I am not your periphery

The identities of the African diaspora and how in Europe, relations with otherness continue to be built under the social categories of race and gender.

Woman operating a hand drill. Tennessee, 1943

Woman operating a hand drill. Tennessee, 1943 | Library of Congress | Public Domain

Afrofeminism or black feminism is a current of thought that defends the idea that sexism, class oppression and racism are closely related with what is known as intersectionality. Coinciding with the start of the course “Afrofeminisms: Roots, Experiences, Resistances” organised by the Institute of Humanities, we talk about Afropeans, the identities of the African diaspora and of the genesis in Europe of an intersectional matrix between activism, feminism, the migrated and the racialised.

Some months ago Barcelona was enthusiastic and amazed when it discovered the large number of afro-descendants living in the city. Perhaps at that time Barcelona discovered another Barcelona: black, mixed-race, racialised and non-conformist that, with its dynamism and energy, revealed itself as a new light of unequivocal activism in relation to questions of race and gender. The strangeness of the “old” Barcelona versus this new revealed otherness was strange in itself, because these mixed ancestries and revelations were nothing new and should not have been for a city so pioneering – in receiving people from elsewhere – and so guilty – in terms of slave-trading and commercialisation processes between the African coasts and the so-called “overseas territories” – with regard to many of the consequences of what is happening socially today.

In those early days of October 2017, the city was the scenario for invitations to writers and activists Chimamanda Ngozi first of all and the legendary Angela Davis nearly a week later. At a small meeting and within the context of an academic course at the University of Lleida, Catalonia also played host to Nigerian sociologist Oyeronke Oyewumi, relatively unknown to the Spanish mainstream but essential for understanding African feminism and especially the strategies of negotiation relating to women’s issues at times when Africa was suffering the kidnapping of its subjects and the imposition of a fierce colonialism, English in this case. The two events, and perhaps their closeness in time, have helped to promote the need to articulate and construct in Barcelona – although I would dare to say in Spanish territory – new social engineering strategies and alliances that seek alternative forms that act against and from migration, marginalisation and the economic change in which society positions us as subordinate subjects. Migrations were as forced back then as they are now, and as in its colonial past, Europe continues constructing relations with otherness under the social categories of race and gender.

What is happening not only in Barcelona but also in Europe, with what seems to be the genesis of an intersectional (almost) organic matrix between activism, feminism, the migrated, the racialised and eco-feminism…?

As accurately noted by activist Angela Davis during her last appearance in Barcelona at the CCCB, “Spain is no longer only white”. Thus at present, racialised people, migrants, the so-called “Afropeans, other people of racialised origin born in Europe, women in their majority, but also men and allies, have coincided – not without questioning each other about our differences – at these intersectional matrix platforms. The agendas, but also the agencies of emigrants/immigrants and of racialised people born in Europe inter-cross, identifying and recognising each other because racism and subordination, insofar as they are agencies of the western – or perhaps of the imperial European – cross through them/us transversally.

Revolution today | Angela Davis | CCCB
Revolution today | Angela Davis | CCCB

But what separates us? The migratory journey is the axiom of the diaspora, and it is this diasporic process that becomes rhizomatic as it reveals itself. By moments, the racialised European-born community feels identified as an ideological diaspora, although without the physical displacement from its land of origin. The controversy arises when these people experience all the consequences of subordination: being born here and continually questioned/interrogated regarding their place of origin. The questions and answers of Afropeans are repeated without satisfying any of the interlocutors:

– Where are you from?
– I was born here!
– Yes, but where are you really from? Where exactly?

However, it must be recognised that frequently this group forgets the experiences of the journey, of the exile, of migration as foundational processes of the diasporic individual. A journey that, although not forming part of the personal experiences they have lived themselves in the first person, is an experience not usually more than one or two previous generations away. So we still have time to recover it.

What is gradually being gestated in Barcelona is the meeting in common spaces of Afropeans and racialised migrants. The recognition of an imposed subordination, and of a migratory journey that in the case of Afropeans and other racialised individuals born on this part of the map, is starting to be established and analysed as an ancestral experience, although it has been experienced not by themselves, but by the bodies of their closest family members.

Making peace with the ancestral is not easy. And those of us who have become parents in the diaspora, on occasions believe that by distancing our offspring from the ancestral – i.e. from the social or the religious – means we are facilitating their dialectic communication with Europe. If facilitating life means forgetting where we come from to simplify our dealings in the present, let’s stop doing it now, because we are not doing ourselves any great favours. Let’s learn to live in complexity, because later, we are often held accountable for homework that has not been done. Let’s learn to live with, play with and combine all of our identities, our unimultiplicities, without believing that we are betraying or that we have been betrayed by the past: it is only forgetting that does that.

It is not only a case of controversies between Europe and the historically unrecognised othernesses, but the differences between these same diverse othernesses in this situation of diaspora, which rarely allow them time to get to know each other/theorize/share together and in that same process, discuss their differences. These experiences of recognising similarities and controversies between immigrant collectives and othernesses are a recent phenomenon and collectives of immigrant women are the promoters, to a large extent, of the social and political basis of what is happening. The latest events in relation with the Detention Centres for Foreigners (CIEs) and the immigration laws have politicised us all.

Thus, aware already of this unimultiplicity alluded to by Brazilian poet and singer Ana Carolina, let us approach othernesses not only from anger and debt in order to claim our space for existence. The invitation is not from your periphery but from my centre.

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