and is required for ‘better blacks’ like me. This white modality of blackness (blacks that have been trained how to “live white”) speaks to the alienation and double consciousness of W.E.B Du Bois (Du Bois, 1993). Fees Must Fall was undeniably about ensuring that the ‘power’ that comes with knowing how to live white in a white world, is retained. Arguably, in addition Fees Must Fall allowed particularly resourceful and shrewd students (politicians and interested third parties) access to a socio-political power that facilitated political upward mobility. Indeed, political opportunism is a central theme of FMF, as it is with all social uprisings.
Language is another factor relating to class that made #FMF a particularly complex student movement, given the poor black brush it is painted with. Ones command of the English language was the line that separated the mere protesting student from the student leader. I was identified as a key leader at Stellenbosch in 2016 simply because mine was a voice consistently heard speaking ‘big English’ words in protest spaces. I spoke the truth a bit too loudly, too clearly and too passionately to merely be a follower; surely I am leading others to break the rules. An anecdote relating to this point about language I would like to share occurred in early 2018. I was invited to facilitate a FVZS Woman in Leadership session at Stellenbosch University on the topic of Radical Black Feminism early in 2018. One familiar face attended the session, a black woman student. I recognized her face from the protests of 2015/2016 and throughout the session she was mostly quiet.
When she did finally choose to speak she asked a simple question, “Do you think that Radical
Black Feminists during #FeesMustFall were elitist?” I asked, ‘how so?’ to which she explained that for a rural girl like her, she found it difficult to engage in conversation with us – the so-called official Fees Must Fall Radical Black Feminists – because not only did she not possess the vocabulary or knowledge of the fancy English terms we used when we spoke about intersectionality or blackness, but that English as a colonial language is a third language for her. She felt that only ‘those voices with the fancy English’ could speak in protest spaces or be the Radical Black Feminists of Fees Must Fall. It is problematic that one is only recognized as ‘speaking radical black feminist’ if one speaks English. Without it, one cannot fully participate in ‘radical black feminist conversations’. Consequently, herstories like that of this girl, remain unrecorded and thus absent from the knowledge produced about Fees Must Fall (assuming that she does not write her own herstory). Those that have the capacity to write, that can correct such discursive erasures therefore have the responsibility to ensure that what is witnessed is recorded. Even if what is witnessed is erasure.
My answer was ‘yes, I do think that Radical Black feminism as it functioned within FMF spaces was for those of us with proper English.’ When I came home that day and spoke to a very prominent #Stellenbosch Fees Must Fall student leader about the session, she said “we need to take the critiques as they come.” What I find interesting is how the narrative of #FeesMustFall is one that speaks to the awakening of the born free generation yet, the voices that are the loudest are ours; those of us privileged or lucky enough to have made it into historically white universities to begin with, those of us taught the good English, those of us who know how to practice the white modality of blackness best. This language issue extended to all protesting students that could wax lyrical about the black lived condition in Fanonian terms, in Biko terms, in Hegelian terms, in ways that slipped complex concepts like ‘epistemic violence’ into every day speech as if it were normal. Unquestionably this is problematic, but it is a problematic one recognizes with hindsight; during the height of the movement this is an exclusion ‘we’ did not recognize. And even where it was recognized, the counter argument was that one must go learn the revolutionary literature.
The issue of language within FMF is one deserving its own thesis. The inherent contradiction about language in the movement was that we were attempting to decolonize a colonized space, decolonize colonized minds, using the very language and epistemic constructs created by the colonizer. I am a product of a colonized nation and as such dislocation from my own indigenous language, the inability to speak ones own mother tongue as fluently as one does English is an unenviable result of history. So while, someone like me was identifiable from the outside as a leader by the system (university, government) because of how loudly I spoke my ‘fancy English’; I was simultaneously disqualified from leadership within the movement because patriarchy saw my iteration of blackness as inauthentic. Leadership within the black struggle historically manifests as a very specific male embodiment and male students sought to replicate the tradition of revolutionary black male leadership. Kimberle Crenshaw in an informative Ted Talk, explained intersectionality as a frame that allows one to see how racism and sexism affects black women in a distinctly unique and compounding manner. It is a frame that allows us to broaden how we think, see and speak about oppression. Taken further, intersectionality as a concept of identity, intersectionality speaks to the multiple aspects of the human identity that comprises who we are as people. For myself, to illustrate the point there are multiple intersections that make up my identity. You find me at the intersection of my race, my gender, my sexuality, my class and language.
In terms of my race, I am black. That very thing that the study of international relations has taught me is not only unseen, but incapable of rational thought. Blackness carries with it a narrative of oppression of being not enough or too much that quite frankly, before #FeesMustFall was never a concern for me. I was always just Ashanti. It took a problematic, patriarchal black man to inform me of the triple oppression of black woman. I woke up one day and suddenly found three layers of oppression upon my person, that occupied space in my mind that did not have space to occupy before that day. My being black, to be dead honest, was never part of how I formed my identity growing up. I am me, because of the spirit I carry within me. The body I occupy and the skin that colors it was never a burden I had to carry psychologically before coming to Stellenbosch. It is at Stellenbosch University that I learnt what it meant to be black in the ‘I am a victim and oppressed’ sense. Before coming to this university, the narrative of victimhood was never a possibility or even a valid narrative for me. Given all the attempts to co-opt me into this kind of thinking while black, I still vehemently refuse to think of myself as a victim regardless of what the world would tell me about how triply oppressed I am as a black woman.
Which brings me to my second intersection, my gender. I am a black woman. And as black woman, we are the most unprotected, unloved women on earth… we are the only flowers on earth that grow and bloom unwatered. Being black while female is an extreme sport. I prefer not to delve into the statistics of gender based violence and the double discrimination that drove Kimberle Crenshaw to even coin the term intersectionality. So, I am a black woman. Added to this I am a black bisexual woman. Bisexuality is a sexual preference that is not necessarily taken seriously by other ‘queer’ bodies like gays, lesbians, queer folk etc. but by virtue of being attracted to both men and women one is identified as a black queer woman by other non binary people. That I am cis het1 presenting means that my sexuality has never been something I have felt to be a reason for sadness or complaint.
Class becomes another intersection of my identity. I grew up in white neighborhoods, went to white schools, had white friends. I still have white friends. That I did not travel to and from the township everyday to get an education excludes me from the narratives of visceral poor black suffering. There was no consistent psychological reminder that I am not of this place, this school. I lived in the area I went to school in, I am a product of my mother’s sacrifices to give us what she never had growing up in Apartheid. This is a class positionality that worked to serve the movement because of the ability to access resources your positionality affords, but simultaneously my class positionality excluded me from the poor black narrative that was central to #FeesMustFall. Thus, everyone questioned why someone like me would participate in #FeesMustFall when my fees were paid for?
If I am honest with both myself and you, the reader, I would have never participated in #FeesMustFall had it not been for the fact that I was only one of two black head students out of over 30 residences at Stellenbosch University. Were it not for the fact that I was 2015/2016 Prim of Metanoia Residence, (Metanoia meaning change of heart), change of mind, my involvement in #FeesMustFall would have been both quantitatively and qualitatively different. As a head student you hold a lot of social capital and power on campus in terms of access to every building, and to any senior person in management. With the release of the Luister documentary in 2015 and the screening of the documentary we held at Metanoia as the first open space for students to talk about issues of race on campus, thus began my journey towards removing the veil of ignorance that had allowed me to not be affected by racism or racist people.
Finally, language as another intersection of my identity. I grew up relatively middle class. My parents raised my brother and I to speak English because as future focused black South African parents in the 1990s you made sure your children could speak English. English made sure we could get into good schools and be able to navigate the white world out there using this tool, called the English language. My brother and I were never raised speaking Zulu simply because Zulu was not going to get us into schools that provided quality education that would apparently provide a better life. It was a cultural trade off that would become an issue in my young adult life as a black Zulu woman with perfect English but lackluster Zulu. I should be able to speak my own language the way I know how to speak English but due to the historical and structural legacies of apartheid, here I am a black ‘born free’ with little to no intimate knowledge of her own culture. This was the price of education for me. This was the price my parents were willing to pay to ensure that their daughter stood a chance in life. How can I now as an adult be upset at my parents for wanting better for me?
There was an essentialization of blackness that seemed to creep out of the seams of the movement; an undertone of identity that I deviated from and as such, my blackness, the kind of black I am, was not authentic. Not authentic enough for real revolutionary leadership, for who am I to speak? I have never known a hunger that was not self inflicted, so how can I speak about being black in Stellenbosch? How dare I challenge a status quo that very clearly benefits me as a token black? It is a story I share freely, before #FeesMustFall I had no issues. I was the “Face of Stellies”. My life was not perfect but definitely unhindered by my blackness and so the shock of my participation begged the question why? Why would Ashanti protest?
Class within #FeesMustFall was a visceral site of contradiction. Class is an aspect that informed all others; the politics, the language, the accessibility of resources, the location of protests, the modalities of identity etc. It is from this nuanced perspective that one needs to view the complex nature of #FMF as this really and truly was and continues to be an intersectional movement. Intersectional in the sense that there are multiple issues at play, that cross over and under each other at the nexus between gender, race and class; perspective not being the least. Intersectionality as a concept and praxis is central to explaining the divergences and erasures that occurred and are occurring within the movement. It is also central to the narrative of the Stellenbosch Fees Must Fall collective. As such it is important that I acknowledge my positionality as a middle class ‘better black’ writing from the center of whiteness that is my alma mater, Stellenbosch University. Regardless of my positionality, I write to make sure the expurgations of our narratives are not forgotten. I protested, to bear witness. I protested because to not, was to remain stubbornly on the wrong side of history. It is through #FeesMustFall that I learnt I am willing to speak my truth, even if speaking gets me in trouble.
ERASURES AND INTERSECTIONALITY
The Eurocentricity of knowledge and knowledge production is an issue that has gained increasing attention in South Africa, specifically with the rise of #FeesMustFall. The movement, among other things, emphasized the urgent need to decolonize the university as the site of ‘legitimate’ knowledge. Various feminist scholars have written about the erasure and exclusion of women from knowledge and knowledge production. Accordingly, feminisms most compelling epistemological insight lies in the connections it has made between knowledge and power, specifically that the legitimation of knowledge claims is intimately tied to networks of domination and exclusion. One of the things that inform the various lived modalities of blackness within society is what one can and does know about oneself. Mohau Pheko (2013) argues that ‘almost every canonized western philosopher is on record as viewing women as inferior, incompetent or disqualified epistemic moral agents.’
If there is one western philosopher that I must acknowledge as adding fire to my soul is Aristotle. Now, Aristotelian philosophy assumes as a given, that women are incomplete and damaged human beings and that all people of color are natural slaves. This fundamental assumption is one of the founding metaphors of Western civilization, a civilization that is now proclaims itself as universal. It is a universality that has been attained through violence in all its possible iterations. The ‘universal’ definition of human as a rational animal is an Aristotelian definition and rationality has become the basis upon which legitimate knowledge is created and therefore only rational animals can create legitimate knowledge. Historically speaking, rationality is invested in the white male body that becomes a walking mind in society and in so doing; all other bodies are excluded and erased from mainstream knowledge and knowledge production. This is epistemic violence. Who made Aristotle the unquestioned authority on knowledge? Do you understand that the entire world as we know it today is underpinned by this assumption? That the human rights found in the UN Declaration are underpinned by this assumption? So is Western enlightenment indeed.
African feminism articulates the expansion of Europe and the establishment of Euro American cultural hegemony throughout the world. Nowhere is this more profound than in the production of knowledge about human behavior, history, societies and culture. One effect of this Eurocentrism is the racialization of knowledge where Europe is represented as the source of all knowledge and Europeans as knowers. The United States of America (USA) is particularly guilty of this, most especially in the context of what there is to know about international relations. The USA along with western Europe are the global ‘seats’ of knowledge and knowledge production which forms the core, outside which all other knowledge and other knowers are peripheral. If we take #FeesMustFall as a lens the problematic of knowledge is made visible when we begin to ask who is writing about Fees Must Fall? What stories are being told? Why is this story about us being told without us? Further, why is the gendered and intersectional aspect of this movement no longer highlighted given its feminist maxim that this revolution will be intersectional or it will be bullshit?
Authoritative narratives of intersectional feminism within FMF can only come from those of us who were there, who participated. Mine is but one of many, many I hope will also tell their stories to the world. Our insider knowledge makes the perspective of analysis of the movement uniquely, acutely entrenched in the collective and individual lived experiences of what it was like to experience systemic resistance, to cognitively decide one is willing to die for this historical moment, to realize the lie of the rainbow nation. It is the way in which we think and manifest our collective reality that changed and which must continue to change. This is where the real struggle lies, this is the singular axis upon which freedom will be attained, in our ability to experience whole paradigm shifts, to shift our lived modalities from ‘assimilate and survive’ to ‘revolt and survive’ to ‘strategize and thrive.’ Pointedly, before we can hope to change the system and the systematic oppression it doles out we must alter the 400 years of mental conditioning suffered. Therefore knowledge, the creation of knowledge, the ability to think independently is so crucial for freedom. And to achieve freedom, one must be in charge of ones own mind. There is a reason why Biko said that the most important
weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed. You must not be your own obstacle. You must not be owned by the environment you are in. you must own the environment, own the phenomenal world around you.
To be sure, it is not that black African women do not or cannot produce knowledge. We are not only receivers of theory but we are makers of theory (Oyewumi 2002, Crenshaw 1989, Scott 1985, Ogunyemi 1986). Black feminist theory offers critiques of the dominant conceptions of discrimination which tend to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis. Such exclusivity results in thinking about subordination as a disadvantage occurring along a single categorical axis which erases Black women in the conceptualization, identification and remediation of race and sex discrimination by limiting inquiry to otherwise privileged people. Consequently, antiracist thinking centralizes the lived experience of the black man and feminist thinking centralizes the lived experiences of white women. So, not only are black women overlooked but our exclusion and theoretical erasure is reinforced when white women speak for us and as ‘women’ (Crenshaw 1989). Additionally, exclusion and theoretical erasure is reinforced when black men speak for all black people or when black feminists from the west speak for all black feminists; or when upper middle class South African ‘born frees’ speak for all born free youth. When only a few speak for many, there are bound to be erasures.
Post-colonial African feminist theory articulates a critique of western Feminist scholarship on third world women via the discursive colonization of third world women’s lives and struggle. It exposes the power/ knowledge nexus of transnational feminist scholarship expressed through Eurocentric falsely universalizing methodologies that serve the narrow self-interest of Western feminism. It makes visible the operations of discursive power in mainstream feminist discourse which erases the ‘material complexity, reality and agency of third world women through its assumption of a homogenous notion of the oppression of women as a group. It is this that has produced the stereotype of Third world women as ‘powerless and located as implicit victims of particular socioeconomic systems (Mohanty 2003, 1989 Lewis, 2005, Ogunyemi 1989). There is an ‘overriding feature [of anthropology] to present African women as frozen in time and place, [as] subjects with static ritual customs, but lacking any real history. White and western women tend to ignore the realities and locations of African women and consequently it is our Fanonian task to make efforts to name ourselves independently, to create and write independently and contest the appropriative ways in which western feminists have spoken for us.
It is possible to read and hear much about the black image as it is constructed in the white mind simply because this black image played a critical role in the making of the European self. You hear much less about the white image as it is constructed in the black mind. In the same breath, discourses about women and biology circulating in Europe contributed to the specific erasure of slave women’s agency and contribution to history (Gqola 2015). It is the erasure of agency and contribution to ‘history’ that I attempt to speak directly to. In writing I attempt to disrupt a forming mainstream narrative of #FeesMustFall, confident that the history of #FeesMustFall is being and will be broadly captured and interrogated elsewhere as is to be expected by the status quo. This is a status quo that focuses on the Big Men (because men are leaders) of #FeesMustFall and as such discursively duplicates that problematic patriarchal politicking characteristic of post-1960 Africa.
Consequently, we are being erased as central change agents crucial to the very formation of the movement. This is because the history, are indeed his stories and as his stories “He” becomes the central figure. Therefore, it is imperative that as black womxn we produce our knowledge because without this very deliberative activity we can rest assured that our herstories will be forgotten but histories will remain. It is of the utmost importance that those of us who were there must write our stories, write our version of events so that alternative narratives exist; so that the many truths that exist find their way to the surface. The constant stream of energy that is used fighting the system, is better used in redefining ourselves and in building the kinds of futures we want.
IDENTITY POLITICS AND THE SUBVERSION OF INTERSECTIONALITY
Student leadership and identity politics were two sides of a coin during FMF. Picture the scene: it is 2016. The Stellenbosch Fees Must Fall collective have occupied the Wilcocks Building, which was renamed to Lilian Ngoyi (for a short while). A large lecture hall is packed with students. At the front of the lecture hall are womxn student leaders attempting to hold a space using intersectional rules of engagement: No sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, misogynoir, this is a safe space and the voices of black womxn will be prioritized. This was meant to be an awareness raising dialogue for the larger student body and so the room was full with non-protesting students eager to hear our narrative. A black male student leader who was extremely prominent in 2015, but found himself not so prominent in 2016, when the patriarchal fault line demarcated clearly gendered battle grounds between young black womxn and young black men. This black heterosexual straight male
student leader stood up and attempted to give his opinion but was swiftly reminded of the rules of engagement (that the voices of black womxn are prioritized in the space). His response, from where I stood represented a moment of unforgiveable clarity. He said,
‘but even I identify as a queer black womxn. You cannot presume to know the inner workings of my identity.’
The entire room erupted at the statement and the conversation quickly dissolved into unpacking the question ‘What is a black womxn?’ We achieved nothing in the session because all of a sudden, what a black womxn was, was conceptually unclear. I left as soon as I saw what had happened, the patriarchal leadership of 2015 could not accept the fact that the womxn in 2016 were front and center of the movement, women’s leadership had to be shown to be incapable. If not incapable, then with great majestic feats of intellectual subversion call into question the very validity of having a rule which states ‘the voices of black womxn will be prioritized in this space.’ …the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality. (Foucault, 1981: 52).
The logic behind such a rule of engagement in a decolonial dialogue space was to address the historical injustice of the silence of our voices. The silence of our voices anywhere and everywhere and so in occupying a building and claiming a space as our own, we attempted to recreate the rules. The moment of clarity was that even when you are on the same team, even when you are the backbone of that team, you the black womxn will not be allowed to speak. And so I resolved to stop asking permission, all of us must resolve to stop asking permission to speak for we will never be allowed such power. Stop asking permission.
(*This journal article was originally published in Politeia, 2018)
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