Refinery29 is partnering with Girls Who Code for the #MarchForSisterhood on International Day of the Girl. This is the first-ever all-digital global march. Come back each day this week to learn about why different young women are participating, and join us as we #MarchForSisterhood on any of your social media channels this Friday, October 11, 2019.
Being a girl is something I was born with, yet through all of the setbacks I've had, consciousness of the strength of women is not a new concept for me. I grew up in an activist household. I grew up believing in the power of strong Black women. My grandmother was extremely present in the Black Power Movement and my mom is a professor of Pan African Studies at CSULA and later became a co-founder of the LA chapter of Black Lives Matter. We lived in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles where strong, Black women thrived all around me. My piano teacher on one block, my “auntie” Vanita taught me to bake on the next. My LA grandmother who helped raise me firmly and lovingly, was never far off, just two blocks away.
I was 10 when Black Lives Matter was founded by my spirit auntie, Patrisse Kahn Cullors, Opal Tometti, and Alicia Garza. These women were my first real glimpse of the power of Black queer women. They helped me begin to decolonize and unlearn everything I thought I knew about what it meant to identify as she/her. They taught me pronouns, they taught me gender fluidity, and all of the intricacies of blackness.
I’m pretty sure that my gender has always been tied to my Blackness. One of my first memories of being a girl and feeling the effects of anti-Blackness was when I was talking to a friend at my school. We were talking about my younger sister, when this boy told me that she would become more well known than me because she was slim and light skinned. “Watch that girl,” he said, “all the guys are gonna go after her.” He meant it as a compliment, I think, but somehow I started to feel jealous. I think it’s because deep down I knew that he was right. Light skinned Black girls were more acceptable, beautiful, seen, and heard. But, I refused to let this fact change the relationships between me and my family.
When I began doing movement work it was hard. I fell quickly into the angry Black girl mold created for me by society. I called out teachers at school and never let anyone slide when using the “N word pass.” I was lit up, and for some reason it seemed like all everyone around me wanted to do was shut me up. Activism was a part of who I was and it still am. I couldn’t ignore it. So to be completely honest I wasn't very popular in middle school. It wasn't cool to be a revolutionary. My peers were reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid and I was reading things like the Biography of Langston Hughes and The Bluest Eye. Grappling with confidence in being a strong Black girl was one of the hardest things I ever had to, but I constantly reminded myself of the why. I did the work for justice, and that kept me going.
In most recent years, I’ve been able to create and be a part of more spaces surrounded by strong women of color. I’ve had the honor of learning from revolutionaries like Angela Davis and politicians like Rep. Karen Bass. But what has women’s rights movements looked like? To be quite honest, I never felt as if I had a place in the women's rights movement. It seemed like all I saw were majority white women who spoke about their wage gap or micro-aggressions.
While I on the other hand knew that Black women were paid 21% less than the average white woman and was 99% sure that they didn’t know how it felt to have a random hand in their curls. I felt out of place. Erased. There was a privilege in that movement that went unnoticed and still is being kept quiet. This isn’t only an issue within the women’s rights movement, but also others such as the environmental movement. Women of color most of the time have a completely different set of experiences than that of our white counterparts. This definitely isn't meant to be an erasure of the struggles of white women because the struggles of all women are definitely present. It’s a wake up call. While we must counteract the oppression we face we must also be aware of our privilege in every space we occupy. I’m tired of women’s rights movements and other movements not reflecting all of the people who fall within it. And yet today, Black women and girls are still targeted, hyper-sexualized, and criminalized. It is a fact that there is a constant erasure of women and girls of color in activist spaces.
When I march for sisterhood, I march for girls who’ve felt like me. I march for all my POC sisters and folks who have felt erased. I march for those who feel too light, too dark, and unwelcome. I march for Muslims, and Queer folks, for folks who can’t physically march, for folks who feel silenced. I think it's sometime that we all should and can do. It’s simple! When we march for sisterhood, let's truly march for all our sisters.
Thandiwe Abdullah is a 15 year old organizer with Black Lives Matter and Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard. She helped to conceptualize and launch the Black Lives Matter in Schools campaign, adopted by the National Education Association. Her work is to create safe spaces for black youth to organize around racism and anti blackness particularly in schools. Thandiwe has been active with March for Our Lives, emphasizing what gun control must look like for Black youth and is part of a national coalition of youth organizers of color, Out of POCket.