Getting through my 20 Books of Summer books (intro post here) and finally almost finishing the exciting books I bought with my Christmas 2020 / Birthday 2021 book token splurge. (results pictured on 1 July 2021 – out of those books I have read most of them for either January’s Nordics challenge or Novellas in November last year, with one left to read soon and one reading with Emma in a while).

This is the eighth book I’ve completed from the 20 Books project (I’m reviewing them slightly out of order to make the next one coincide with a fellow-blogger’s review) and also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 challenge.

Mikki Kendall – “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women White Feminists Forgot”

(30 June 2021 – book tokens)

We rarely talk about basic needs as a feminist issue. Food insecurity and access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. Instead of a framework that focuses on helping women get basic needs met, all too often the focus is not on survival but on increasing privilege. For a movement that is meant to represent all women, it often centers on those who already have most of their needs met. (p. xv)

This book aims to address the issue of the women who are left out of feminism because within the movement, some women are oppressing others. It takes the reader through the real-life issues and problems for mainly poorer Black mainly women in the US and looks at where other women in the feminist movement can help by either getting involved or leaving people be and not interfering. There are clear assessments of problems and clear statements on how mainstream feminism can be of use, so there is a lot of value here.

Starting with making the good point that mainstream feminists often don’t stand in solidarity with the trans community or understand that women living in poverty and surviving have different priorities, applying “respectability politics” to ignore those doing work or living in ways we might not directly approve of or find valid.

You can’t be a feminist who ignores hunger. (p. 37)

Kendall takes us through the lives of women and girls (and men) in poorer Black neighbourhoods in the US. She also talks about Indigenous, Latinx and other communities that don’t exist in great numbers in the UK, and I would like to read a similar book located within the UK to appreciate the different things we need to concentrate on here (obviously a lot of issues overlap, but there will be ones specific to the larger South Asian communities in the UK, for example, and the usual differences in the roots of racism here, even if the outcomes are similar). Overlaps in perceived violence and the over-policing of ethnic groups, food insecurity, access to and support within education, understanding and non-judgement of those who can’t and don’t code-switch to fit “norms”, etc. are clear to see and throughout she calls for mainstream feminists to stand back, listen to what’s needed and help in ways that are called for by the people experiencing whatever issue it is (rather than rushing in and doing White Saviourism). And if we can’t do anything at the point of conflict at that time, “Well, you can always challenge the white patriarchy” (p. 84), something it’s obviously easier for us to use our white privilege to do. She also makes a powerful point about not assuming all Black women are strong and can be used to provide exemplars, but need support and compassion, too.

Kendall also calls out colourism and other classisms in Black communities (although this is something that needs calling out in wider society, too) and talks about what her own communities can do to redress this, with painful examples from her own experience (she weaves her own experience through the book, making the personal political in an entirely appropriate way).

A conflict or discomfort I had on reading the book, and I appreciate I’m at risk of practising White Exceptionalism here (“I’m special, I don’t do that!”), and also at risk of centring myself if I talk about all the things I do that are so noble and special, is that I don’t recognise my brand of feminism in the descriptions of mainstream feminism that Kendall presents. She specifically talks about it ignoring grassroots issues around poverty and cultures and concentrating on surnames, body hair and getting women into CEO positions. I’ve always taken an egalitarian and non-anti-men standpoint (yes, sure, I criticise men and definitely the patriarchy but also accept and value the role they have in women’s lives), pushing against separatism since I was a baby feminist at university and getting cancelled by the 2nd years for talking to men, and I’ve got behind campaigns around period poverty, funding refugee women to get bicycles and lessons in riding them, etc. I did try to concentrate on taking in the messages that I could use, though, with some hopefully non-me-centred examples below.

Here’s what Kendall says mainstream feminism can do:

Accomplice feminists would actively and directly challenge white supremacist people, policies, institutions, and cultural norms. They would know that they do not need to have the same statke in teh fight to work with marginalized communities. They would put aside their egos and their need to be centered in our struggles in favor of following our instructions, because they would internalize the reality that their privilege doesn’t make them experts in our oppression. (pp. 257-8)

Pieces I took away and commit to continuing to do in the spaces I can do it (e.g. not having a workplace to agitate in):

  • Continue to address and call out / call in racism when you see it, even from women friends and allies in other areas.
  • Continue to amplify and share Black and other Global Majority People’s voices and work.
  • Interrogate your attitudes and make sure you’re applying compassion to all.
  • Interrogate any feminist organisations you are part of to check they are doing the work to support everyone, at all levels, not just White, cisgender, “respectable” women to gain extra bits of privilege (I’ve checked into the Fawcett Society and found their list of help for individuals includes GMP-run services and those for homelessness, care leavers, etc., although nothing specifically for transwomen and that they’ve done a big recent report on Pay and Progression of Women of Colour, although that doesn’t seem to address women in informal economies; I’m going to start going to their regional meetings to know more about what I’m contributing funds to).

This was book number 8 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 2/28 – 26 to go!