Reports - Mexico

Ochy Curiel, AFROntera

Reading time: 22 minutes



A Conversation with Ochy Curiel: Criticizing White Feminism, Articulating Against World Making Colonialities and Resisting Through Our Maroon Experiences

As part of her visit to Index Art Book Fair in Mexico City, AFROntera Colectiva talks with Dominican activist and theorist Ochy Curiel about these possible counter-hegemonic routes that reject white feminism in order to fight for anti-patriarchal, anti-racist and decolonial autonomy from Latin America and the Caribbean.

AF: We meet one of our references, who has helped us to question things we took for granted. Welcome to Mexico, Ochy, as you present your latest book entitled Un golpe de Estado: La Sentencia 168-13, continuidades y discontinuidades del racismo en República Dominicana [A coup d’état: Ruling 168-13, continuities and discontinuities of racism in the Dominican Republic]. I think most of us were feminists at some point without making any nuances. Last 8M of 2021, International Women’s Day, we presented the AFROntera Manifesto, where we dissociate ourselves from feminism. The Manifesto states that we don’t have any certainty, but rather questions. We prefer to open the debate and put the issues up for debate instead of universalizing discourses. We have questions that we want to contrast with your thinking; that is the invitation we make to you today.

We consider that feminist theory, regardless of the different surnames that exist, is a theory that was born of modernity, of the coloniality of knowledge, where we have insisted that we have to fit in. We had to appeal to inclusion, to the fact that the subject of feminism can’t be universal and there are other ways of inhabiting a body traversed by the logics of white patriarchy, of racism. In this logic of non-insistence, we said no to feminism and affirmed that we can be anti-patriarchal, anti-racist and decolonial without the need to enunciate ourselves from there. You, as a decolonial feminist and precursor of decolonial feminism in Latin America, what do you think of this?

Ochy: I knew that was going to be the first question. (laughs) We are historical subjects. I also entered universal white feminism where we thought that all women were equal but I quickly began to put a last name to that feminism I professed, precisely because of my story. The bases of decolonial feminism build critical currents towards that universality. I’m a feminist with a last name, and many last names. When I call myself anti-racist, lesbian-feminist, autonomous, anti-militarist, anti-capitalist, I put myself in a place of opposition within feminism itself. There are very few political proposals that have been autonomous in our experience because modernity crossed us. I’m not waiting for comrades -as white feminism does- to assume themselves as feminists, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is the political project behind all this. Nor do I act politically only towards gender, racism has been fundamental for me throughout my activism, it is what black feminism has proposed.

AF: It is about genealogy. From where and what are the paths that one has traveled. AFROntera, as a collective, we have suffered some rejections, attacks, because there are certain sectors considering that feminism as a place that doesn’t replicate or reproduce violence and stopping naming oneself feminist is to deny history. We have been told “if today you can speak and write, it is thanks to many feminist women”.

Ochy: They forget a different genealogy, many of us can write not because of feminism, but because of the historical maroon struggles we have had in our countries. The anti-colonial struggle happened before feminism arrived in these latitudes, and that is the genealogy we are interested in emphasizing. A key element is precisely to create another narrative of our struggles.

AF: To what extent, within the conquests of feminism, has there been a real conquest for women and racialized groups? Representation is closely linked to the logic of intersectionality and multiculturalism. We have been victims of that representation because we have asked for it, we have taken part in big media, we have been photographed and we always end up with a bitter feeling of being tokenized, we end up posing in these images from the place that power has given us, we just appear. Do we have to keep fighting from there?

Ochy: We should begin by questioning representation, rather than taking it for granted. Being black, indigenous, women, trans, the categories that we mobilize politically are a product of modernity. I always say that what made us black was the racist system, what made us women was the patriarchal logic, what made us lesbians was the hetero-centric logic; from there, most of the social movements have gone for an identity logic, however, modernity-coloniality produced us. Modernity puts our subjectivities and histories in a paradox, we are not outside it, but inside it.
Representation is important because our image and history has always been denied. Where are we going to demand a type of representation? It depends on your political project. Beyond the fact that these media use your image and history to make a kind of global multiculturalism, they are “allowing” indigenous people, Afro people, sexual dissidence, to be represented. That is what liberal multiculturalism does, that is why there is a kind of extractivism of the image to be more open to the issue of diversity. And we know that diversity and inclusion are a trap, the recognition of diversity and making inclusive policies don’t necessarily put an end to power systems.
The type of representation that we have to seek has to be based on a historical genealogy of counter-hegemonic-maroon struggle that allows us dignity. We are not looking for representation among ourselves who already have a certain political consciousness, but to have an impact on society. Representation is a very small part of everything we have to do.

AF: Representation without a political project behind it means nothing more than assimilation and capture within the coloniality of power, knowledge and capitalism, where racialized, queer, hetero-dissident bodies are co-opted in order to be included in a logic of quotas so that the system looks modernized, updated, progressive, but our bodies are still not important, nor central, nor subject to mourning.

Representation can only be understood in a democratic, liberal and republican paradigm. I think of our Maroon ancestors who never aspired to have a room in the mansion or a piece of land in the plantation but imagined something else that escaped coloniality. They made a quilombo, a conuco, a palenque. They gathered among themselves and built something that now lacks a concept to be able to call, that escapes the understanding of the white, the master and the mistress.

Representation is a trap, like something magical, which makes us think that the system is changing, that this life is possible, but we end up reproducing the logics of the system without generating any transformation project. The only thing left is to resist.

Ochy: Modernity-coloniality is a great paradox in our lives; we are not outside of it. Representation, like everything else, has different ways of understanding it and different ways of doing it. The representation we do tries to unmask how the logics and systems of power work, as opposed to the representation that seeks to include a difference: black people, indigenous people, trans people, women, etc. It is the quota that gives it a supposed openness, for what? For the market, because difference today is tradeable.

AF: Bodies to be consumed.

Ochy: Most of the words and concepts that even we decolonialist use are modern. How are we going to turn all this around? By placing ourselves in a place of opposition and provoking other places, other genealogies, other references like the quilombo, like the marronage, etc., but let us remember that the marronage was not outside the plantation. It is in that system where resistance can be given from inside. That is why the decolonial is so difficult, it is not an absolute thing. We have to deal with all this, look for another meaning, look for other genealogies, other ways of understanding things….

AF: It is to inhabit contradiction.

Ochy: But not only to inhabit it but to overcome it. How does one make decolonial politics? Understanding the contradiction, I believe that the Maroon or Palenquero logic gives us clues to locate space, collective constructions that overcome all this. That is the most difficult thing for us, because most of us work in universities, the State, NGOs, which are the great pillars of coloniality. What does it mean to be decolonial? It is to seek and live in contradiction, but also to seek those escapes that build another way of understanding and inhabiting the social at a general level. I believe that there are different representations and it is not only linked to logics of liberal democracy, they are very important even for our own movements. What we are interested in representing does not necessarily go through the State, the academy, or the companies, but it is within our own political project.

AF: This leads us to think about lines of flight, about how we can construct and tell stories that are not necessarily written within colonialities. In the rise of white feminism and the anti-racist movement, which has been a movement with colorist tendencies, where it would seem that there are subjects more valid than others. We are not there, because the discourses are increasingly prefabricated, co-opted by certain systems and reproduced by the social movements themselves. We have been told: You are not so black, your hair is not curly, you don’t look indigenous, you speak Spanish, you are in college, your sexual preferences are heteropatriarchal? How much are identities separating us? For us the struggle is integral, we cannot remove anti-racism from the objective of destroying patriarchy, to be anti-patriarchal is to be anti-racist, anti-colonial, the political subject should not superimpose gender, race or class, it goes together.

Ochy: The new social movements are fundamentally based on identity. It is not because identities are unimportant, but because of how they construct you, how you position yourself from there. I think that is the only purpose of identities. What happens is that there is no absolute identity, we are many things at the same time, as we black women have been saying for a long time. Identity politics segments a political project because it prioritizes the identity that you think is yours, but coloniality places those differences as “you are fundamentally a woman”, or you are “fundamentally indigenous”, and social movements have been articulated from there. This has been a trap of coloniality, of which we have also been a part.
I don’t believe that the anti-racist struggle should be only of black, indigenous or descendant people, white people can be anti-racist, but one thing is the discourse and another to shut up when you have to shut up. It means recognizing a privilege in this kind of patriarchal society. There is no possibility of engaging in a struggle against racism by being capitalist, militarist, sexist or classist. Our contribution as decolonialists is to carry this kind of reflections in order not to fall into fragmentations, that is why I no longer believe in separatism, I know the implications it had in my life and in my politics, it is a trap; especially for those of us who think that a deep transformation is possible. We cannot segment thinking, reality is integral.
The issue of colorism is a bet imported from the United States. It is an important debate in order to understand racial social relations, how they occur in different contexts. How is racism, raciality, understood in the United States, in Mexico or in the Caribbean? They are different contexts that give different elements of how racism is constructed.
What is the subject that must fulfill certain conditions to be named Afro, black or anti-racist? This is what affects many movements, I believe that this is not to understand what are the particular characteristics of Abya Yala, we cannot speak of an absolute negritude, because there have been different processes that should be characterized according to history, experience, genealogy. It is necessary to show the complexity of negritude in the region in order to denaturalize its colorist positions.

AF: In what way do you think that black, anti-racist and decolonial feminisms question the reformism of feminism? Do you think that continuing to use the category “feminist” to name genealogies of resistance and thought, from racialized, indigenous, black women, is to reproduce the same white-colonial reason? or Do you think that black anti-racist feminisms really raise other types of disputes and ruptures and what would those be? In the same sense, why do you think that many racialized women still bet on naming themselves black feminists, anti-racist or decolonial? What can they find there and why do you think they continue to bet on systematizing these political practices and knowledge? We are a young collective, we have a lot of enthusiasm, but at the same time we have many doubts, because we are being part of enjoying a legacy of resistance from black and anti-racist women who came before us and it is essential to recognize it, but at the same time we are trying to make our way in a world that already claims to be politically correct, inclusive, intersectional, even anti-racist, but that perhaps is being more racist than ever. In this context, do you consider that these dissident discourses and struggles have become depoliticized?

Ochy: Decolonial feminism feeds into black feminism by addressing a challenge to all systems of power. When you find the contributions of black feminism with the decolonial turn, it allows us to articulate the colonial matrix of what we already understood as the matrix of domination. They are not only concepts but a political action, where we necessarily have to do a genealogy, but fundamentally act on that; and for me that is the most revolutionary thing.

Not all black feminists are necessarily decolonial. There are black feminists who situate themselves in an identity politics, however complex it may be. For us, being decolonial feminists is not enough. Who best captures that identity? It is not by chance that many black feminists call themselves decolonial, although this takes up part of the fundamental contributions of black feminism within the matrix of oppression, it makes it more complex and it is also a more complex political action not based on identity politics.

Many black feminists limit themselves to the issue of intersectionality in an identitarian way without understanding that there is a particular matrix of oppression not only affecting us as blacks and women, but in a world system at a general level. Intersectionality is a kind of liberal multiculturalism, it seeks to recognize diversity, difference, but it is necessary to contextualize where it comes from, which arises from a liberal space.

From what decolonial position do I place myself? Many people think I’m an academic, but I have always said that I teach at the university, but the decolonial, the thinking that we have from GLEFAS, we have done it in the movement, and we have taken it to the academy. Not so that they can make decolonial revolutions because that is not done in the academy, but simply so that they have other references. We do decoloniality, we don’t stay in an academy, we don’t stay in a stiff academy carrying the theory. Many decolonial feminists who are in the academy are not anti-racist, that is why I like to call myself an anti-racist decolonial feminist, as a key element of my politics. It is not enough to analyze that racism is part of coloniality, that is pure theory.
Black feminism is essentially a place of opposition to white feminism, in its theories, in its ways, in its logics of thinking. This should not limit us to create other categories, the decolonial is to imagine other categories that allow us to get out of these historical weights we have. It is what is called the epistemological disengagement, how are we going to create a category that allows us to contain the political project in which we believe today? We are historical subjects, it is important to recover our own history and black feminism has been part of the history of people marked as women of African descent. I do recover the category but with all these surnames that are getting wider and wider. Maybe someday we will find a category that articulates them all, maybe not, maybe we have to keep putting commas.

AF: We also feel part of a political scenario where, on the one hand, there is an exclusionary trans feminism that has gone viral with an essentialist reading of patriarchy, but at the same time there is also a white-bourgeois middle-class purism that has also gained a lot of space and seems to be the other side of the coin of that TERFism.[1] The whiteness that names as cis-privileged racialized people-men and does not give depth to the weight of race and class in those subjects that is only seen as -CIS.

Ochy: It is largely right-wing feminism. I’m surprised that after such a heated debate on the issue of social construction, of biological determinism, they return to it at this point in life. What worries me most is that they are mostly young people, like a reactivation of these right-wing positions. And obviously they are racists, most of them, go see if any of them are in an anti-racist project, they are not interested! Again, because of the centrality of gender. A gender emptied of race, of class, even of geopolitics.

AF: What do you think of the category of patriarchy and do you think that this category still has a political function in the midst of the dispute to make dissident subjects visible? Do you think that giving patriarchy this colonial name makes sense?

Ochy: Regarding the political functionality of patriarchy as a concept, there is a proposal by materialist feminists to think more in terms of social relations than in closed systems. This is complicated, because we talk about the colonial system, but when we include racial and class analysis, we cannot continue to think of a concept called patriarchy, where it is assumed that there is a sector of society that is the victimizer, which are men, and others that are the victims, which are women. We should ask ourselves whether this analysis could also be applied to the concept of racism. I think more of “racialized social relations” because I believe that we must particularize, to understand ethnographically how and to what extent these types of social relations occur. This does not mean it is not systemic or conjunctural, which is why I’m not yet closed to totally discarding the concept. I’m open to the materialist proposal of thinking in social relations, because it allows us not to universalize, but to make systemic analyses. The more surnames we give to patriarchy the better, it gives us the possibility to understand changes in historical terms.
The question would be, as Lugones does, when does the concept of woman arise, from where, since when does patriarchy arise as a system in historical terms? It is an exercise in historical ethnography that we should do. I would put all this in quotation marks because I also want to ask myself this question in relation to racism and heterosexism: could we speak of systems, as has been said of patriarchy? There are debates that cannot be closed, to the extent that we clarify what we say, why, at what moment, it leads us to go elsewhere and not to wear ourselves out in these debates of concepts. Categories can be used as long as they are contextualized, that is my position today.

AF: Completely following the thinking of Third World feminists -Chela Sandoval, Anzaldúa, Norma Alarcón- is like having the politics of location, understanding that they have a geolocation, a concrete and singular history that is not universal. What Donna Haraway calls situated knowledge, but it is a border thinking, Chicano, which is generally placed in this white, bourgeois thinking and proper of that coloniality of knowledge often heard only when certain bodies come. How do we create other ways of existing that escape from the white nomenclatures? This categorical thinking, which is also very typical of the academy, fragments and constructs identities that are diffuse from their foundation.

I would like to emphasize two things. The first is, from María Lugones’ concept of gender coloniality and our manifesto where we dissociate ourselves from feminism because it seems to us that it always places a female or feminine subject at the center, but we believe that the revolutionary subject is not the woman but is more complex. We realize that communitarian or decolonial feminism, which we respect and from which we have learned, bring to the center this particular subject, which is then included. From that logic of thinking of addition cannot be the starting point to build our movements, but from an imbrication, from a diffuse subject in itself.

When there is a diffuse subject that is not clearly female, gay or black, it is very difficult for it to be assimilated and reterritorialized by coloniality and modernity. Modernity and coloniality can only assimilate what is understandable in the matrix of heterosexuality as a political regime. When we are many things we have the opportunity to be uncatchable. Thinking of Deleuze and Guattari, where they mention that instead of being a tree, with identifiable roots and top in a vertical logic, we can be a map, where you don’t know where it starts, being here and there at the same time. People think that the line of flight was the invention of the French, but I think it was invented by the Maroons.

Ochy: And they didn’t just invent it, they made it.

AF: And it was not theory, they didn’t write it on paper, they did it in practice. The line of flight is an anti-racist practice and a practice of marooning. Is it possible to abandon these categories? I ask myself daily, I’m not a man, I have never inhabited masculinity, is it possible to abandon being a man? To completely abandon the category of being a woman, understanding that gender is a properly human and colonial category?

You made us an invitation to create the category that we want, that oppose this categorical thinking. I think of the maroon existence, understanding it as a diffuse subject that inhabits the border as a pain that resists from within, which is not part of it and at the same time it is.

Ochy: We have to leave and escape from those categories that are binary, racist, classist, etc., but not forget them completely because they allow us to make a historical genealogy. Social thought cannot be without categories to be explained. It is necessary to explain, to contextualize, to situate, what I mean when I say a certain category. I believe that there are identity categories that still serve us, because they allow us to see ourselves as coloniality has made us. Regarding the maroon existence, we have worked a lot on this in GLEFAS, in the decolonial schools, we give the marronage not only as a historical moment during the colony, but from the maroon philosophy. That philosophy which even though arises from the plantation, proposes intellectual, physical, geographical, economic, etc. escapes, and it is what we should aim at. The Maroon allows us to recognize ourselves in a history that is close to our ancestors, the escape means not only to be disputing in the colonial system but to create something else. How do we think this Maroon way? What does it teach us about our ancestors that cannot remain in an anecdote of resistance? On the island, where we are all from, there is maroonage all the time. To what extent do we have the capacity to recognize that as part of that historical resistance that is alive? There are many people who have thought of marronage as that possibility, whether they use it as a category or not, I would think of it more as a political proposal that allows us to see the contradiction in the colonial system, at the same time as escaping from it.

There are other proposals such as the so-called relational ontologies, they don’t have to do with this fragmented and separatist logic of reality, but how everything is part of it and the indigenous women here have taught me a lot. The Mayan colleagues have taught us how the decolonial should be based on this relational ontology; it is a great challenge, we have not finished it either, but at least the fact of thinking about it as a possibility already opens up another world for us at the time of recovering and creating.

AF: While it is true that some of us have decided to abandon categories to inhabit other worlds and possibilities, it does not mean that we are at odds with those who resist from certain categories; resistance has different forms. Some of us move to certain places and others to other spaces and that is very political. María Lugones speaks of coalitions, we could also build them.

Ochy: It is urgent and fundamental to create coalitions. As Fanon would say, the damned of the world are our bet, there is no other choice, the world is very fucked up and we have to start debating more and more about this project that we have to strengthen because otherwise we will be in deep shit.

AF: What is the political project and what are the elements that we could list?

Ochy: I dream of a political project, how I want the world to be. I particularly want a world where there are no racists, classists, sexists, misogynists, nationalists, right-wingers, which has meant taking away the dignity of so many people affected by these logics of power. I want people to live in dignity, I want there to be no borders. To live in happiness, that music is central in our lives, that we don’t have to be screwing around to find a job, that knowledge is in the academy as if it were not there -indeed, if we can make the academy disappear, all the better. And to be happy.

AF: Thank you very much for this interview, thank you for being here. Our goal is to build new horizons that escape from all these colonialities we inhabit. Thank you Ochy.


The full interview can be found at the following link:


  1. Anti-rights movement that promotes the branch of radical feminism that denies the identities and autonomy processes of trans people (trans women, trans men and non-binary trans people). TERFism comes from the acronym TERF which stands for: trans-exclusionary radical feminist.


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