African Heritage, Working Class, and Female

I attended the Working-Class Wo-men’s Workshop, led by Diane Balser, assisted by Dan Nickerson, in April 2015 in Massachusetts, USA. One highlight for me has been the discharging and thinking I have done since as an African-heritage female who was raised in the working class. I have challenges trying to separate being Black from being working class. In my mind, being African heritage means being working class. I have been discharging on U.S. slavery and how the unpaid labor of enslaved Africans created the foundation of capitalism.

The majority of the women at the workshop raised their hand when Diane asked who was currently in the middle or owning class or had some relationship with either of them. I am a high school teacher living in the city that has the highest cost of living in the United States. I raised my hand, but it wasn’t without feeling intense conflict. I have student-loan debt that exceeds my income, and to my knowledge no one in my immediate family has significant wealth that could be inherited. Also, my ancestors’ being treated like property and not being paid for their labor has left recordings in me of not feeling deeply identified with the work that I do and big feelings of terror about being paid. I am aware of Marxist theories about the alienation of the worker, and I think that discharging on this alienation may be key for U.S.-born women of African heritage.

Many of us African-heritage U.S. females have a fight just to notice that we’re female. Our survival has been so dependent on our ability to work and produce that it almost feels like a luxury to take time to think about ourselves as females. Many Black women I know feel that women’s liberation or feminism is for white women, but I think what they mean is middle- and owning-class white women, who have had the time to fight for their rights as women.

Diane laid out that working-class females are a majority group globally. What would it really mean to get smart about this? One thing would be to continue building RC Communities and putting RC tools in everyone’s hands.

Women targeted by racism made up a quarter to a third of the workshop, and many of the white women I have the closest relationships with were there. Because many of these white women could genuinely and relaxedly like and be with each other, there was a level of work I didn’t have to do around racism. That meant that it was more possible for me to work on sexism and male domination.

Most of the demonstrations were with women targeted by racism. I was struck by the stories each of them told and how important it is for each of us to tell our stories about everything, including our lives as female workers. I think part of the oppression of both working-class people and females is to not notice our own stories, to just keep going.

Since the workshop I’ve felt less numb about myself as a working-class female.

Tokumbo Bodunde
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women


1Diane Balser is the International Liberation Reference Person for Women. Dan Nickerson is the International Liberation Reference Person for Working-Class People.
Distress recordings


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00