The Black Lives Matter movement led by young people is rapidly shifting the discussion around racism. At the same time, the scale and energy of the movement is bringing people together, black and white, in solidarity and unity. In this climate, Lola Olufemi’s book Feminism Interrupted: Disrupting Power, while only recently published, already feels years behind.
Here she details mostly her own experiences, thought processes and conclusions which criticise ‘white feminism’ while attempting to rehabilitate radical feminism. For Olufemi, this includes ‘black feminism’, as an alternative to a world not just full of sexism, but racism, war and neo-liberalism.
That, perhaps, is the redeeming quality of the book. She challenges and argues for an alternative to neo-liberalism and by extension capitalism, with all its toxic excesses of racism, sexism, LGBT+ hate and war. Olufemi’s criticism of feminism for often failing to be inclusive towards black women and women of other non-white backgrounds reflects how a lot of young black women feel.
Unfortunately, she dislocates that anger towards the Repeal the 8th campaign in Northern Ireland, which legalised abortion for all. The ban on abortion was a bar on all women from accessing abortion, and only those who could afford to travel, a minority of wealthier white women, could access abortion by going abroad.
The victory of the Repeal the 8th campaign was therefore a victory to all working class women, and the Together for Yes campaign included 97 different organisations and community groups, including Migrants and Ethnic Minorities for Reproductive Justice (MERJ). Savita Halappanavar, the 2012 victim of Ireland’s then anti-abortion legislation wasn’t merely a symbol of the Repeal the 8th campaign.
The campaign genuinely involved people like herself. Ireland’s hostile environment in effect bars migrants and people with unsettled status from accessing healthcare and services, including abortion — which Olufemi focuses on to in order to discredit Repeal the 8th.
But the disproportionate deaths of BAME people in this pandemic shows the cold and fatal side of having border enforcement in our healthcare. That’s why it’s important to fight to end the hostile environment. Now is an opportune moment to do that. We’ve seen the power of rank and file organisation during the lockdown, and now, Black Lives Matter is opening up all sorts of questions around racism and the system. That demands class politics — largely missing from Feminism Interrupted.
Of course, we can win gains against issues such as racism and sexism through mass struggle. But if we want to overthrow capitalism which is at the root of oppression, then its class, not identity, that offers agency. Capitalism relies on the labour of workers in order to make profits — without them, nothing runs. And let’s be clear, workers are not a separate group from those oppressed in the world.
Today, the international proletariat is predominantly black, and women make up half of the workforce around the world. Workers’ power is black power, from the likes of Ala’a Saleh, 22, in Sudan to the youth shaking the US administration with Black Lives Matter.
Current events have left behind the intersectionality and identity politics of Feminism Interrupted — both of which debilitate the book from offering any real solutions to or strategies to fight the problems it identifies in the world. The rebellion that has started since the murder of George Floyd has produced in Britain, as elsewhere, a diverse army with black generals among the young people taking to the streets today. Resistance to the system we live in has moved on from where Feminism Interrupted is at, and so the book is no longer helpful. Young black women are not in their own separate corner of the struggle with their own separate interests, as Olufemi and intersectional feminists would assert. Black women are leading the insurgency of Black Lives Matter. Solidarity and unity of the working class has already won this movement gains — fragmentation will only take us backwards.