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Activism Focus

Black Liberation Through the Lens of Black Feminism: A talk with Feminista Jones and DaMaris B. Hill

Rjaa Ahmed February 27, 2019

Illustration: Sana Kewalramani

A swarm of people were huddled in the cosy Montgomery Auditorium of Parkway Central Library on Wednesday, Feb. 6, their eyes keenly following every nuance of DaMaris B. Hill’s calculated hand gestures as she read out excerpts from her recently published poetry collection. Accompanying her at this special author event was community activist and writer Feminista Jones, who talked about her new book, “Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Women Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets.”

This free event was a part of the Free Library of Philadelphia author series which allows patrons to engage in meaningful dialogue with contemporary artists and writers, offering them a chance to not only learn about new releases but also come together to discuss pressing social, academic and political issues with these well-loved experts. For Black History Month, the library invited two black women writers to confer about black feminism in light of their new releases.

“Book talks are important because they connect the readers with the authors and give the audience more insight into the meaning and inspiration behind the book,” said Jones in a statement prior to the event. “It’s also important for people of color, specially women to have platforms and spaces to share their work since artistic landscapes continue to be dominated by white artists,” she added further. Jones’ commitment to reforming these artistic avenues to be more inclusive is what led her to pen down Reclaiming Our Space, which provides an unapologetically raw look inside the genealogy of institutionalized racial oppression and the undeniable power of black feminism in helping to dismantle it.

At the outset, welcoming the audience, Hill presented a synopsis of her new anthology, “A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing”, and said that her aim is to resurrect the violently misogynistic history of black liberation from the throes of obscurity and insincere narratives. She regaled the audience with her moving recitation of poems that celebrated well-known and notorious incarcerated women of color throughout history, as well as numerous unsung heroes. Hill’s poems weaved together stories of prisoners in the Eastern State Penitentiary and captured the struggles of black female freedom fighters in a compelling, unbridled portrayal of resistance and transcendence.

“I would call my writing method writing,” said Hill. “It came to me at a time when I was depressed and disillusioned, and became an outlet for my anger,” she recounted while answering an audience question about her book. “I decided that I would not be depressed or helpless and to combat these feelings, I uses a daily pill of black feminism,” she added with a sigh. “I knew I had to bring these stories forward and this determination was what kept me going.” Hill believes that it is her duty to lend a voice to these incarcerated black women, whose voices have been largely subdued as our society continues to be shackled by white supremacy and patriarchy. Long before the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements, black women have been resisting the onslaughts of racism and sexual subjugation—most of the poems revolve around women in the colonial era as Hill connects the nature of resistance to the time-frame in which it existed and while ultimately concluding that it is timeless and will always be relevant.

Both the authors enthralled and captivated the audience for a solid hour and a half. It was interesting to note how starkly different the two women were, with Jones wearing bright purple and breaking up in a joke every now and then while Hill was more modest, more reserved and yet equally interesting. The event then moved onto to become a more interactive question and answer session where attendees were able to talk directly to the authors about topics ranging from the books to the importance of social media in modern advocacy.

“As a white, heterosexual woman, this book isn’t about me”, mused Melissa Davis during the event. Davis works as a preschool teacher and seemed to believe strongly in challenging the lack of diversity in modern day America as attempts to change the narrative surrounding race and gender continue to be thwarted by a not so ideal political and social atmosphere. “We live in a difficult time, and the future absolutely scares me. Actually, history scares me too—so much of it has either been modified heavily or fully excluded and it makes me question everything”. For readers like Davis, black women owning the debate about intersectional feminism is a step in the right direction.

Another attendee at the event was Olivia McCauley, a black woman rights activist and self-proclaimed black feminist. “For me, it is refreshing and comforting to see these two women call themselves black feminists so proudly” she said. “Black contributions to feminism are rarely ever discussed when we talk about the Revolution and the Abolition movement, and a la Alice Walker, it has been replaced largely by the term womanist” added McCauley. Although she doesn’t have a problem with the term womanist, she feels like it not only undermines but outright fails to encompass the extent of black involvement in the earliest form of feminism. “Feminism is ours to claim, we can’t let it be owned solely by white women and these two amazing black feminists reassure my claim over this word”, she concluded.

“Go buy my damn book!”, Jones hollered. This was followed by the audience breaking out in one final round of applause as they rushed to the stage to get their copies of the books signed by the respective authors.