In the lead up to this year’s Black History Month, I had the privilege of sitting down to speak with Sandra Iroegbu (she/her/hers), a collective member of Black Lives Matter Vancouver. Sandra is a Nigerian immigrant living and working in Vancouver. She works closely with the Black community in Vancouver, as a social justice advocate, fighting for liberation for ALL Black Lives.
In conversation, we explored Black feminism, what intersectional feminism looks like in community, restorative justice, and the importance of being louder and braver when confronting injustice.
What feminism looks like in my West African village looks very different from my feminism here in Vancouver. For me Black feminism encompasses all of that.
A huge hiy-hiy (thank you) to Sandra, as we know this conversation will offer a little something for all feminists as we celebrate the Black community this month.
Q: What does Black feminism look like to you?
A: My vision and understanding, and where I see feminism going, especially for Black women like myself, is it’s very intersectional. It looks different for different black communities [and] black identities. I find that it very understanding and accommodating of different languages for feminism and the different culture.
I struggle with white feminism, it’s not intersectional, […] people can’t relate to it unless they speak the language and assimilate into the culture. What feminism looks like in my West African village looks very different from my feminism here in Vancouver. For me Black feminism encompasses all of that.
There will not liberation for Black people, unless there is liberation for all and this is why we stand in Indigenous solidarity, as well. Many of the issues we talk about intersect and meet.
Not understanding the language doesn’t mean people don’t understand [the issues]. It means I need to adapt and speak in a way they understand and base it in the community I am serving, and understand how they communicate and [what the issues] look like in their community.
Q: What are the pressing issues in Vancouver that BLM is seeking to address?
A: Trying to let Vancouver know and understand, [to] trust and believe, there is a lot of racism here. There is a lot of inequality, it is very prevalent. It should know longer shock people. […] Shock tells me you have your rose coloured glasses on, if you’re not seeing what’s happening. These are conversations that need to happen. I need Vancouver to step outside their comfort zone and put white fragility to the corner.
This is not about you [as an individual], this is a bigger issue than just you. Yes, we are fighting for Black liberation but we are fighting for liberation for all! There will not liberation for Black people, unless there is liberation for all and this is why we stand in Indigenous solidarity, as well. Many of the issues we talk about intersect and meet.
It’s important to be a little more aware, this works starts at the dinner table. I’m not saying everyone should grab their signs and head to a rally. Activism looks different for everybody. Activism is a mother educating their child on how to interact with the police.
We all have our parts to play, what is yours? How can you stay aware and ready and stand up and use whatever privilege you have?
Q: What would solidarity around these issues from the feminist legal community look like?
A: The legal system is one of the big problems in all of this. I’ve been thinking a lot about restorative justice and what this looks like, as I think this is a big piece. I am for the abolition of prisons. But, also I struggle with that. There is satisfaction in knowing a person is locked up at times, they can’t harm you, but the prison system is modern day slavery and harms people.
So I wonder, what does restorative justice look like? How can we integrate people back into society? This is where solidarity can happen.
So, xyz has happened, how we seek justice? But, how do we not condemn this person from society? How can the survivor heal? How do we centre that the survivor feels safe and their needs are met? What does this look like? How does this play out? If done well, it seems like most effective way to go about justice.
What does it look like when communities come together? […] If violence happens, what if community came together and dealt with the issue and went to the root, to look at the trauma that’s there? How can we all heal together? What does the person who was attacked need? What do they need from you?
It brings more people together than pulls people apart. This is one reason I think it’s more effective.
Q: What’s missing in the conversations with the feminist community in Vancouver?
A: When we talk about feminism, I have to remove and focus on not white feminism, but actual feminism. While there’s a lot of work and people doing work to do intersectional feminism, overall, feminism is very white.
It’s very privileged, it needs to be louder in the inclusion of other voices. With the rise that we see in trans-exclusionary feminism, feminism needs to be louder about supporting trans people. We need to centre and stand alongside marginalized voices. This includes Black, trans, people of colour, people with disabilities, neurodivergent people, queer [people], because these voices are lost in these movements.
Even looking at the history of Black liberation, it did not centre these voices and that’s something that Black Lives Matter does. Because in Black liberation, all Black lives matter. In Vancouver, many of us identify with so many colours of the rainbow and those are the voices we want to hear and care about. It’s been long enough. The feminist movement needs to be louder with that, stand a bit taller with that. Go to more underserved communities, [stand with] the inclusion of sex work.
How can you call this a feminist movement and be radical and intersectional and exclude folks who are the most marginalized? […] It’s not just about equal pay. There are actual lives at risk. People are dying by the hundreds.
Q: What’s on the horizon for Black Lives Matter this year?
A: With Black History Month there is calendar of events. Lots of great things coming up.
We are doing a Black Bodies Matter Outside. We plan to rent a bus and go to Dog Mountain and have a good time outdoors. There is a lack of representation of blackness outside. We are going to take up space, go outside and play! We are hoping for a great turn out.
Post-Black History Month, we are hosting a workshop called “Know Your Rights,” for Black and Indigenous youth, spearheaded by collective member Kafiya Mudey. We are working with judges and police officers as allies to let people know your rights. If you are stopped, arrested, detained, [we are] making sure people know their 7-14 Charter rights. That’s coming sometime in March.
I personally, want to get into the policy and strategy world and look at how these thing happen and prevent it. I will be looking for avenues and ways to get involved in that.
When I talk to folks younger than me, the youth, I am like wow! A lot of the movement and the conversations are rich, I am very hopeful.
We are also reaching out to different pockets of the Black community across the Lower Mainland. When people are displaced it’s hard to stay connected, so we will be reaching out to Langley and Abbotsford.
Q: Any final thoughts for us?
A: I have so much hope! People ask me why are you so hopeful? And I say “Why not?”
Have you seen the work happening? When I talk to folks younger than me, the youth, I am like wow! A lot of the movement and the conversations are rich, I am very hopeful.
Sharnelle Jenkins-Thompson is a proud mixed woman raised by a Welsh-immigrant Mum and Metis-Cree father. She is the Manager of Community Outreach at West Coast LEAF.
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