On, Women, Revolution and Love

June 5, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve never been much of a feminist. In the crucible of my political coming of age, I internalized a strong message. I could either be a ‘race woman,’ devoting myself to improving the conditions of black people, or I could ally myself with bourgeois white feminists. There were no other choices, and clearly only one was acceptable. A small group of female African American seminary students was working out a ‘wymist’ theory that took gender, race and poverty seriously but I didn’t take them seriously at the time. I constructed my identity primarily around race. Like many African American women who’ve played a prominent role in the struggle for freedom and justice, I would advocate for the community as a whole—no particular emphasis on women. Focusing on women, and especially highlighting sexism and misogyny within the black community, was an especially hard row that I didn’t want to hoe.

In the past two years, I’ve begun to take women’s work – organizing among and on behalf of women – more seriously. Why? Because I’ve begun to see a unique source of power I had missed before. I’ve worked with incredible African American and Sudanese women in the Sisterhood for Peace who working toward peace for the whole of Sudan. I’ve wept as I watched documentaries about the horrors facing women in Darfur and as I read A Thousand Splendid Suns, set in late 1980s Afghanistan. I’ve learned with great pride about Liberian organizer, Leymah Gbowee, who catalyzed the Women in Peacebuilding Network—a movement of women who were sick and tired of losing sons, brothers, and husbands to a 14 year civil war—and whose actions led to the war’s end.

From Sisterhood For Peace.

I have met Kenyan activist, professor, parliamentarian, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai who founded the Greenbelt Movement – a women’s movement which was launched to call a repressive government to account, to protect the environment, and to build peace. I’m reminded of the mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina who held vigil and insisted their government answer for the lives of their loved ones. I’ve come to understand the unique role women play in building peace. A Darfuri woman put it simply. “The men [who are engaged in the conflict] are our brothers, husbands and sons. If we cannot influence them to seek peace, who can?!”

Che Guevera once said “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” It seems to me that there is no greater love than a woman for her children and family to set the wheels of a peace-producing revolution in motion. Where have you seen this love in action? What stories can you share?

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  • Linda says:

    I read your post with great interest – and thank you for posting the video!

    I was intrigued to read about your description of the separation between working on race and on gender for you. And you mentioned work in the seminary. I wanted to acknowledge that there was also critical work being done at that time that was working on the very interconnected nature of oppressions. It feels very important to me to recognize and acknowledge the incredible work that was done by the Black Feminist Movement in the 1970s. In our own backyard, the Combahee River Collective (with Barbara Smith and others) was doing extremely important work that has been foundational in work on issues of multiculturalism. They coined the phrase “identity politics” and, working on issues of race, gender, class and sexual orientation, were some of the key early thinkers about the notion of intersectionality, seeing that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. Their work therefore was looking at how to do integrated analysis and practice. So I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge their contribution as well!

  • Gibran says:

    Cynthia – what a great post! You are not alone! I’ve been hearing this dilemma about being “forced to choose” from feminist women of color for a long time. And while Linda is right that much work was done for the integration of movements, my perception from looking at the field is that the radically bold proposition of feminists of color has been relegated to the margins, even if wonderfully celebrated in schools of critical theory. When we look more closely at this marginalized movement we see the foundation for some of the most significant shifts we ahve seen in our society. I want to fully honor your struggle in face of this “choice” and to truly celebrate your taking another look.

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