Until African men and women stop using Eurocentric standards of manhood and womanhood to define ourselves and each other, we will continue to engage as enemies. To become comrades, we must recognize that whiteness has gender specific attacks that target us at points of insecurity in ways that completely destroy our ability to love each other. Nowhere does this play out most evidently than in the never-ending, online “gender wars.”
This divide and conquer tactic is not new, but social media has made it increasingly profitable to pit Black women and men against each other publicly for the world to consume our dysfunction. The goal is for our hatred and contempt to grow so large that we forget we need each other to survive and sadly, we have begun to believe that we don’t.
The most destructive element of the social media iteration of the gender wars is that on both sides, the toxicity is being framed as revolutionary. What’s worse, is that it’s being widely broadcast to young and naive Black people whose introduction to concepts like Pan-Africanism and feminism/womanism is coming through these toxic channels; so young Black men think that hating women is Black power and young Black women think that hating men is women’s liberation.
Pan-Africanism and misogyny cannot exist in the same space. There has been no successful revolution on the continent or anywhere else in the diaspora without the contribution of women, and all men who are true to the ideals of Pan Africanism understand and affirm this. So, on the heels of Pan-African Women’s day and in the spirit of Black August initiatives to fast, study, train and build…I offer that we:
Fast from the gender wars on social media; don’t consume or engage in any content that promotes disrespect between Black men and Black women as entertainment.
In the United States, the imperialist propaganda machine has created an archetypal Black woman who views individual materialism as empowerment, and it applauds this woman for abandoning her community to “get hers.” This is what happens when racial capitalist femininity invades Black women’s minds, bodies, and souls. Social media presents capitalist consumption as a solution to the structural marginalization Black women experience from issues like the pay gap and the denial of bodily autonomy. Consuming Black women’s experiences through social media channels leads us to view our “independence” as freedom, when in fact, it’s alienation. Social media narratives ignore structural racial oppression and point the finger at Black men’s failure to “provide” as the cause of Black women’s suffering. Of course, we cannot ignore that the majority of Black women who experience abuse, do so at the hands of Black men. But, we need to remember that this abuse is driven mainly by Black mens’ pursuit of achieving Eurocentric ideals of manhood. Sadly, on social media, romanticized ideas of African patriarchy and polygamy that demean Black women in these pursuits are presented as revolutionary. This is what happens when racial capitalist masculinity invades Black men’s minds, bodies, and souls. Again, social media narratives ignore the structural racial oppression and instead points the finger at Black women being emasculating as the downfall of the Black community. Social media conveniently removes whiteness as the cause for our dysfunction, and encourages us to wage war against each other; fighting to determine who’s to blame, who suffers more and who should be prioritized.
The truth is, Black men and women are both racially oppressed, uniquely on the basis of gender and sex. Black men have been historically excluded from the work opportunities that are associated with masculinity in the United States, and Black women’s features, and mannerisms have been constructed as the antithesis of femininity. Black women have endured sexual reproductive violence, Black men have too and we cannot continue to ignore this. There are serious conversations that need to be had between Black men and women and within each group separately, in spaces designated for all of us to heal from gendered racial oppression. Social media is not that space. In fact, it is an instrument of psychological warfare. Because we suffer together, we need to struggle together. We need to fast from social media to cleanse ourselves from the toxicity that is fueling these “gender wars”. Instead we need to seek out examples of solidarity between Black women and men outside of the United States because this country is the center of western imperialism, where Racial Capitalist Blackness is the primary export. While we fast from the toxicity of social media, we need examples of alternatives. Thus we should study.
Study the solidarity between Black women and men that was necessary for Pan-African revolutions throughout the diaspora.
If you don’t know where to begin, a quick search on Hood Communist will connect you to pages and pages of submissions written about revolutionary women. Two of my favorite, relatively recent examples are the women of the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde) and the women of the NJM (New Jewel Movement) and the PRG (Peoples Revolutionary Government) in Grenada. I chose these because they both have anniversaries this year; it is the 50th anniversary of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde’s Declaration of Independence from Portugal in 1973. It is also, sadly the 40th anniversary of the US Military invasion that ended the Grenadian Revolution in 1983. While these two revolutions have two of the most celebrated Pan-Africanist male leadership figures in Amilcar Cabral of the PAIGC and Maurice Bishop of the NJM, neither of them would’ve been successful without the contributions of women, not just in taking up arms as is often glorified, but in the work to create a liberated society of proud Black people. Let us stop romanticizing images of women with weapons as the definition of revolutionary Pan-African women. Let us celebrate ourselves and be celebrated healers, teachers, builders, mothers, lovers, comrades, farmers, engineers, and all other roles that are required for revolution.
I celebrate the women of Grenada who not only took up arms to defend their homeland but also developed the National Women’s Organization (NWO) that helped rebuild the nation under the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG). This government came into power in 1979 after the New J.E.W.E.L. Movement (NJM) staged a successful non-violent military coup to remove neocolonial puppet dictator Eric Gairy. One facet of the Gairy regime was the extreme psycho-sexual exploitation of women; another was the violent police repression of any revolutionary action. Gairy’s regime bankrupted the island financially by forcing imported goods and high taxes, and underpaying and neglecting the health and education of the working class. Under these conditions, a successful revolution needed to focus on rebuilding the confidence of Grenadians in themselves, the “jewel” of the nation. The word itself was an acronym for Joint Endeavor for Welfare Education and Liberation, and women were at the center! The women of Grenada not only established gender parity in school access and work opportunities and pay, they also established and ran literacy campaigns and agricultural & health care programs, created a participatory democracy free of electoral corruption, and physically built homes, schools, hospitals and other institutions along with their countrymen comrades.
NJM leader Maurice Bishop not only supported women’s participation and leadership with words, but gave them the freedom to lead without his oversight and punished those who attempted to marginalize or oppress women in the name of the revolution. The island also launched a massive propaganda campaign with messages of liberation through struggle, Black pride, and the equality of women.
Of course Grenada was not a utopia. Women still fought against some countrymen tied to the Gairy regime that attempted to continue the repressive order, but they were overwhelmingly supported by comrades of the NJM. Because Grenadians spoke English, they could communicate directly with Black Americans and were actively seeking to build solidarity and provide refuge for those wanting to escape U.S. imperialism. Grenadians built an airport to encourage tourism of the diaspora and to begin exporting their own products instead of depending on imports.
Their movement was such a threat to western imperialism that the United States invaded the small island in 1983 under the guise of intervening to rescue some U.S. students attending university in Grenada during a coup to overthrow Maurice Bishop. During the invasion, the United States slaughtered civilians, destroyed agricultural crops, manufacturing centers as well as schools and hospitals with airstrikes. Though it was viciously crushed, the advances made in Grenada in 4 short years after gaining independence are such a beautiful example of the power of solidarity between Black men and women in service of liberation.
GUINEA-BISSAU & CAPE VERDE
Another successful revolution took place in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, where women were involved in local military efforts that depended on guerrilla tactics to outsmart the Portuguese such as smuggling ammunition in their fruit baskets, and made up the majority of nurses who traveled with guerrilla units. More important to the revolution than women’s military participation however, was their essential work within the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) that declared its independence from Portugal in 1973 after 11 years of armed struggle. The PAIGC and its leader Amilcar Cabral were very intentional about having women not just present in the movement, but visible in leadership positions so that young boys and girls could grow to respect them at the same level as men. A large part of this independence required greater autonomy for women who were repressed by traditional practices that prohibited girls from attending school and allowed parents to marry their young daughters off to older men without the girls’ consent. One of the most remarkable aspects of this revolution is how the PAIGC was able to unite over 15 different ethnic groups and tribes under one national identity. Through this, they were able to outlaw oppressive polygamy and arranged marriages and welcome women to the struggle. These changes to traditional gender roles were not always welcomed and thus women in Guinea-Bissau were said to be fighting “two colonialisms”, but they were able to make great strides in national unification under the PAIGC. I offer that it was the collaboration of women from these different groups as part of the educational and healthcare initiatives that served to prepare the nation for its independence.
Women of the PAIGC established liberated zones throughout the country that developed a sense of national unity through education that was based on the necessity of women being liberated as a true measure of the nation’s independence. The women ran village councils, schools, clinics and shared roles in production and military with their countrymen. They tailored every zone to the cultural traditions and material conditions of the people in that zone and collaborated across zones to serve the needs of the people. Key to this revolution’s success was the development of the militant educational program that established aimed to develop a liberated African citizen identity with a mix of political education about the conditions of oppression and the ideologies and materialism of revolution, and technical training to ensure that countrymen and women could autonomously rebuild the infrastructure of their nation once they were independent of the Portuguese. They recreated curriculum and study materials as they deconstructed the imperialist propaganda taught in colonial schools to everyone, children, adults and soldiers. Of course, their experience was also not a utopia. While their efforts were welcomed in domestic tasks on the battlefields and in the liberated zones, many men of the PAIGC held on to traditional ideas of women’s inferiority and instead of helping their comrades, sometimes left them to struggle to show they were inferior. When the PAIGC attempted to forbid women from combat, many defied the orders and continued to participate against orders and tradition. Even in some of the liberated zones, women were critiqued for seemingly abandoning their own families to become teachers, nurses, and political organizers. However, in the absence of men who had enlisted in armed struggle, and in service to uplift their community, they committed to their work.
As we study these examples and seek out others to build on their strengths and improve on their shortcomings, we continue the fight in solidarity with each other against racial capitalism and imperialism. I offer this study in hopes to move beyond the superficial way we “celebrate” women warriors, placing them on pedestals as “femme fatales” and stripping them of the complex humanity that shapes the experiences under interlocking systems of oppression that converge uniquely on Black female bodies.
Let us be inspired to learn more about women across all Pan-African revolutions who were able to work in solidarity with their countrymen. I encourage us to study the intricacies of these revolutions to learn how that solidarity was built. There is no coincidence that these examples occur outside of the United States and required a complete abandonment of colonial ideologies for an adoption of an African consciousness that insisted on the uplift of Black women. Too often, when we study Pan African revolutions, we focus on the political frontmen, without recognizing that they delegated important initiatives to trusted comrades, both men and women. As we begin to uncover these examples, we should train ourselves in the ways of revolutionary solidarity.
Train to be Pan-African revolutionary women and men.
I celebrate the legacy of women in Pan-African revolutions as a reminder that it was not their participation in armed struggle that was the key to success, it was their commitment to revolution in their daily lives, it was their understanding that liberation is a collective goal. In their work, these women involved multiple generations and ensured that the youth and the elders were able to enjoy the fruits of revolution immediately. They also made sure to enjoy the fruits themselves. They fostered sisterhood and brotherhood with their comrades and fell in love with revolution. They suffered and endured the losses of their comrades brutally slain by imperial forces who attacked from the air, not even courageous enough to fight face to face. They carried the spirit of liberation as survivors still committed to struggle. This is the spirit of revolution that drives Pan-African liberation still today, nothing less will serve us.
To be a Pan-African woman revolutionary requires a commitment to struggle. Understand that the “soft life” is racial capitalist propaganda intended to make us give up and become lazy. We must constantly work against imperialism that attacks the way we look as not being beautiful, the way we speak and our mannerisms as unintelligent, and the contributions we offer as insufficient. We must embrace sisterhood based on accountability that rejects the archetype of a Black woman that gets her liberation through abandoning her community for the material gains of racial capitalism.
For men who want to attend to the tenets of Pan-Africanism, you must commit to the struggle as well, abandon the idea that patriarchy and male domination can restore Black manhood and take lessons from leaders who publicly supported Black women; Amilcar Cabral and Maurice Bishop, Malcolm X, Thomas Sankara, Marcus Garvey and so many others whose names we call, but whose words we do not study. Commit yourself to reading the autobiography of Assata Shakur right alongside that of Malcolm X. Add Toni Morrison and Zora Neal Hurston’s works to the list including James Baldwin and Richard Wright. Know just as much about the significance of both Amy Garvey’s to the UNIA as you know about Marcus’. You also must embrace a brotherhood based on accountability that resists the temptation to blame Black women for the ways that whiteness emasculates Black men. Black women are not your enemy, our presence is not a threat to your manhood.
Build and cultivate spaces to grow in solidarity. We need each other’s energy, revolution is collective struggle.
Let us remember that revolutions are not won at the end of a rifle but in the minds of the people, in the homes where families live, and the schools where children learn. Revolutions are not just won by military combat, but also through the development of an inclusive society that serves the basic needs of the people and provides space for them to grow to their fullest potential (this is scientific socialism). This Black August, create groups with each other to study, workout, plan economic development, create home schools and clinics, grow food and medicine, to laugh and love…in real life. In a time where systems of oppression have found ways to absorb many of our tactics of resistance as fuel to power themselves, we must realize that we cannot confront social media dysfunction head on, nor should we. Instead, we need to extract ourselves and build spaces where we can constantly affirm and appreciate our brothers and sisters who struggle in righteousness, where we can be vulnerable enough to acknowledge and heal from the ways that we have hurt each other under racial capitalism and imperialism. Again, social media is not the place for it. It encourages Black men and women to limit our interactions with each other to sexual or financial pursuits when what we need to do is build sincere friendships built on mutual respect and collective fight for liberation. We will not always agree, but we can always treat each other with respect and love. This is camaraderie, this solidarity, this is revolution, and it won’t be hashtagged or trending. Free us all, free ‘em all! Separate the real from the reels…Pan Africanism or perish.