Today, No Fly on the WALL turns two. On July 8th 2013, we were founded, and on this special occasion, we would like to thank you, our readers, and all our supporters for sticking with us. Never ever be just a fly on the WALL.
“If one thing stands out from my involvement in Black British feminism over the past three decades it is that we need to avoid thinking about feminism as a single or simple story of women’s struggles and resistance. For me, black feminism is a stalwart tree with rich deep roots, lovingly nurtured by careful, critical gardeners. The wise embrace of its strong branches can reach out across time and space to provide shelter to a multitude of different voices.” – Dr. Heidi Safia Mirza
In the early hours of 8th July 2013, I had a brainwave. Having recently graduated from university, and struggling to navigate the ‘real world’, as cold and cruel as it seemed to be, and utterly frustrated with one too many ignorant posts on a certain Facebook group, and one too many outstandingly foolish conversations in real life, and utterly overwhelmed with a feeling of invisibility, I asked myself, ‘what can I do to change this? What can I do that doesn’t involve complaining and getting upset?’
I thought for a while and then asked myself what it is I am good at. Writing was the first thing that came to mind; bringing people together was the second; and spreading motivation was the third. With that, I composed a Facebook message and sent it to a bunch of my friends – I remember the last line of the message quoted a Nigerian proverb: ‘If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go with others.’
And as they say, the rest is history. Anniversaries and birthdays are funny things – time flies when you’re having fun, or rather in our case, when you’re out here trying to call out and challenge white supremacist-capitalist-cisgendered-heteronormative-[insert all other awful things that we’re not here for]- patriarchy. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy task. I always tell people that I am your classic ‘reluctant feminist’. Until 2011, I was not here for that F-word. It was a dirty word, loaded with whiteness and classism, not a word for women like me – or so I thought. I have since learnt that this is not a movement that I and other women of colour must beg to be included in. No. As Feminista Jones told me at WoW Festival in March of this year, ‘Feminism’ is a movement started by our ancestors in Africa (Yaa Asantewaa, Madame Yoko, etc…). It is not just a table we must ask to sit at with white women. It is the very table we built from scratch. We even cooked the food on it too. That is why it is all the more appalling that for so long, and even now, the voices of self-identifying Black women and other women of colour have been marginalised, trampled on, and silenced by a vast majority of white middle class feminists who have historically spoken over us and forgotten to check their privileges.
As professor Mirza says, feminism is not a single or simple story of women’s struggles and resistance. As Audre Lorde reminds us, we do not live single-issue lives, and so, the methods we use and the conversations we have in order to win our liberation must have this at the very heart of them at all times. Thank goodness Kimberle Crenshaw coined that little term known as ‘Intersectionality’ in the 1980s. What I have learnt over the last two years is that only Black Feminism has intersectionality at the very heart of it: its ‘wise embrace’ does reach out ‘across time and space to provide shelter to a multitude of different voices’, fighting for a multitude of different types of women, of people, of causes. And only with an Intersectional lens can we satisfactorily critique the injustices of our society from the very nuanced to the most outrageous forms of oppression, subjugation and inhumanity.
Beyond learning the importance of centring black female voices, especially Black British female voices, I have learnt the importance and necessity of sisterhood, and of course team work. A lot goes on behind the scenes of every event and everything we do. It has been a joy taking No Fly on the WALL Academy workshops to schools, colleges, and universities and learning from the young people we have had the pleasure of working with. Some of my personal highlights include taking the work of No Fly on the WALL to Germany at the Women in International Leadership conference and being recognised as a force for good; our brunch time talks are going from strength to strength, with my favourites being our ‘Black women and the body’ event led by the inimitable Kelechi Okafor, and attended by so many beautiful black women; our recent talk focusing on black men and the importance of role models and mentorship was also a landmark moment for us as an organisation, not least because so many positive results have come about as a direct consequence of that event (some of the attendees will now volunteer for the organisations we invited to join us at our table) and on a personal note, it was an honour to have my family sit in the No Fly on the WALL circle and not only see, but experience the work that we do. In fact, there have been too many wonderful moments to note down but all of them have a permanent place in my head and of course my heart.
Two years on, we’ve grown but our fundamental message is the still the same: the voices of black women and their experiences matter.
Our platform has a home for the voices of black men and our other allies too, of course, as these conversations can only ever go so far with just one type of person talking, but black women are at the heart of every discussion, every conversation, every event, in one way or another. And it will always be that way. Just as the spirit of the No Fly on the WALL team has become more unapologetic and more revolutionary, so too will the pieces we publish and the events we put on. We aim to provoke thought and help with the long, arduous, often painful, but also necessary (un)learning process. This generation in particular is woke and will never go back to sleep. The (good) lessons we learn today will translate into our actions tomorrow. I hope. We hope.
Two years on and the importance of speaking up has been affirmed. The importance of taking up space has been confirmed. The need for visibility and positive, accurate representation has been painfully reaffirmed.
They say revolution is not a one-time event. It is a process. It is also true that it can never happen with just one person, or just one community – it takes humanity to march towards it. Whilst we wait for that to happen, grassroots organisations and badass groups are out here, alongside No Fly on the WALL, taking up space, challenging the status quo and saying ‘enough is enough’.
Over the last two years, I have been fortunate enough to work with and alongside a host of brilliant people. We have joint forces with Great Men UK, Access UK, Amos Bursary, Tribe, Common House, and so many others. We have plans to unite with many more too, because two or three heads are better than one and, as is the case with all things worth doing, there is rarely ever enough/ any money or resources to go around. Running No Fly on the WALL has also been a keen lesson in resourcefulness and a testament to the living, breathing, thriving spirit of a hustler – out here in the wild making bread, making movements, existing regardless and in spite of everything else.
Margaret Meade said ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’.
The No Fly on the WALL community, our allies of every gender, every race, creed, colour, shape, size, language, or any other intersection, and all our friends and the other organisations out there working towards meaningful change are those thoughtful and committed citizens Meade speaks of. Small drops of water make a mighty ocean. A hundred pennies make a pound. Every little helps (not here for Tesco) and any other fitting cliché’ – you get the point.
We still live in a world where 14 year old black girls can be publicly violated and assaulted by white police men in broad daylight for having the nerve to go to a pool party and exist as black. We live in a world where young girls will become child brides instead of students. We live in a world where a white woman can parade around in blackface for a decade and literally mock and steal from black women and the black community from right under our noses and be praised for her deception. We live in a world where black lives don’t matter and black mothers will have their children stolen from them at birth and then be told those children died at birth. We live in a world where black trans* women are murdered weekly… daily… and the mainstream media barely bats an eyelid. We live in a world where black women are shown utter disregard and are publicly and privately disrespected, shamed, and our bodies endure horrific acts of violence, only for people to remain silent. But silence can never protect you. History has shown us this time and time again.
Haile Selassie said that ‘throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.’
I see no lies.
The great Maya Angelou said, ‘courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
I see no lies.
Do not be fooled. It takes courage to say ‘this is wrong’, that’s why so many people don’t do it. It takes courage to put yourself out there on the firing line and have your words, ideas, and thoughts open to being misconstrued and manipulated by those who would rather you were quiet. It takes courage to stand up to those you thought were your friends, and those who are your family and tell them that they are wrong. It takes courage to challenge all you have ever been taught. It takes courage to consciously decide to no longer be a fly on the wall.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my very supportive team, all our allies, readers, supporters, the people who attend our events, and all those undergoing their process of awakening and discovery. The sweat and tears are ultimately worth it for the conversations you have, the people you meet, and the everlasting bonds you create. Nothing worth doing was ever easy.
So what’s next for No Fly on the WALL I hear you ask? Well. Many more years of lovingly nurturing our stalwart tree with rich deep roots handed down to us by those brave and bold Black Feminists who came before, many more years of critical gardening and questioning, and of course… many more years of flyness.
Here’s to us.
Siana Bangura is a prolific writer, blogger, journalist, activist, and spoken word performer. Hailing from London – via Freetown – she is the founder and editor of No Fly on the WALL.