There are many well-meaning people in society who identify as feminists, yet do not know what they can do to put their feminism into action. African Americans Doing Feminism is an excellent resource for these people. The book is collection of essays written by women and men from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, but the unifying theme among the contributors is that all of them have been impacted by feminism in some way at various stages in their lives.
In her introduction, Aaronette M. White explains that when she put out the call for contributors, she did not want to define “feminist.” As a result, “feminism,” “womanism,” and “Black feminism” are all discussed in varying degrees throughout the book. Some authors use the terms interchangeably—a fact that may not sit well with some readers—while others prefer specific terminology. What is clear, however, is that regardless of their preferred term (or lack thereof), all of the authors interpret feminism in terms of the negative effects created by patriarchy and other systems of oppression.
The book is split into five parts: Family Values; Community Building; Romantic Partnerships; Healing Practices; Career Dilemmas. Some of the most poignant essays came from people who had participated in sexist/oppressive practices in the past. Dorothy M., for example, writes about growing up at the hands of her abusive sister. Dorothy went on to become an advocate and educator on domestic abuse issues, only to find herself as the abuser in her own personal relationship.
In “Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone”: Why the Feminist I Loved Left Me,” William Dotson reflects on a tumultuous relationship with a woman who left an indelible effect on his life. He writes, “feminism ‘did’ more to me than I ‘did’ to or with it.” Though Dotson was considered progressive in activist circles, he could not and would not see past his sexism and patriarchal oppressiveness. He was in a relationship with a feminist woman whom he loved deeply, but his attitude cost him their relationship; it was not until years later that he began to regretfully analyze his abusive behaviors.
Other essays serve as a rallying call for change. One of my favorite essays is written by Sister Sojourner Truth, who writes that, “Being an African American feminist nun has never been a contradiction for me,” and goes on to write that she is, “comfortable with the idea that the Catholic Church might have to get rid of terms such as nun, priest, and even pope in order to be open to the creative possibility of a nonhierarchical, nonpatriarchal church.” Talk about radical! Sister Sojourner goes on to discuss the systematic abuses committed by the church; though the sexual abuse of children got worldwide coverage, she points out how other abuses are still kept silent, such as the
rapes of nuns by priests. Her form of practicing feminism is to speak out at all times.
Another fascinating essay is, “Gay, Gray, and a Place to Stay: Living It Up and Out in an RV Park,” by Aaronette M. White and Vera C. Martin. The essay mostly takes place in the form of a conversation between White and Marin. It revolves around Martin’s experiences as an African American living in a predominantly-white RV park for aging lesbians, and her experiences as an activist for aging lesbians.
African Americans Doing Feminism shows readers that feminist activism can be put into everyday practice through even the smallest actions. Though a lot of the contributors in this book are professional activists and educators, a lot of them are just regular people whose actions can have a large impact. They show that being a man and talking to other men about sexism and violence against women, being a mother who seeks to destigmatize breastfeeding, or simply being a person who is honest about health issues such as depression is a powerful form of feminist activism. Most importantly is that the writers realize the different systems of oppression affecting women and people of color, and that they have found ways to address some of these issues within that context.
African Americans Doing Feminism: Putting Theory into Practice was published in June 2010 by State University of New York Press. This review was originally published at Elevate Difference.