Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot
Reviewed by Etyelle Pinheiro de Araujo
In Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot, author Mikki Kendall calls for practice-oriented feminism: one that moves beyond academic theories and manifests amidst the struggle for survival that characterizes the lives of various groups. Kendall declares her own feminism to be “rooted in an awareness of how race and gender and class all affected [her] ability to be educated, receive medical care, gain and keep employment, as well as how those things can sway authority figures in their treatment of [her].” Across eighteen different essays, she tackles a plethora of issues often overlooked by white feminists and argues that white feminism, by advancing the claims of white women alone, adds to the oppression of other marginalized groups, such as women of color, Indigenous populations, and LGBTQIA+ individuals. The book frames feminism as a movement that needs to incorporate the highly contextualized issues that affect different kinds of women rather than limit itself to the demands and hardships of a particular community.
The book is not conventionally organized; indeed, it produces many overlaps as it addresses a constellation of issues that inform and encroach upon the lives of women of color: solidarity, poverty, racism, the patriarchy, violence, fear, public health, education, allyship. Kendall regards these topics as some of the overarching questions that should guide the feminist movement, and, in her examination of each, she particularly emphasizes how it impacts the lives of marginalized women. Each essay serves a twofold purpose: 1) to characterize white feminists as a device whereby white women fight for the preservation of their privilege, all while remaining entirely oblivious to how their actions help sustain white supremacy (in truth, the author even asks whether white women regard women of color “as human beings at all”); and 2) to defend that feminism should encompass a number of issues that might initially seem unrelated to gender, but that are nonetheless central in the lives of Black women: affordable housing, access to high-quality basic education, disarmament, among others. These are portrayed as issues that determine not only questions of equality and equity but of sheer survival. In a word, Kendall understands that “everything that affects women is a feminist issue.”
One of the criticisms leveled by Kendall at white feminism is that it prioritizes gender to the detriment of issues of race, implicitly assuming that patriarchalism benefits all men in the same ways, essentially segregating the fight for women’s rights by isolating Black women. Instead, she favors the adoption of intersectionality as an underpinning principle for the feminist movement. As she states her case, rather than retrieving examples from the specialized academic literature, she enumerates stories and facts from everyday life.
The opening essay addresses the issue of solidarity, focusing on how it is made to primarily benefit white women. In the second text, which focuses on gun control, Kendall argues that, since low-income women of color in contexts of domestic abuse represent the main victims of gun violence, feminism cannot divorce itself from the ongoing debate on disarmament policies. The third essay, in turn, dwells on the question of hunger, decrying the way in which public conversations, rather than underscore social and economic aspects, tend to turn the blame on marginalized individuals themselves. This line of reasoning resurfaces in the fifteenth essay, wherein Kendall, tackling the question of housing and the difficulties faced by vulnerable groups to pay rent, accuses white feminists of backing policies that ultimately culminate in greater gentrification.
The fourth essay, named “of #fasttailedgirls and freedom,” discusses the sexualization of Black children and the lack of effective policies to curb sexual violence. Kendall maintains that the central issue has never been that not all victims speak publicly about their aggression, but some victims are not deemed valuable enough to be protected. In the fifth essay, she examines how patriarchy affects young women of color. She understands that to effectively end patriarchalism feminism must become more open to marginalized communities and challenge the ways in which young boys are shaped by sexist socialization. In the sixth essay, Kendall considers how Black women are depicted in writing and goes on to argue that the debate exceeds questions of respectability. We must unsettle the deep-seated ways in which society discusses blackness, poverty, and womanhood; to do so, she argues, we must first listen to underserved Black and female populations.
The seventh essay analyzes the impacts of racism on the aesthetics of beauty; in particular, it challenges the politics of colorism and the ways in which lighter-skinned women are more likely to be seen as compatible with existing beauty standards. Kendall believes that the feminist movement must challenge the hierarchies created by colorism and adds that the fight for aesthetic equity requires efforts on the part of all groups (as opposed to actions exclusively spearheaded by Black women). The eighth essay points to how women of color who struggle with eating disorders suffer from a lack of adequate healthcare. The discussion is complemented both by the ninth essay, in which Kendall bemoans the fetishization of Black women’s strength and ability to cope with adversity and by the sixteenth text, which examines the right to reproduction and the alarming rates of maternal mortality caused by Black women’s insufficient access to medical assistance.
The tenth essay revisits Kendall’s own experiences in the “hood,” focusing fundamentally on the disparities between her own trajectory (which revolved around academic dimensions) and that of her peers, most of whom struggled with substance abuse and eventually dropped out of school. The two subsequent texts address the vulnerability of Black women’s lives. The eleventh essay discusses instances in which Black women disappear or are murdered. In contrast, the twelfth considers the relationship between feminism and fear—more specifically, the fear of police brutality, given that Black individuals often choose not to request State assistance out of concern that this interference may bring about even more violence. The author describes the disappearances and murders of several Black women, using such accounts to illustrate how the State apparatus fails to address similar situations. She then contrasts this to what happens when the victims are white women. All in all, Kendall argues that there seems to be a need for victim characterization before investments and efforts are channeled into the resolution of a crime.
The thirteenth essay examines the relationships between race, poverty, and public policies. Kendall inveighs against the support offered by feminist groups to policies that directly jeopardized immigrants, Latinx communities, and women of color. She maintains that, by voicing their support, certain feminists pursued not equality but the preservation of their own privilege. Her general contention is that “white supremacist women have always existed and feel no allegiance to anything but racism.”
Kendall’s scrutiny proceeds in the fourteenth essay that addresses issues of education. She discusses how women have opposed the closing of schools in Latinx and Black neighborhoods. She also writes about how racism materializes in schools—at times by the hands of administrative personnel, at others through the actions of white students—and defines racism as a critical factor in the elevation of dropping-out rates. The seventeenth essay outlines the difficulties encountered by Black populations as they attempt to raise their children. Kendall argues that while white women grapple with how (un)feminist it is to have a babysitter, women of color struggle to keep their children alive and prevent them from getting trapped into gang dynamics or brutalized by State-sanctioned violence. While she undoubtedly views sexism and misogyny as serious issues, her emphasis always lies on how racism tinges and aggravates the experiences of Black women.
The last essay discusses how other groups, such as the LGBTQIA+ community, can be seen as allies in the feminist fight. She argues that multiple groups should join forces as they seek to advance the same cause. At the end of her essay, she writes that “the fundamental problem with white feminism has always been that it refuses to admit that the primary goal is shifting power to white women, and no one else.” She insists on the pressing need to move beyond white feminism and create a movement premised on the strategies and solutions developed by marginalized groups along with their history. She calls for an intensification of so-called mainstream feminism, which she believes must urgently seek more resources and invest more time in effective action rather than pursuing validation.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot will appeal to all those interested in the subject and, in particular, to students of the feminist movements. The book’s reasoning does, however, lose some of its robustness as the chapters unfold, becoming incredibly impoverished whenever she resorts to all-encompassing generalizations or arguments which do not stem from historical facts or relate to concrete examples. Nevertheless, Kendall’s critique of white feminism foregrounds noteworthy aspects that must be considered as we move forward in the fight for equality and equity.