Minna Salami - a curious woman in a fascinating world comments on afropolitanism and feminism
Minna Salami is of Nigerian-Finnish heritage and a professional writer whose expertise likes in research and writing on gender issues, media and popular culture as it relates to Africa and the Diaspora - from a feminist perspective. Hers is a voice that Google directs me to many-at-times when I find myself searching the word '(black/african) feminism' in my quest to better understand this movement, this practice, this way of living and what it means to me within the context of my African heritage, British-European culture. The term 'feminism/feminist' has come to be a heavy-loaded term and in turn conflicting for many but if there were to be a perfect and inviting way to describe it, it would be as what Minna describes it to be in this interview: 'feminism is above all a spiritual, political and philosophical awakening process'. In this interview, Minna explores the term 'feminist' as it relates to the African and black women generally; describes what it means to be an Afropolitan - a description I, and I'm certain you too would definitely like to attribute to yourselves from now onwards.
What does it mean to be an Afropolitan?
When I first came across the term I thought of it as a term with social, political and cultural potential, dealing with questions of identity, citizenship and African zeitgeists. It resonated with me immediately and it still does. I hope we’ll continue to see a development of Afropolitanism from a philosophical angle, as a lens for interpreting the world. Afropolitanism especially resonates as a futurologist tool in my view, and one linked in many ways to culture, art, design, architecture etc. but also to relationship. How do we relate to one another within Africa, the diaspora and globally in the future? What will our cities look and feel like? And our institutions?
What is African feminism?
African feminism is feminism for African women! That is to say it is a tool that women of African heritage can use for feminist activism, theorising, healing etc. Feminists want to end male dominance and African feminism looks particularly at how patriarchy manifests in African societies. African feminism is also able to particularly look to African history and traditions to discover indigenous ways of resistance. I think of African feminism as a network in many ways. Women from the continent and diaspora figuring out together how to grow the feminist network and how to end the oppression of women, which goes hand in hand.
That said, most black feminists will agree that race and gender are often inseparable, a reality tiringly neglected in much white feminist work
There’s a difference between black feminist and feminism as viewed by the white race. What would you say these differences are?
The difference is not as clear-cut as much of the current discourse suggests. First of all, many black feminists are working in the west. And also some white feminists are active within African heritage communities. Also, some feminists share their feminist approach in common rather than their race. So a leftwing, socialist black feminist might be more aligned her white counterpart than with a black liberal feminist. That said, most black feminists will agree that race and gender are often inseparable, a reality tiringly neglected in much white feminist work.
What are the similarities?
Again, there is no clear demarcation. I avoid looking at feminism through binaries such as differences/similarities. For me, feminism is above all a spiritual, political and philosophical awakening process, and women of all races from all regions of the world undertaking such is bound to share similar experiences with me.
What is great about women identifying as feminist is that it creates legacy. The first time I called myself a feminist, my soul said, “YEAH Bring it on!”
A woman who doesn’t subscribe to the ideology of feminism but rather recognises her importance in the world as a woman – the one who gives births to things, not just human beings but who influences changes and more; she takes pride and accepts her biological makeup and her natural dispositions and doesn’t allow for the aforementioned to limit her and put her in a box whether it be professionally, sexually. Is she still a feminist? Is this what feminism should be about?
If you’re asking whether a woman has to call herself a feminist to be making a mark on womanhood and our collective progress, my answer is a big fat NO. Many women are uncomfortable with the term, and although I think that they are missing out on being part of one of the most exciting movements in history simply because men who are afraid of equality of the sexes created a myth that to be feminist is undesirable, I don’t think that you need to call yourself feminist to create change. What is great about women identifying as feminist, however, is that it creates legacy. Other women are able to connect with your work. Also, it is a very empowering word. The first time I called myself a feminist, my soul said, “YEAH Bring it on!”
I feel that African feminism specifically is very important to the development of several African countries. What are your thoughts on this and in which countries have you observed the power of African feminism impact African politic and its economy?
I completely agree. It really saddens me when women buy into the idea that feminism is un-African. Unfortunately, ours is the continent with some of the highest gender inequality levels and feminism is the most successful tool women have in tackling these issues. African feminists have secured constitutional changes such as the criminalisation of female genital mutilation in some countries, lobbied to bring in women politicians into male dominant parliament halls. They have encouraged women to protest, to write, to sing about oppression against women. They have campaigned for LGBTQI rights and much more. They have and continue to put themselves out there so that more women can have more rights and Africa can become a more just continent.
Sexual equality seems to be at the nucleus of feminism. Can this be truly achieved?
It not only can be achieved but it must be. The feminist struggle will not end until we achieve it.
Feminism is a journey rather than a destination
Does respect come with sexual equality?
Do you mean respect from men? Or self respect? In either case, I’d say ‘respect’ is not an objective term. What one person deems respectful is disrespectful to another, so to answer this question will depend on how someone defines respect. What comes with sexual equality, however, is the right to exist just as we are as women. And people who claim that right tend to demand respect too.
Is one immediately respected if you’re a feminist?
Again, many women who call themselves feminist are women who demand respect from others. That said, I think of feminism is a journey rather than a destination. As feminists we are “depatriarchalising” our minds and during this journey of self-discovery we are constantly redefining and unlearning. So you can have been a feminist for years and suddenly discover that you are enabling a diminishing attitude to suppress you. But because you have feminist tools available to you, you might find it easier to know what to do in such a situation.
Is feminism really for everyone?
It is but people have to come to that realisation themselves. I find that most women, especially as they get older, find their way to feminism even if they don’t call it that.
Inspirational figures we should be aware of and who have inspired you?
So many women have inspired me for different reasons. There are the feminist heroines like bell hooks, Phoolan Devi and Gloria Steinem, but I’m also inspired by historical figures like Qin Jiu and Yaa Asantewa and less known feminists in the mainstream such as Isatou Toure, Amie Sillah and Yvonne Vera. Feminists like Nana Sekyiamah who speaks about sexuality in African women’s lives and Amina Doherty, who just recently addressed the UN about African women inspire me as do feminist academics like Nadje el Ali who challenge male dominant structures with sharp research and activism.
Minna Salami writes, speaks and advocates on a broad range of Africa, Diaspora and feminist issues mainly to be found on her award-winning blog, MsAfropolitan, and is a member of the Duke University Educator Network as well as the Guardian’s (UK) Africa Network. Follow her on Twitter @MsAfropolitan