Ndayincanca ebeleni (Born a feminist)

Wanelisa Xaba | Jun 13, 2019
This is not a story about how I met feminism. This is a story of naming the fire in my belly. The story of naming the ripples in my chest.

I have often spoken or written about Black feminism as something you come into or something you discover. What about the peculiar idea that you were born a Black feminist? What if Black feminism yinto owayincance ebeleni (is something you suckled from your mothers’ breast)?

As Black womxn, we are born to Black feminism. Our Black mothers are Black feminists. In many metaphorical ways our mothers have walked multiple valleys of death and have not died. Often, our exposure to university feminism inhibits our ability to view our mothers fights for survival and their communities as Black feminism. Black Feminism becomes something we reserve for our lecturers and middle-class activists. As a result, we are unable to read our grandmothers’, mothers’ and aunts’ daily acts of resistance. This is not to say Black womxn cannot be anti-womxn or patriarchal. I would like to argue that we often view our mothers’ lives as passive and not realise that Black womxn engage and defy White supremacy every day. Womxn in the townships and rural areas are defiant as fuck. Resilient as fuck. Resourceful as fuck.

And as such, Black feminism is something that is socialized. I believe Black feminism is less a belief system and more a way of life. A way of life and it is about survival. When I think of my life, I have always had a fire in my chest. However, university feminism provided me with a vocabulary to articulate and reassert my Black feminism. I remember the fire in my belly as a teenager. When I was a teenager, I joined a pentecostal church and became a ‘born again’ Christian. I joined the church in grade 8 and left in my second year of university. True to my personality, I became a very active member of the church and worked my way up as a youth leader. My aspiration was to become a church leader and serve ‘God’. I was also very involved in various activism at school and NGO spaces in Cape Town. The various activist spaces I navigated nurtured me as a ‘leader’. However, I was told by men in the church that womxn were not meant to be leaders in the church. I was also told that womxn were not allowed to preach in church.

Naturally as a confident teenage activist with aspirations to be a leader in the church, this did not sit well with me. I knew my position in the world. It was not behind a man. Why would God only use cisgender men to deliver ‘the good word’? I constantly articulated my discomfort that womxn were side-lined in the church. After Matric, I had taken a gap year and I was working for the church in Zimbabwe. Doing my part in spreading modern white supremacist colonial Christian imperialism. Anyway, I remember sitting in a garden with other young people and we were engaged in a huge debate. What is the position of womxn in the church? I remember the fire in my belly and the tears in my eyes as I asserted to a group of patriarchal fuckers that I did not believe that God anoints people according to their gender. No one would silence me as a womxn or side-line me because of my gender. I lost the debate but the fire in my belly remained.

Even though it has been almost 10 years since I moved from that toxic space, I know that my resistance in the space was part of my Black feminism. Again, this is not to say that I was not patriarchal or did not police my own (and other people’s) bodies. In many ways, I was problematic as fuck. But I was still living Black feminism. I had a fire in my belly and I was uncompromising about justice. As I have grown older, this fire has multiplied and so have my problematic ways.

Therefore, I do not think my problematic Christian belief systems cancelled my Black feminism because I am still problematic today. I don’t think that Black feminism is reserved for a view saints. That is Black feminist purism and it is self-righteous and toxic. In many ways, I have unlearned Christian fundamentalism however I am problematic is so many other ways. The only difference now is that I can hide it behind big words. Another distinction now is that I choose Black feminism every day. Every day I go back to my mother’s womb (where I first encountered Black feminism) and I choose it over and over again. And maybe one day, I might wake up and not choose Black feminism. However, this will not negate that fact I was born, raised and influenced by Black feminists in my family and in my township. Born, raised and influenced by the very same womxn whom I dismiss and erase in South African Black feminist discourse. But on the real, I was born a Black feminist.