“Let’s face it. I am a marked woman, but not everybody knows my name… I describe a locus of confounded identities, a meeting ground of investments and privations in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth. My country needs me, and if I were not here, I would have to be invented.” – Hortense J. Spillers
I was 18-years-old when my mother passed away. It was a Saturday morning and I was woken up by a call from my sister telling me to come home immediately. I’ll never forget my sister’s quivering voice. I’ll never forget the somber faces of the people gathered in our living room as I walked in. Life has been like an incomplete puzzle ever since that day – and I am not sure if it will ever be complete again.
My mother was the first feminist I knew – although the word never existed in her vocabulary. Her life story is one that is fraught with disappointment, heartache and struggle, like most black women of her generation. Her life was never her own.
Even so, she resisted stereotypes associated with motherhood, caring for her children in often unexpected ways, but always in the best way she knew how. She resisted stereotypes associated with womanhood and femininity. She was not ‘fragile’ nor was she ‘emotional’. In fact she was physically strong, and did most of the ‘handy’ work at home.
But besides all of that, the most admirable thing about her was that she was completely comfortable in her own skin. Her pitch black natural hair, the loose clothes, her loud laughter, and her tsotsi-taal which would be whipped out at the most unexpected moments! She was genuinely herself, and she taught me that accepting myself the way I was, was the only way to begin the path towards freedom.
Feminist Friendships Rule
As I continue trying to come to terms with her absence, my friendships with women have been at the centre of my healing. And I can honestly say that feminism (black feminism to be exact) and feminist politics have helped me in finding and building these friendships with women of different ages, sexualities and religions.
Through my feminist friendships, I have shared moments with women that have understood me (and my pain) even before I have spoken. The compassion, love, space and understanding I have received from women whom I have bonded with (in the workplace and in social spaces), has given me strength in times of weakness, assurance in times of doubt, and confidence in times of self-hatred.
Friendships I have had with women over the years have allowed me to reflect on my own ideas of blackness and womanhood. They have allowed me to see that feminism is about more than just one way of ‘being’. That it is essentially about justice. And that it is about fighting for, and attaining freedom.
Certain shared experiences that I have had with black women have created a solidarity that acknowledges and understands the social and historical contexts of black womanhood. I have been understood by black women. I have been heard by black women.
I am friends with fiercely intelligent women that have kept me intellectually engaged. I am friends with women who disrupt narrow-minded ideas of femininity. I am friends with women who fight, both politically and physically, to have their voices heard.
I have cried for and with these women in times of trauma. I have fought with them when we have disagreed. I have sung with them – emotionally at rallies and euphorically in clubs and beer halls!
We have supported each other and cried on each other’s shoulders when no one else was willing to carry our burdens with us.
So, to my mother – the first feminist I ever knew, and to my female friends who have taught me what feminism is and could be, I thank you.