National Poetry Month

When I downloaded the “random words” app on my iPad, I had no idea it was National Poetry Month. Instead, I was looking for a way to jumpstart my creativity in a meeting that was sucking the life out of me. Interestingly, the poem below based on an image I chose from my files and the words generated from the app actually inspired me to do more found word writing, ie to be more aware of the words, phrases, and messages in my world and to transform them into art.

autumn breezy light/immaculate in the fields/laughing wonder/ fresh/ tremble me

For the month of April, I will be writing down grafitti, bumper stickers, quotes, etc. and doing short writings on why they intrigued me or simply passed me by in the past and transforming that into poetry. I won’t make you sit through all that processing, but I may post a poem or two … we will see.

What are you doing for National Poetry Month?

The Beauty of Books

Did you know it was eBook week, in which we are all asked to celebrate the eBook by reading at least one?

Long time readers have been privy to my “reading in the heat” debacles with the iPad and have also no doubt followed the links to historiann’s discussion of eReaders here and elsewhere, so I won’t go into those issues again. What I will say is that there is something amazing and wonderful about surrounding oneself with the written word in a way that is visible and tangible. Combing through the stacks in the library or discovering an old bookstore and walking it aisles endlessly. I think it became easier to overlook real books when bookstores became flooded with over-bright lights, corporate coffee screaming at you from just beyond the paid for by the publisher displays or the slightly corporate masquerading as alternative rose, purple, and blue rooms of an occasionally union busting store that caters to hipsters and poc in the know are getting more and more wary of racial profiling in. And now we have 1,000 book libraries in slim casing, with no pages to dog ear or sense of their magnitude. They have little more substance than the video games or movies we carry on the same devices. They have little substance at all considering they can be deleted, changed, or reclaimed by the  store that sold you the book at any time. No one can come into your home library on a whim and say “oops, we’re sorry we didn’t actually mean to sell that to you, so we’re taking it back” or add advertisements to its back or front pages. We live in a digital age. And I am an iPad owner who is seldom seen without it. But I can tell you, nothing seems more peaceful than when I am sitting in my home library, surrounded by books, soaking it all in.

Happiness Is …

When I was a little girl I had Peanuts sheets with different characters saying “Happiness is …” and then the answer to them was written underneath their picture. On one of my pillow cases was a picture of Linus with his blanket it said “Happiness is … a warm blanket”.  Well, I have fallen in love with this two-story book shelf with climbable outside shelves and a stair well in the center. We’d have to build a new house to fit it in, but hey maybe we could just take out the supply close above my office @ work …

rintala eggertsson

So what brings you happiness?

Women of Color and Vegan Cooking: Viva Vegan Giveaway!

Terry Hope Romero

Have you ever heard the phrase “veganism, that’s one of those white things right?” or something similar that clearly marks vegan diets as “not us”? Often these comments are based on two principles:

  1. perceived and real elitism amongst vegans – an issue discussed here and elsewhere encompassing issues of race, class, location, etc.
  2. perceived inability to adapt ethnic food that centers meat and the complex meaning of meat with regards to social status

I’ve already discussed the former in depth on the blog with the simple conclusion that, like in all things, thinking and acting intersectionally, decolonized, and globally keeps you from enacting oppression intentionally or otherwise. It also makes it possible for you to hear and learn from those moments when you might still mess up because you are no longer invested in an image of yourself as a “goo person” over actually trying to be one even when it feels difficult. So for now, I am interested in how the cookbook industry has dealt with the second issue.

In recent years, there have been a few vegan cookbooks that tackle the latter with varying results. Many of the “down home”, ie African American Southern style cooking, have failed to capture some of the critical aspects of quintessential meals. Others have remade them in ways that are delicious but still quite different. Most black vegans I know, started with a blend of these cookbooks and their own adaptations. Every culture’s diet has meatless items, so another aspect of shifting to a veg diet has been about reclaiming those meals as equally important. Two really critical entry points into the discussion of black veganism are: McQuirter’s By Any Greens Necessary, an especially good for people new to vegan concepts or considering veganism cookbook that addresses black women and health, and Harper‘s Sistah Vegan (not a cookbook), a collection of essays by and for young black women about the meaning of and being vegan.

While African American and Anglophone Caribbean cooking have enjoyed the attention of vegetarian and vegan chefs, the same success has not really been reflected in vegan Latin@ cooking. In the bookstores in my area, there are no vegan cookbooks for Latin@ food. You can walk the wide array of Mexican, Puerto Rican, “Central American”, etc. sections of the big bookstore here and find a handful of vegetarian cookbooks but no vegan ones. My colleagues in other cities have had similar experiences.

Lucky for all of us, Terry Hope Romero, co-author of best-selling vegan cookbooks Veganomicon, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, has a new cookbook called Viva Vegan out specifically about Latin@ food. The book is split into two parts: (1) introductory info and (2) recipes. The 200+ pages of recipes include favorites from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean and offer suggestions for substitutions if you have trouble finding ingredients in your area. Recipes also have pictures and easy cooking instructions which I find always helps when trying something new or re-inventing something. Of the 20+ reviews on amazon, only 1 rated it below 4 stars for taste.

While I have not tried any of the recipes myself, Melissa over at Feminist Texican not only praised the book but tried some of the recipes herself. Go over there to see pictures of some of her results. Melissa is also giving away a copy of Viva Vegan courtesy of De Capo Press. All you have to do is write your favorite vegan recipe in the comment section of her book blog by September 3rd to enter. If you are not vegan and you think this cookbook might help you see the light or you are a new vegan and don’t have many recipes, it does not matter. The contest is open to everyone. You can enter here.

If you’ve tried the recipes or blogged about them, let us know! And if you are interested in exploring more questions about veganism from a people of color perspective check out Vegans of Color Blog or the last link in the related articles section of this post.

A Literary Meme! Oh Pick Me, Pick Me

I have not done a meme in a very long time. When I saw this one on Feminist Texican‘s twitter feed, I could not help myself. It is the end of summer/start of fall term after all and I’ve spent an entire summer with my nose in a book. Yes, I know this does not seem that different from any other time of year, do you have a point? … ahem … As I was saying, so what better time to do a 55 question ditty about literature? (By the way, I read a lot of fluff in the summer and looking over my answers, it shows & you thought I was nerdy all the time)

the meme

Current book cover art by Taeeun Yoo, showing ...

Image via Wikipedia

1. Favorite childhood book?

2. What are you reading right now?

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

  • On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers (this is course related)

4. Bad book habit?

  • folding over pages instead of using book mark
  • starting several books at same time

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

  • this list is too long, mostly they are women’s health books for my course this term

6. Do you have an e-reader?

  • yes; if you count the apps on the ipad, I have several

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

  • I should read one at a time to become fully absorbed, but I do read several at once

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

  • no

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)

  • It may end up being Club Dead pages 58-61 are particularly demeaning to women (both cis and trans women, both of whom are referenced) and the race & sexuality stuff in these books also makes me question the taste level

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

  • The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield – I read them for a series I am doing on female protagonists in Young Adult fiction & I couldn’t put them down; they even invaded my dreams at night, for real, I read the books well in to the night and then dreamt about the main characters all the way through it. When I got up in the morning, I would read them on the way to the bathroom to brush my teeth.
  • The Morganville Vampires Series by Rachel Caine – read these for the same reason and also found them extremely compelling until the 7th one; if you are reading insipid Twilight or been tempted to buy them for girls you know, STOP NOW!!! and go buy these books they have a strong female protagonist who is a math whiz, well rounded female and male characters, and never get sidetracked by love stories until near the very end of the first big story arc

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

  • regularly, how else do you learn?

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

  • scifi, horror, victorian,post-colonial, women’s, magical realism, feminist theory, cutlural studies, psychology, critical race theory, disability studies, queer theory, young adult, etc.

13. Can you read on the bus?

  • yes unless the ride is bumpy or the bus is packed

14. Favorite place to read?

  • bay window overlooking tops of trees in our backyard

15. What is your policy on book lending?

  • I used to lend books, now I just gift them or forward the library hold information

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

  • regularly

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

  • academic books yes, regular books no

18.  Not even with text books?

  • see above

19. What is your favorite language to read in?

  • the original one it was written in; sometimes things are so poorly translated as to be completely inaccessible

20. What makes you love a book?

  • literature: well written, imaginative, compelling, preferably no or limited oppressions or hegemonic assumptions, unique or expansion of existing drama, characters that resonate
  • research or theory: well researched, documented, verifiable examples or experiences that are not meant to reify but to expand concepts, clear methods and articulation of theories and ideas, lends to/expands/or radically challenges existing work in ways that move us forward, self-reflexive and anti-hegemonic

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

  • if I love it (see above) or I am fairly certain someone else will
  • I’ve recommended books I don’t particularly like to people I think will like them or as examples of why we need a publishing revolution

22. Favorite genre?

  • see question 12

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

  • I need to read more early N. American history and re-read civil rights history both seem  really important right now

24. Favorite biography?

  • I don’t read a lot of biographies but I did find Rosanna Barr’s My Life as a Woman really informative and interesting. There is a lot going on in her life and her childhood that I think people could learn from and speaks to why she was the first modern woman to give us a working class family show that did not insult other people or hold back from some of the things people outside of the working class would judge as declasse. Say what you will about her general taste level and behavior, in that tv show she gave us strong women, working class lives, and a myriad of female characters and young men learning what it means to be decent human beings when execs wanted to shut her down.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

  • outside of my early volunteer work, no.

26. Favorite cookbook?

  • I’m a big fan of the Moosewoods – I met someone who worked there for years recently, that was a treat
  • Cranks – it was a collection of recipes from my favorite crunchy-granola place in Piccadilly, housed in a cider press, with the nicest staff ever – though it seems to have she-shed up a bit since then; I ate there every chance I got; it’s hearty, vegan and veg, and just plain good; seriously the original cookbook (I just learned there are several now, but back then there was just this one and the owner signed mine when I bought it in the restaurant) can help you transition to healthy food or keep your diet lively and filling tho it does seem they are more on the veg side these days

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?

  • The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne – I started this a while ago and was cruising right along until it got to the whole sex/love part, Protestant fears about their bodies and desires don’t make sense to me as a Catholic so that part was a bit much, but the rest is quite amazing. I am also a little creeped out by the new website I linked to which seems a little too much about Shane and not so much about the G-d he has so eloquently written about yearning for …
  • everything else I’d put here, I didn’t read this year

28. Favorite reading snack?

  • I try not to eat and read at the same time because I read a lot; so coffee maybe some home made trail mix (pistachios, dried cherries, peanuts, kashi protein cereal, and cranberries)

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

  • Steig Larson’s books – everybody was raving about them, including alternative bookstore and feminist folks. I found the language stilted because of the translation and because I was expecting greatness it was so disappointing I never got past the 3rd page whereas I would have likely read it otherwise.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

  • It depends. These days, many mainstream sources of book reviews are actually paid reviewers with perks from the publishing company or they may even work for a company that also owns the publishing company. Have you ever noticed how all of a sudden book X is the thing to read and every site for miles is talking about it? That is part of the advertising not serious review work. I tend to disagree with most of those people. But I have bought books based on the reviews of certain book blogs or Feminist Review or reviews referenced in book catalogues so …

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

  • I do it all the time as a blogger and an academic. It is hardest when I know the author, they are well respected in their field (which I have only done once), or they come by the blog and tell me how hurt they are by my assessment. The latter is the worst. I don’t mean to harsh on anyone, but I do have a certain set of criteria when I write a review which includes issues of race, gender, and sexuality, marginalization and gaze, as well as literary and research quality. I can love your book or movie for its overarching narrative and ability to create new worlds or delve into important theories and still ding it for a colonial gaze. Some people hear that and make their peace with it, ie vow to think more intersectionally or admit they do not care, others are deeply hurt by it and engage in the normal, though annoying, struggle of trying to reconcile their view of themselves, what they’ve done/produced, and what I’ve said about diversity. The best is when they tell you things about the process you did not know. I’m always learning from the writers, artists, directors, and fans who engage in real conversation.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?

  • which language are we defining as foreign?

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

  • Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko – it is a huge book with immense depth and I was writing my second book at the time so it was hard to juggle both; but it was so worth it. I don’t know anyone who has not read this book, but if you have not, you need to.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?

  • none

35. Favorite Poet?

  • Nikki Giovanni – it’s hard to pick just one, but I’ve met her, been delighted by every conversation or event where she is featured, and I buy her books regularly; more than that, when I take the books out to glance at, someone always stops and says how much they love her too and I almost always end up reading the poems out loud with someone in the middle of a coffee shop, bookstore, or park, that is magic.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

  • Not many, I tend to buy my books because when I was a kid we could not afford alot so I would go to the library twice a week and fill up my backpack. I promised myself when I got older, I’d own my own books. That said, I think I have 10 or 15 out right now.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?

  • seldom. you know, you can always renew them.

38. Favorite fictional character?

  • really rosy

39. Favorite fictional villain?

  • Bram Stroker’s Dracula of course

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?

  • whatever I am reading at the time (see question 12)

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.

  • without reading a book would be 48 hours, without reading anything, 1-3 hours

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse – I read it with a group of rich white youth who were just so enthralled by India so …
  • Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser – such whiny drivel masquerading as social commentary

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?

  • the phone, the dogs

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?

  • I’m a purist so …

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

  • “Bram Stroker’s Dracula” – umm, because it does not actually follow the book it claims in the title, including changing some of the characters completely ugh; seriously, if you are going to put the author’s name in the title of your film at least do them the courtesy of actually reproducing their work

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

  • on personal reading: $850
  • when I was a student: $1,000 (I went to an undergrad where you read at least 8-12 books per class/ in grad school it was 11-13 per class)

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

  • I usually skim things in the bookstore before deciding to buy

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

  • death of a beloved character or similar traumatic events – I once stopped reading a book (The Last Blue Plate Special by Abigail Padgett) because the dog died and I put down Tipping the Velvet for months because of what Kitty did to Nan

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?

  • if you count one in every purse, the car, the basket in the front of my bike … sure
  • yes. Most of my books are in shelves in my home library or in the office and I know exactly where they are, it just when I run out of space that it is harder to keep organized

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

  • I keep at least one copy of every book I love, but I give copies to others all the time if I love them

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

  • like a book that is stalking me or just won’t stop calling already? no.

52. Name a book that made you angry.

  • It’s a Jungle Out There by Amanda Marcotte – I think the marketing, illustrations (especially the history that includes the racist images being approved after the first draft images were massively critiqued for racism while everyone involved pretended they didn’t know the images were racist a year later amidst a second round of racial critiques post-publication), the press which has its own recent history of exclusionary practices and denials, the author’s potential plagiarism or a woman of color and the flippant way she dismissed intellectuals and feminists of color when called on it, all come together for me as one of the biggest examples of mainstream feminism fail in the publishing industry and an example of how younger women continue to make the same myopic “mistakes” and excuses in the name of feminism that I really hoped my generation or the generations before me could have put to bed already. When feminists not only fail to address ALL women, but then respond to that failure with derision, evasion, or my favorite “I thought it was funny”, they do the entire movement an endless amount of disservice and damage and ensure that women will never truly gain equality. (Yes, boys and girls, I’m a historian, I have a very long memory and it is full of facts and figures, names and dates) On a personal note: it makes me extra sad to have to write this because Amanda was one of the first people to draw attention to my original blog and compliment my blogging and I really love Pandagon.
  • Sarah Palin wrote a book this year didn’t she?

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

  • Happy Birthday or Whatever by Annie Choi – It wasn’t that I did not expect to like it as much as it was that I did not expect to like it as much as I did nor find my own reflection in many of its stories. I even read some of it to my mother.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?

  • There are two fan favorite vampire book authors on this list both for writing racist, homophobic, and/or transmisgyinistic material in their books that had nothing to do with the plot, the characters, or anything else in the book. When you can literally edit out the material without making a single other change to the book and read it without confusion or a blip in continuity, that means that ish is just there because the author is oppressive. If you don’t know who I mean, go back over your vampire book collections with an intersectional eye and see if you can find it. I’ll wait.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

  • have I not mentioned the word vampire enough for you people yet? thhhppppttttt

Link Luv Sunday

A lot went on in our world while I was sick and/or overworked (yes including all the late diss chapters I had to read during Spring Break, cue violins) so I thought some link love was in order to cover some of the issues I have not here at the blog and to honor some of the voices holding it down across the internet. Since it is still Women’s History Month and yours truly has failed so miserably in doing her own feminist spotlight posts, I have linked to several folks who did use their blogs to honor and highlight specific women throughout the month.

  • Swandiver – Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow highlights a talk by Alexander about her new book and the civil rights inequities that remain in the U.S. through the loopholes provided in the prison-industrial-complex
  • National Center for Transgender Equality – breaks down what the new Health Care Reform Bill means for trans communities trying to meet their health care needs
  • Guerilla Mama – “The Buddha, The Dharma, and the Sangha” – a painfully poetic discussion about the intersections of race, class, gender, nation, love, and family through the eyes of a black immigrant who survives an attempted rape (trigger warning)
  • Alexis – Happy Birthday Toni Cade Bambara – another informative and celebratory contribution from Alexis and her Black Feminist Mind Project
  • Vivir Latino – “19 years without justice” – 19 year old hate crime against a Dominican youth still not solved, yet his mother keeps the pressure on
  • Vegan About Town – Nacho Cheese Dip and Nacho Cheese Nachos because I was sick most of the week and unable to eat much, I got really enthralled by blogs about food (what the comic industry has referred to as food porn blogs b/c they make you drool) and I was particularly excited by how yummy Steph made this recipe sound since I am a picky eater & don’t eat anything with too much melted vegan cheese because of the melt quality (I like almond based cheeses for eating & soy based for melting but the latter only in small amounts)
  • Asian American Lit Fans – much like Feminist Review, this livejournal site offers accessible reviews of new and old fiction by API Americans and should just be a must read in general for anyone who loves books
  • Nezua – “Invisible: Thoughts on Immigration Rally in DC” – not only does Nezua look at the complexities of the reform in succinct text but he also has a powerful slideshow of photos from the event at the bottom of the post.
  • Viva La Feministe – “The Fly Girls are Finally Golden” – learn about the civilian women who helped win world war II but got little back for their service
  • The Green Belt Movement – “GBM Celebrates International Women’s Day” – truthfully I am just sending you to this blog to give you an example of what decolonized grassroots feminist environmentalism looks like.
  • Claire @ Hyphen Magazines – “Women’s History Month Profiles” – spotlights on Asian American feminists and women activists
  • Mark Anthony Neal  – “Women’s History Month Classic: Say My Name” – I happened to love this film and I teach it pretty regularly as a counterpoint to “the video ho” image of hip hop (of course I also like to trot out Tawny Kitaen for that purpose as well) so it was nice to see someone review this classic as part of women’s history month.
  • Annaham “Invisible Illness and Disability Bingo” – this post is old, but I just got sent there by vegans of color blog, and I have to tell you that as a person with “hidden” disabilities, not only have I experienced everything on that list but, like Damali Ayo’s rent-a-negro cards, I wish I had a stack of these to pass out to co-workers and family members whenever they made light of what it is like to be differently-abled

Happy Reading!

Re-Post: Feminist Reading Tools for Recognizing and Dismantling Intersectional Oppressions

I am still really sick, so instead of original content, I am re-posting this post from 2008 in solidarity with Breeze Harper’s suggestion in the comments that all (as in you, me, and everyone) vegan activists might benefit from doing some reading and reflecting on whiteness and social movements.

peer women’s retreat/unattributed

This post was originally written in response to issues of whiteness around the feminist blogosphere that were fracturing the way women who support, and actively work for, women’s rights saw themselves and their engagement. The result of that conflict was that many of the radical woc who brought me to the internet no longer identify as feminist while the women whose privilege initiated the conflict remain the most oft-linked to by both academic and activist circles as examples of feminism on the net. The outcome, though disheartening, reminds us why it is so easy to avoid intersectionality and to claim that people “are too mean”  or “too invested in identity politics” rather than look at one’s own actions: structural oppression is designed to reward individuals engaged in privilege-evasiveness and/or oppression. This is why PHC says there is a Matrix of Domination with multiple levels that hold each other in place, so that it is never about individual actions in a vaccuum nor can we address larger issues without also engaging individuals (and what she calls symbolic oppression or what most Marxists call hegemonic and most Lit folks call signs and signifiers). Being engaged in creating a just world requires an ever expanding body of knowledge that challenges everyone at multiple points in their activism but it is the willingness to meet those challenges head on and with the same commitment to justice that brought one into activism in the first place that truly is the measure of social justice. Change is as simple as wearing a red t-shirt instead of a blue one, Justice means whether you wear a shirt or not, regardless of its color, you will be taken seriously and afforded an equal place in our society. For vegans that means animals and people together, not equality amongst peoples over animals; for intersectional vegans it also means equality for all people and all animals, not just some people and some or all animals. Which ever politik you subscribe to, the work is hard, and requires self-reflexion and the willingness to fail and to listen to get it right. In my mind, it also requires an immense amount of patience and faith and the willingness to “walk a mile with” another person and to know deep down that no matter what your politics, the wrongs you have endured, or the change work you’ve engaged in, you can be wrong or in the process of doing the right thing, you can go about it the wrong way.

For many activists this means knowing the layers and levels of whiteness and how they intersect with issues of gender, class, ability, sexuality, etc. For others it means healing from the war wounds of living lives in those intersections. The original list, re-posted below with one modification, was written to give or expand the language those of us who are marginalized have to name our marginalization and how it works, and to give those who often deny various forms of marginalization in order to avoid the “earthquake” that comes from knowing you benefit from an unjust system or you have engaged in it in some way, the ability to see and name their actions and understand how individual behaviors are encouraged and upheld by a system much larger than any one person’s intent. It was not meant to blame or shame but rather to give us common language with which to speak across the storm.

So here are the readings I suggested in May 2008, as I said, each relates to race because when I compiled the list racism and whiteness were the key issues causing people to stumble:

The List:

  • Yamato’s “Something About the Subject Makes it Hard to Name,” Anzaldua & Moraga. This Bridge Called My Back. – this essay outlines types of racism including “unintentional” and intentional and breaks down how they work, why they are part of a system of oppression, and gives examples. For people struggling with “I didn’t mean it” or “I am a good person” issues this is a really great essay to think about intentionality. For people trying to talk to people with those issues, it is an important tool in helping them see the problems in their actions/denials.
  • Anzaldua’s “Now Let Us Shift” Anzaldua & Keating. This Bridge We Call Home. – This essay talks about the path we all take in coming to consciousness. It is great because it shows the path is not linear nor does it stop at “enlightenment,” people can become enlightened and then get scared or experience a loss of privilege that often comes with fighting against oppression and go back to an earlier stage of consciousness or become enlightened about one thing but still need to work on others. It is a good piece for mapping out the fears and the process AND helping people to understand that making mistakes or finding lapses does not mean you have to throw in the towel and give up or that doing good work elsewhere does not mean they don’t exist. For anyone who has ever struggled, made a mistake, or failed, when confronting oppression this is a great piece.
  • Collins “the matrix of domination”section from “Black Feminist Thought in a Transnational Context” in Black Feminist Thought. – This piece is the classic tome on how race, gender, and class intersect and is part of a larger chapter contextualizing black feminist thought from PHC’s perspective using both sociological and historical information. The matrix provide a key theory to understanding intersectionality but should really be read in the context of the entire chapter before being pulled out for its singular import so as to avoid the ways that many key terms and theories, particularly from feminists of color, are repeatedly taken out of context and watered down until they have lost all real, known, meaning. The section and chapter look specifically at black women’s experiences of oppression but the matrix is a key metaphor for understanding how oppressions work together at the state, local, and individual levels.
  • Smith’s “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy” (available online and on this blog, tho I cannot find my link to it) – This piece is similar to Collins except that it takes the discussion out of the black experience and expands the levels of oppression up one to colonialism or the international level. Smith critically examines the meaning of “women of color” as essentially “not white” which erases our differences and the specificity of our racial oppression(s). She also discusses heterosexism and how it exists in both dominant and marginalized communities, including activist communities, as part of a larger system of domination and how it too must be addressed and dismantled on all sides in order to combat oppression.
  • Bailey’s “Locating Traitorous Identities” various anthologies – This piece is really heady philosophy and may not be the most accessible of the bunch. However it does talk about privilege with regards to whiteness and heterosexuality. It expands on the idea of reclaiming “race traitor” as a good thing – ie being traitorous to white supremacy – and mapping out some other steps for white people to make the critical shift to ally.
  • Frye’s “Oppression” (updated version- not the online one – where she tries to address the heterosexism in her first version) – its metaphor of the bird cage where oppressions intersect and reinforce like a cage so that moving one oppression does not make enough space for oppression(s) to be dismantled has always been effective in my classes. It is a good piece for people who continue to argue “there is so much to do in feminism, I can only focus on ________” or “gender-only can free all women.”
  • Schutte “Cultural Alterity,” Naryan, et al. Decentering the Center. Another piece that might not be as accessible to all readers but does a great job of mapping out the kinds of disconnects that happen in cross-cultural communication between white women and women of color. It looks at all kinds of assumptions about intentions, intelligence, importance, etc. that get in the way of successful communication even when everyone thinks they have done their work on becoming aware of/ dismantling oppression. It is a great piece for thinking through what went wrong and how not to do it again.
(I outlined part of Schutte’s argument in the comment section on my post about class antagonism in veganism because the person banned from my blog was engaging in several of the things Schutte points out. Among them, was her insistence on calling me “non-vegan” because we disagree about the scope of vegan activism and inciting her readers to hate on me accordingly while referencing my partner, and subsequently my sexuality. While I have been told the heinously heteronormative and potentially homophobic act of calling up my partner and the offensive language use to redefine my blog were removed from a subsequent draft, no apology was offered nor was the “non-vegan” label and the offenses associated with it, including musing about “what type of person” I am, removed. It is one of the most classic examples of the kind of discourse Schutte deconstructs in her essay which includes:
  1. assuming you know better than the person you are talking to about what they do or do not know
  2. assuming that your experience is universal and therefore is the measuring stick for the truth value of anyone else’s experience
  3. centering your own discussion in a conversation that is about other things and demanding that others re-center that conversation around you
  4. attempting to force others to engage you when they have made it clear that they do not want to and expecting others to help you enforce their participation)
  • (special mention) Eli Clare’s “Introduction” Exile and Pride. He works at the intersections of trans, disability, class, location, and sexuality in this book and has a really good piece deconstructing whiteness and the class and location of whiteness in the book itself that I think are important. I include the “intro” in this list however because of the metaphor of the mountain and how it talks about the process expected of people on the margin to reach the center. It helps to show that no matter how far removed or how close you are to the center that the system is designed to hold everything in place, so that if white women don’t confront racism or do so only when it is not about the racism of their immediate friends or themselves, or only if it does not interfere with the ways they benefit from supremacy, than they ultimately cheat themselves by thinking they can reach the top of the mountain by buying into oppression. (The metaphor is also a good way for making sense of what goes wrong for all marginalized groups who think they are making headway and then suddenly get thrown back down the trial.)

There is a more varied list of material in this vein in the Historical Reading list as well and anyone is welcome to post readings there they think are “must reads” for decolonizing the mind.

Unless otherwise indicated MATERIAL IS NOT AVAILABLE ONLINE.

So You Say You Are Looking for AfAm Children’s Books? (Link Luv)


Sue VanHattum @ And All the Rest Blog, has just finished compiling a list of some of her favorite children’s books by or about African Americans. Her list is fairly extensive and includes several books I personally am excited to read. As a collector of children’s books, it is always nice to see what others think are the must reads. And I know I have many parents here on the blog who have asked at one point or another for a book suggestion, so here is  a good place to start.

(most of these books are Children’s Lit not Young Adult fiction, though some are for older readers. If you have books that you think everyone should be reading that are about black girls and teens, let us know in the comment section. I will be compiling a list of children’s fiction I love some time soon for the blg and finally writing that “female protagonist” post of Young Adult fiction as well. I have also sent a tweet to BiancaLaureano to participate with her list of Young Adult fiction for young men of color. So should be good. Anyone else want in?)

BHM: Marcus Books knowledge is power

Marcus Books is the oldest and still thriving bookstores dedicated to African American and black authors. It has been serving the Bay area for 50 years and has survived the gentrification of their neighborhood when so few other black owned businesses ever do. More important for African American herstory, Marcus Books was co-founded by Raye Richardson, along with her husband, and she continues to be committed to the store’s success. Currently, Marcus Books is run by her two daughters, Blanche Richardson and Karen Johnson who most store patrons credit as being the most knowledgeable people about black books they have ever met. Rounding out this matriarchy of black female booksellers/owners is Johnson’s daughter Tamiko who already helps out in the bookstore and will likely be in charge of it when her mother and aunt pass it on.

The store focuses on history and literature by and about African Americans from children’s literature to adult fiction and is named after black national Marcus Garvey. Both Richardson and her husband grew up in households heavily influenced by Garvey’s writing and Raye credits black nationalism as one of the reasons she had such a thirst for black books. As she grew up, she found herself lending her books out to all of her friends, who were also having a hard time finding or being exposed to new black books. The bookstore idea came from both the need to have ready access to books and to allow avid readers to retain their copies; you see, like me, when Richardson lent out her books, she almost never got them back because people loved them so much.

The bookstore marks a critical and long term intervention into the narrow publishing and stocking traditions of publishing houses and bookstores by refusing to ghettoize African American literary production. As one store patron put it:

” Years ago I grew tired of looking for books in the ‘African American Section’ of Borders or B[arnes] &N[oble] only to be inundated with trashy Black novels about a man who ain’t “no good” and the Sistah strong enought [sic] to love him.” – Jabir F

As many of us know, this and historical books about slavery are about all you can get on the shelves of mainstream bookstores. And if you want something on black women and empowerment or black women and feminism, you will neither find it in the WS section nor in the AFAm section unless it is a chapter in a book about [white women and] feminism in general or church women or a civil rights picture book respectively. Thus mainstream bookstores’ ordering policies work to erase a wide range of black intellectual thought and to perpetuate urban fantasies and the erasure of black women feminists and pro-woman movements.

Another patron explains his trouble in finding two popular biographies at the chain stores and how Marcus Books filled in the gap:

After much back and forth, I finally decided to purchase either Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story or The Pact for my ninth grade mentees.  So I hit my usual haunts Borders – “if we have it will be in the African-American section located on the second floor rear corner.” Bad sign.  Some 50 years post Rosa and we are still riding the back of the bus. “Most likely we don’t have it and can order it and have it in a couple of days.”

I call Stacey’s ask them about both books.  “I haven’t heard of The Pact and Gifted Hands is the that by Robbins?”

“The Pact, about 3 Newark doctors who made a pact to finish school, to become doctors, and to return to help the community.  Gifted Hands by and about Dr. Ben Carson, who escaped the mean streets of Detroit to become a gifted peds neurosurgeon.”

“Don’t have it, we can order it.”

“I need to find me an ethnic bookstore.”

“Good-bye.” Click.

One google search later, I find Marcus Books in Oakland.  “The Pact, about the doctors, they have another book coming out; we hope to have them back when they do their book tour.  Yes, we have two copies.  I don’t see that we have Gifted Hands in stock but I will call our San Francisco store…Yes, they have both books.”

Marcus Book Store I love you.  Like the big chain stores, Marcus has the technical, historical context books that white professionals like to read to understand the ways of black folk, but unlike the big chains and the “other local bookstores,” Marcus actually has general interest books, books about people, poetry, and every type of book by, about or for [black people that] you would find in Borders except [Borders only has these books about white people]. – Ralph C

This story is all too familiar to most of us. What is disconcerting about it is less that the books weren’t stocked, as we all should have expected that, but that these books were mainstream titles (meaning they were published by publishers these chains order from) and yet unknown to anyone working at the store. Worse, when mildly confronted about their absence, the response was not “we can order it” but to simply hand up on the potential buyer.

And while mainstream bookstores have failed to represent a wide range of black authors and historic and contemporary events, black bookstores have often had limited, aging, and male-centric selections that make them unappealing to the average browser and the discerning feminist reader. According to another book patron at Marcus books however, they have not fallen into this trap:

Aside from the late Karibu chain in DC/MD, in the past I’ve been disappointed by the offerings of black bookstores. But this place has a GREAT selection, even of hard to find books (I needed an older Percival Everett joint for a last minute gift, and couldn’t find it ANYWHERE except Marcus Books).  They had everything i wanted, some things I didn’t know I wanted (like Zora Neale Hurston’s writeup of her ethnographic work on voodoo), and offered to order anything I couldn’t find. – Jakeya C

And while many of the guest speakers at Marcus Books have been male authors and intellectuals, they also have a thriving number of up and coming and established female authors who have spoken or had book readings at the store.

I’ve seen Nikki Giovanni and Octavia Butler read here, to a room full of people of color, mostly Black folks. Need I say more? – Rona F

Marcus Books is also implicated in a larger narrative of African American history in the Bay area. During the 1950s, the bookstore shared the building with Jimbo’s Bop City, a famous Jazz club. Artists such as John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Art Tatum would stop by the store before late night jam sessions. They also featured talks by Elison (a classmate of Richardson’s husband), Baldwin, and Malcom X as well as contemporary movers and shakers in the black literary scene like Angelou and Morrison. The bookstore also embraces contemporary fiction, including urban fiction which they see as potentially an observation on the plight of working class and subsistence level black youth in a setting that both booksellers and readers can easily identify (way to make something subversive, no?), and the authors writing it.

While Marcus Books is small, housing only 6000 volumes, it also manages to keep several of the most high demand books in stock and on the shelves according to patrons. This is extremely important to readers of black literature because Marcus Books circumvents the unfair tax mainstream stores’ “we can order it” places on their customers. By unfair tax, I mean not only potentially monetary cost but also emotional tax, ie:

  1. unlike white readers or readers looking for books by/for/about white people, black readers and ppl with interest in black books have to wait 5-14 business days to get a book they are interested in reading
  2. if the person is unable to return to the store to pick up their books or chooses to buy online out of frustration, they have to pay shipping and handling when mainstream white readers do not
  3. readers of black books almost always have to ask for help in the hopes of finding a book and as a result run the risk of being hung up on or the in person equivalent like the story quoted above
  4. even when they are not hung up on these book searches often include the tiring task of having to explain repeatedly what the book is and what it is about, even when the book is a popular paperback, which reinforces the idea that black literature and black lives are less important
  5. while mainstream white readers can spend hours roaming the stacks of any mainstream bookstore only to stumble upon a book they have never heard of but soon becomes their favorite, readers of black books have 1 small shelf to look through meaning they will likely never be exposed to the wide array of black books available to them in a bookstore

The last of the above list is critical for two reasons:

  1. the ongoing lack of exposure to a wide array of black books for patrons of bookstores (regardless of their interests)
  2. the reinforcing failure to buy a substantial number of black books b/c no one knows about them that the publishers and bookstores use for neither publishing nor stocking black books

The availability of inventory at Marcus books has not only been helpful to regular readers but also to academics. Several of the patrons attesting to the import of Marcus books were students or teachers/professors all of whom claimed Marcus Books has been invaluable to their own reading and their teaching. As one graduate student put it:

Marcus is responsible for more than half of my cherished book collection. – Jamila N

And one principal credits the bookstore with ensuring her school had a diverse lending library and curriculum for its diverse students.

For me, growing up in areas where black owned bookstores have been tiny, ratty, hovels with only a handful of ancient books and where the feminist bookstore is just as guilty of failing to stock a wide range of black women’s literature and theory as the mainstream stores, Marcus Books is an inspiration on how to get independent bookstores and black lit right. I wish anyone running a bookstore, but especially an independent feminist one, would have the opportunity to sit down with these three generations of women with 50 years of black owned bookstore knowledge behind them and ask how they can better represent black women’s intellectual production and black books in general.

Recently the store launched an online community to help customers and people outside of the Bay area stay connected (see link at top of page) as well as twitter @marcusbooks.

Erzulie’s Skirt Virtual Book Group

So, after a quick survey of the peeps/tweeps, I’ve decided to host a discussion of Erzulie’s Skirt, possibly the first lesbian novel set in the erzuliesskirtDominican Republic and its diaspora by a contemporary Dominican American female author, next month on the blog. We will be reading the book in sections as yet undetermined and all are welcome. Here’s a brief description from the amazing publisher:

Set in the age of urbanization in the Dominican Republic over the course of several lifetimes, Erzulie’s Skirt is a tale of how women and their families struggle with love, tragedy and destiny. Told from the perspectives of three women, Erzulie’s Skirt takes us from rural villages and sugar cane plantations to the poor neighborhoods of Santo Domingo, and through the journey by yola across the sea between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.  It is a compelling love story that unearths our deep ancestral connections to land, ritual and memory.

In the interest of full disclosure, I know this author personally.

If you are interested in participating and you have a twitter account please DM me so I can send you a reminder when we start. If you don’t just stop by the blog when we start reading.  And please pass this announcement on.

I look forward to talking abt the book w/ all of you. 🙂