Gender binary—the classification of gender e.g. a “man” or “woman” into two, distinct, and opposite categories—is a construct of class development and division and is therefore inconsistent with the humanist values of our Nkrumahist/Tureist/Cabralist ideology.
The dominant perception of gender in the world today is the gender binary, a concept based on socialization that teaches us that people defined as “men” and people defined as “women” occupy distinct and different roles and functions within society. Within this social construct, women are defined as having the primary function of bearing and raising children. Men are defined with more flexibility, but essentially, as protectors and owners of women and non-men. The purpose of this brief paper is to highlight the areas in which our Nkrumahist/Tureist/Cabralist (N/T/C) ideology supports a revolutionary and non-binary interpretation of hu(man) beings that recognize that binary gender roles support class divisions that are rooted in the oppression of women and non-men. We will argue that the gender binary does absolutely nothing to advance our revolutionary Pan-Africanist ideals and that non-binary African people are an essential and important element of our community that must be respected.
Our argument that binary gender is a construct of class struggle is based on the assertion that class struggle grew out of the desire by men to exert their physical power to subjugate other human beings in an effort to gain control; to create a hierarchy of power. To address this contradiction, Sékou Touré writes in “Women in Society” (page 66) that “talking of the specificity of the woman, many pseudo philosophers want to convince the women that their task is already defined by God and that they must stay at home and occupy themselves with the housekeeping, their children, and their husbands.”
Touré goes on to state that “at the beginning of life, men and women fought together, hunted together, searched together for food, and preserved themselves together from the hostilities of nature. Today, they want to assign a specific function to women and prevent her, by all means, from carrying out other functions.”
Touré’s statement demonstrates that in early communal life, there were no specific roles designed for human beings based on gender and that these specific roles are social constructs and not biological and scientific necessities. Our argument is that these roles extend beyond hunting, fighting, etc. In fact, since we are saying gender roles are social constructs, we suggest that we must expand our understanding of how human beings see and define themselves. We must learn to respect the fact that some of our people cannot define their existence based solely on the biological makeup of their bodies. For these African people, it is a reality that a person biologically labeled as a “woman” who identifies as a “man”, can have the capacity and desire to bear children. In this instance, a man can bear children. And, the reason we do not see this as some great violation of human existence is that we see no reason to restrict a person’s ability to define their gender. We are revolutionary Pan-Africanists and dialectical materialists. That means we recognize that gender identity in no way defines, prohibits, or prevents any combination of human beings from producing and raising conscious and dedicated Africans to the African revolution. We see no evidence that a particular union that doesn’t meet the gender binary definition of capitalist society will produce children that cannot have the consciousness to advance the African revolution. We believe that an inability to accept this diversity among our people only serves to divide us as a people and benefit the enemies of African unity. In other words, Africans who are biologically defined as “men” or “women” who choose to partner in today’s socially accepted form of “men” and “women” should be free to do so and any other combination of human beings who choose to partner should be equally free to do so. We challenge opponents of this thesis to demonstrate evidence on how the dominant social constructs are anything besides continued manifestations of early class distinctions.
We acknowledge that patriarchy and homophobia are rising tides among African people today, but we argue that these reactionary, anti-human, and anti-African philosophies are imposed upon us by the values promoted by underdeveloped and anti-human systems like feudalism and capitalism. There is no established history of homophobia in African culture. The recent manifestations of intolerance are reflections of influences imposed upon Africa and African people by the enemies of Africa. Organizations like Franklin Graham’s Samaritan Power (Graham is the son of U.S. white supremacist evangelist Billy Graham) spend upwards of $300 million dollars USD per year doing work in African communities from Kampala, Uganda, to Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., promoting homophobic rhetoric couched in Biblical clocking. The African masses are being told that our LGBTQ family members pose some imagined “threat” to our people when not one of us can name even the slightest hint of any issue these family members could possibly pose to our continued development as a people. We all know the only threats facing us come from capitalism and imperialism being unchecked and unchallenged in their quests to continue to dominate us. The mythical belief that defined gender binary is foreign to African culture is crushed by the reality that many African languages use non-gender terms to apply equally to men and women. In Malinke, the word “Moo” is used equally to refer to men and women. In Susu, the word “Dalise” is used to describe human beings in a gender-neutral method of placing someone in God’s image. The gender binary is a class construct. It does not benefit African people to repress those who do not live by the rigid definitions imposed by the binary. Let African people be who they are just as you are capable and able to be as you are. Our ability to mature and accept this undeniable reality will strengthen us as a people and give power and dignity to our movement for forward progress for Africa and all of humanity.
Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.