On most occasions when the issue of intersectionality is brought up into the discourse when discussing revolution, so-called black revolutionary men dismiss it as a secondary issue, as well as some women who are spell-bound by patriarchy (because as much as self-hating house negroism affects blacks in relation to white supremacy, self-hating anti-feminism also affects black women who will stop at nothing to defend patriarchy). However, it is not only incorrect, but outright anti-revolutionary to attempt to deny intersectionality a voice within revolutionary spaces since there are no Olympic games for oppression that determine which form of oppression is better than the other at oppressing the people it is visited upon – thus all struggles are equal.
It is rogue and unwanted when people are going to dismiss struggles that don’t affect them directly as not pressing and secondary, and questions the motivation of participation in the revolution itself. So whether we like it or not dear black brother, we must come to the fore and make this issue priority of the discourse. Here it is us who must own up, all of us revolutionary black men.
1. Background on Intersectionality
Intersectionality is the core component of black feminist theory and in simple terms is the assertion that a black disabled woman is oppressed by white supremacy, anti-disability and patriarchy concurrently; thus the revolution must then liberate her from all these forms of oppression she experiences. This draws from the fact that all forms of oppression are equal and thus all a priority of a revolution because a black disabled woman does not exist separately in her anti-black, anti-disability and patriarchal oppression; and thus it would be nonsensical that she will need three revolutions to fully address issues of her oppression when by applying intersectionality all these struggles find a common intersection in the revolution to be addressed together at once. This is a setup for the post-revolution world to actually be devoid of any prejudices and forms of oppression by gender, sexuality, ability, alongside the encapsulating struggle of blackness that exists in this current white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal, anti-disability world.
2. Understanding the Origins and Manifestations of Patriarchy
When using Fanonian thought to diagnose blackness in relation to whiteness, a black man is not a man but a non-being who strives for humanness through emulating the white man – who is the real man. By this logic then, it is impossible for a black man to be the originator of patriarchy; a black man is only a filter of patriarchy through emulating the white man in his strife for recognition by the white world as human. By filter we mean that patriarchy originates from the white man, and is filtered to the black woman through the black man.
This does not however mean that it makes the violence of the patriarchy that gets to the black women through the black man any less ferocious… in fact the violence of it is intertwined with the violence brought about by the post-traumatic stress disorder of being stripped of one’s manhood and then dehumanised by the white world that the black man suffers from. And all this violence befalls the black woman, she is tortured for crimes she knows nothing about and in fact is a victim of those crimes herself. Thus we cannot as black men exempt ourselves from being patriarchal, as proxies of the white man’s patriarchy, because it is us black men who are visiting the abuse, molestation, rape, upon black women. The white man has successfully turned us into monsters and nightmares to black women, because it is through us that the patriarchal power of the white world is dispensed. At times we even go the extra mile as if to show the Massa how well-learned we are in his ways of oppression by even sticking bear bottles up the vaginas of dehumanised corpses we have violated in the most gratuitous manner possible as if to strip the victims of any dignity even in death; or keeping a tally of our rapes and murders of women as if it is some kind of sport.
So the understanding must be clear that not being originators of patriarchy as black men does not mean not being practitioners of patriarchy – hence the need to denounce, apprehend and remove patriarchy from black spaces.
3. Covert Patriarchy in Revolutionary Spaces
In the early days of the Fees Must Fall Movement at Wits, I noted with worry how so-called revolutionary black men were nonchalantly dismissive to the call of the recognition of the feminist struggle within the movement. The argument was that it was not a place for feminism because the collective problem was the issue of fees that affected everyone. However, if black women are not to raise legitimate feminist issues within a movement that claims to be revolutionary, then where must they go? What in essence this meant is that black men were willing to fight disenfranchisement based on race, which excludes 97% of black people from access to institutions of higher learning by virtue of keeping all economic power and the land in the hands of whites; but in the same stroke are not prepared to give voice to black women who are excluded from education by being disenfranchised on both their blackness and their gender through the historical exclusion of women from access to education – this is double exclusion. So how could we deny women a feminist voice to run at the forefront when their struggle is cumulative of all the oppressions they suffer?
You only have to interrogate the percentage of black women who graduate in many fields of study – in some of which they are almost non-existent because their intellectual capacity is brought into question, you only have to check the number of black women who hold professorships in institutions of higher learning to see the glaring expression of this struggle. Unwittingly we, revolutionary black men, are saying that when fees fall the access of black women must remain in the belittling percentage it currently is? What are we then if not Eugenicists who are covertly validating the pseudoscience that men are somewhat superior to men the same way white Eugenicists have used the pseudoscience to exclude their women and on top of that justified racism on the same basis that whites were superior beings to blacks in evolutionary pecking order? Or are we, revolutionary black men, saying that black women must fight alongside us on issues that affect us and them on the basis of blackness and then post-revolution start a new revolution against us on oppressions that feminism speaks against that are meted out by patriarchy that we ourselves weapons? Do you smell the stench of rotten logic in this? It is the pinnacle of cognitive dissonance!
When we do allow ourselves to give women a voice, it is when we have endorsed their advances as quintessential to how a “black queen” should be and speak. We only want to hear the ladies who speak of how black women should stick to black men because they are their only allies in the anti-blackness of the world and not vilify them (which is reductionist because it seeks to dismiss the patriarchal oppression of black women as secondary as I highlighted earlier); but close our ears when women correctly point out our patriarchal ways, we call them misguided feminists who are divisive to the movement (an ill-thought argument really, because a movement that gives preference to one form of oppression while suppressing the rest is built on false bonds and thus de facto divided from the beginning – it will only be a matter of time before the cracks start to visibly show).
The archetypal exemplar of giving women voice only when it suits us was the emergence of the “imbokodo leads” phenomenon within the Fees Must Fall Movement, which was women basically taking pictures (mostly with doeks) and being marketed as “faces” of the revolution too alongside the men in social media with hashtags, to somewhat “validate” that women were recognised and given a leadership role. All and well until you realise that the idea of “imbokodo” – conceptualised as a resilient, long-suffering women who “holds the knife on the sharp end (blade)” – is a long standing patriarchal propagandist manipulation that has been employed to silence black women for ages in the face of abuse meted out by black men on them. A Black man beat up his wife in a case of domestic violence, it is the woman on whom the failure of the marriage must be blamed because miraculously she must be a rock that takes blows like a sheep with no crying, and if she cries it is shameful as she is no “mbokodo”. So it was futile to have posters when patriarchy ransacks relentlessly in the grassroots of the movement, where women can’t even talk freely about menstruation and “leaking” without being given side-eyes from men who still treat natural processes as taboo because of patriarchal ignorance.
In a non-patriarchal movement, we will not need to have posters to validate our non-sexist stand; the results of addressing this oppression on the grassroots will be evident and irrefutable. Conversely, the failure to address patriarchy within a revolutionary movement is that movement turning itself into another ANC, wherein the ANCWL – and by default then, the women of the ANC – is not there to address the pressing feminist issues, but used as a proxy to fight patriarchal battles. Outside being mobilised for defending Zuma, what is the job of the ANCWL outside endorsing the patriarchal culture of the ANC itself by placing women in line to be used as quota cows? Which unequivocally also mean they endorse the sexual exploitation of women to get allocated positions in these quota numbers by the men of the ANC, with whom the real power of appointment lies. The ANC in a cesspool of patriarchy, to investigate the extent of the putrefaction therein you must find women who were in uMkhonto we Sizwe who are willing to open up (and honest men); they will tell you hair-raising stories of the abuse, rape, molestation of women in MK camps that was on a colossal scale. To this day these stories are still taboo to tell within the ANC and to the world because they are suppressed for the “image” of the organisation and even images of heroes who will be implicated; and these women are expected to be “imbokodos” and “hold the knife on the sharp side” to not bring bad light to an organisation that not only failed to protect them against dehumanisation of the worst kind, but endorsed it through silence and lack of justice.
What is even sadder is that this patriarchal culture of the ANC prevails relentlessly to this day (not that it is unexpected, but sad nonetheless), we witness the parading of women’s bodies for the amusement of men in the form of “ANCYL and SASCO babes” during campaigns inside and outside of campuses, in drives, carwash events on a very regular basis. We also witness women who are intellectually more astute slandered with patriarchal insults coupled with intimidation, threats of violence and even physical violence at times. We have heard comrades of the ANC calling women who got into certain positions panty comrades, and exclaiming who and who they had to sleep with to get co-opted into these positions of power within the party or deployed in government – yet when Ntsiki Mazwai points out these truths it is the women of the ANC who attack her; because like the biggest defenders of racism are self-hating uncle toms, the biggest defenders of patriarchy are self-hating women who will throw other women under a bus to defend the Zumas of this world, using any means necessary.
I believe thus as we have already identified the ANC as anti-black and unrelenting in defending white supremacy in our revolutionary spaces, it is not an organisation we would want to emulate in anything… but when we fail to allow intersectionality to have a leading platform in revolutionary spaces as black men, we are unwittingly breeding the same ANC culture we are pointing out as anti-revolutionary.
4. Overt Patriarchy in Revolutionary Spaces
On Monday the 16th of November 2015, we woke up to the devastating news of a rape that took place at the University of Cape Town, in Azania House – which the Rhodes Must Fall Movement at UCT expropriated as a revolutionary safe house. This was the overt manifestation of a problem that has been covertly brewing subterranean like molten magma, which we’re only responding to now that it had erupted out as burning volcanic lava – covert patriarchy that is allowed to brew will always manifest itself in overt violence against women. We as revolutionary black men all have to take accountability for the rape at Azania and all other violations that take place in what are supposed to be safe spaces for women; because we allowed covert patriarchy to fester, and vulgar patriarchs to find comfortability in our midst since we failed to be decisive and uncompromising about condemning, apprehending and banishing patriarchal culture inside our revolutionary spaces. We kept on dismissing patriarchy as less urgent than racism because we ourselves were not ready to relinquish the false power that patriarchy gives us over black women; exerting dominance at will knowing that we are backed up by a world that sees nothing wrong with the oppression of women, let alone black women whom we arrogantly call OUR women as if they’re our possessions. It is for this reason that black women don’t trust us, because they don’t feel safe around us. They are not sure whether we really see them as equals, as comrades, or as the making up numbers and the meeting of quotas. They are hesitant to whether we will not turn on them and use their bodies as dump-holes to discard our frustrations and lustfulness within the course of revolution, because incidents like that of the rape at Azania House show that their doubt is not misplaced…
I mean it should be amongst us and with us that black women feel free to talk about menstruation and the challenge of many black women with access to sanitary towels and tampons. How could such a conversation be taboo when it should be us who are the voice of the voiceless who are undignified by this plight on a perpetual basis? Or is being revolutionary only about fighting against injustices that affect us directly? Not only should we be at the forefront of the struggle for women to have access to sanitary towels and tampons, but access to high quality, 100% organic cotton sanitary towels; because unbeknownst to most, the materials used to make standard sanitary towels and tampons are mostly synthetic and treated with carcinogenic chemicals that are absorbed by the vaginal skin (one process is the simple bleaching of the materials with chlorine to whiten them, and chlorine is very poisonous to the human body). Studies have shown how this has in turn given rise to more prevalence in various cancers; but when will we talk about this when we ourselves as revolutionary black men have closed the platform, leaving chancers to kill women we are so quick to call our own with cancer-causing products because at the moment it is either that or the equally unhealthy use of tissue and newspapers, or rags… the dehumanisation! This when we could be having the conversation of how we manufacture menstrual cups locally by a black-owned manufacturer – menstrual cups are a healthier and more economically viable long term alternative to sanitary towels and tampons because menstrual cups are reusable and can stay up to 5 years due to the durability of high quality silicon.
It is these things that need to change for us to truly claim to be revolutionary, these oppressions that we turn the blind eye must be put to the fore because revolution is about bringing freedom and humanisation to the most oppressed and disenfranchised – selflessly so.
Where to From Here?
We black men must get this clear yet again, black women are not our objects of relief, where we can pour our ejaculation nonchalantly. They are not here to cook for us and wipe after us like maids. We don’t own them, neither are they in existence for our gratification. There is no space for eugenicist thinking in revolutionary spaces. Women are human beings in their own rights, full human beings who need not be qualified by us into humanness. We have no say over their bodies, and even if a woman decides to walk around naked, there is absolutely no provocation of violence upon her in that. There is nothing wrong with nudity, it is a natural thing that has been acceptable in our continent’s communities for eons – only recently has media sexualised it.
It is clear that intersectionality from now on needs to be a core component of revolutionary programs – we must unlearn the patriarchy the white man taught us and give up the power that comes with it more importantly. Patriarchy as a form of oppression is as burning as racism, and needs not only to be banished from revolutionary spaces, but barriers built to prevent it from ever finding its way back in. We as revolutionaries need to imagine our post-revolution world and begin to live it out now. The oppressions we want eradicated in the post-revolution world must be eradicated from our midst now, in progress to the post-revolution world. We are not looking for lives of perpetual struggle, one revolution to bring freedom to all oppressions and address all disenfranchisements.
I am a black man and I am saying we black men need to be truthful and upright in our revolutionary path to the emancipation of all the oppressed; or else we stand to be toxic to the very revolution we claim to be adherents of.
By Yamkela Fortune Spengane