TFW: Your Tumblr page lists the following words in its subtitle: WRITE FIGHT LOVE. I think it is great way to frame our conversation given that your life seems to reflect that mantra: you are a writer, a fighter, and one who is moved by love to do your part in the world. What moves you? What moves to write, fight, and love?
JAMILAH: I write because I enjoy writing and I think it’s my “something.” Everyone has something that they do well and if you are lucky, you enjoy doing it and you can figure out a way to do it constantly. I don’t know who the first person to say this was, but the belief that “another world is possible” is what inspires the “fight” part of that tagline. Fighting, be it via a one-on-one debate or by writing an op-ed about a rape culture that many people will never believe exists or simply by living in the way that you see fit, can be emotionally draining. But you have to believe that what you are fighting for is both possible and worth it. I don’t see this country’s attitudes around race, sexuality and culture changing in the way that they need to in my lifetime, but I think we can scratch the surface. We can move the needle slightly in the right direction.Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet in 1997. A closet with a glass door. We all knew, but it was still a BIG thing. Her show lasted one more season. Today, she’s got a wildly successful TV show and a wife—not a domestic partner, a wife—who has her own successful career. There’s the Obama family in the White House and Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC…these are things that would not have happened when I was an infant. The representation needle has been moved. I will be giving birth to a daughter in a few months and I’d like to believe that when she’s my age, there will be lots of Ellens, Obamas and Melissas.
Che Guevera famously stated that a revolutionary must be motivated by love. I do not consider myself to be a revolutionary, but I am someone who walks in the footsteps of revolutionaries and who has embraced revolutionary ideals. And if you don’t love your people, your ideals and yourself, it is all for naught. I truly love and enjoy being Black and woman, though those are two things that bring with them great challenges. I don’t think I could be a nationalist and a feminist if I felt otherwise.
TFW: You are self-described feminist. How would you define/describe your feminist politics and ways of life? How does your feminist outlook impact your work, commitments, and movement in the world?
JAMILAH: I was raised to believe that women were as capable, significant and valuable as men. That we were entitled to the same rights, access and agency. These are simple concepts, but every single day we are reminded that much of the world feels otherwise. The misconceptions about feminism are many: women feminists want to lord over men, we don’t want equality, we want domination—sounds similar to those paranoid White folks who accuse Black activists and even someone as conservative as a President Obama of being racist and interested in oppressing Whites, right?–that we hate men, we’re ruining the Black community. That feminism can only benefit White women. The list goes on and on and on.Meanwhile, women and girls across the world are being sold into sexual slavery, are being raped and blamed for being raped, are being denied access to educational freedoms, are working for lower wages than men performing the same work. I can’t recognize this as the truth of our world without challenging it and I am surprised by the number of people, particularly women, who feel otherwise.
My feminist values/outlook don’t exist in conflict with my concerns about race and class. Oppression is oppression is oppression. You have the Tariq Nasheeds of the world who can talk a great game when it comes to race, but who are quick to enforce these patriarchal standards that render Black women to second or third class citizen status. Ironic that these are the men (and their women supporters) who accused Black feminists of wanting to be or live like White women. These guys want to be White men! They want to lord over Black women and silence our concerns. They pay dust to the concerns of women and LGBT folk and pose the Black male struggle as the definitive Black struggle. Free the almighty Black man and we’ll get to your little girl stuff later, maybe.
What so many of our people fail to realize—and it isn’t just the boldly sexist and homophobic ones, it’s also the folks who feel that gay marriage isn’t worth talking about until we destroy the prison industrial complex, that Black women’s gains in the academic and professional realms somehow indicate that we aren’t oppressed anymore—is that the key to our future is to fight against all the injustice in our space. The issues that are specific to Black men, to Black women, to Black children, to Black LGBT persons and the ones that fall somewhere in between. To me, that’s being a real feminist. I’m not joining up with some Black women’s empowerment movement that requires me to leave our men behind. I want us all to work together and love each other.