Listen men (and white people) of South Africa, 'For Black Girls Only' is not about you

It is about sharing daily lived experiences, not a group of black women conniving to rid the world of men or drive the white population into the sea.

I AM black, proud and hold feminist views. This is not synonymous with anger, or an inherent or even overt aversion for men or other races.

Why does this even matter? Because race in South Africa, where I write this from, just won’t sit down in a quiet corner somewhere. 

It is often to be found in the most interesting of places. The last few weeks have seen much debate around it, but one has caught my attention—the vibrant  emergence of pro-black groups on social media and other internet forums. 

This weekend a group called “For Black Girls Only” were meeting in Johannesburg. On social media, it describes itself “as a radical, militant, and unapologetic space centring the lives and experiences of all Black women through various talks and events”. 

That would be enough to send sparks flying between its proponents and opponents, who, somewhat unusually, come from all races. 

No men or white folks

The various dimensions to this event, which explicitly disinvites white folks and men, have been fascinating.

Those pushing back generally say such forums have a racist agenda against white people or other races not of African descent, and they should therefore not exist. In South Africa, one often finds that what would have been an engagement with the potential to create rich learning opportunities across its various racial groups, fast deteriorates to anything but.

Yet pro-black forums are not new in spaces replete with political, racial, gender and socio-economic imbalances, and they are littered throughout history. In more recent times, they have taken the form of the many pan-Africanist movements, the Civil Rights Movement in America, and Black Consciousness Movements especially in apartheid-era South Africa.

Some have had political affiliations such as the black liberation movements that went on to become political parties, while others remained small community-based platforms serving as social support forums.

Social media factor

The difference between then and now is the proliferation of social media and the wide reach it affords all kinds of voices, a powerful tool if any. Used thoughtfully, it can be a catalyst for positive change—talking tends to have a way of dispelling most fears.

Some notable pro-black groups are “Black Girls Rock”; “I love being Black” and “I am A Proud Black Woma” – which have their roots in the US, and closer home, “For Black Girls Only”.

What captured my attention about “For Black Girls Only” was the deliberate use of the world “Only”. I must admit my initial reaction was knee-jerk—more accurately described as a kind of awkward discomfort.  

A poster associated with the event. Photo/ForblackGirlsOnly/Facebook

Was this not further encouraging polarisation along racial lines?  Had white women started a “For White Girls Only” group, I am certain black South Africans would have been up in arms, denouncing it as racist.  Is it any more acceptable that black women can form such a group and question any backlash? Surely all forms of discrimination should be equally frowned upon?

Perhaps an understanding of what it is all about will lead us to what it is not, and make things less blurry—a difficult enough task in contemporary South Africa.

What’s ‘For Black Girls Only’?

“For Black Girls Only” is organised by black women for black women, the definition of black being that of the Black Consciousness Movement—Black African, Coloureds and Indians; previously disadvantaged groups in the country’s context.

I do not speak for the group, but based on its web pages, its purpose is to bring attendees together in a space where they feel safe enough to openly discuss their shared lived experiences as black women using their own frame of reference, and to heal and uplift one another unapologetically—without having to justify themselves to either men or white people.

In no way does this suggest white women do not experience abuse or discrimination on the basis of gender—they most certainly do and this should not be trivialised. But, and this is a reason that is often slapped down fast, white women do not have to deal with the prejudices and cultural gender biases on the scale that black women face daily, simply because they were born black. It is therefore much more difficult for them to relate to a lot of issues that black women are confronted with. This is a basic truth.

For this reason, we have groups with a purpose such as “For Black Girls Only”. Black women just want to bear their souls without “whitesplaining” – and hearing comments like: “It’s been over 20 years since the end of apartheid, get over it”, or “There they go again, brandishing the race card”.

The women seek to define and determine for themselves what it means to be female and black in a patriarchal society full of racist innuendos, and to be able to discard western"standards of beauty and intelligence as is currently imposed on them—values sadly endorsed by some of our black brothers.

The initiative is a safe space where black women can proudly come together and say all things openly, from “I made this big step in my life” and “I am really happy now” to “I am lesbian”, or “I’m pro-choice”, without the threat of corrective rape,  tone policing, or being “mansplained” at, and in a language of their choosing that does not have to be one that “We can all understand”.

The “black tax”

I could be wrong, but it is about sharing their experiences of triumph or overreaching often without reward; of taking their place without being instructed to “know their place”.  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a group of “die swart gevaar” [Afrikaans for black danger’], conniving to rid the world of men or drive the white population into the sea.

For argument purposes, this kind of event could be viewed as black women extending their structural battle in corporate spaces by taking responsibility for their own growth—a common enough demand. This is even when doing so is most of the time accompanied by another form of “black tax”—having to work several times harder than their white colleagues just to prove themselves if when they have the same qualifications.

Even if it is not yet time for Kumbayas, there have been many gains over the years towards this, though you wouldn’t think this if you lived in South Africa. 

Black consciousness icon Steve Biko once wrote: “It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality”.  

I couldn’t agree more, pro-backness is not reverse racism; it is a narrative through which black people and in this case, black women, can further discover themselves, and speak their own truth to power through self-healing and self-empowerment. Kumbaya to that!

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