Feminists We Love: Kim Katrin Crosby – The Feminist Wire

Feminists We Love: Kim Katrin Crosby

Kim Katrin Crosby

Kim Katrin Crosby is a daughter of the diaspora ~ Arawak, West African, Indian, and Dutch ~ hailing from Trinidad and living currently in Toronto. Kim is an award-winning, multidisciplinary artist, activist, consultant, facilitator, and educator. She is co founder of The People Project, a movement of queer and trans folks of color and our allies, committed to individual and community empowerment through alternative education, activism, and collaboration. She was featured as one of Go Magazine’s ‘100 Women We Love’ in 2012 and is a current feature of The Insight Project highlighting Toronto’s game changers.

TFW: How does Feminism function, if at all, as a conceptual tool of resistance in the work that you do?

Kim: I think it is important to share what feminism means to me. I like to say that I deal in meanings and not definitions. I think that feminism has really different meanings and interpretations for a lot of people and I recognize how important it is to ensure that we get to examine the complexity of these different meanings when we imagine collective processes of resistance and freedom.

Feminism for me is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. My feminism does not target men or masculinity as its enemy; rather, it is the structure of the society with which it is at odds. I don’t believe that men are “sex-crazed maniacs” who can’t help but assault womyn. I don’t subscribe to any ideas like ‘boys will be boys,’ that deny the possibility of individual and collective masculinities to be accountable for violence, privilege, or sexism.

Cherrie Moraga in “Refugees of a World on Fire,” which is the foreword to the Second Edition of This Bridge Called My Back, says so aptly, “If we are interested in building a movement that will not constantly be subverted by internal differences, then we must build from the inside out, not the other way around. Coming to terms with the suffering of others has never meant looking away from our own.” And for me, feminism is about exactly that, exploring the ways in which womyn, girls, and femininity are subjected to a disproportionate amount of suffering globally. Women perform 66% of the world’s work, but receive only 11% of the world’s income, and own only 1% of the world’s land.

There was a study recently published in the American Political Science Review, the largest study of its kind. It details violence against women conducted over four decades and in 70 countries. Its core finding was that the mobilization of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians.

And for me feminism is all of these varied movements. Feminism is the Gulabi Gang; feminism is hundreds of years of Indigenous resistance. Feminism is Janet Mock, Punam Kholsa, Monica Roberts, D’bi Young, and mi abuela Aurelia. And I am beyond grateful for an enormous legacy of brilliant feminist freedom fighters

TFW: You often articulate the importance of decolonization in community organizing; what does decolonization mean to you and how do you practice decolonization outside of community organizing?

Kim: Decolonization is the act of naming/understanding the violent practices of colonization and subverting them in a myriad of ways. This can happen consciously or unconsciously. It happens every time we engage in economies of barter, it happens every time we respect someone’s gender pronoun, it happens when we learn of each other from each other, it happens when we recognize our interdependence and care for each other as though our lives depend on it, because they do.

I don’t know if it is possible to impose an artificial separation between community organizing, community building, and love. I think that community organizing can be a really ablest concept that ‘requires’ that bodies function in particular ways in order to be ‘actively’ doing something. Audre Lorde tells us that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

And in a system of colonization and capitalism that would have us believe that we are only valuable when we are producing something-knowing that–it means that rest, self-care, and community care are such significant acts of decolonization.

TFW: How important is community building in mobilizing resistance?

Kim: For me community building is about relationship building. It is about engaging in processes where we learn about each other’s needs and experiences in order to best care for and consider each other. My idea of revolution is treating no one as though they are disposable and resisting the ideas of individualism. Even the idea of ‘mobilizing,’ that too is ablest, as not everyone is ‘mobile’ and resistance must include all bodies and all abilities.

Community building is also celebration, respecting boundaries, and working towards greater means of accountability. I think a significant practice is also working to address our internalized experiences of oppression and how they play out both on others and us. This means confronting things like fat phobia, shadism, audism, and ageism in ways that are meaningful and authentic to ensure that communities that we are building are truly inclusive. It is at this place where our resistance is strongest.

TFW: I’m curious to know how you reconcile your self-identification as a queer femme of colour with feminist discourses?

When I tried to find myself reflected in other people’s versions of feminism, it was here that I didn’t find myself represented. Or if I did, it was a fractured type of representation; and I can’t conceive of a practice of feminism that is not grounded in a framework of intersectionality. The lack of intersectionality present in many versions of feminism is troubling at best and violent at worst. I think it is important to recognize that there are many different kinds of knowledge and experiences. I am not counter-culture. I am culture. And in my culture, in our discourses I find myself reflected, affirmed, and existing and when I do find that those things are not happening, my communities are often willing and able to be accountable to that.

TFW: On that note, how might we foster accountability and intersectionality within feminist movements in ways that don’t reproduce erasure of experiences and bodies?

Kim: It is important to recognize that the absence of accountability and intersectionality in some feminist movements can often be the result of a willful ignorance and a comfort in their place of relative privilege. Feminists of colour, deaf feminists, trans & queer feminists have been prolific in their criticism and analysis of oppressive movements for generations. It is not as though we are not doing enough to highlight the need for these things.

Recently, I watched Khush with one of my mentors, Punam Kholsa. Khush is the first documentary (directed by award-winning feminist filmmaker Pratibha Parmar) to explore the lives and experiences of South Asian Lesbians and Gays in London, India, and Canada. And although it was made many years ago, what struck me was that the challenges they described were the same. They spoke of the experience of being asked to choose between their queerness and their brownness in communities of colour and white gay communities respectively. They spoke of the overwhelming need to be represented in their relative communities and they were clear and articulate around what their needs were. The consistency of these same troubling issues over generations reminds me of the ways that privilege allows for people to be exempt from perpetuating social inequity.

As marginalized people, we often feel as though we have to disprove the ‘stereotypes’ or fight to be represented in White Euro Western media. However, at the core of that is the fact that there are stereotypes to disprove and that we are not treated as individuals. We are consistently asked to be the representative of our race or our gender.

For example, despite the number of white men who have been serial killers, there is not a stereotype that is perpetuated in white Euro Western media that white men are asked to disprove and/or answer for. Their portrayals are often fair and complex. There are entire movie franchises that attempt to give context to how white male serial killers may come to exist (e.g. Hannibal). On the other hand, when Black men have participated in acts of gun violence, there is no nuanced portrayal, no loving descriptions, there is simply the condemnation of them as a gang members who should all be locked up or eliminated.

I, for one, am not trying to ‘prove’ to anyone, feminist or not, that I am not a stereotype. As a mixed race womyn of colour, but in particular as a Black womyn, I am often dismissed as ‘angry.’ Do the people who assign us this moniker seek to understand why I might be angry? What might have happened to make me angry? No, it is assumed that it is unwarranted and unreasonable because ‘we are all this way.’ And in truth, the womyn of colour I know and the Black womyn I know are the most consistently empathic, caring people I know and almost to a fault.

This remains true despite the fact that we continually encounter hundreds of microaggressions daily. We are held responsible for the destruction of our families; we are shamed for our sexuality and our bodies and are violently assaulted and disappeared at alarming rates.  All the while we dominate in service industries around the world including nursing, childcare, food service, cleaning, and waste removal. If we were really so angry and out of control, why then are we constantly caregivers, nurturers, and maids?

As far as representation, I will not beg and plead with an industry that time and time again deliberately does not represent us. We have been asking for representation for decades. The fact that the Oscars we win are for playing the roles of maids, then and now should tell us exactly what this industry thinks of us. Harry Potter could have been Romani, Argentinian, could have been a half Lithuanian Jewish, half Korean wheelchair user. We are talking about a magical world where anything is possible and even in magical, science fiction, post apocalyptic worlds we remain conspicuously invisible. We are asked to identify with these experiences. We are asked to watch another Queen Elizabeth biopic, meanwhile the multiplicity of so many peoples’ stories go unrepresented in this media.

We don’t need to beg for representation that reflects the intersections of our identities, we can represent ourselves and we do all the time. We make our own media and we need to support our own media makers and build industries around them as opposed to requiring that they ‘make it’ in industries where they are systemically denied access.

When it comes to feminist communities of people who are willing to examine their relative privilege while sharing their experience of oppression, I think the key is accessible, non-shaming education. I have found in my work as a grassroots educator that many of us desire to learn about each other; it is just that education is often co-opted by ablest, racist, sexist institutions charging tens of thousands of dollars to have the right to learn. When I lecture at universities, I always work to ensure that it is free. I share it in my social networks that are composed of people of a diversity of ages, experiences, and abilities. When I develop presentations, engage in research, write anything – I share it across these networks. I want education to be free; I want us to learn how to treat each other better. Sharing that information, sharing our strategies of accountability and accessibility with all people from as young as possible with as much context as possible for me is integral to fostering accountability and intersectionality in our movements. One criticism I am met with when I share this practice is “how then do you make a ‘living’?” and I always reply, ‘community takes care of me.’ Perfect strangers have sent donations, have offered their care and affirmation, have helped me travel and work all over the work and have been inspired to do so by the values that ground me and the information I share.

Now I am by no means ‘cash-rich,’ far from it. I think it is important to name this because I think that our movements and our folks often try to pass as middle class and I am not. And, yet, I do have to acknowledge my privilege as a light-skinned, young, ‘able-bodied,’ English-speaking womyn. I know that the aforementioned also provide me with cultural capital and that it is clear that dark-skinned, differently abled, fat, gender non-conforming folks are not often supported to do this same kind of community organizing.