Arabs for Black Power: An Intersectional Perspective

Art by Leila Abdelrazaq.

black that holds up against language & sea

black the only name assigned my body

that ever felt like mine    black my hunted

kin    my hunted blood    & black my only


asmar by Safia Elhillo

Intersectionality has been the most useful, critical, and transformative tool for feminist organizing in the region. We mobilize Intersectionality against capitalist, nationalist, and essentialist feminisms. The structures that oppress us garner power from obscuring the connections between the struggles of different groups, but Intersectionality mobilizes those connections towards a collective social justice. Masaha Collective vocalizes an anti-colonial and transnational movement in the making. The A Project articulates a reproductive justice for all of us, *womxn, refugees, gender benders, sex workers, housewives, and lesbians. Kohl Journal made queer feminist Global South formations possible. حراك طالعات (Tali’at movement) resists the occupation and the patriarchy in Palestine. Razan Zeitouneh has shown us revolutionary human rights advocacy. So many would have fallen through the cracks of activist organization if not for Intersectionality. And so, we must honor the Black feminists, in organization and academia, who put Intersectionality forth, and we must combat the anti-Blackness in our own communities.

Intersectionality, as first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, provides a frame through which we may better understand how Black womxn experience racism and sexism simultaneously. Crenshaw reformulates identity as “a relationship between people and history, people and communities, people and institutions,” at a neoliberal moment that has co-opted the notion of identity into “self-contained units” of checkboxes. The different regimes of oppression from patriarchy, heterocompulsion, and anti-Blackness to capitalism, ableism, and trans-antagonism are interrelated and reproduce each other. This brings about a range of lived experiences of oppression. Audre Lorde reminds us that “the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices,” and it has. The intersection in Intersectionality is thus a political and historical site experienced by individuals. Intersectional theory relates the personal, political, and historical.

The protests that have erupted across North American cities, demanding the abolition of the police (and the prison system in extension), have inspired a global solidarity first ignited by the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. People also started making connections to different forms of state violence around the world; we must look at these connections using an Intersectional framework, lest we erase this moment at which all of us should be vocally anti-racist. This will also allow us to understand the processes that reproduce racism in different contexts. Intersectionality makes drawing the connections a productive practice – it goes beyond the imagined ladder of prioritization discourse that pushes us to compromise our movements and theories. It is Angela Davis after all who does not leave anyone behind; she makes the connections and amplifies the polyvocality of feminist movements. The connections are “the relations, intersections, crossings, junctures, coincidences, overlapping and cross-hatching phenomena” of gender and racist violence, of intimate and institutional violence, and of individual and structural violence. We need to tune our attention to the connections.

We can practice non-performative solidarity by counteracting our anti-Black racist history and present in the Arab world. For the purpose of this piece, I define the “Arab world” as constituted by Arabic-speaking peoples, the Southwest Asian and North African regions, and people who identify with Arabness anywhere; this definition also recognizes the ethnic diversity of Arab identities. Our positions as oppressed peoples do not absolve us. I want to think through how we can practice an Intersectional feminism that is proactively anti-racist. It is a matter of personal responsibility to educate ourselves, confront the racism and colorism in our families and circles, listen to Black Arab experiences of racism, and not pat ourselves on the back for doing the bare minimum.

A most urgent demand today is the abolition of the Kafala system in Lebanon. The Kafala system is a product of an assemblage of the Lebanese state, its institutions, domestic work agencies, and individual employers. The migrant workers trapped in the Kafala system face sexism, racism, and exploitation as womxn, as Black people and people of Color, and as workers. The Intersectional layers of their struggles open more possibilities for organizing. It helps us understand the deep entrenchment of the Kafala system, and how we cannot have a feminist movement, anti-racist movement, or a worker’s movement if it does not include migrant domestic workers. So again, we need to make and mobilize the connections.

Solidarity, like struggles under oppression, is Intersectional. All the links in this article point to resources in Intersectional feminism in the region and beyond. Dardishi Festival, a Scotland-based feminist art organization that showcases the works of North African and Arab womxn, has compiled a list of resources on non-Black Arab allyship that starts the conversations we need to be having. Our liberation from all regimes of oppression lies in our honest anti-racist solidarity. Do your part and take care.

*Womxn is a term used alternatively to women that includes gender non-conforming people and intersex and trans women .

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