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  • Lania Narjee

What do you hear when you hear the word feminism?

What do you hear when you hear the word feminism? I think of the eternal conundrum of what comes first, your race or your gender? Can feminism exist in a world so heavily imbued with anti-blackness?  Is there feminism when your body is Black? 


My younger self used to think of Feminism solely being the realm of the great unwashed and unshaven, belonging to a resoundingly white, middle class group of women recently liberated from the kitchen and home. Completely at odds with my Black, 3rd generation council-house self. Feminism was for white women.  


I grew up seeing my mother and her single parent, mostly Black women friends committed to independence by living life on their terms. As for most Black women work is and was not a choice, but a necessity for survival. Black women trying to prevail in a hostile environment perhaps, the only Feminism I understood. This kind of Black feminism was implicit in comparison to the protesting and intellectualised pursuits of the white feminists I associated with Feminism.  


Audre Lorde and bell hooks had not been part of my university reading list, which was entirely male and pale as most reading lists are in the West. Reading Sojurner Truth’s “Ain’t I a woman?” where she advocates for women’s rights, but calls out the fact her womanhood is ignored due to her Blackness, makes me think of sisterhood and what that really means?  

I default back to Feminism being the domain of whiteness again and I wonder do other Black women think the same as me? The concept of intersectionality raised by Truth over 100 years ago raising the question of can Black and white women ever truly be “sisters”? Is Feminism universal to the racialised body?  


As a Black woman therapist I have often felt the palpable transferential energy in spaces regarding what my melanated body represents. Not just from men, but women also. My Blackness always at the forefront and my gender a secondary factor. My place at the bottom of the racial and gender pyramid has not changed over the years. I am never perceived as soft, but always fierce, no doubt crushed by the weight of those above me. As a Black woman I am fighting on two fronts, race and gender. An exhausting war. A war that is invisible to many, but doubly disappointing if it’s invisible to another woman.  


In my world my Black body represents perfection and deception. An oxymoron of the hyper-visibility of my skin tone and invisibility of my femininity. My racialised body representing an oppressed, weaker supposedly more inferior group, but my ancestral mirror showing me strength and power, despite centuries of exploitation and aggression.  


On an analytic level it makes me question the symbolic function of the Black body. My body is only a border of sorts, encapsulating a thinking, feeling being, despite the opinions, judgements and experiments of others. Validating and evidencing my humanity is a distracting, painful and repetitive experience and it does not disappear no matter what circles I frequent.  

I am more likely to invoke a negative reaction based on the amount of melanin I have, rather than what gender I am. Historical propaganda has been designed to put my Black body in its place regardless. This caused me to view “white” Feminism- with suspicion, in fact any “ism” with suspicion. 


I am unsure whether I have become more Black in recent years or more Black feminist. I exist in this world in a body that fights for space and freedom every day because of what I symbolically represent. There is no need to intellectualise that experience. Entering into certain spaces my body is a protest without even trying, especially as I inhabit a body that is not always welcomed.  


If we are to think of Feminism in all its forms, we must think of what true Feminism is. True Feminism includes and recognises the struggles of everyone, otherwise there is no true liberation. 


True Feminism means freedom. Freedom from shame and judgement. Freedom from exploitation and fear. Freedom from the shackles and violence of those who constructed the pyramids of power.  


True liberation is liberation for all.  

Liberation to rest. 

Liberation to be.

Lania Narjee


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