17. Being Difficult: Questions

“We have found that it is very difficult to organize around Black feminist issues, difficult even to announce in certain contexts that we are Black feminists.”


What desire, anxiety, hope and love do you feel towards fellow members of your oppressed group?

What’s a time when you could not speak your political stance out loud? What caused that? What would it take to make your vision more speakable?

Send us your reflections about these questions at brokenbeautifulpress@gmail.com or leave a comment here!


“The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two, but instead to address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess any one of these types of privilege have.”

One of the biggest ways that the Combahee River Collective has impacted the world is the development of what some call an “intersectional” political practice. This is a belief that all forms of oppression are linked and that in order to rebuild the world in the image of our own miraculousness we need to work together to work at the place where different oppressions meet.

The “major source of difficulty” that the collective members point out remains today. Those of us working to transform the world often lack many privileges and don’t have access to power because of who we are and the work that we do. And, even within our movement we have different levels of privilege of power.

Use the space below to imagine some ways that we can use our privileges creatively? (from driving a car, access to education, technological skills, connections to people with wealth, to citizenship, race, class and gendered privilege) What are ways that we can build power without access to the rewards of the society we are intending to replace with our radical vision?

Alba Onfrio is a Queer Radical Southern Missionary

Alba Onfrio is a Queer Radical Southern Missionary

For example Alba Onfrio of Southerners on New Ground says,

Use the space below to imagine some ways that we can use our privileges creatively? (from driving a car, access to education, technological skills, connections to people with wealth, to citizenship, race, class and gendered privilege) What are ways that we can build power without access to the rewards of the society we are intending to replace with our radical vision?

Sitting at the feet of an amazing elder, Pat Hussain, she once told me that the thing about privilege is that “you can either spend it or you can waste it, but ya’ can’t give it away.”

Growing up with a coal miner’s daughter, I learned real fast that you use what you got, that’s how you get what you need to get by, and as the youngest of eight, growing up as a sickly child in an Appalachian family, what she had was manipulation, and she taught me it well. In those sweet, Southern arms she had the power to control life and death. Protocol and gentility never wavered in our home, and it is there that I learned that the power to inflict the most pain did not, in fact, lie with the one who has the biggest stick, but with she who truly knows your soul and can crush your spirit with a word.  Let them do for you and pay for you and carry the heavy stuff and call you darlin’, not because you can’t carry the load yourself(that’s beside the point) or because you like it(even if you do), you let them do it because it makes them feel important and needed, but you’d better be paying close attention because if you ever have to do for yourself(which you will), you damn well better know how to do it without asking for help. That’s where the power lies—in your survival, and that’s what they can never know… until it’s too late. The secret truth that we are all we need, and we can make it.

Now I’m a thrifty shopper, but I like to spend my privilege strategically, subversively, and when it’s done to perfection, well, my, it is delicious! I don’t know if she knew it or not, I think maybe she did, but as they were correcting the “fer” in my accented speech, and making me set that 10-piece place setting for dinner, and that tea party for my tenth birthday, and read Miss Manners with my feet crossed at the ankles… those were all the lessons I could never learn in school. Did she really want me to aspire to that? or did she know that the propriety I learned would inevitably mix with the mental agility and femininity I was honing? Those grammar rules and that proper English… I use them to teach our beautiful, struggling “illegals” how to use those words to survive, and those dresses and stockings and heels… I wear them proudly as I get on my knees to give my lovers pleasure, to enjoy my own lust as it runs down my thigh to greet them. And those manners for that fancy dinner party? Why, yes, thank you for asking, I use those too and that $120K piece of paper from Duke; I use them to infiltrate space they would never let us in if they knew who I really was, and while I sip that expensive wine; I listen; I study; I learn, and as I thank them for the wonderful evening, I strategize how best to use it in their demise. The revolution is not coming, my dear, it is here, and while I fight for its swift collapse, I have to disclose that this system of oppression does well by me, in so many ways, and then I remember that even though the promised land is intimidating because I can’t always see it, these moments I feel so connected to you make me willing to spend every ounce I’ve got for the chance of getting us to freedom.  And as I’m sitting in that pew, calling on those verses I learned so long ago and asking God for the faculty and opportunity to convince them of our worthiness to exist, as queers, as women, as people of color, as refugees, I am also asking for strength to keep spending this privilege and thanking God every day for letting me find you along the way.

song_logo_2-Alba Onofrio, January 16, 2009


3 Responses to “17. Being Difficult: Questions”

  1. …as i look at your questions there is so much that floods my mind, desire/deseo/desejo that comes through in the form of longing…longing…to be with a like-minded soul that has an understanding that oppression is not hierarchical, that as a feminist AfroBrasilian there is much that i carry on my back, sometimes i wish i could share the weight with other AfroBrasileiras but they are non-existent where i live, or at least those that do exist dont have that “endarkend”(collins) understanding of that weight we want to share… as a woman leaving an institutionalized religion weaving her ancestral past to make a new path, i seek knowledge in those hidden places, in the silences that are so loud. I wish that i could go back home to Brasil and scream it all out, make those women come down from their Carnaval floats and clothe their nakes bodies/corpos/cuerpos with this knowledge that i feel i must share…but then again, it is a privilege to even gain this knowledge…i sometimes fear being irrelevant to my people, i fear being too far off on my end where they can no longer understand…to speak is also to struggle. minha mae/my mother likes to tell me that i THINK too much for my own good, that it keeps me from being simple, and enjoying the simple things in life, because i analyse…. criticize… exorcise .. to speak is also to silence. to speak of politics with the conservative women in my family is to speak my “heretical” views … to speak of my body as a bisexual brasileira…but i am not ashamed, because i find those corners inside myself to speak of liberation/liberacao/liberacion….and then to speak will finally mean to “free”

  2. Response to Question 17:
    This is the question I have been waiting for all of my life! Yes, I am a Black feminist, and it has definitely been difficult to speak about my association with feminism with others. On a personal level, my Black friends, male and female, are reluctant to engage in a conversation with me about the subject, but it is just something that they just seem to know about me. Professionally/Academically, I find it difficult to stress the importance of declaring myself a Black feminist and not simply a feminist. The Master’s program that I am participating in has a total of one Black female, me. I often try to speak up for all Black women because our issues are simply not discussed enough by the other so-called feminists, women of color, white women, women’s studies students, and faculty. In response, I often get a sigh, which indicates the thought “Gosh, why does she always have to bring up Black women?”. Now, maybe it is simply my self-conscious, but I just have a feeling that this is the case. It is a reality however, that it is difficult to be seen, heard, and thought of as valid when, as the title states, “all the women are white, and all the Blacks are men”. Indeed, I do feel brave because it is mandatory! Thank you for the question.

  3. Adonicca MeChelle Says:

    It is certainly quite difficult to be a Black woman and feminist. Personally, I am an advocate and activist in many different arenas: women’s rights, Black power, and although a heterosexual woman, I advocate for gay rights as well. I am a fighter and as a result, I run in many different circles. A lot of Black men that I exchange with are “radical”; and while I have been described as radical myself, I tend to have different beliefs than a lot of people (from human rights to religion).
    For instance, a gay woman of color (who is also one of my best friends and a cross between white and latina) was offended by my post about Juneteenth and my lack of belief in (white) “Independence Day”…which bothered me to great extent because it seemed as though she expected me to fight for her rights (which I do believe is an appropriate thing to fight for — gay or straight), but she, in turn, is less than interested in my views on why I do not celebrate July 4th (well, my people weren’t free!).
    Here is a more elaborate example of the difficulty I find when relating to Black (intellectual) men:
    I have been talking to a guy for a little while and have always realized that I wasn’t interested in him; however, I like to study people. I don’t like to waste my time, and I have the capacity to ignore text messages and phone calls to a degree. I am becoming skillful in walking away from debating certain topics with people. I received a text from him one evening that said “are you able to call me?”
    And I did, around 10pm or so. When I am first meeting people, I like to let them talk. It’s a strategy. Admittedly, I have a difficult time letting people in and don’t reveal much about myself, and as a result become uncomfortable when guys 1. decide they like me without my having said much about myself and 2. talk without showing interest in my opinion.
    So, we’re talking and talking (and by “we”, I mean “he”)..and he made the comment that I seem like a feminist. So, I reply “so, what does feminism mean to you?”
    To which he replies, “well, I personally don’t think there is a reason for Black women to be feminists, period, because Black women and Black men have always been equals. The movement wasn’t for Black women.”
    I am as pro-Black as they come, and I am of the belief that there is the assumption of the false dichotomy — that if you are pro-anything than you have to be anti-its opposite. I do not believe in this bipolarity. My being pro-Black does not make me anti-anything else. It makes me for the upliftment of Black people. I’m also pro-woman and pro-gay and pro-choice (and not even necessarily pro-abortion..see?).
    I fight for my rights on the basis of race AND gender — that’s what Black feminism is.
    Needless to say, my newfound skill in walking away from certain arguments did not entirely work this time. I had to let him know that, true — the movement was not initially intended for Black women to become a part of but the Civil Rights Movement (and heck, Civil Rights period) were meant for the benefit of Black men. After about 25 minutes, I had to let him go. But, there ya go. It’s rough, even still in the Black community to be a Black feminist — which is funny because me and a good friend/coworker were talking about men and I was telling her (and some of the white women in the room) how difficult it is to find a compatible partner because I’m an activist, Black feminist, and non-religious — America’s worst nightmare, huh?

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