women like all women

BWfWfH, crucibles of difference, and autonomous readership

Objective: at the interlocution (what do we do?) pamphlets, statements, archives from the Black feminist movement

We are being repeatedly hit with the reality that safety is not reserved for all. This week, and the decades since the early 1970s when the International Wages for Housework movement first spurred from the broader Civil Rights Movement, remind us of many things. Most critically perhaps, it prompts a return to the founding basis of our movement today—the intersectional, queer and feminist politics brought in by prescient Black women activists. This work set the grounds for resistance to oppressive systems and critiqued the shortcomings in the approach of the “commons” (or today, seen through the perils of the “all lives matter” argument).

As I revisit, relearn, and read anew this expansive history, it is evident that, in light and darkness, we should always look to the former. In the histories of liberation, abolition (and in an attempt to couch the current protests within their rightful cornerstones), Black women have been the daring and tireless guide, allowing us to reach towards this light. I return often to SAFIRE, a newsletter by the autonomous group Black Women for Wages for Housework (BWfWfH), founded by Wilmette Brown and Margaret Prescod and created from, but independent of, the historic International Wages for Housework campaign founded by Silvia Federici in 1972.

Although the campaign began under the guise of a fight for “wages,” Federici has long claimed that the breadth of this campaign extends far beyond any existing systemic structure, even capitalism. At the root were the critiques of the New Left, brought forth by Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa. James, while working with her husband CLR James in Trinidad during the anti-colonial struggle, realized that “the wage worker is not the only subject of exploitation in the capitalist society.” In Federici’s words, “the tension between the unwaged workers of the colonial world and the unwaged workers in the kitchens of the metropolis” was at the root of this fight. Only through an entrance through accepted forms of capital (the “wage”), were they successful in their resistance of the system itself. A similar tension is present in the growing conversations between reform and abolition in relation to the police.

The campaign, though concerned with the idea of suppression under capitalism, failed to include a wage fight for all women. BWfWfH, thereafter, introduced a critical component that should not be credited beneath the umbrella of Wages for Housework but instead be independently acknowledged. BWfWfH was subsequently met with sister organizations: the Wages Due Lesbians (WDL) and the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and some years later, the WinVisible (Women With Visible and Invisible Disabilities). These organizations shifted the fight towards a focus on Black and third world women, especially issues surrounding radical, non-heteronormative forms of reproduction. They henceforth exposed the limits of accepted imaginaries. It’s unfortunate, however, that their fight to reclaim bodies that are rendered disposable and superfluous by white supremacy is still the contemporary one.

Below is an archive of the various pamphlets, manifestos, and newsletters (!) produced by these various groups. In 2018, Beth Capper and Arlen Austin published “Wages for Housework Means Wages against Heterosexuality”: On the Archives of Black Women for Wages for Housework and Wages Due Lesbians in the Journal for Lesbian and Gay studies, which gives due credit to the BWfWfH organization, and works to preserve their often overshadowed history.

The front page of Vol. 1, No. 1 of SAFIRE, BWfWfH’s newsletter, detailing their demands and statement on BWfWfH. The rest of the newsletter can be found here.

The first page of “Money for Prostitutes is Money for Black Women,” a statement written by the BWfWfH that called for welfare and ethical wages for sex workers. Full PDF here.

“Eleven Black Women, Why Did They Die?” The front side of the pamphlet produced by the Combahee River Collective. The Boston collective is best known for its key document, a primer for activism that exists at the “interlocking of oppressions” and produced at around the same time as SAFIRE. Full pamphlet here.


Editors Note: A FOUNTAIN, feeble and infirm as it is, has taken hiatus for the past two weeks, to allocate proper breathing room for the valuable and critical information circulating online. Initially, the focus on “objects” drew from an interest in challenging the sociopolitical implications of various scenes of capital—objects reflect what we value, objectives reflect what activates us. The pieces I have lined up for the coming weeks center around lost history, critical perspectives on race, queer and feminist theory, as well as provisions and speculations on future contingencies. I am inviting anyone, who feels incited by these themes (or have others to propose) and hopes to challenge and study the specific and various objects or objectives that both bind and bolster us, to reach out. Preference will be given to people of color, and to those investigating lesser challenged or explored topics, though anyone is welcome to float ideas through me. Collaborations, interviews, structureless writings always welcome.


NOTE ON A CONTINUED (BOUNDLESS) AUTONOMOUS READING PRACTICE:

This week, until the 20th, is “Black Publishing Power” week, which asks each publisher, bookstore, or individual, to recommend or purchase two books by Black writers. I believe this critically undersells the breadth of Black literature. A push, instead, should be for the greater part of one’s bookshelf devoted to the scholarship and stories of Black writers. For this reason, once a month, I will be writing about a book from my own bookshelf, as a way to hold myself accountable, both for the necessary time needed for these texts and for the necessary continuation of the study of these texts. This month, I’ll be reading through:

  • The Point is To Change the World, writings by Andaiye, edited by Alissa Trotz. This is the first time that the writings of the critical Guyanese feminist activist and scholar has been collected in one book. Andaiye, a comrade of Walter Rodney, through letters, journal entries, and essays, challenges ideas on the intersections of gender, race, class, and power. I’ll post my thoughts on this at the end of July through A FOUNTAIN. If anyone wants to read with me, feel free. If not this book, reply with a book you’re dedicating time to this month? I hope this space can, once a month, instigate an agile, informal book club, or gathering of readers.

And to end, I am recommending a bookstore and a press to order from:

  1. Marcus Books in Oakland, CA. I spent a greater part of last Saturday morning reading about the couple that started the nation’s oldest black-owned bookstore. After surviving a Ponzi scheme, they’re currently rebuilding, in a critical time, that reflects the year they opened (1960) and the Black Arts Movement that they became a sanctuary for. Donate to their efforts by giving money, or placing an order request form. It might take longer than other stores, but it’s worth the investment.

  2. Pluto Press in London, UK is an anti-capitalist, radical publishing house—one of Britain’s oldest—focused on “making timely interventions in contemporary struggles.” It’s evident right now would be one of those times, and they are offering 50% off every book in their BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic authors) collection. The Point is To Change The World was published by them, as well as various texts by bell hooks, Cedric Robinson, Lola Olufemi, and others. The sale goes until June 21st.

Each day we are freighted with the decisions of corrupt and fraudulent leadership, asking us to buckle under the illusion of positive dependency. We push back as autonomous readers, through a collected and active studentdom—starting with books.

Lightness and dark, in reading and rest—talk soon,

WZ