Athena-Maria Enderstein is an afrocentric euronomad researching and writing about cultures of equality in Europe. She is interested in feminisms, gender transformative approaches, emergent technologies, masculinities and transnational equality processes. She is a Research Fellow with the GRACE Project working at Associazione Orlando in Italy and pursuing a PhD at the University of Hull in the UK.
I am sitting in a rideshare, travelling between Germany and Italy. The driver asked, “So what do you do?”
“I am studying.” I reply.
He says, “Your accent is strange, where are you from?”“I’m from South Africa.”“Oh, so you came to steal the knowledge.”
Anzaldùa’s words are ringing in my head “to survive the Borderlands, you must live sin fronteras, be at a crossroads”i. Her poetry is captivating, raw and visceral, holding together many parts in a whole. Of course, she is speaking from her location, and the power of her words make me think about what it means to speak from mine. Here in Europe people tell me I make them uncomfortable, and they pretend to not be able to figure out why. But I know why, to them my visual identity is incongruent with my words. The violent whiteness of my skin in my own country, all the way on the other side of the world, ties me down into colonial lines of fault and makes me look like I belong here. And so I am some kind of secret foreigner, for as long as I am silent I pass as a native, until a conversation starts. And then I ask a lot of challenging questions, I talk about misogyny, or racism, or xenophobia. And people respond like those videos of children eating lemons for the first time, scrunching their faces in sour unexpectedness. White privilege is not supposed to speak back. To me where I am right now, this is what it means to be a dangerous woman. It means to be disruptive and subversive when the expectation is complicity. The incredible epistemic violence of the driver’s ignorance and his racism, along with many other similar comments over the last four years, have pushed me from anger to action. I am a gender and equalities researcher working in the “North”, but I am from the “South”, I am cultivating a transnational feminist praxis based on critical border thinking and solidarity beyond sameness. This is an ongoing and emergent project, here I share some of my reflections about being this kind of dangerous by thinking along the lines of links and locations, language and ongoing learning.
Links and locations
Mohanty (2002) talks about the ways in which differences and borders connect us to one another as the basis for forging “informed, self-reflexive solidarities among ourselves”ii. To me this is an intriguing notion, a sense of permanent connection which transcends corporeal proximity, a linking between and within diverse geographical and social locations. Unfortunately, although we are materially connected through ever more closely binding global capital production systems, we are not necessarily more attuned to the lived reality of other’s lives. This real kind of knowing is more than digital acknowledgement in social media “likes”. The inequalities embedded in the commercial infrastructure of internet and communication technologies and the echo-chamber effect of prosumer social media facilitate an imperialism masquerading as interconnectedness. The internet is not “for everyone”, it is definitely not for the people in smartphone sweat shops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in microchip factories in China or in call centers in Indiaiii. Conversely, this infrastructure supports my life as a nomad and it is the only way that I am able to remain connected to the communities in which I wish to participate. The very tools of transnational network building are imbricated in global geopolitical power systems. This has pushed me to think of ways in which it is possible to turn this complicity back on itself. For me this entails looking for opportunities to center activist and intellectual stories from the periphery in the knowledge production nodes of the global metropole.
Critiques of the imperialist logics of global sisterhood have taught us that transnational solidarity based on presupposed homogeneity of oppression is untenableiv. We need to rewrite traditional perceptions about the directions of feminist reasoning which see the transfer of knowledge from the “North” to the “South”, and build bridges that go both ways. For example, the Ni Una Menos movement responsible for some of the largest marches against femicide and violence against women in recent history in Argentina June 3, 2015 and October 19, 2016 and in Perú on August 13, 2016, has since inspired a march on the 26 of November in Italyv. I am seeking ways of making these links from my social location in my work as a scholar and a trainer, this means theorizing solidarity that does not rely exclusively on similarity as a departure point.
In attempting to create these links I am attentive to the possibilities of replicating a South practical vs. North intellectual dichtotomy that accompanies the romanticization of Third World activismvi. Reversing the directionality of this reasoning entails shifting axes of comparison away from the United States or Europe through critical border thinking. For example, by exploring the ways in which decoloniality can be applied as an analytic approach even within European curriculums and contextsvii. I am drawn back to tension that national brings to ideas about transnational feminisms. The migrancy of citizens and non- citizens continues to run along the organizing lines of the colonial matrix, where small paper booklets are bizarrely saturated with power. Citizenship is a marker of location, as nation-state boundaries still have implications for material lived realities of inequalties and continue to constrain the majority of political action, resulting in divergent visions of imagined transnational feminist communitiesviii. Consequently I am following the understanding of feminisms as political movements which operate in both national and transnational waysix. I am interested in epistemologies and theories which arise from lived experiences outside of imperial knowledge production systems and channelled through transnational connections.
Challenging complicity also involves practicing epistemic valorization by attending to the politics of location with regards to language and communication. Academics and scholars are given the perception of completeness as we rely on search engines and scientific databases of existing literature to guide our research. In real terms however, the results we access are not only determined by the weighted algorithms of the search engines we use, but also by the Anglophone hegemony in global knowledge production systems. Mignolo and Tlostanova (2006) take the examples of Chinese, Arabic and Mandarin in contrast to imperial European languages in the political economy of knowledge production. They write “in the modern/ colonial unconscious, they belong to different epistemic ranks. ‘Modern’ science, philosophy, and the social sciences are not grounded in Russian, Chinese and Arabic languages. That of course does not mean that there is no thinking going on or knowledge produced in Russian, Chinese and Arabic”. In another example, young researchers writing in Africa are strongly encouraged to seek publication in “international” journals (where international should be read as US and UK). This also means that work not written in English is unlikely to have a wide readership or be consistently cited. If we peal back the mirages of technological neutrality, universal access, and intellectual meritocracy it is clear that most of our sense of global interconnectedness is partial at best and the knowledge economy is far from egalitarian. If English is a lingua franca of imperial logics and publication processes are structured accordingly how is it possible to practice research with integrity and build transnational solidarity? To me this entails cultivating an epistemic curiosity and awareness of the systems and power dynamics of digital coloniality and digital inequalities, understanding that these are not a simple question of access.
The question of language is not only about the “West and the rest”. At the beginning of their text, aptly named Thinking differently, Braidotti and Griffin (2000)x propose a game. They instruct the reader “write down – without looking them up – the names of five British feminists; five feminists which are German, Italian, Spanish, Slovenian , Greek, Hungarian, Portuguese, Finnish and Belgium”, they then ask “How did you get on?”. The difficulty that I had in coming up with these names highlighted to me that there are so many feminist stories unheard even within Europe itself. This reflection has challenged me to cultivate awareness of the localized experiences and contexts within borders of language and nation-states within Europe as the site of my research. This facilitates a subversion of mainstream rhetorics about homogeneity and civilizational supremacy.
As I continue in my emergent transnational feminism project, I am building epistemic curiosity. This involves, as a researcher and writer, seeking out knowledge and ways of being that are not immediately intelligible, this involves patience and active epistemic valorization of knowledge outside of typical intellectual comfort zones. At the Italian Women’s Library of Associazione Orlando in Italy we are building a training programme about feminism, gender and global women’s movements for the many interns that pass through the library each year. In this training our central concern has been to provide knowledge of key issues, foster collaborative interaction and initiate discussions. It has been our explicit intention to include feminisms outside of the traditional Anglocentric and Eurocentric wave metaphor that dominates Women and Gender Studies courses. The experience of designing and delivering these trainings has offered a space to explore the extent of my ignorance, and also thus the potential for learning that accompanies a commitment to transnational praxis. Together we are cultivating curiosity, most of the interns are at the very beginning of their gendered awareness but the discussions we have remind me how much there is to explore outside of familiar frames of reference. In this way, refusing the boundaries of what is important and relevant knowledge is an integral part of being a dangerous woman.
These are a few reflections from my journey so far. The nomadism which once brought me frustration and a constant sense of dislocation has been shifted as I have pursued the internal reconciliation of living sin fronteras. Being constantly at a crossroads no longer involves fragmentation but the growth of conviction and perspicacity, fostering the growth of my transnational feminist project. I do not yet know all the ways of being a dangerous woman, but I am sure that this is a worthwhile one. I will continue to make people uncomfortable by making links between “distant” locations and lived realities, by questioning language and power through epistemic valorisation and continuing to learn through curiosity. Again Anzaldùa ‘s words are ringing in my ears “caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar”. It is our task to use the growing interconnectedness of the world to continue to forge our feminist bridges and to be ever more dangerous.
i Anzaldùa, G. (1987) Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books. p. 195
ii Mohanty, C. “Under Western Eyes” Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles. Signs 28(2). p. 530 iii Gajjala, R. 2003. South Asian Digital Diasporas and Cyberfeminist Webs: Negotiating Globalization, Nation, Gender, and Information Technology Design. Contemporary South Asia, 12(1):41-56.
iv Moallem, M. (1999) Transnationalism, feminism and fundamentalism. In C. Kaplan, N. Alarcon, M. Moallem (eds) Between Woman and Nation: Nationalisms, Transnational Feminisms, and the State. North Carolina: Duke University Press p. 326
vi Mendoza, B. (2002) Transnational feminisms in question. Feminist Theory 3(3): 295–314.
vii Mignolo, W. (2011) The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham: Duke UP.
viii Kaplan, Caren, Norma Aleron and Minoo Moallem. (eds). 1999. Between Woman and Nation: Nationalisms, Transnational Feminism and the State. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
ix Rupp, L. J. and Verta T. (1999) Forging Feminist Identity in an International
Movement: A Collective Identity Approach to Twentieth Century Feminism. Signs
24 (2): 363–86.
x Braidotti, R. & Griffin, G. (2000) Thinking Differently: A Reader in European Women’s Studies. London: Zed Books.
University of Hull
Marie Curie Research Fellow GRACE Project Horizon 2020 675378 — GRACE — H2020-MSCA-ITN-2015/H2020-MSCA-ITN-2015