“I’ve seen black men fight for white women in a way that they don’t fight for black women”

Currently enrolled at New York City University, 22-year-old Bronx-born writer and performer, Crystal Valentine’s work is inspired by intersectionality. Speaking at the 21st edition of Poetry Africa Festival, held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Valentine told the Daily Vox how her background has influenced her writing.

I grew up in a very black Hispanic neighbourhood in the Bronx, New York. I began writing poetry in elementary school and to be honest, I don’t know why I started writing. My background has influenced my writing so much that I have had a strong sense of my blackness. I wasn’t used to white people until I went to college. I’ve seen some people who have been influenced by whiteness but I didn’t know what that meant until I went to college.

My writing is influenced by intersectionality and I write mostly about blackness. When I say blackness, I mean all kinds of blackness – including black women and black queer women. So I’m currently focusing on how I get my story right in an engaging way, because I believe that poetry is meant to be a dialogue.

Poetry is very interactive and when I write, I write also about social issues that women often face. The abuse that women often endure is a men’s problem that is created by men. It is not solely women’s job to fix it and poetry has allowed me to raise those issues and put them out there. I’ve come to learn that nobody fights and protects black women the way they fight for each other. I’ve seen black men fight for white women in a way that they don’t fight for black women.

There’s currently a very big rape case going on in America and there’s a woman currently on the spotlight, Rose McGowan, who is a prime example of white feminism. Some of her utterings show how much she lacks knowledge on intersectionality and I think that’s a huge thing which we need to speak out about.

As a queer, I believe that queer people also deserve to have a voice because they are human and poetry has allowed me to give that voice to queer people. It’s sickening how sometimes we have to justify a basic human right.

When people see me perform, I want them to see that they can also find courage to break the silence, speak out and tell their story. There are people who often face abuse, physical harm, and sometimes it’s not easy to speak out with the fear of more harm. I just want them to know that there’s another way.

As told to Lizeka Maduna, edited for brevity and clarity