Here I Can be Black

Here, I can be Black.

Ink lines stab white paper

Tracing Bloodlines

Love lines

Erased memorylines.

I rescript the helotry



of black bodies

Who wade spillways of blood called “borders”

Weep into lachrymatories called “nations”

Whose ruins recompose the innocent sea.

Whose blood?  Our blood

Whose bodies?  Our bodies

Who’s tears?     Our tears

Whose coltan, suntan, salt diamonds rice beans coffee tobacco tea music prayer mathematics paper even the wheel?

I bereave false history

Gather our bones

  Make ritual firesticks

to light

a fire

to burn

My way home

Wild Tongue Performance: Transgressive Data

By Nilmini Fernando

Script from Wild Tongue: A live performance of Feminist Texts

Melbourne Fringe Festival/UNESCO City of Books,

Melbourne September 28th 2016.


What I am reading are excerpts from conversations I had in “secret” research journal, when thinking through theory, and the walls I encountered during my doctoral research with women from the African contintent seeking asylum in Ireland.

Two definitions before I start:

TRANSGRESSIVE DATA ‘Emotional data, dream data, sensual data, and response data- that are out-of-category and not usually accounted for in qualitative research methodology. Elizabeth Adams St Pierre.
DAKINI (khandro in Tibetan): “Sky-goer” or “space-dancer,” ethereal awakened beings who have left the confinements of solid  earth and have the vastness of open space to play in. Direct, sharply intelligent, radical, and courageous.

Academic research is a circuit of hell. It’s a snake, feeding itself with its own body and nothing else can get in. I feel as if I am being “disciplined” by western theory and research protocols. White women’s feminism and white people’s research methods ask the same questions, get the same answers. I thought feminist research was transformative. That PhDs were about innovation. But when I try to do things differently, I am obstructed.

Thesis Supervision

You Say: All existing studies have been done “on” asylum seekers by white academics. I have listened to people in asylum—they are sick of interviews. Their experiences and ideas go nowhere. They feel used and tired. Nothing changes for them, but academics get their degrees using their lives as “material”. Whichever way I look at it, I am the only one to benefit.

Well, You want your PhD don’t you?

You Say: Love and connection with other women is more important to me than the degree. But I do want to read and study, so my voice has authority. I could do Participatory Research.

(Groan) Participatory Research will take forever!

You are silenced but determined to do it right. And prove them wrong. Like magic, Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s book lands in your lap. :

‘The term ‘research’ is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism. It is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary’

In it, Aileen Morteon-Robinson says:

‘Knowledge is never innocent or neutral. It is a key to power and meaning. It is used to dominate and control….White women anthropologists had the power to define and represent the Indigenous women they write about…. Colonial processes have shaped white feminist oblivion to their race priviledge and their indifference to the history of relations with aboriginal women.

At that moment, Postcolonial, Black and Indigenous feminists become your home/you’re home.

 One Year Review

I face a panel of white middle class academic feminists. I tell them I feel energized, inspired, happy. That I am exclusively following Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist epistemology: safe spaces based on love, respect, emotion, collaboration and unlearning. That making safe space for the African women to talk about racism also makes space to address the racism in feminist research. I state my intention: to decolonize research across theory, epistemology and methodology. That was to be my original contribution to academic knowledge

  1. That’s a very ambitions aim!
  2. So many students complain about the terrible isolation of doing their PhD, yet here you are saying you are enjoying it!
  3. You’re not writing enough. We think you need to take better care of your academic self and spend less time in the field.

Their comments tore me. You crash into the walls that limit white feminist academia. It may be true. But I am angry that this must be true. It is a false choice to have to choose between ethics, authentic participation and academic success

Audre Lorde: what you are grappling with, Nilmini, is that

‘You am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from your own. And you are not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is anyone of you.’

Forcing the issue forces you to manifest the space you need. You start a secret journal, name it “Here I can be Black”.

Here I can be black. Trace the ink lines. Bloodlines. Love lines.

I weep as I read. I trace my way through the theft and slaughter.

Pick up bones like sticks and let them light the fire that shows me the way home.

But still, you struggle with guilt about your priviledges at the same time as anger about your penalties, and theirs.

Audrey Lorde :

‘Guilt is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful… it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge’.

‘Your anger is loaded with information and energy. Anger … translated into action in the service of our vision …is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification. It is in the painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies, with whom we have grave   differences, and who are our genuine enemies

You:    Ok, I need to carve a new way through. Like Aspaner Najmabadi says, create an “unavailable intersection”

Audre Lorde: Yes! Remember…The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House!

You:      But how can I make a space? Those who crowd the platform won’t let me in unless I follow their rules?

Buddhist Teacher:

That crowd is in your mind. Your thoughts. Make friends with your fear. Anger. Guilt. Oh, and by the way, all your big ideas…they are a sign of the natural radiance of your mind.

You:         Really? I’m not over-ambitious? Crazy? I totally lost it when they told me to “mine the data”. I am not prepared to “mine” the women’s lives, as if they were diamond mines or coalmines or goldmines or    coltan mines. Rob their treasures! I have seen for myself the holes left in the ground, the missing Needles of Cleopatra from the Temple of Luxor. I sat beneath one of them, on the River Thames, drunk one night and wept for the theft. I saw another at the Place de la Concorde. Nefertiti’s bust in the Berlin museum.

I too feel cut up into so many parts… scattered here and there around the world…How can I write the whole story as a ally, not an interloper

Sara Ahmed:

‘Alliances are not guaranteed by the pre-existing form of a social group  or community … collectivities are formed through the very work that we need to do in order to get closer to others’.

Wild Irish Poet: Write from the wound.

You:    Which wound? There are so many…When I try to refer to earlier, non-Western philosophy I am told to “go find a reference”, but they mean in the Western canon. If I say positive things about being a woman in Asia I am rapped on the knuckles for “romanticizing those cultures” and reminded about cultural relativism. They scream: What about Sati and honour killings and stoning and the veil? Why must I have to unravel all the (white) lies, before I can tell a (black) truth? In fact, most of the time I feel as if I am a wound.

Wild Irish Poet: Then write as a wound. What does the wound say?

You:      It says: I’m weeping. Hot, sore, burning. Bleeding.

Wild Irish Poet : Nilmini, You walk like water. Write like water.

Buddhist Teacher:

Think of Mamaki- she is a Dakini. She is the deity of water, prajna, the knowing and wisdom mind that reveals            the true nature of things. She a powerful angel who cuts through ignorance, not a fairy duster of the tinkerbell whitely kind. She acts through razor sharp, insicive wrath.

You : You begin to see things outside of their prescribed order. Rather than “gazing at the other” I can find ways for participants to get close to their own interiority. Rather than trying to change the other, I can allow them to change me. You start to think like water, write like water. You see that Water is everywhere, in all its forms. Wherever water flows you can find a portal to the solid ground. That is why we have water. Water in all its forms is like our black womanity. We are everywhere. Some of us are rain, some ocean, river, sea, flood, tears, blood. Though we cannot always run together, we can tell a collaborative story from different locations. Like water, we move through from river to ocean, vapourize, condense, precipitate and infiltrate all

Postscript: Final Report

…originality and quality…significant contribution to the theory and practice of feminism and transformation….advances knowledge for practitioners, researchers and theorists—that is, praxis…weaves complex ideas and findings into a coherent whole…. high level of scholarship…creativity… reflexivity.”




Elizabeth Adams St Pierre, ‘Methodology in the fold and the irruption of transgressive data’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education , 1997, 102, pp175-189.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London and New York: Zed Books, 1999.
Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Talkin’ Up to the White Woman: Aboriginal Women and Feminism, St Lucia:University of Queensland Press, 2000, p 182.
Audre Lorde, ‘The Uses of Anger: Black Women responding to Racism’, in Sister Outsider, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, (Berkeley: Crossing Press, [1981, ]2007, pp124-133.
Asfaneh Najmabadi, ‘Teaching and Research in Unavailable Intersections’, Difference: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies,1997, 9 (3), pp 65-78.
Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality, London: Routledge, 2000, p .180.


Buddhist Teacher: Teachings from the Buddha Dharma as intrepreted by Patrul Rinpoche, Kunzang Lama’i Shelung The Words of My Perfect Teacher, Boston: Shambala, 1998.
Pema Chodron, From Fear to Fearlessness: Teachings on the Four Great Catalysts of Awakening
Wild Irish Poet: My dear friend and teacher, John O’Leary (dec 2012).











Wild Tongue

Wild Tongue

A live performance of feminist texts

Produced By Loving Feminist Literature/ Created and Produced by Nilmini Fernando

Why is it still difficult to purchase books by intersectional feminists? Shouldn’t everyone have Audre Lorde on their shelves?

Women writers are becoming increasingly popular, regularly topping best seller lists. And in Australia the Stella Prize is creating new opportunities and exposure for female writers. But what about women on the margins? Black, queer, intersectional, and underrepresented women who refuse to conform to conventional norms.

Loving Feminist Literature is an opportunity to celebrate women who are not always seen. Celebrating bold and brave ideas which radically disrupt our comfort zones. Get ready for a quiet bookstore in Fitzroy to explode with subversive responses to feminist literature featurinG

Margaret Mejhju        Li An Low           Timmah Ball        Kaytsen Jama      Adriana Bito

Kylie SupskI               Karina Smith        Nadia Niaz         Sangeeta Thanapal     

Linh Thùy Nguyễn          Nilmini Fernando         Sandy Jeffs         Eleanor Jackson

Sista Zai Zanda  Genevieve Dalzell

Join us for an immersive literary experience where we explore the writing of female poets, academics and writers who you may not recognise. Discover Sara Ahmed, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Irena Klepfisz and more. And enjoy a range of intertextual performances which blend the complexity or race, class, gender and sexuality. The evenings will also feature the launch of a new feminist zine with a range of written and visual responses confronting the issues intersectional feminists face.

LISTEN HERE FOR “God is a Black Womban” by Sista Zai Zanda: https://soundcloud.com/zai-selects/blackwombangod_dub











SEMINAR : Postcolonial Asylum: A Critical Black Feminist Approach in the (Postcolonial) Irish Context

October seminar on the theme of Race, Identity and Post-Colonialism, which will be held 30 October, 2-4pm Penang Room, Swinburne Library, Hawthorn campus.


Viktoria Adler
Swinburne University
“Being white” in Australia. Life stories of upper/middle class Colombian migrant women living in Melbourne

Hamza Jehangir
University of Melbourne
Reimagining the Political: Questioning the Comparative Scope of Deliberative Democracy in the non-Western context

The Dakini’s Needle


She tore off her skin

Spun it out to a thread of black

Hewn with moonlight

Began to stitch

The severed parts together

IMG_0256 - Version 2Her skin, now pink, seeping,

No longer contains her matter

The wet weeping, bleeding birthing

Cocoons her silver suture.

Threaded with medicinal intent

The Dakini’s needle pierces the night’s cloth

In sharp flight, she executes her mercifying nightwork

performs the repetitive servitude

Of suturing

silken dreams to its dreamer

the living to the dead

the past to the future

the he to the she.

The me to the we.

The Tibetan word for dakini, khandro, means “sky-goer” or “space-dancer,” which indicates that these ethereal awakened ones have left the confinements of solid earth and have the vastness of open space to play in. Direct, sharply intelligent, radical, and courageous.

Direct Provision or “Direct Profit”? Let’s Follow The Money

Ireland is a signatory of the UN Convention and seeking asylum is not a criminal act, so punishing and incarcerating those who seek refuge for years on end is entirely unjustified. I hope that the on-going protests and demonstrations by women, men and their children in the Direct Provision System will be more effective than the years of scholarship, articles, and campaigns that challenged the Irish State for its increasingly restrictive asylum policies.

Over the past the years, NGOs, journalists and academics have consistently criticized the costs of the Direct Provision system to the State.[1] More recently, some have directly addressed the profit-making “industrial” aspect of accommodation and deportation in the DP system but even so, there is always a slide towards the moral and ethical side and the human rights arguments.

In my view, arguments about morality, ethics and human rights fail because they cannot be heard over the deafening roar and power of money. Whipping up hatred and racism ensures that immigrants and asylum seekers are blamed for the State’s failure to take care of a certain class of its own people. They hide behind racism, use racism to hide the fact that in the Direct Provision system, some Irish people are making good profits from other Irish people, on the backs of asylum seekers.

As Arundhati Roy said, “There’s a lot of money in Poverty”.

From the start of my research with my African sisters in Irish asylum, I asked the questions: Who is benefiting from keeping people in Direct Provision for so many years?Lets look at the “costs” to the “tax-payer”, which really means that the State pays this money to other private Irish or global profit-making businesses.

In the EU between 2007-2013 €5866 million was allocated to ‘solidarity and management of migration flows’, which means working with countries of origin to stop people leaving, or voluntary returns and removals. In globalized economies, for third World countries to survive they have to accept the imposition of migration controls, which are tied to aid or trade partnerships.[2]

So, this is humanitarianism that harms and profits, rather than help. In my view, humanitarianism towards Third World  upholds white supremacy, and this translates to neocolonial exploitation- business as usual. I am NOT saying, however, that the Irish supporters and activists are not helpful- but that they need to ensure that  people in asylum represent themselves, and make space for that not take it all up.

Irish figures compiled by Anti Deportation Ireland show that deportation costs include chartered flights, some of which had to be cancelled at the last minute. In one case, it cost of €151,900 to deport one man to Ghana in 2008, and €362,000 for a late cancellation of a flight to deport people to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo in August 2011. Despite the steady decline of asylum applications since 2002, there has been a 8.5 percent increase in the number of deportation orders effected in 2010. Both the refusal rate for refugee status and the deportation figures in Ireland are above the European average (ADI, 2012).

In 2011, it was reported that legal fees made up seventy-three percent of the expenditure of the Irish Refugee Appeals Tribunal in 2011, with most of the legal costs arising from challenges to its decisions. [3] That year, deportations of 280 persons from Ireland cost the State over one million Euros. [5] Irish Legal professionals receive those payments. Wouldn’t it be better to make better decisions? And what is more, if there were no asylum cases, that money would never not be “saved” or “trickle down’ to the most vulnerable people in Irish society.

The accusation that some live off the back of the misfortune of others needs to be stated, not as “costs to the tax-payer”, but as “profits to businesses and elites”.

Taking a harder line to deport people will not save money for Ireland. This has has been the case in Europe and Australia, and remembering that Ireland follows in line, this is possibly what the State will do, if forced to act. It incurs (greater) costs (at the tax payers expense) for security staff, charter flights and legal fees) but simultaneously generate profits for private and State agents and businesses (accommodation, airlines, security companies) and elite professionals like lawyers. Culling numbers, it appears, can still generate income for some, but not those in Ireland who are most in need of it. We need to be prepared and have alternatives ready for what might come next. Detention, security and the asylum industrial complex is fast growing in neo-liberalized economies.

So if we follow the money, we see that the “costs” to the taxpayer are really payments for professionals, services and businesses. So, in a perverse way, asylum is an industry that benefit priviledged classes of the  Irish and global economy. For the racialized living in the “developed” world, prisons are sources of exploitable labour. As Angela Davis shows, the incarcerated are exploitable labour force, and largely people of colour [4] Meanwhile, those who are refugees in the Third World live for decades in camps.

How many more stories do we need? We all know that living conditions in Direct Provision are inhumane, damaging to physical and mental health, that people are suffering, and the State is not complying with human rights. We only have to look at Irish history to see how this model was how the State and the Church made profits from punishing and incarcerating people in laundries, workhouses and orphanages.[5]

What is the way forward?

First is the need for the Irish public to understand that racism has been used to cover up the neglect of Ireland’s own disadvantaged classes. The real problem is the increased inequality between the rich and the poor, and racism is the oldest trick in the book, used to take people’s attention away from local and national corruption.

Second, Irish middle-class people are controlled by the State. Whistleblowers are not always welcome.  So we have to acknowledge that many leaders and NGO’s are also controlled, bound and silenced (either consciously or unconsciously) by fear and insecurity. If they speak up, they must watch what we say, because they might get sued for defamation, lose  status, lose  jobs, friends, funding,  and so on. Money speaks loudest of all.

So who is left to fight the good fight?

Out of the people who really want to support those in asylum (and there are many), those in positions of privilege ( e.g. lawyers) must work together at the top level

NGO’s must  get leaders from asylum communities in on those talks, rather than SPEAKING FOR THEM.  The people themselves are always more powerful than those who represent then, and NGO’S and activists would be better off ensuring that they get these people into those talks, supplying protestors with food, and housing, let them do their own interviews,  and, like one football club, who reduced fees for children in asylum,  make local changes that make a difference.

If activists and supporters take over, they simply become just another chain in the link of exploitation of people in asylum.

Finally, for those who don’t care or are against asylum seekers or immigrants (and there are many), who accuse them of being ungrateful, or who are full of racial hatred, who believe that refugees are  taking away what is rightfully yours, what is important is to ask yourself, are you fighting the right enemy? Even if asylum seekers are all gone, do you really think that the State will share its riches  with you? That it will improve your lives? I doubt it.  Its more a case that you are being used too- to do the dirty work of spreading racist hatred, for the benefit of those who will never reward or truly respect you for it.

Thanks to Michael Blainey for the phrase “Direct Profit”, and Ciara Burke for showing the way to enact activism that does not take over: sending requests for  food, tents, materials to support protestors.

[1]Ronit Lentin & Gavin Titley, (2012). ‘Ireland’s Treatment of Asylum Seekers Is Unfair – and Bad Value for Money’. The Journal.ie  Available: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/column-anti-deportation-ireland-gavan-titley-ronit-lentin-671759-Nov2012/.

FLAC (2009). One Size Doesn’t Fit All: A Legal Analysis of the Direct Provision and Dispersal System in Ireland, 10 Years On. Dublin: FLAC.

Deegan, G. (2013). ‘655m Paid to Asylum Center Firms’. Irish Examiner [Online], 20th February 2013. Available: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/655m-paid-to-asylum-centre-firms-223178.html. [Accessed 14th September 2013 ].

Loyal, S.  (2008) The business of direct provision: outside the integration debate? Available http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/2008/06/17/the-business-of-direct-provision-outside-the-integration-debate/)

[2]Fekete, Liz. (2005). ‘The Deportation Machine: Europe, Asylum and Human Rights’. Race and Class, 47, 64-91.

[3]Coulter, C. (2012). ‘Calls for Reform of Asylum Appeals as Legal Bill Hits E 3m’. Irish Times 15th June [Online], 15th June, 2012. Available: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/calls-for-reform-of-asylum-appeals-as-legal-bill-hits-3m-1.1066254 [Accessed 10th August 2013].

[4] Davis, A. Y. (1998). Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex. Colourlines [Online]. Available: http://colorlines.com/archives/1998/09/masked_racism_reflections_on_the_prison_industrial_complex.html

[5]Holohan, C. (2011). In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports. Dublin: Amnesty International.Conlon, S., Waters, S. & Berg, K. ((2012)). Difficult to Believe: The Assessment of Asylum Claims in Ireland. Dublin: Irish Refugee Council.

Racism and Sexism in The Irish Court: Women’s Studies as a Space of Resistance

Sexism, Racism and the Irish Family Court: Women’s Studies as a Space of Resistance

After many years of living in Ireland, it was the two traumatic years I spent in the Irish Family Court that propelled me towards academic feminism and the Women’s Studies MA degree at University College Cork. As bell hooks said, Black Feminists are not born, but made. Born in Sri Lanka, my family migrated to Australia when I was 12 years old, just after the official end of the White Australia Policy. I had no idea about Black women’s writing growing up in the small country town of Shepparton, where my parents taught. I moved to Melbourne to study Occupational Therapy, the only woman of colour in my year. I was introduced to feminism by the women I shared student housing with and Virginia Woolf, Marguerite Duras, Germaine Greer and Simone de Beauvoir  forged my understanding of how “women” were constructed. But not until I came across June Jordan, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison did I find a home for my black womanity. Their words leapt off the page and settled in my bones, breathed life into my fragmented, underwater identity, gave flesh to my hollow black body immersed in White Australia. My focus shifted form having to prove myself, to learning to define and celebrate myself.
I traveled, moved to London, then Ireland, a free, liberated, educated woman. Or so I thought, until I became a mother. Suddenly, powerfully, irreversibly, I found myself exhausted, enslaved, exploited. Isolated with no family support, when the relationship with my Irish partner ended badly, I came face to face with the White Irish patriarchy in the Family Court.

POINT 1: You think you are free until you try to cross the invisible borders that hold you in place. You think you have rights until you try to claim them.

The rights of fathers have moved up the agenda in the family courts, as have the rights of the child, but the rights of the mother have regressed through the myths and propaganda surrounding custody and access and the vilification of mothers by father’s rights groups. Justice for fathers, it seemed, relies on the devaluation of motherhood in order to “recognize” fathers, rather than upgrading the quality of fathering. The domestic and emotional labour of women who mother are never factored in, but taken for granted.

Dealing with the “experts” was traumatic. The white female court psychologist who called me “sweetie” required me to attend assessments two hours away with my child, scrutinized my medical records and psychological state, but assessed the father’s parenting based on a telephone conversation as he refused to attend. Her references to the psychological literature in the court report were taken from thirty-year old state-sponsored US research, produced at a time when the joint custody was emerging as an easier option that trying to enforce maintenance orders.  My concerns about my child’s care, his exposure to alcohol and drugs on weekends, my need to access paid work were all minimized. My legal aid lawyer regularly shouted at me on the telephone, and when I asked for a psychologist who was familiar with the effects of race and culture, his reply was: “If you mention race, you have lost this case”. He implied that racism was similar to that of being a redhead or wearing glasses. If I insist on a culturally competent assessor, that would be seen by the court as being “racist” against an Irish counterpart. I was strictly advised not to complain that my son was called “nigger” or “black cun*” and told to “go back where he came from”, even though he was born in Ireland. That would be “playing the race card”. Incredibly, at one of the hearings, the Judge himself casually used an expression containing the word “nigger”. When I later raised this with my lawyer, he brushed it off as a “old-fashioned expression” that was common but didn’t mean anything anymore.

POINT 2: Denial of racism, and charges of “reverse-racism” against white people are tricky distortions, rhetorical strategies that make the person who talks about it the problem, rather than the racism and sexism being the problem. This framing is what Ailbhe Smyth has called “genderspeak”. Fighting for women’s autonomy, authority and freedom is not the same as “gender equality”, which is meaningless unless we are brought to a level playing field.  Equal with whom? With what? Children (supposedly) have “rights”, father have “rights”, but do mothers have rights? Gender equality is not a solution for women’s oppression. Women are said to have “rights”, but are crushed by systemic racism and sexism when we try to enact them.

I was the primary breadwinner, and my need to relocate to find work was dismissed. Would this have happened is the man made this case? My subsequent request for a change of solicitor enraged my lawyer, who wrote a six page letter to the Legal Aid board, recommending my aid be withdrawn because I had been “scathing” in my criticism of the court and complained that the court process was racist and sexist.

POINT 3: Being black, female and speaking back incurs the wrath of white patriarchy on the counts of race and gender.  Being smart, strong and articulate works against us, not only if we are socially vulnerable.

White males, red-faced, ignorant, arrogant, rude and punitive held the ultimate power in my case, as happens for many other women in Ireland where the reproductive female body has been, and still remains, the site of horrendous Medico-Legal assault and control.
Determined to find out what the hell was going on here, I applied for the MA Women’s Studies Programme at UCC, which a friend had just completed.

As a child I cried with frustration and anger at being treated differently. As a mother, I cried as the bond with my child was brutally severed, my authority and autonomy removed, my physical and emotional labour disavowed. Everybody mattered except me. I spoke back, as an educated woman, rational, fair and loving, demonstrated with solid evidence the possibility of balancing my child’s, mine and his father’s needs. No matter what evidence I provided, what good ideas I come up with, how far I was willing to go to facilitate everybody’s needs, I was repeatedly caged into the narrow frame that constructed me “angry, bitter woman, out to deny father access”. Even though I was considered “a devoted, brilliant mother” and a “highly intelligent woman”, when I used that love and intelligence to fight for my rights and freedoms, the words did not translate into material recognition, respect, authority, or power.

POINT 4: Until Black Feminist knowledge is engaged with deeply and becomes integral to mainstream feminism, we will not see the whiteness of mainstream feminism. Until we can then more fully engage with anti-racism, anti-capitalism and anti-sexism, the crie de coeur of black feminists since slavery and colonialism, we will not see how the ideologies of sexism and racism are co-constructions that uphold white capitalist patriarchy in the present.

Over the past four years, my doctoral research has focused on women of colour in asylum. I have seen more clearly how the intersection of Legal and Medical control of the maternal body is a deeply racialized space, operating at different levels of oppression for black women, who enter the space where Irish women’s reproductive bodies are already strictly controlled. Three repressive white patriarchial elite class institutions (MEDICAL, IMMIGRATION/BORDER CONTROL, and LAW) converge on the black pregnant female body, with deathly outcomes for some, as was the case for Bimbo Onanuga and Savita Halpannaver.  It is true that This is No Country for Pregnant Women, as the Association for the Improvement of Maternity Services (AIMS) states. You can read the summary of the case by Salome Mbugua from AkiDawA on their site.

In my studies and personal experience, the very presence of the black female body arouses among other responses, fear and rage- and for those in positions of powerlessness, this is enacted through bodily punishment. Our black bodies threaten White Patriarchy, the smarter we are, the greater the threat to its unraveling. The more vulnerable we are made, the greater the possibility of domination over us. The physical and psychic punishment meted out intends to scar, wound and degrade black femaleness to preserve the power of white maleness. We need to tackle how black women are made vulebarble- through systemic racism and sexism, taken together.  That, for me, is the point of intersectional theory for Irish feminism.

The most recent atrocity enacted on a migrant woman’s pregnant body shows clearly that Irish feminists are increasingly aware of how race and gender intersect to create tragic outcomes form women of colour, which adds to the well known Irish cases like the Kerry Babies, the X Case, and the Y case. Yes, we must engage and form solidarity across the right to abortion, but we must not limit solidarity to this issue alone. Our work will not succeed unless we work actively against racism and sexism together, because one constructs the other.  We cannot look solely at gender and sexuality, and see black feminism as a kind of white feminism for black women. No. It is a completely different paradigm and engaging with it can effect a different kind of feminist solidarity and praxis.

I was irritated enough by the growing backlash to academic feminism and the “women against feminism” lobby to post this blog. If we want to LASH BACK, we need Women’s Studies, we need feminist scholars, students and activists. Mostly, the women who are racialized need spaces to educate themselves, speak for themselves, which is how I used my privileged position as a feminist researcher. However problematic or racist or professionalized feminism seems to be getting, we must protect it, fight for it, defend it, re-define it. And to understand the genocidal atrocities meted out to third world women and their children the world over, we have to engage with the links between race, gender and class that postcolonial and black feminist theorists make. Controlling black women’s reproduction is an essential condition of neocolonial capitalism. Do White feminists agree with these policies? I think not. It all comes down to how we understand what is going on.

I may not have a posh job at the end of my PhD, or even a job at all! But I will have my heart and mind aligned, in tact and blazing, my critical faculties razor sharp to make cracks in the walls that obstruct my freedom, I can teach, love and write, not only weep and fight.


June Jordan         Where is the love?

“A black woman and feminist, I must look about me, with trembling and with shocked anger, at the endless waste, the endless suffocation of my sisters; the bitter sufferings of hundreds of thousands of children, the desolation of women trapped by futile, demeaning, low-paying occupations, the unemployed, the bullied, the beaten, the battered, the ridiculed, the slandered the trivialized, the raped and the sterilized; the lost millions of beautiful, creative and momentous lives turned to ashes on the pyre of fender identity. I must look about me and, as a black feminist, I must ask myself: Where is the love? How is my own life work serving these tyrannies, these corrosions of sacred possibility? How am I earning my membership in our worldwide movement for self-determination and self-respect?”

In Gloria Anzaldua ((ed)1990. Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo Caras. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation, pp.174-176)

Hazel Carby:              White Women, Listen!

It is very important that white women in the women’s movement examine the ways in which racism excludes many black women and prevents them from unconditionally aligning themselves with white women. Instead of taking
black women as the objects of their research, white feminist researchers should try to uncover the gender-specific mechanisms of racism among white women. This more than any other factor disrupts the recognition of common interests of sisterhood”
Carby, H. (1982). White Women Listen! Black Feminism and the Boundaries of Sisterhood. In: Heidi Safra Mirza, (ed.) 1997.  Black British Feminism: A Reader. London, New York: Routledge.