Black women ‘fighting battles on two fronts’

Racism, sexism equally threatening to deal with, dialogue audience told
Racism, sexism equally threatening to deal with, dialogue audience told

Black women in SA are not only disadvantaged because of the colour of their skin, but also due to their gender.

During a virtual community dialogue hosted by The Herald and Nelson Mandela University on Friday, titled “Black Lives Matter —  How can we subvert the systemic racism still prevalent in our racialised society?”, a panel of experts spoke on how women experienced racism based on the colour of their skin but were also fighting patriarchy and for recognition and space in corporate spaces.

Author and political analyst Eusebius McKaiser said it was important to talk about justice and not just about dismantling anti-black racism in the world.

“If we take black men as a site for discussion, we have a lot of toxicity among us. We are violent, myself included. We have harmed other men, harmed ourselves and definitely harmed girls and women and differently gendered people.

“The fact we have survived racism doesn’t automatically mean we are fluent and kind in our relationships, with ourselves, with one another and women.

“We need deep conversations about different kinds of masculinity — working-class masculinity, black masculinity, black middle-class masculinity — to recognise we have different backgrounds,” McKaiser said.

Anti-racism Network South Africa co-ordinator Busisiwe Nkosi said the effects of racism on the female body were not talked about enough.

Nkosi said women had two fights coming in their direction at all times.

“When a female becomes successful, there are things attached to us such as you’re there as window dressing, and your intelligence comes second.

“When we talk about racism, we need to talk about racism towards black women in SA and how you’re treated by black men too.

“You can’t talk about racism without talking about the abuse women are facing, and also the abuse queer people face,” Nkosi said.

Human Sciences Research Council CEO Crain Soudien said patriarchy was in some way deeper than racist construction.

“It’s not simply a European thing, it’s in many societies and many cultures that have the idea that men represent God’s mission on earth and women are there to serve that mission.

“Never mind the fact that we realise bodies aren’t just men and women in physical terms, but are on a spectrum.

“There are interesting developments in bodies showing us how they are complicated things. Describing someone as a man or woman is not such a simple thing any more,” Soudien said.

For the past month, the world watched as #BlackLivesMatter protesters took to the streets after the killing of George Floyd in the US.

Floyd died on May 25 and a video showing police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck went viral, resulting in outrage across the world.

Since then, a number of black men in America, such as Rayshard Brooks, have also died after altercations with police.

Siphokazi Tau from the university’s Centre for Women and Gender Studies, who facilitated the discussion, said SA was not immune to issues of police brutality.

“We entered into lockdown in March and in lockdown 12 people were killed at the hands of the state,” she said.

Soudien said the protests that had erupted in society were important because for 500 years the world had been subjected to incredible racism.

“This is something one can easily misunderstand. It’s a reaction to a 500-year process the world has gone through. For 500 years the world has been subjected to incredible racism. We talk about the civilisation through which we have gone, which has been accompanied by barbarism.

“From the time black people were forcibly taken to the plantations, there was incredible dehumanisation of people of colour, particular black people.

“When these people were brought through the Atlantic, they were described in bodily terms, sexualised and black bodies became inferior,” he said.

Nkosi said there had never been a time when the world talked about race and racism as now.

“It’s important. When we talk about #BlackLivesMatter, it’s a wound that people have been carrying around for a long time.

“During the pandemic, people burst, came out and just wanted action. This has spanned into private schools and institutions and as sad as the killings were, they came at the right time when we needed to reflect and dismantle racism where it lives,” Nkosi said.

McKaiser challenged people to write down and question within themselves how racism had affected them.

He further challenged white allies to talk about why a conversation about race upset people. .

“Why is a conversation evoking deep passion, especially with white South Africans? Because just introducing or typing the words ‘white privilege’ gets people going,” McKaiser said.

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