Un feminismo que no es antiracista es racista
Un feminismo que no es anticlasista es clasista
Un feminismo que no este luchando contra los efectos
de la heterosexualidad como régimen político es heterosexista (1)
Ochy Curiel


Ochy Curiel is an Afro-Dominican lesbian, feminist, anti-racist, decolonial, singer, scholar-activist. She is one of the founding leaders in the contemporary Afrolatinx feminist movement in Latin America. She currently teaches in the Universidad Nacional de Colombia where she leads the program on Gender Studies. She maintains that lesbianism is a political position rather than a sexual preference or orientation. Ochy Curiel is part of Grupo Latinoamericano de Estudio, Formación y Acción Feminista (GLEFAS, Latin-American group of study, formation and feminist action) founded by Afro Dominican feminist activist Yuderkys Espinosa Miñoso in 2007. GLEFAS was born out of the necessity to articulate feminist theory and practice. They recuperate the history of Latin-American feminism that has remained hidden due to hegemonic feminist narratives. Particular emphasis is given to critical voices emanating from subaltern and minorities in the region. GLEFAS is an independent organisation that rejects the institutionalization of feminist activism. Their work is a collective effort, which generates its own income via their own publications with their editorial house (en la frontera) and seminars. Several academic and activist writings from the Global South can be downloaded for free via their web page. Ochy Curiel’s work and activism is extensive but four main themes/concepts can be highlighted.


During her first years as a feminist, Curiel defined herself as a feminista negra lesbiana autónoma (autonomous black lesbian feminist). Curiel rejects the universalisation of the category of women. While recognising the work of black feminism primarily exported from the USA to the world (the Combahee Collective, Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberlé Crenshaw, among others); she claims that is it not sufficient to use these theorists to explain what is happening in Abya Yala (indigenous name for Latin America). Afrolatinxs’ experiences are crossed not only by the legacy of slavery, but also colonialism. She differentiates between identifying as negra (political identity) and afrodescendiente (historical relationship of slavery and colonialism). She uses both these categories to criticise racial democracy, which became the founding pillar of Latin American and Caribbean nations. A mestizo myth that negates the existence of racism while 1) heavily relying on the exploitation and rape of indigenous and black women and 2) encouraging the politics of blanqueamiento (whitening the population) by states. Curiel is very critical of the role that feminism emanating from the Global North as well as within Latin America have had in reproducing racial and colonial structures within the movement by silencing the voices of feministas negras. As highlighted by Ochy Curiel when giving a talk in Spain last year: “No es lo mismo citar a Judith Butler que a Ochy Curiel en la tesis” (It’s not the same to cite Judith Butler in your thesis than Ochy Curiel).


Second, Ochy Curiel describes anthropology as otrologica (otherlogical). She argues that anthropology has played a major role in the idea that those conquered by Europe needed to be studied in order to be dominated and controlled. During the 20th century, there was a change within anthropology that pushed against these colonial practices within the discipline emanating from the Global South. This forced mainstream anthropology to be reflexive of its colonial practices. Nevertheless, she believes that mainstream anthropology continues to be otrologica. This is partly because of the logic of development, which continues to locate the USA and Europe as the point of reference of being. In Latin America, this is particularly reflected through the discourse of “cooperation” emanating from international organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as non-governmental organisations. Curiel argues that these organisations need to talk about repatriation and not cooperation (more below). Global North countries and organisations are able to “help develop” the Global South only because of the legacy of colonialism. Hence, development logic validates a geopolitical discourse that thinks of the “peripheries” as non-producers of knowledge. That is, the “others” continue to be the source of research. There is not much reflection, beyond theory, on how to eliminate the relationship between coloniality-power between researcher and subjects in the research. In other words, theory is not translated into action.


Third, Ochy Curiel develops the concept of la nación heterosexual (heterosexual nation) by revisiting the writings of lesbian material thinkers Adrienne Rich and Monique Witting. They state that heteronormativity is an institution and political regime that intersects all social relations, affecting primarily women, in particular, lesbians. Curiel argues that the nation and its imaginary construction is fundamentally based on a heterosexual regime through the sexual difference ideology. This regime is enforced via social institutions such as the family and the nation and expressed via the constitution. In her book, La Nacion Heterosexual, she analyses the new Colombian constitution as well as interviews feminist activists who protested during the introduction of this new political document. Overall, she argues that from the very first paragraph the Colombian constitution (and any other Latin American constitution) is a contradiction. It starts by talking about the collective nature of el pueblo (the people) and how the state protects all citizens. However, its very nature is exclusionary from the beginning. One only has to consider who the constitution excludes: women, afrolatinxs, indigenous, trans, gays and lesbians from fundamental rights.


Ochy Curiel understands feminismo decolonial desde Abya Yala (decolonial feminism from Abya Yala) as a paradox. She argues that in recent years there has been a rise of “decolonial” movements across the globe that have become institutionalised, in part because of political correctness. While feminismo decolonial is a political struggle, it has become a commodity that fits within the discourse of multiculturalism in Latin America. The problem with this is that it does not recognise the history of this movement, particularly that afrolatinxs caribeñas have been at the forefront of this battle since the invasion of Abya Yala by Europeans. For Curiel, feminismo decolonial desde Abya Yala has five key aspects: recovery, problematize, remove, recognise, restoration. The first one being the recovery of theoretical-practical proposals emanating from critical feminism. Second, the need to problematize key concepts such as race and understand the diverse ways in which they are experienced. Third, we need to remove the colonial syndrome from the history of Latin America and the feminist genealogies of the continent. Fourth, we need to recognise the contributions that activist in Abya Yala have made to anti-racist and feminist scholarship via their political practices as well as the range of cosmovisions like Sumak Kawsay (Buen vivir/Good living) in Abya Yala. Finally, there needs to be a restoration process to those groups that have been oppressed due to colonialism. Curiel recognises the limitations of feminismo decolonial desde Abya Yala. She does not believe that decolonisation can happen from within the university (a place inherently colonial). A risk of these processes emanating from the university is the institutionalization of decolonial practices as another tick box for diversity. It also becomes another commodification of the editorial market in which only certain authors from the Global North that write about decolonisation are published in English. This again just recreates geopolitical knowledge.


Essential Reading:
Curiel, O. (2005) Identidades esencialistas o construcción de identidades políticas: El dilema de las feministas afrodescendientes (Essentialist identities or the construction of political identities: The dilemma of afro descendent feminists) Otras Miradas, 2(2): 96-113
Curiel, O. (2007) Crítica poscolonial desde las prácticas políticas del feminismo antirracista, (Postcolonial criticism from the political practices of anti-racist feminism) Nómadas, (26):92-101
Curiel, O. (2009) Descolonizando el feminismo: una perspectiva desde América Latina y el Caribe, (Decolonising feminism: a perspective from Latin America and the Caribbean) el Primer Coloquio Latinoamericano sobre Praxis y Pensamiento Feminista realizado en Buenos Aires en junio de 2009, organizado por el grupo Latinoamericano de Estudios, Formación y Acción Feminista (GLEFAS) y el Instituto de Género de la Universidad de Buenos Aires.


Further Reading:
Curiel, O. (2010) Hacia la construcción de un feminismo descolonizado. A propósito de la realización del Encuentro Feminista Autónomo: Haciendo Comunidad en la Casa de las Diferencias (Towards the construction of a decolonised feminism. Reflection on the realisation of the Autonomous Feminist Encounter: Making a community in the house of differences) in Martínez Alonso, G. and Martínez Toledo, Y. (ed.) Emancipaciones feministas del siglo XXI, Ruth Casa Editorial: Panama: 189-200.
Curiel, O. (2013) La nación heterosexual: Análisis del discurso jurídico y el régimen heterosexual desde la antropología de la dominación, (The heterosexual nation: analysis of the legal discourse and heterosexual regime from the anthropology of domination) of Brecha Lésbica/en la frontera: Colombia.
Curiel, O. (2015) La descolonización desde una propuesta feminista crítica, Descolonización y despatriarcalización de y desde los feminismos de Abya Yala, ACSUR
Discussion about decolonial feminism from Latin America given by Ochy Curiel in Spain in 2018 (in Spanish)


Is there anyway of subverting colonial practices from within the university?
How can we recuperate shared stories and practices of anti-racist and decolonial struggles from the Global South without it becoming a commodification?
What are some of the ways in which we can challenge the otrologica of anthropology (and other social sciences)?


Submitted by Laura Loyola-Hernández


(1) A feminism that is not anti-racist is racist. A feminism that is not anti-class is classist. A feminism that is not fighting against the effects of heterosexuality as a political regime is heterosexist. Ochy Curiel

+ Show Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *