Written By: Jordannah Elizabeth
Every time something important happens to me, I’m sleep deprived. I got the word that author and feminist, Roxane Gay would be speaking in Baltimore the day of the event, and in the haze of my busy schedule, sleep deprivation and lack of financial abundance, I had to make a quick and conscious decision to do what I had to do to attend the reading of her new book, Difficult Women.
I asked a couple of sisters if they wanted to drive to the event, but ended up having to take a car a few miles out of the city (or my personal pedestrian perception of city lines) because the convenient location of the downtown library had been changed to The Church of the Redeemer. The church was tucked behind a roundabout driveway in a quaint in a part of town on North Charles St. I cannot describe the area in depth because I was lost in my own thoughts on the way to the event.
I could barely afford the fare at that time, but I felt I had to invest in a Black woman who took the time to travel the world to inspire Black feminists and progressive women. Most most importantly, Roxane Gay speaks about intersections of reality that tend to make people feel uncomfortable and enlightened at the same time.
As feminists, we should invest in one another. As Black women, we should speak and encourage one another.
I sat in the second row of the church, which was filled with mostly white attendees. I turned by body around in my seat and grazed the room with my eyes, looking at the faces of the sprinkle of women of color in the room. I was a bit saddened to not see anyone I knew except for my friend who worked at Enoch Pratt and was managing the event, which didn’t make seeing her any less pleasing, I just wished more sisters were able to attend as listeners and explorers.
After Gay read excerpts from three short stories in Difficult Women, she opened the floor up for questions from the audience. Of course, I was the first person to raise my hand after realizing no one in the room wanted to be the first to speak.
Writer to Writer:
Jordannah E: I really kind of need some advice as a radical Black feminist. What has happened recently with the Women’s March has convoluted or brought a series aggression in regards to relationships between women of color and white women. I was thinking about the “Pussy hats” and how all pussies are not pink, and how there was a level of innate racism that was embedded in the representation of the March by those hats. It was very strange how many women could not see this…
Since the march, I have been confronted and verbally, on social media and nearly physically attacked by white feminists while navigating in spaces where I was seeking safety and anonymity. I would like to know, how we as women of color can deal with aggressive interactions, and also how to stay safe when we don’t know who is going to be violent when engaging in conversations of feminism, politics and racism.
Roxane Gay: That’s a big question. [The March] was overall good, but as all things concerning social justice, was imperfect. In many ways those imperfections were unavoidable, alas it’s very difficult to have conversations when you’re talking to people who are not willing to recognize their privilege and their role in white supremacy. I think one of the key things is to pick your battles. Being radical doesn’t mean you need to engage with every single person.
In terms of safety, I don’t have the answer to that question, and it’s something I think about quite a lot because the people that dislike me are very vocal about that, and I almost wonder is this going to be the day when someone is going to be in the audience with a gun. Not an event goes by when I don’t worry about that. But I can’t hide either. I think you need to use your best judgement.
In terms of picking your battles, there are some people who don’t want to be reached and they are getting in your face, just to get in your face.
What little you said about the woman who was shaking with anger, I think she was shaking in anger because she was being forced to see herself, and that’s a hard thing for people to deal with, to see themselves for the flawed creature they are. She was struggling with that and she was taking it out on you. That’s when you know, “I need to walk away and it’s not my job to help her, or provide this emotional labor for her,” because those arguments are not going to help her.
The next time there is a Women’s March, and there will be another Women’s March, I hope it will be more inclusive. I honestly didn’t get the pussy hat. I thought it was pussy as in “cat”, and so when I saw the hats, I thought, “Oh, it’s cat, like a cat hat.” None of it worked for me. I didn’t get any of it. Hopefully next time, we’ll have a symbol that it more unifying.”
Editor’s Note: Jordannah’s question included some personal information about a specific run in she had with another feminist. Although she didn’t use names, we felt it was important to respect her and the other person’s privacy, so her comment was edited to reflect that decision.