Intersectionality and Misogynoir: Interview With Student BLM Activist Bess Oates

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement started in 2012 after the murder of Trayvon Martin whose murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of all charges, causing a surge of outrage. Since then, the movement has grown massively, with BLM protests and demonstrations happening all over the world. It is a movement with black women at the forefront and intersectionality at its core.

Every twenty-eight hours, a black person is shot by the police – it’s going to take a movement like BLM to help expose the truth behind these brutalities and hopefully help put a stop to the prevalent racist state violence.

Bess Oates is a Brighton-based student activist who runs a BLM London Facebook page, Conker has interviewed Bess in a hope to help readers to further understand the concept of the movement.

Image: 'Alive, Together' by Molly Costello. 'Alive' was created "for a show that 8th Day Center for Justice organized that focused on radically reclaiming our bodies" ~ M.C. . (Conker does not own any rights to this image).
Image: ‘Alive, Together’ by Molly Costello. ‘Alive’ was created “for a show that 8th Day Center for Justice organized that focused on radically reclaiming our bodies”.

Megan Rose Borrman: What are the main aims of the black lives matter movement?

Bess Oates: The agenda behind the movement is to build black liberation and empower members of the community, it aims to recognise and affirm the societal contributions of black people, and it aims to intervene and bring an end to the systematic oppression of black people

MRB: What do you think is the best way to educate people on these issues?

BO: I think the best way to educate people is to simply put the facts in front of them, like the number of black people that have been killed by inherently prejudiced institutions like the police (for example, the murders of Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and Mzee Mohammed) or the number of black people that are stopped and searched in the street in comparison to white people (a study in the Independent in 2015 found that black people are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than any other racial group in almost every part of England and Wales. Also, in Dorset it was found that a black person is seventeen times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person). Once these facts are put in front of you, it is hard to deny that there is a problem deeply rooted in our society. I think it’s also important, from this point, to take a hard look at yourself and assess the amount of privilege you personally have.

Our society is run on inequality and oppressive institutions, and patriarchy seeps into every aspect of our day to day life even if you haven’t previously acknowledged it. This is where people often get confused. A white, working-class man may take offence to the fact that he is deemed ‘privileged’ when he’s had to scrape pennies together to pay his last bill or, in worse cases, for his last meal, it’s important to realise the different intersections involved in inequality. You may be getting victimised and vilified by the government and the mainstream media, but if you are white you will never have to worry about being stopped and searched on the street or followed around in a shop by a security guard solely based on your race, there’s no denying the patriarchy will target you in some other way but your skin colour has given you a certain amount of privilege. No one is trying to derail or undermine your problems, but it’s important to analyse yourself and acknowledge that you are privileged in some areas and in others you are not, and unfortunately the way our society functions not everyone has had the same privileges

MRB: Do you worry that these important issues are being reduced to a single hashtag such as #blacklivesmatter and #sayhername, or do you think they’re allowing for a much-needed dialogue about institutional racism that wouldn’t have quite the same exposure if it wasn’t for easily accessible social media like twitter?

BO: I think there’s a small problem in regards to lumping all issues of racism towards black people under one category because not every black person does face the same kind of oppression. Black men are less privileged than white men, but black women are even less privileged. This is a whole new category of racism called Misogynoir, which was a term coined by Moya Bailey, which acknowledges that, for example, the racism black women experience is on a whole different playing field to black men. However, having the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has opened up the dialogue for race issues and has allowed a space for people to delve into the further identity politics and semantics of racism. Social media is such a powerful tool, it’s actually how most protests and demonstrations these days are organised and how we manage to get such a massive turnout. I wholeheartedly believe that there are so many intersections within race that affect people’s everyday experiences which should definitely be acknowledged and discussed, however I think at least initially it’s beneficial to have that exposure for the movement and to get people starting to think about it. In order to discuss further internal politics, we need to have exposure for the initial movement which is what social media has been helping us to get.

MRB: What are your thoughts on the #alllivesmatter hashtag?

BO: Talk about counter-productive. The All Lives Matter hashtags are the epitome of stupidity and ignorance, if you feel the need to chant All Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter, you have completely misunderstood the argument. Of course, all lives matter but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter. The judicial system is just one example of this – there’s a reason why Bill Cosby has been vilified, whereas people like Woody Allen are able to maintain their position of privilege. Both have been accused of sex crimes, but the actions of a black celebrity are remembered while the actions of a white celebrity are glazed over. When you say All Lives Matter, you are undermining the experiences of those who have been victims of racism and more or less saying “sit down and shut up”. All lives should matter, but we are not at a point where we can completely refute racial identity politics because racism still exists institutionally and all lives are not being treated equally so it is necessary for us to speak up for those who have been. We cannot say All Lives Matter until all lives are understood to matter systematically.

MRB: And finally, you might have seen the recently leaked information about the American Democratic party having organised strategies on ‘dealing with’’ BLM activists. What does this say about the movement as well as those in power?

BO: It feels very much like the establishment is trying to swing the narrative back in their favour and to manipulate the power dynamics, once again it is the privileged few at the top trying to undermine the masses. The fact that they have prepared answers and ‘tactics’ for questions from activists shows that they do not genuinely feel our cause is important, but rather they are trying to tell us what they believe we want to hear so we will give up and direct our frustration elsewhere. It is also quite clear that they are trying to undermine us by only agreeing to meet with small groups, meetings on their terms automatically have a power imbalance and will propagate this ‘us vs. them’ narrative. It’s that same old story of the privileged trying to speak over the minorities, deluding us into thinking that they care about the cause whilst also telling us to ‘calm down dear’. I think the fact that they have gone through the effort of organising a strategy to ‘tackle’ our movement shows that Black Lives Matter is powerful and a threat to the status quo, which is obviously something the establishment fears.

For more information regarding the BLM movement, its main website can be found here.

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