Open Space Feminist Review (2014) 108, ‘The branch on which I sit’: reflections on black British feminism – Heidi Safia Mirza in conversation with Yasmin Gunaratnam

Heidi Safia Mirza’s work has been concerned with the local and geo-politics of gender, race, faith and culture. She has researched educational inequalities, including young black and Muslim women in school, and the workings of racialisation in higher education. Her recent work investigates current debates on multiculturalism and diversity, as well as cultural and religious difference, Islamophobia and gendered violence. Mirza’s numerous works include Young, Female and Black (London: Routledge, 1992), Black British Feminism: A Reader (London: Routledge, 1997), Race, Gender and Educational Desire: Why Black Women Succeed and Fail (London: Routledge, 2009) and Black and Postcolonial Feminisms in New Times (London: Routledge, 2010). The following conversation explores Mirza’s experience as one of the few black women professors in the UK and her involvement in black British feminism over three decades.

Here is an extract from Heidi on intersectionality:

Rather than accepting intersectionality as a descriptive term, more critical questions are being asked of what the discourse of intersectionality does at different times and in different circumstances. Has intersectionality become, as Jasbir Puar (2011) suggests, ‘an alibi’ for the re-centring of white liberal feminist projects?’ Puar’s argument is an important one. She makes the point that despite decades of feminist theorising on the question of difference, racialised women are seen in ‘a prosthetic capacity’ to white women because of the fundamental premise that difference continues to be a ‘difference from’ the white woman. It seems to me that this is precisely how intersectionality is being ‘done’ within some contemporary feminist circles. Black women’s ‘difference’ is interpellated into the hegemonic whiteness of liberal feminist and multicultural post-racial discourses of inclusion, where it is ‘cooled out’, absorbed and accommodated. As Puar concludes, ‘much like the language of diversity, the language of intersectionality, its very invocation, it seems, largely substitutes for an intersectional analysis itself’.

Read the full conversation here:

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