To launch Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities, leaders from Black Women Radicals and the Asian American Feminist Collective each reflected on books that have shaped, catalyzed, and transformed their understandings and practices of solidarity.
July 30, 2020
To help us launch Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities, leaders from Black Women Radicals and the Asian American Feminist Collective each reflected on books that have shaped, catalyzed, and transformed their understandings and practices of solidarity. These texts push us to see radical Black and Asian feminisms as interconnected and internationalist projects and show us how revolution is an ongoing process. These texts challenge us to rethink how we understand concepts like love, freedom, and progress and inhabit our positions to create new collective worlds.
Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones
by Dr. Carole Boyce Davies
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
by Audre Lorde
Left of Karl Marx explores the radical life of Trinidad-and-Tobago-born journalist, Communist, and activist Claudia Jones. In her remarkable yet short life, Jones not only advanced a further leftist analysis of Marxism-Leninism by centering the intersectional experiences of Black women and their leadership, but she also articulated an internationalist lens that included the unification of oppressed peoples globally, with a specific focus on working class women. Deported to London, England as a victim of McCarthyism, she further expanded on her intersectional, internationalist, and Pan-Africanist/Caribbeanist political framework by founding the newspaper, the West Indian Gazette (WIG), which would later be renamed the West Indian Gazette and the Afro-Asian Caribbean News. Jones traveled to many countries, including Maoist China, where she interviewed Chinese Communist political leader Soong Ching-ling (also spelled Soong Qingling), who was the Vice President of the Central People’s Government Council and the Honorary President of the All-China Women’s Federation (Boyce-Davies, 2008, p. 226). As a Black feminist, Left of Marx showed me the necessity of having an internationalist and intersectional praxis in radical Black feminist movement building but also in catalyzing cross-racial solidarities as well.
In her biomythography, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), Audre Lorde dedicates her prologue and epilogue to Afrekete, an African-derived name of a Black mother and/or goddess (who Lorde later re-names herself after). In Lorde’s prologue to Zami, she writes: “To the journeywoman pieces of myself./becoming./ Afrekete” (Lorde, 2003, xv). Afrekete represented Lorde’s journey of becoming herself at the intersections of her identities; her knowledge of self (“the erotic”) and the world around her; and the importance of building and learning across differences with feminist encounters and solidarities. Zami inspires me to always keep “journeying”; to always unlearn and learn; to constantly transform and decolonize myself and in doing so, revel in the possibilities, imaginations, and realities of being and becoming a new self or new selves because “revolution is not a one-time event.” This understanding of “journeywoman” or “journey-person” is so critical to building Black and Asian feminist solidarities because it requires us to understand that cross-racial collectivism is a process and the process is not perfect. It will be messy. It will be difficult. However, the hope and the political commitment of this process is understanding that if we can create new selves personally, we can also create a new world collectively.
All About Love
by bell hooks
Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politics
an anthology edited by Lynn Fujiwara & Shireen Roshanravan
“To maintain and satisfy greed, one must support dominations… and the world of domination is always a world without love.” One of the first books that contributed to my political awakening was this one by bell hooks. As an Asian American feminist, I was inspired by Black feminists’ commitment to love as a political practice, especially in urging us to think of love outside of just the romantic context but also in terms of how our fates and liberation are bound up in each other. All About Love starts with a call for establishing a shared definition of “love” so that acts of violence or toxic behaviors can’t be misconstrued as symptoms of “love.” The book covers love in the context of families, relationships, religion, community and will give you another perspective on how clearly we need to all start thinking more about love.
This book consolidates Asian American feminisms and politics and helped shape how I continue to think about Asian American feminism. There was so much excitement for me when I first saw this book. I remember the moment when three of the leadership team of AAFC were together at the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) conference and excitedly grabbed a copy as it was one of the first accessible anthologies that focused solely on Asian American feminisms. The anthology covers the history of Third World feminisms and cross racial solidarity, sexual politics, and decolonization—in particular, the chapter called “Weaponizing our (In)visibility” succinctly puts into words that our actions matter when it comes to solidarity, that “our options are invisibility, complicity, or resistance.”
Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference
by Grace Kyungwon Hong
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals
by Saidiya Hartman
Grace Kyungwon Hong writes from her perspective as an Asian American feminist interlocutor in key Black and women of color feminist texts, such as Audre Lorde’s “Learning from the 60s”; Barbara Christian’s “Diminishing Returns”; and poetry by Cherríe Moraga, one of the co-editors for This Bridge Called My Back. Centering movements for liberation, including reproductive justice, Hong argues that the political practice of ‘difference’ allows us to craft alternative imaginations of community where we ask ourselves, ‘Who pays for the cost of our inclusion? What security am I willing to give up for others?’ By showing us different ways that the protection of some lives relies on the dispersal and disavowal of death, she resists an antagonistic politics that recoups life as self-preservation and instead, pushes us towards ways death can be the basis of politics.
“How had living become a crime?” Through speculating and re-imagining archival documents, Saidiya Hartman brings us a cast of radical and rebellious minor figures—Black domestic workers, sex workers, mothers, entertainers, factory workers—women who congregate where they shouldn’t and with people they shouldn’t. Here are Black feminist revolutionaries—those who trespass upon the laws that marked particular proximities and intimacies as dangerous. Hartman revises how we understand politics and who is political. She writes us histories that hurt, that unfold narratives of captivity and dispossession while at the same time pursuing insurgent political possibilities of relationality. She critiques our limited ‘vocabularies of freedom’ by foraging for fleeting fragments of political life ‘akin’ to freedom. In writing of wayward girls and radicals, Hartman offers us “beautiful experiments” in how to live and how to live together by “smashing out” and exploring “what might be”—by “improvis[ing] the terms of social existence.”
The Intimacies of Four Continents
by Lisa Lowe
“third world diva girls” and “choosing the margin as a space for radical openness” in yearning, race, gender, and cultural politics
by bell hooks
In short, this book examines the development of liberal modernity—and the basis of many of our notions of “freedom” and “progress”—as a project predicated on the selective forgetting and incorporation of the violence of settler colonial encounters in the Americas, the development of the East India and China trades, and the practices and politics of transatlantic slavery. Lowe’s work invites us to consider the table stakes of our current social world by modeling the ways that a critical interrogation of the construction of racial categories and logics within liberalism requires us to pay attention to the dynamics of power as it alternatively dispossesses, coerces, and extracts from various populations in different and nimble ways.
When I first started studying history in college, I found myself drawn alternatively to histories of colonialism on the subcontinent and American racism—trying to understand seemingly unconnected parts of the world I inhabited as a South Asian migrant to the United States. These histories were often siloed, and Lowe’s book offers up a rigorous survey of many of the scholars who are writing histories of connections, intimacies, and interrelations between colonial racial categories. Certainly written in an academic vernacular, this book asks: how do we understand and construct “freedom” and “progress”? How might we be linked across time and geography? What is at stake when we understand our histories as interlinked, and what is lost when we don’t?
Both “third world diva girls” and “choosing the margin as a space for radical openness,” two essays in bell hooks’ 1990 collection, probe the importance of understanding and reflecting on personal interactions as reflective of our political commitments. In “third world diva girls”, hooks urges women of color to build a solidarity that allows for productive communication and respect across difference—illustrating the many ways that this very thing eludes us in at times excruciating detail. In “choosing the margin” she turns to what we have to gain by understanding “marginality as a position and place of resistance” rather than only subjugation. I turn to lessons in both these essays when examining my own interiority, motivations, and movement through the world.
Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism
edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman
by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
As a budding feminist, reading this collection of essays from young women of color changed my life and opened doors for me to be able to understand my lived experience as a Brown girl. Solidarity begins with deep listening—with finding our common ground and building bridges to understand how our liberation is tied together. These essays represent a wide array of experiences and identities, with stories from queer girls, mixed girls, organizers, artists, and represent the reality of living at multiple intersections of class, race, migration history, and more. It’s a repudiation of mainstream white feminism but more importantly, shows us the liberatory possibilities of a feminism that’s created for us, by us. These narratives are angry, tender, sexy, confused, yearning, hopeful, and filled with light. Reading them filled me with a desire to live unapologetically and illuminated the power we have when we come together.
I’d write a love poem to Leah for this collection if I could. Love Cake explores survival, beauty, desire, belonging, violence, resilience, and what it means to rebuild and love yourself and your people. These poems are love songs for queer people of color, for femmes healing from trauma, for those of us who struggle with the notion of home. Maybe my favorite from this book is “femmes are film stars”. These poems make me want to dance, kiss, cook for people, organize, and put on lipstick. I love being reminded that the revolution is all of these things, that solidarity is sweet.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
by Cathy Park Hong
The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love
by Sonya Renee Taylor
Author and poet Cathy Park Hong writes with such clarity about the complicated racial positionality of Asian Americans. While she offers tons of tenderness and provides space for the many nuances to Asian American identity, she also doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to internalized white supremacy: “Whiteness has already recruited us to become their junior partners in genocidal wars; conscripted us to be anti-Black and colorist; to work for, and even head, corporations that scythe off immigrant jobs like heads of wheat. Conscription is every day and unconscious. It is the default way of life among those of us who live in relative comfort, unless we make an effort to choose otherwise.”
In order to practice solidarity, it is important to be introspective and understand how we ourselves are situated in terms of power and privilege. We must take the extra steps of learning not just how racism impacts Asian Americans but how we may also be complicit in the same system. As a contemporary text, Minor Feelings does a great job uncovering and scrutinizing much of the discomfort around navigating racial politics as an Asian in America.
I cannot stress enough how important the internal work is. Neither can Sonya Renee Taylor, a spoken word poet and activist—her book, The Body Is Not an Apology, highlights the urgent need for radical self-love in our ongoing fight against white supremacy and patriarchy. “Radical self-love demands that we see ourselves and others in the fullness of our complexities and intersections and that we work to create space for those intersections,” Taylor writes. Reading this book has helped put me on the path of unlearning much of my own internalized racism and biases. Solidarity praxis necessitates a divestment from all systems of body shame. This book helped me understand how these issues, such as fatphobia and colorism, are all interconnected.
For more books, essays, and articles on solidarity, check out our full reading list on Black Women Radicals.