WITH JESSICA HORN | AWDF DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMMES.
What does the African diaspora mean to you as a lived experience?
I didn’t grow up in the traditionally conceived United States/Caribbean/Africa diaspora, but rather in Southern Africa and in the South Pacific to parents who were Ugandan and American. It’s very interesting to carry Africa with you in places like the South Pacific, where the connections to the African continent are primarily political and perhaps literary, but not necessarily cultural.
I attend United World Colleges in New Mexico for secondary school and then Smith College for University, where I start to connect with the experiences of African American, Afro-Latinas, Afro-Brazilians; women who were part of an extended African diaspora.
Understandably, the primary cultural resonance for many of these women was with West African traditions and cultural expressions, which at that time were not familiar to me. But I still grew to understand a kind of diasporic blackness and diasporic Africanness, and the significance of learning from and listening to the realities of African diaspora women in our various permutations.
Here in Accra where AWDF is based, I’m seeing more of the root of the Afro-American and Afro-Latina diasporas, which has helped me better understand the connections. There is also an intergenerational diaspora that has returned to Ghana; there is an Afro-Brazilian community that came back to Ghana; African Americans who came back to Ghana after the first Pan-Africanist wave in the 50s, St. Lucians, Jamaicans, and it’s been interesting for me to see this ‘return’ and the ways that people reconnect to a region that they were separated from through a forced and very violent process.
How is your experience of the diaspora impacted by being a woman and a feminist?
It’s significant that much of my feminism developed through reading African American women’s political and literary works. Alice Walker, as a writer, was quite impactful for me in my teens in terms of understanding a sense of a black womanist self. And because my parents were very situated in liberation and leftist politics, writers like Angela Davis with her lack Panther leftist thinking were pivotal to my understanding of feminist thinking. During university I sought out the texts by African women and black women in the diaspora: writers like June Jordan and Sonia Sanchez were so important for shaping my self, my ability to express my voice, and my understanding of my political position as a woman in the world and as a woman in certain structures of power.
You’ll find that many African women have read a lot of African-American feminist and womanist texts as one reference point in developing their feminism. It’s a significant and interesting link.
How does your work with AWDF contribute to your understanding of connections throughout the diaspora?
One of the main ways AWDF connects to women in the diaspora is through the African Feminist Forum. Throughout the 1950’s through 1970’s there were many women from the continent who went to various places in Europe and were very active in political organizing there, and many of these women came back to re-engaged the political climate on the African continent. Through the AFF we engage a good number of these women who are part of a more recent diaspora to Europe as well as those who have come back to Africa, and are very engaged in building feminist politics in both places.
It’s important to start by recognizing that the continent is enormous: there are 54 countries and so there are a lot of things happening, all over the place. A lot of women elsewhere in the diaspora have a connection to a particular African country—or a few countries—through friends who live or are from those places. But when possible, it’s important to visit the continent and engage activists and professionals who are doing similar work as yourself. There’s a big focus on women’s business and women’s business collaborations, which i find exciting.
There’s tremendous activism coming from different places on the continent, and it would be great if women from the diaspora generally engaged more on the writing and critical output of African feminists. There’s a lot of great platforms and knowledge production that has become much more accessible via the Internet. The problem used to be that things were being produced that were not very easy to access, but now publications like Feminist Africa, websites focused on African feminism, and the #AfriFem hashtag on various social media sites make it much easier to engage your own particular passion and interest areas. If you’re a tech innovator in the States, there’s a huge amount of tech innovation happening in Kenya, in Senegal, in Ghana. Connecting with people who are doing work similar to yours is one important way of building a link.
AWDF is a resourcing facility, so we see and understand the power that these resources have to provide African women and their organizations with the means necessary to make the kinds of radical change that sisters make. And so, supporting through financial resources is a powerful way to make a connection and to make a contribution in terms of supporting the tremendous work that’s being done on the continent to transform African women’s economic, social, political, and cultural realities.