Chapter 6

From: Identity

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Black Feminism: The Politics of Articulation PRATIBHA PARMAR Introduction Black British women are part of many diasporas. All aspects of our photographic, literary and visual representation are organically informed by and shaped through our historical memories and the raw cultural signs and processes ofour subjectivities as black British. The richness and complexity of the black cultural 'explosion' has challenged any simple notion of 'identity politics'. It has pointed to the disintegration of that paradigm of identity politics which posits our 'otherness' and 'difference' as singular, seemingly static identities of sexuality, race and gender (with a crude acknowledgement ofour disadvantaged economic position). The photographic work by black women has been a significant part of emergent black cultural practice. It has sought to rework and reinscribe the language and conventions of representation, not simply to articulate our cultural difference, but to strive beyond this and develop a narrative that is wholly encased within our own terms of reference. This entails creating identities as black British women not 'in relation to', 'in opposition to', 'as reversal of, or 'as a corrective to' .. . but in and for ourselves. Such a narrative thwarts that binary hierarchy of centre and margin: the margin refuses its place as 'Other'. June Jordan's insight that identities are not fixed but always in a state of flux and change has challenged the desirability of simplistic representations (the notion of positive/negative images) and fixed hierarchies of oppression. On the other hand, we should not regard the terms of our self-definition purely as a matter of individual free 101 Identity choice. What is evident in the cultural productions ofblack women's creativity is the active negotiation between these objective notions of ourselves (as female, black, lesbian or working-class) and the subjective experiences of displacement, alienation and 'otherness'. The marginal ceases to be the object of interpretation and illumination: in our own self-referencing narratives we expropriate those bodies of knowledge and theory which are ethnocentrically bound in a relation ofdominance to us as post-colonial subjects. Both these pieces ofwriting are my tentative explorations into the politics of location, in order to address first black and migrant women's attempts to secure an authentic visual language, and second the emergence of difference within black feminism. It has been a time for reassessment and critical self-evaluation. While the articulation of self-identities has been a necessary and essential process for collective organising by black and migrant women, it also resulted in political practices which became insular and often retrograde. Writing has meant exposing myself, as well grappling with theories that might enable a different kind of political discourse of identity; it has meant engaging critically with the categories of self-enunciation which many of us, as activists and theorists in the black women's movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s, had employed. Then I spoke and wrote from a position of marginality and resistance, but always strengthened by the collective consciousness of ourselves as black women, as feminists and as lesbians (albeit a visibly small minority). Today, at the beginning ofa new decade I still inhabit that position of marginality and resistance but in the absence of that collective force which momentarily empowered many of us and gave us the 'power of speech'. 'Other Kinds of Dreams' is an optimistic reassessment - coming-to-terms with historical and political realities. OTHER KINDS OF DREAMS In 1984 a group of us who guest-edited a special issue of Feminist Review entitled 'Many Voices, One Chant: Black Feminist Perspectives' stated in our editorial: 'We have attempted to provide a collection of perspectives which are in the process of continual 102 Black Feminism: the Politics of Articulation development, refinement and growth. It [the issue] also indicated some of the diversities within Black feminism, a diversity from which we draw strength.'l Rereading that issue now, four years later, it seems difficult to fathom where the optimism and stridency which many of us had who were active in the black women's movement has gone, and why. Where are the diverse black feminist perspectives which we felt were in the process of growth? And where indeed is the movement itself? In moments of despair one wonders if those years were merely imagined. Four years is nota long time, but it is obviously long enough to see the disintegration of what was once an energetic and active black women's movement: a movement which was given a shape and form by the...



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