A poem by the Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire, goes,
“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Her words piercingly describe the events of the past few weeks and months. The world hurts everywhere – every region, every nation, every river, every home and every heart.
The coronavirus crisis has led us to ask questions that we’ve never asked before on such a wide scale. What caused the pain? Could we have prevented the hurt? Who is going to plaster the wounds?
And so, in the past month, we became concerned about low-income workers, store personnel, sanitation workers, bus drivers, caretakers, nurses, teachers, couriers, and post office workers. We cared about our social benefits systems. Which countries had invested in healthcare (Germany) and which privatised healthcare to a point of reckless neglect (everyone else?)? We cared about workers rights and unions who could fight for them, minimum wages, the homeless, inimical profiteering and how much of government budgets to allocate to those whose work we suddenly understood is fundamental to the well-being of society.
In the past month, we became concerned about the detrimental effects of capitalism and climate change. We cared about how money that should have been invested in preventing ecocide, strengthening healthcare and lowering unemployment was instead boosting corporate interests. We cared about how neoliberal economic globalisation blew up the effects of COVID-19. We cared about how global inequality might worsen the spread.
In the past month, we became concerned about the pandemic of sexism and its consequent disease, gender inequality. We cared about how gender bias adversely impacts scientific research. An LA Times article shone a light on how the one-size-fits-all scientific approach based on male biology cannot help us now. We cared about emotions such as compassion, care, empathy, and interconnectedness that we otherwise dismiss because they are considered “feminine” and of course, everything feminine is WEAK, INFERIOR and SENTIMENTAL.
Consequently, we cared about art, culture, and poetry. We initiated funds to save arts institutions and we sought solace in books, films, and song because those are sources with which we build the emotional intelligence we now desperately need to cope.
In other words, the coronavirus pandemic made us care about black feminism.
Because as I write in Sensuous Knowledge,
Black feminism offers a relevant countercultural approach against the knowledge system that governs our world for everyone. There is no other ideology—not socialism, not Marxism, not black radicalism or white Western feminism—that at core has created liberation theories for addressing class, gender, and racial discrimination combined. While the black liberation movement has made important contributions toward ending imperialism, and while white feminists have made strides toward the dissolution of patriarchy, and while socialists have critically ad- dressed class, it is only in black (and WoC) feminism that we con- sistently find a resistance to all of these oppressions which growing numbers of people increasingly realize are connected.
In addition, I argue that:
Black feminists also always integrally understood that we need new ways of conceptualizing what we know. Again and again, black feminists have argued that because the reigning system is a soulless one, the remedy is a way of knowing that incorporates poetry and art, the language of love.
The point here is not ideological – many groups have strongly argued for more humane worlds – but rather it is to nudge us in the direction of knowledge production that in its most classic sense has always been grounded in interconnectedness. Because one key truth we will take from the crisis is that everything is interconnected. Furthermore, classic black feminism has steadily pushed for an ethical framework rooted in sustainable economics and body politics to mitigate chronic destructiveness. This was why, when the Guardian asked me to write my utopian vision for their “Utopian Thinking” series, I wrote about “the commons” because “the problems humanity faces are shared ones” and it is “vital that we start to find communitarian solutions to social problems.”
In a very short time, humanity was forced to learn hard lessons. Chances are that the lessons will become harder still. But to end by glinting at a future world that, however microscopically, emerges with higher consciousness – perhaps the most important lesson is to listen and learn from each other more. We must collaborate despite ideological tensions, geographical borders, age, gender, race, class and religious divides. Let that be the underpinning insight when we recount this godawful period in history. Let us listen and learn from the knowledge of those who always made a catatonic plea that the world does not only hurt here and there but everywhere. Everywhere.
Image is ‘Seated Black Woman’ by Félix Édouard Vallotton, 1911.