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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Cara

Review: Hood Feminism |Tash's Reading Nook

March is women's history month and I thought there was no better way to start my reading nook series than to spotlight a book about intersectional feminism: "Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women White Feminists Forgot" by Mikki Kendall.

The first time I heard about Hood Feminism was in 2020 as part of the wider discourse surrounding race and politics in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd and Breona Taylor. At the time, I thought to myself " I don't need to read this book, I'm a Black feminist who is pretty clued up". I didn't see myself as the book's target audience. But four years later my opinion changed, and I decided to give reading it a go.

Now, just as a trigger warning this book is heavy, Kendall doesn't sugarcoat anything. It is a raw examination of the lives and experiences of African-American women from the hood, particularly through anecdotal evidence and statistics. Kendall shares her own, often harrowing, experiences of growing up in the south side of Chicago and the lessons she has learned along the way ranging from topics such as gun violence, the adultification of Black girls, reproductive rights and housing disparity. I appreciated Kendall's writing style, the book is written academically, both critically and analytically yet it remains accessible. At the same time, Hood Feminism feels like a very personal book; each chapter pulls back the curtain into Kendall's lived experience, or the people around her as she references her children, her abusive first marriage and her grandparents.

Writer Mikki Kendall and her the cover of her acclaimed book "Hood Feminism"
Book Cover and Author Photo

I also appreciated Kendall's acknowledgement of the struggles that the LGBTQIA community also face and how modern feminism can be selective when choosing who to fight for. Kendall reiterates that oppression is so ingrained that even in a movement that is fundamentally about the rights of all, each faction has a privilege that can be leveraged, arguing that "[W]hite women can oppress women of colour, straight women can oppress lesbian women, cis women can oppress trans women, and so on.", highlighting that we are all complicit in upholding the patriarchy, whether we are aware of it or not.

Published in 2020, Kendall doesn't hold back in critiquing 21st-century feminism and how marginalised communities such as transwomen, disabled women and women in poverty are victims of multiple minorities and are faced with challenges such as misogynoir and implicit biases which further sideline them in a movement that is fundamentally meant to be inclusive for all. Kendall's central argument in the book places women of colour at the forefront of her work, which is a refreshing take to see in feminist literature and her work is underpinned by the notion that intersectionality, both acknowledgement and implementation, is necessary for feminism to work. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989 in which she describes how race, gender, class and other factors can overlap and intersect with one another. White feminism is often packaged as the only acceptable version of modern feminism and it doesn't take into account issues and fundamental rights that marginalised women may face. Kendall doubles down on the fact that the modern-day feminist movement remains fairly white in the first chapter "Solidarity is Still For White Women". Staunchly arguing that white feminism is often dismissive of the hurdles that non-white women have to face in their daily lives, Kendal doubles down that "the myth of the Strong Black Woman has made it so white women can tell themselves that it is okay to expect us to wait to be equal with them because they need it more". The stereotype of self-reliance and independence is especially damaging is it devalues the legitimacy of the struggles and concerns of women of colour, invoking a hierarchy of needs which further sidelines them onto the outskirts of the movement.

Red, black and white feminist poster with Gloria Steinem and Dorothy PitmanHughes describing "if you're dissing the sisters, you ain't fighting the power"
Feminist Poster Promoting Intersectional Feminsim

Source: Unsplash

Kendall's teachings can still be applied in 2024, taking the example of when Barbie director Greta Gerwig and Barbie lead Margot Robbie's seeming snubs in the best director and best actress categories was labelled "one of the biggest shocks in recent history" by the Associated Press (even though Gerwig was nominated for best screenplay). Gerwig's snub was deemed a feminist issue that all women should be enraged about, with the BBC, Time Magazine and the New York Times racing to cover this outrage. Vulture's Jen Chaney went as far as to suggest that if a man had made Barbie then he would have gotten a nomination. However, when African American actress Taraji P. Henson spoke out about the pay disparity that she had experienced as a Black actress working in Hollywood, not only a week earlier, few mainstream media outlets addressed this pervasive issue, despite both controversies highlighting the ingrained sexism and misogyny in Hollywood, signalling that there is still work to be done.

Whilst being subversive in its critique of the feminist movement, "Hood Feminism" isn't a complete denigration, rather it appears hopeful in parts and offers up food for thought on how the movement can take on a more inclusive approach by acknowledging the suffering of all women not just centring on white cisgender womanhood. My main critique of the book is that as Kendall is writing about her lived experience in the USA, at times it felt as though the Black experience could only be viewed through the lens of an African American perspective. The 'hood' is not an exclusively American phenomenon and I would have liked to have seen some studies or data from a global perspective as the Black experience isn't monolithic.

This book took me a while to get through, at 258 pages certain chapters are quite dense and require moments of reflection after reading. The chapter "Education" stuck with me. As a former teacher, feminism and education have always been intrinsically linked. In this chapter Kendall delves into the topic of institutionalised racism in the states, highlighting how early racial profiling can start in the education system and the long-lasting effects that can have on BIPOC communities, especially through the school-to-juvenile criminal pipeline. We can also see this in the British education system too with Black Caribbean students being three times more likely to be excluded than white pupils. When we think about intersectional feminism the first things that come to mind may be ethnic minority women being treated unequally, however, Kendall argues that intersectionality spans wider than this and issues such as education, mass incarceration for young Black men, bullying in schools are all intersectional feminist issues.

"Hood Feminism" is a must-read for anyone who calls themselves a feminist. It isn't a comfortable read, particularly if you are not a BIPOC. Kendall pushed the boundaries and allowed to to question our definitions of feminism. Before reading this book I hadn't considered homelessness and food inequality as feminist issues. Kendall cleverly informs us as to how these topics beyond gender and sex are related to wider issues of inequality. Ultimately 'Hood Feminism" can be used as a teaching aid which pushes you to check your privilege(s), offering insight into an often overlooked perspective in mainstream feminism which can no longer be ignored if feminism wishes to be truly impactful.

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