This book isn’t just for white women.
While other publications praise Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women That a Movement Forgot for being “a much-needed addition to feminist discourse” (Kirkus) or “a searing indictment of mainstream feminism” (NPR), they focus on what Kendall’s essay collection tells so-called mainstream (read: white) feminists about marginalized women. Rightfully so. Kendall’s sub-title “Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot” indicates that her book is not for those women but from them. To some extent.
But, like I said, this book isn’t just for white women.
To be clear, many of us have a vocabulary for what we experience. Kendall is clear about that. As she writes, “the hood doesn’t lack answers. It lacks resources.” Kendall explains how white supremacist structures play out in the everyday. For instance, in her education essay, she links her grandmother nearly going upside her head for her fleeting desire to drop out of school and the inequality that prompted her desire in the first place. For white women, she notes her desire was not proof that black folk do not want to be educated, but that failures in the system make education part of an impossible calculus. The solutions hinge on valuing black life enough in policies, hiring practices, tax law and distribution of resources.
Kendall’s book is also for those among us who need that vocabulary afresh. Under quarantine, I’ve lost my words to describe how and why ineffective, greedy and cowardly leadership will screw over the most vulnerable among us. I have little more than incoherent yelling or side-eyes for those who can but refuse to stay at home. Reading this book gave me back the words and ideas that came so easily to me in January.
If you ever wondered how other women’s struggles related to black women’s, Hood Feminism helps you get information (shout out Beyoncé). Too often, black women’s struggles are understood as separate. Our stereotypes are different. They have more economic power. Cis women and trans* women have different needs. Disabled women aren’t like the rest of us. Their blues ain’t like mine. So on and so forth. Kendall’s work pinpoints where our struggles are bound up. So, no: the barrio, the reservation and the suburbs do not all look the same as Kendall’s South Side Chicago. For that matter, Kendall’s South Side is not Michelle Obama’s South Side. That 10-year age gap makes a difference, yet shared interests are also real. In fact, the more real they are, the smaller the problems are in comparison. Kendall (nor I) endorse coming together while ignoring how one group of women’s privilege has the power to oppress another. But, we agree the danger between us is the belief – usually supported by ideas that pit women against each other – that rights for one group must limit rights for others. It isn’t pie.
Central to Kendall’s ideas is the theory of “intersectionality,” a term coined by Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw that addresses how race, gender, class, sexuality and ability function all together. Since people tend to misuse the word, here’s a little explanation on how intersectionality works: Prof. Crenshaw theorizes the term in 1989 in a legal volume: The University of Chicago Legal Forum Volume 1989: Feminism in the Law: Theory Practice and Criticism. This is important because “intersectionality” is not a term that someone used to describe identity alone. Crenshaw used it to talk about how the law itself was not capable of understanding the various conditions affecting the lives of black women. The law literally could not protect those vulnerable to multiple acts of violence. That lack has (yep, present tense) serious consequences.
In her original article, she uses the metaphor of an intersection to describe how identities operate. That is, they criss-cross—intersect—at all times. In other words, it is not possible to separate race from gender, from sexuality, from ability, from citizenship from class. Intersections are highly mobile places. You drive through unharmed if you live and travel in certain social locations. You can get run over at others.
Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism isn’t just an instructional manual for white women seeking to be more woke—though, certainly, I hope many of them find it instructive and act on it. Hood Feminism is for those of us who the movement is still forgetting; for those of us who refuse to remain still; for those of us who are far more awake than we ever imagined.
Therí Pickens is a poet, literature nerd and home chef. You can find her in these Twitter streets @TAPPhD.