Heroism is an Oppressive Utopia

For a while now, I have wanted to put into words what I am about to say. I failed at first because I too have heroes. They are the monuments I worship, the ones I can spend days talking about. I mean have you heard me talk about Thomas Sankara? Or Angela Davis? You would think I lived with them. You would think I am their best friend or their kid. The most amazing thing is the joy, the admiration, and then the power you can sense in my voice when I  am talking about their great existence.

But, sometimes you must write what’s been eating at your soul, as bad as you think of your writings. For me, current lived experiences push me to write especially when it’s a pain I have to live with. You see, I never imagined myself as an activist. Even when I was always upfront rebelling and getting myself into trouble. Hear me well!!! NECESSARY TROUBLE. Even today I am surprised when I am called an activist. One thing that my views, my feminist work and my ungovernable existence consistently brought me, is trolls. In the midst of all that, I met people who appreciated what I do, who told me how amazing my work is, how daring I can be, how fearless I am. However, as a community organizer, I need more than appreciation. I need the justice lovers to be there, standing next to us when we are organizing in a certain community. I need for all of us to show up when we are creating spaces for women to challenge patriarchy, and strategize together on how we are going to dismantle it and its relatives (white supremacy, capitalism, homophobia and transphobia).

(Oouf….this article was not supposed to be about me. Goddess save me from myself)

Stella Nyanzi, our collective shero. We have praised her. We started hashtags. Oh how we love her. But I don’t think we realize that it is women like Stella Nyanzi who made it easier for women like ourselves to be radical, loud, not respectable and STILL EXIST. She has refused to shrink despite great pain. She refuses to let patriarchy strive on her silence. And we love her more.  Still I don’t think we realize how we owe our survival today to women like Stella Nyanzi who dared to not appeal to the moral sense of patriarchs. Women who understood we were never meant to survive anyways. The women who choose to either live free or die. The women who made it less burdensome for us to suffocate in this patriarchal world. I am sure those women are waiting for us to do the same for the next generation until the systems are fully abolished.

Dr. Stella Nyanzi. Photo by Zahara Abdul

What is collective liberation? When do we move past the narrative of “not everyone can do what she is doing “, when we are talking about women who dared to publicly shame and challenge patriarchy. Or simply how do we purely love our sheroes? How do we stand in solidarity with women like Stella who are in prison for a cause that would benefit all of us? When do we move from “ oh wow, she inspires me, what a courageous woman “ to “ I am her, I am going to continue the struggle ,amplify her when she cannot because the struggle exposes the best of us to the oppressor’s anger.”

I am very aware that the free and just world we want to see is continuous work. Our ancestors dreamed of what we have today and our daughters will enjoy what we dream to have tomorrow. But I have been wondering how we can make sure our work is collective. How do we not let others burn out while we are just doing the bare minimum? The fight for freedom has always been led by the most marginalized: Queers, trans, sex workers. Today, women get to demand equal emotional labor, because sex workers coined and gave us the language for unpaid labor for men. Today we get to decenter the male gaze in our pursuit to freedom because the queers theorized on lesbian consciousness as a tool to free ourselves.

However, we have failed them, and continue to fail the ones who are freeing us.  History showed it and today we can see it. We fail the most marginalized, unrespectable, loud and always resisting among us when we refuse to put in as much effort but mostly use our privileges for our liberation. We fail our sheroes when we are comfortable with the little freedom we have due to our social class, our normal ways of existing that fits with the status quo.

Audre Lorde left us a very liberating quote : “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”  We often use this quote and I wonder if we understand the weight of those words. How was Audre feeling to make such a statement? Which “aha!” moment made her realize individual freedom is nothing but coping mechanisms for survival?

The history of the feminist movement has one repetitive fact: the privileged, the protected among us, the ones who have proximity to the oppressor’s power, have been the weakest links. From white feminism, choice feminism, and women empowerment feminism….I want to believe the women after us shouldn’t have to find the movement classist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, capitalist, and or neo-liberal.

As we imagine freedom, I really want to believe the African Feminist movement is growing and becoming more inclusive. I want to believe we are really all about “ No one is free unless we all are free” but beliefs require some work to make it a reality. And today I am wondering how are we going to love our sheroes and do right by them?


Judicaelle Irakoze is a Burundian radical feminist. She is a storyteller, passionate with articulating the experiences of African women.


Judicaelle Irakoze is a Burundian radical feminist. She is a storyteller, passionate with articulating the experiences of African women.

1 Comment
  1. This is a great piece & quite an effort towards the world we deserve yesterday. # Stella is appreciated in d same respect.

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