Feminista Jone‘s Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets is the first book I have read that delves into modern Black Feminism. It gives definitive histories of several high profile Black feminists who have made their way in the world through social media and the internet. The first few chapters talks of origin stories, both of the feminists/womanists themselves as well as the hashtags that helped launch modern movements that center support around Black lives and Black women.
I am a white woman who has recently started her journey toward becoming involved in social justice. Since around June or July 2017, when I ‘formerly’ rejoined Twitter in pursuit of a new academic goal on obtaining a PhD in Linguistics, I began to follow Black women. At first I started with linguists, who then RT’d Black feminists, who utilitized Follow Friday to show me the way to other Black women. My following count shot from about 160 to 400 in a matter of a few months, and currently it sits around 870; many of those people are Black women who educate the Twitterverse about social justice issues.
Reading the origin stories included in Jones’s book gave me a whole new appreciation to the women I have been following for nearly two years. It has given me background to who they are, where they pour their energies, and how they have created national and/or international movements in the name of Black liberation from an intersectional way of living.
Jones’s love of hip-hop permeates this book, adding a unique voice that will resonate with its music fans and give additional perspective to those of us who are not familiar with the genre.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Reclaiming Our Space is that Feminista Jones was just as much as an online person as I have been. In Chapter 3, “Thread!”, she shares stories of the internet as it used to be: the days of AOL chatrooms and instant messanger, stories of the desire to connect with other people who would understand you way better than anyone IRL, the resulting internet meetups and how the internet has evolved since those days really mirrored a lot of my own experience. We obviously lived in different online circles, but a lot of what we sought from internet friends and acquaintances was much the same.
Jones gives details about how the internet has evolved with the invention of social media, and how Black women have really made it what it is today. There are many accounts within the book that shows how the current use of Twitter hashtags is indebted to the ingenuity of Black woman: from marketing campaigns to live-tweeting, from organizing conferences to galvenizing the public for movements in the streets. These ladies know what they’re doing.
I have been on Twitter on and off since June 2008. I had started to lose interest in Twitter just as many of these large campaigns for social justice took root. But at that point – between years 2010 and 2015 – I know I wouldn’t have been following the right people to hear wind of any of these movements, and if I did it would have been the wrong information. That’s how insular into my white privilege culture I was.
Since rejoining Twitter, and following many who have written anti-racism books, I am trying to get my hands on the books that I think will be the most useful in empowering the way I will think about the world for the better. Feminista Jones’s book is useful to white women in that she tells us exactly what we need to hear: Black women aren’t here to save us. She tells those hard-to-swallow truths that get white women in their feelings. Luckily for me I have already heard some of this before and can avoid getting butt hurt about it – or at least recognize that I need to sit with my feelings and reflect on them. One of the things Jones writes that really stuck with me is the following:
“[Liberal white women] seek comfort. They seek salvation. They seek alleviation from the burden of truth and the challenge of real action. They want to ensure that Black women keep showing up in the ways that serve their best interests, so this new onslaught of admiration has felt less celebratory and more like pressure to add more work to our already full plates so that they, too, might benefit from our labor. They’ve begun to see us as Mammy 2.0, the perpetual supplier of digital comfort and salvation. They regarded us as wise (we are), they acknowledged us as strong (we can be), and they tried to position us as wells from which they could drink and be filled with refreshingly new points of view that made them feel better about being White (you cannot). They did not want us to be who we are; accepting the complex fullness of our humanity would mean having to respect our right to say no, which may have eventually denied them access to whatever comfort they were seeking in these trying times. They believed they were complimenting us by saying ‘Black women will save us,’ ‘Black women have been right all along,’ and ‘We need to follow the lead of Black women,’ but they were not. They began to demand more work without our consent, masking it as praise, admiration, and support, all while projecting their fears onto us.” (pp. 149-150)
Jones’s no bullshit approach is the exact thing we white women need to hear. There are a few chapters full of information that white woman need to read to realize what kind of work we must acknowledge and do if we are truly going to help Black women and other marginalized women become liberated. What the above paragraph and other parts of this book has taught me, personally, is that while it is worthwhile and necessary to educate ourselves (as white women) with Black feminist thought, we must also remember that this is our work to be done. We need to stop relying so heavily on the labor Black women already do. We need to pick up our slack without trying to put more work onto Black women.
Feminista Jones has written a valuable book for our time. I was already beginning to explore Black Feminism in its origins (such as the Combahee River Collective statement, which Jones includes portions of in her book alongside her analysis), but this book has made me look to finding other recently published titles that center Black Feminism within the pages. Jones drives home what will truly lead us all to be free – free from racism, sexism, classism, and other isms – Black feminist thought and praxis.