Friday, February 13, 2009

Feminist Blogger Fridays #2: Interview with Renee of Womanist Musings

Today, I'm pleased to present to Fourth Wave readers the second interview in our Feminist Blogger Fridays interview series (the first can be found here). This month, I interviewed the intrepid and inspiring Renee who writes prodigiously over at Womanist Musings and just began new blog Tell It WOC Speak. As a great admirer of Renee's courage to tackle controversial subjects and articulate way of handling difficult issues, I'm honored to be able to include our interview as part of the series.

And without further ado...

1. Renee, in your very first post on Womanist Musings—your “Womanist Manifesto”—you establish your blog’s premise in relation to Alice Walker’s term “womanist,” which she describes as comparable to “feminist” the way “purple is to lavender.” That said, where do you see your blog fitting within the vast domain of the feminist/womanist blogosphere?

I think that Womanist Musings is unique in that I am fearless in the topics I choose to take on. I don’t specifically look for something controversial; rather I seek topics that allow me to reify one basic theme – all people matter. I think many blogs get caught up in being hip and rely on catch phrases to draw attention, rather than continually affirming a commitment to all of humanity. Womanism to me speaks not only for all WOC [women of color], but for all of those who know the sting of oppression. Instead of arguing about whether or not something is a feminist/womanist issue, I seek to continually point out that these are human issues because someone somewhere is suffering.

2. So, how would you characterize your relationship to feminism? Can you speak to why you prefer the term “womanist”?

I prefer to identify as a Womanist because I don’t find feminism to be inclusive enough. One example of this would be the murder of Sean Bell. Many feminist blogs were slow to cover this because they could not see how this was a woman’s issue. As a mother of two black sons who worries that one day some police officer will cut short the life of my precious child, this was very much my fight.

My relationship with feminism is stormy at best, simply because I find that it continually ignores issues that are important to WOC and to the poor. In a lot of ways it is a white-led elitist movement that is only interested in promoting the needs of a small section of society. There are many blogs written by WOC and yet none of them could be called a large blog. This is not because we do not have something valid to say but simply because of a failure on the part of feminism to engage with our issues and to value our voices. What ends up happening, is that one or two WOC become token spokeswomen and the rest are largely ignored.

3. Along those lines, during this most recent election, there was a lot debate about race and gender as political identity positions, including constant arguments about whether society oppresses women or people of color more. Personally, I found that line of questioning pretty offensive, but it did speak to the way women and POCs are regarded as separate groups by mainstream culture. As a woman of color, how do you negotiate the race/gender dichotomy? Do you feel torn socially or politically between your race and gender positions, or do you find that this divide has only been constructed by the media and doesn’t impact your day-to-day life?

Personally I refuse to play the oppression Olympics. Both my race and gender play a role in how I am treated. My womanhood and blackness are essential parts of my being and to be asked to choose between the two is highly offensive to me. The desire to split the allegiance of WOC does not stem from an altruistic position. White women want us to identify solely as women, to labour to help them achieve equality with the white male patriarchy and black men continually remind us of our blackness in an attempt to enlist our efforts to help them achieve equality with the white male patriarchy. This is a point I touched on in a post entitled Stuck in the Middle. By asking us to choose, what both white women and black men hope, is that we will be blind to the ways in which we are being used. If black women continue to labour in the service of others, we will never rise above the bottom rung of the race and gender hierarchy.

4. Anyone who’s read anything over at WM knows you’re very passionate about a wide array of issues, from poverty and race to sexism and homophobia. What made you decide to start a blog as opposed to some other form of activism? How do you feel blogging allows you to confront/interrogate problems in the world in a way other venues might not?

I decided to start a blog because of my children. When I brought them into this world, I promised both of them that I would do the best that I could to ensure that they had happy and successful lives. As part of keeping this promise I decided to start a blog so that I could be active about issues that I felt would affect them. Over time it quickly evolved into a place where I would speak out in the cause of justice, as I realized that the interconnectivity of the isms worked to hamper the life chances of many. Since racism is connected to sexism, etc., what might not seem readily relevant quickly became so.

Blogging is a format that allows me to engage with various people that I might not otherwise come into contact with. As the busy mother of two little guys, blogging allows me to divide my time between my activism and taking care of my family.

5. In your first post, but also many times since, you’ve used the phrase “my truth may not be your truth.” I find this particularly compelling as it suggests not only that different people perceive the world differently, but also that “different” does not have to mean “untrue.” Can you say a little more about your philosophy of truths? Do you still sometimes find it difficult to accept the opinions of others if they disagree with you? And how can we (or how do you) differentiate between a “different truth” and just plain wrong?

This falls in line with my belief that our binary modernist mode of thought is damaging on many levels. When we only look at things from one perspective we are necessarily ignoring the ways in which privilege has caused us to read certain situations. My truth is only valid as far as I can not only own my privileges but acknowledge the ways in which I have been socialized to believe that certain thoughts and or ideologies are naturally occurring. The wonderful thing about personal truth is that if we are open to hearing the voices of others and learning, it constantly changes as we grow as human beings.

In terms of someone having a different opinion or perspective, I quite encourage it on the blog. If at some time I have been blind to my own privilege, I expect to be called out. Sometimes it hurts and it is uncomfortable but it is in those times that I realize that perhaps I have not considered the valid experience of others. You know truth when you see it, because it acts on an almost instinctual level. We see so little truth in this life that when actually confronted with it, it has the tendency to cut through the bullshit like a knife.

6. On a related note, you’ve written some pretty contentious posts (and I’m thinking in particular of some of the posts directed at the MRA), which have garnered, in return, some pretty nasty comments and malicious responses on other blogs. One of the things I admire about you and your blog, Renee, is your willingness to speak out regardless of the possible fallout. How do your keep your cool, your integrity and your spirit amidst such occasional vitriol?

I don’t always keep my cool. On more than one occasion I have told the unhusband that had I not paid so much money for my laptop, I would have thrown it across the room reading some of the hateful nonsense people post.

I keep going because every once and a while someone will write me an e-mail thanking me for helping them to see something in a new way. I also will get such a passionate response from a reader to some of the hatred expressed by others, that it is downright inspiring. Most of the regular commenters at Womanist Musings are wonderful, bright, engaging people, and though we may not always agree, their dedication to speaking about the difficult issues with honesty warms my heart.

7. To change the subject slightly, you’ve just started a new blog, Tell It WOC Speak. Can you say a little about what your hopes are for this space and its use?

Tell It WOC speak is a blog I created to host what I hope will be a monthly carnival featuring the work of WOC and our allies. As I said earlier, there are no major blogs written by WOC and it is my hope to rectify that over time. Our work simply does not get the attention that it deserves and this is largely due to racism and sexism. It is my belief that if this is going to change, we need to work with each other and support each other. The carnival is my way of offering support to my sisters and allies that are daily working in the cause of justice.

8. That said, what are your hopes for the future of Womanist Musings? You’ve recently opened the space to guest posts; are there any other changes or expansions you’re planning in the near future? Are you happy with the way the blog is progressing? And do you have any aspirations to collect and publish some of your work?

There is a part of me that is very much considering taking on a few co-bloggers, but Womanist Musings is my baby and being the control freak that I am, I am not sure if I am ready to share my space to that degree. That said I hope to see more guest posts in the future to widen the conversations that are happening. I can only present ideas through my lens and different people with a different frame of reference will see a situation from a completely different point of view.

As a perfectionist I believe that I will always want to improve the blog. Right now my next project is to get a new template and make the blog easier to navigate than it currently is. I hope over the next year to see the readership continue to rise and thus have even more heated debate than we already do.

I do have a side project planned for the summer and that is an e-zine. It is my hope to gather some essays from WOC and our allies and publish them. Once again my goal in doing this is to get people thinking and talking. There are so many issues that we never discuss because we are afraid of offending someone and this leads to stagnation.

It is definitely my hope to get published one day. I love to write and it would be great to see my work in print, but, if not, I know that Womanist Musings provides me with an outlet to not only explore my passions but practice a craft that I love.

9. Well, I'll look forward to that e-zine AND to seeing you in print one day! You say you love to write, so what inspires you? Do you sometimes find yourself fishing for topics or do you feel that you always have a backlog of topics on hand? Also, as a woman with an “unhusband” and two small children, when do you find the time to write so prolifically and articulately about such a wide array of topics?

Actually the readers are really great at forwarding topics to me. There are many times when I have so much to write about in one day, I simply cannot cover it all. Often times as well, my inspiration will come from reading the work of other great feminist/womanist bloggers.

Finding the time to blog can be difficult. There are times days later when I read something I wrote, only to find that it is filled with tiny errors and I can only blame that on blogging with Yo Gabba Gabba or Johnny Test in the background. I try to write when the kids are sleeping but often times I am blogging in my jammies while the boys are watching television. The unhusband is extremely supportive about my blogging. He reads everyday and has occasionally commented, even though he has been cussed out on more than one occasion by my commenters. My family realizes that this is important to me and so each of them in their own way has made an effort to allow me the time and the space to pursue my passion.

10. Something a little less serious to finish up: every once and a while you post about your guilty pleasures. Do you have a current guilty pleasure (or more than one) that completely doesn’t meet your womanist/feminist/humanist expectations but that you love nonetheless? If so, what and why?

I would say that my extreme aversion to physical labour is definitely one of them. I have no problem telling people I’m a girl to opt out of doing anything that is going to make me dirty or sweaty. There is also my well known addiction to reality television. Most of these shows are not woman friendly and I know I should not be watching, but I am simply hooked. I try to justify it as junk food for the brain but really I know better.

Well, I think everyone's allowed a little cerebral junk food now and again. Renee, thank you so much for joining us today. As a loyal reader, I guess I'll see you back over at Womanist Musings now and in the future!

(The next interview will be posted on Friday, March 13. Stay tuned.)

1 comment:

sally said...

Great job, to both of you! I can't wait to read the next one.