There is an ideological struggle being waged that has sought to single out African women’s oppression as a gender issue rather than a colonial one. We recognize that, no matter how vile they may be, the contradictions that occur between men and women within the oppressed African nation can be “resolved through education and persuasion, unlike the contradictions between African women and our whole nation and imperialist white power, which can only be resolved by the defeat of imperialism and the total emancipation of our whole people,” as stated in the Chairman Omali Yeshitela’s political report to the 5th Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party.
We also recognize that there is no such thing as women “in general.” There is a difference between the women of the oppressor nation and women of the oppressed nation. The former often reconciles differences with the men of their nation as a way to further exploit the women and men of the oppressed nation. In many cases oppressor nation women use the contradictions present in the oppressed nation to deepen the colonial agenda by dividing the African nation up along gender and class lines.
One strategy to do this is Feminism.
Much of feminist theory can be linked to Johann Jakob Bachofen’s work, Mother Right, which compiles documented examples of the role of women in the ancient world. In it, Bachofen attempts to provide evidence of how all society transitioned from matrilineal to patrilineal system of inheritance through religious edicts, political declarations and societal reconstruction, which essentially rendered women the property of men as a means to secure inheritance rights, which previously could only be determined through the mother.
However, Cheik Anta Diop, examining the work of Bachofen in The Cultural Unity of Black Africa, determines that there is no definable evidence which supports the hypothesis of matriarchy as a phenomenon in Europe. In fact, Diop separates the world into two cradles of civilizations – The Northern Cradle (patriarchal) and the Southern Cradle (matriarchal)- and provides evidence that refutes the basis of Bachofen’s thesis that sexual promiscuity, which led to uncertainty about paternity, is what rendered a society matrilineal.
Diop determined that the woman who enjoyed a sedentary life typical of the Southern cradle “owes her social rank and her esteem exclusively to the structure of the society which allows her to play a leading economic role”, not promiscuity.
This conclusion made by Diop helps us to understand what was taken away from African people at the time when Europeans began their encroachment on the Continent.
When Europeans began implementing colonial rule over Africa, African women had rights to land, and inheritance was determined through the mother. It was colonial policies that reshaped African social norms, as explained in W.O. Maloba’s book African Women in Revolution when he states that “unlike the precolonial period, where ‘in many parts of Africa, women who farmed had rights over land,’ under colonialism the imposition of private ownership of land left most women without their ‘customary right’ to land.”
In the Americas, African people had been held as slaves for over 200 years and had no right to land, money, property or our own bodies. We could be bought and sold at a moment’s whim and it was white women along with white men who enjoyed the fruits of our free labor.
As white women grappled with gaining rights in white society, they still had African women in their kitchens and as wet nurses for their babies. Their call for a women’s liberation really meant the liberation of white women on the pedestal of the oppression of the entire African nation.
This is the foundation for modern day feminism which focuses on patriarchy as the main opposition to white women’s liberation. The liberation of African women and of the entire African nation as a whole cannot be summed up in the same way. Ours has always been a struggle against colonial domination. Besides having the same biological functions as white women, African women share hardly any similarities in the struggle to be free of oppression.
However, certain sectors of our population have taken feminism on as their own. Black feminism developed as a way to align the white bourgeoisie with the black petty bourgeoisie. It is essentially an integrationist solution that allows the black petty bourgeoisie access to resources previously inaccessible to them. When black feminists conclude that patriarchy is the main contradiction for African women, they liquidate the role that the entire white nation has had in our oppression.
Within black feminism, conversations about oppression are often led by bourgeois intellectuals who take the discussion out of the realm of poor and working class women. In fact, the activism of black feminism is centered around confirming the value of African women within a capitalist society, instead of destroying the system of exploitation. And while black feminism claims to understand the effects of imperialism and colonialism on African women, patriarchy is still viewed as the ultimate contradiction that African women need to struggle against. This is in direct opposition to the African Internationalist perspective which believes that in order for women to be liberated we must be full participants in the revolutionary struggle against colonialism and imperialism. In order for African women to be full participants, the entire African nation must work together to overturn the system that oppresses us – imperialism.
Today, we see a worldwide uprising against our colonial masters that is challenging the once world dominant and unchallenged reign of white power colonialism.
The oppressed nations of the world are rising up against the oppressor nations and have created what Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the African Socialist International has correctly termed an Uneasy Equilibrium between the former slaves and slave masters.
We’ve seen how the extrajudicial police killings of African teenager, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and of a father, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. has sparked international protests against the treatment of African people within the colonial borders of the United States. While these specific incidences are not peculiar to the African experience, the use of social media by the masses, made it easier to expose the colonial conditions to the world and incite a level of outrage that spilled onto the streets.
The military response to these protests, which was captured in video and photo, confirmed to the rest of the world what we already knew – that the police operate as an occupying army in the African community. The contradiction was so sharp that the people of Gaza sent messages of support for the African struggle against colonialism in the United States through messages on social media that advised protesters on how to deal with exposure to tear gas. They also responded with visual statements that compared the conditions faced by Africans in Ferguson, to the conditions faced by the people in Gaza. This was during a time when the Zionist state of Israel was waging a deadly military campaign in the Gaza Strip.
On the news we saw images of dead children with pieces of their heads blown off, video of bombs destroying entire communities, and drones targeting children “suspected” of being cover for the Palestinian resistance. In the streets of Ferguson chemical and armored warfare was being waged against the African community; images of military tanks shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at African civilians flooded social networks and the bourgeois media. It was difficult to turn a blind eye to the similarities.
But always at the forefront during these protests were African mothers, wives, partners, sisters and daughters who have suffered the loss of their loved ones. Even those of us who have not experienced any loss led actions against the state sponsored killings, because the reality is that at any given moment it could be us, or someone we know. It’s not hard to imagine this being the case because it was documented in a 2013 report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement that every 28 hours in the United States, a black person is killed by law enforcement, vigilantes or security.
The impact of such a statistic is evidenced in large numbers of African mothers who are left to parent children alone as the men of the community are killed, incarcerated by the State or not present due to other contradictory colonial conditions. This reality has not missed the observations of the masses, as African children carry protest signs saying, “they kill my father, then make fun of me for not having one” exposing the role the State has played in devastating the African family.
The primary social motivation for any society is the production and reproduction of life, which needs, at its core, access to resources (the land) and labor (the people). Since the attack on the African nation in the early part of the 15th century, led first by the Portuguese and joined later by the rest of Europe, Africans have been unable to produce or reproduce life in our interest.
As a result of this attack millions of African people have been murdered and displaced throughout the world. Our land and labor have been used to fatten European and later U.S. and Asian coffers, while the conditions of African people remain the same or have gotten worse.
In Sierra Leone on any given day you can see miles and miles of cargo trains filled with resource-rich earth traveling from the mines to the shipping ports to be processed for European and U.S. consumption–all while the country has no electricity, plumbing, good roads, healthcare, or jobs among many other things.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has the third largest rainforest in the world, the trees are being cut down at an unprecedented rate to fulfill the imperialist thirst for lumber. African women and children along with African men are raped and murdered indiscriminately, especially in areas that are necessary for capitalist exploitation of minerals.
In Azania (South Africa), striking miners were killed in the streets by the police when they protested for better pay.
In Europe, African people face harsh immigration policies like being held in detention camps indefinitely. After making the long journey out Africa, our people are thrown back into leaking boats to die as European security agents look on from their border posts. African children are taken away from their mothers and families and given to white families through state-sponsored adoption agencies and through incarceration or murder by the State.
In the U.S., African people, despite only comprising 13 percent of the population, represent nearly 50 percent of the prisoners in jail. Nearly 72 percent of African children are born to single parents, with a majority of them being raised by single mothers, with a median wealth of $100.
Imperialism has made this all possible. By separating African people from our land through colonial domination, imperialism has rendered us homeless and claimed possession of all the resources that should go toward making our lives better.
All of what’s been said provides the ideological basis for this conference. It is the duty of all those who love African freedom to champion this attempt to bring African women into political life. We cannot have liberation for our people with half our nation obscured in mundane tasks that prevent us from participating in our own liberation. We have to assess the conditions that keep women from entering the revolutionary struggle, problems such as childcare, economics, mass incarceration, extrajudicial killings and other social and political elements that result in African women carrying the brunt of the responsibility for sustaining the African family at the same time that white power beastializes us.