Mikki Kendall's profound new book, Hood Feminism, is divided into essays about feminism that focus on gun violence, hunger, the fetishization of black women, eating disorders, and more. Hailing from the South Side of Chicago, Kendall's understanding of feminism is vastly different from mainstream, white feminism. According to Kendall, "Hood feminism is lived feminism. It's the women who do the work, who are present in communities and making sure that their kids have school and at least somewhat accessible medical care (NPR)." She argues that mainstream feminism has ignored the basic needs of women of color, and the concepts of "leaning in" and "having it all" fly in the face of everyone's right to good education, to safe neighborhoods, to affordable healthy food and access to the Internet.
Feminism has historically been about closing the equality gap between white women and white men. In the United States, the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 secured white women's right to vote, but Black women had to continue their fight until 1965's passage of the Civil Rights Act. Even today we can see evidence of discrimination in voting, with the elimination of polling places in under-resourced neighborhoods, and with "celebrating" Election Day in the US on a Tuesday, giving many women of color no opportunity to take off work to vote.
Reading Hood Feminism has opened up my understanding of what feminism truly is. Feminism is public funding of organizations that help victims of domestic violence get into safe housing, secure jobs and access to childcare. Feminism is giving the families of missing Black girls and white girls the same media attention and investigative resources. Feminism is re-structuring our social safety nets around support and dignity rather than shame. Feminism should advocate for all women, not just the privileged few breaking through the glass ceiling to become an executive or a political leader.
In short, until feminism benefits all of us, feminism benefits none of us. In her chapter about reproductive justice, Kendall highlights the examples of Serena Williams and Beyoncé giving birth in a medical system that prioritizes white bodies. Both women experienced life-threatening medical problems while giving birth, and brought attention to the fact that Black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women in the US. Williams, a Black woman with seemingly infinite financial resources, had to push her own medical team to give her a CT scan, which eventually saved her life. What about women with no financial resources, or without the medical knowledge to advocate for themselves?
White women and women of privilege need to step up and do the work to become better allies, advocates and accomplices. We need to take a step back and listen to our neighbors, listen to the women in our communities whose basic needs are being ignored, to understand their needs rather than prescribe our own solutions. White women do not know what's best for women of color. We need to take a step beyond performative allyship toward action in lifting up our marginalized communities. Women of color deserve to raise children with bright futures, and they deserve to live in a world that treats them with the respect that white women take for granted. If you're going to read one book this year, make it Hood Feminism.