So I’ve taken a short break from fiction and spent the last few weeks reading articles and essays that focus more on topics like sociology and politics. I felt it appropriate especially in light of everything that has happened recently. The essays I focused on were all written by Black women and focus topics like feminism and police violence. I’ll briefly discuss them here.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
I’ve been interested in reading more from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, especially after how much I enjoyed Americanah. I’ll eventually get to her other novels, but since her essays on feminism were easier to access and quicker to read, I decided to give them a read. I think the real value of these essays was getting the audience, particularly Nigerians but also other Africans and the world at large, to think about the ways in which their societies/cultures promotes disparity between men and women and invite them to take an active role in combatting it. In We Should All Be Feminists, which was adapted from the TEDx Talk she gave, Adichie gives lots of examples from her life and from Nigerian culture to underscore the ways in which society siphons men and women into these very narrow interpretations of masculinity and femininity that they end up trapped in. In Dear Ijeawele, Adichie gives suggestions to her friend who had newly become a mother, to help her child reach her full potential by identifying and avoiding the trappings of gender roles when the child is young. Among the suggestions, Adichie encourages her friend to teach to her child to be inquisitive and to embrace her identity.
Neither of these two essays get super theoretical or analytical or anything like that, but I thought they are certainly good introductions especially for her African audience who may have some apprehension towards the concept of feminism due to its perceived “un-Africanness”, or are just oblivious to sexism due to its commonplace nature.
Audre Lorde – “Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface” (from Sister Outsider)
Originally published in The Black Scholar under the title “The Great American Disease”, Audre Lorde’s essay on sexism came in response to an essay written by sociologist Robert Staples in 1979 titled “The Myth of Black Macho: A Response to Angry Black Feminists.” Lorde confronts sexism within the Black community and infers that sexism is a deterrent to Black liberation. I wasn’t able to find and read Staples’ essay online, but based on context it sounds like Staples maybe saw feminism as an affront to Black identity, a point which Lorde refutes from the very start of her essay: “Black feminism is not white feminism in blackface. Black women have particular and legitimate issues which affect our lives as Black women, and addressing those issues does not make us any less Black.” Lorde takes Staples (and men at large) to task, challenging Black men to choose the targets of our rage more appropriately and arguing that it is not productive for us to discredit Black women’s work simply because we are not at the center of it. This essay was full of quotables; this is one of the ones that stood out to me the most:
It is not the destiny of Black america to repeat white america’s mistakes. But we will, if we mistake the trappings of success in a sick society for the signs of a meaningful life. If Black men continue to define “femininity” instead of their own desires, and to do it in archaic european terms, they restrict our access to each other’s energies. Freedom and future for Blacks does not mean absorbing the dominant white male disease of sexism.–Audre Lorde, “Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface”, from Sister Outsider
Derecka Purnell – “How I Became A Police Abolitionist”
Given everything that has happened over the course of the past couple of months, there has been renewed talk around the subjects of police and prisons, and the sustainability/necessity of these institutions. While these much-needed conversations are taking place, there has, understandably, been skepticism about what abolition of these institutions would look like and how it would work. Even I have had a little difficulty imagining a world without some of these institutions, because they’re so prevalent. So human rights lawyer Derecka Purnell’s essay, “How I Became a Police Abolitionist”, came at a pretty convenient time. In it, Purnell details the rough, violent environment she grew up in and her community’s over-reliance on 911 calls, despite the fact that “Police couldn’t do what we really needed. They could not heal relationships or provide jobs.” After she was initially put off by the “utopic” idea of abolishing prisons, having lived in a community filled with violence, Purnell was introduced to abolitionist frameworks that focused on “eliminating the reasons people think they need cops and prisons in the first place.”
She expands on the ways in which the current system fails its constituents and the different ways in which we can invest in initiatives and institutions that help deter crime at the source. Most importantly, Purnell challenges the readers to understand that right now there is no clear-cut, linear path — a better future will require risk and experimentation and bravery to take a first step. Overall I found this to be a really interesting essay that help broaden my thinking on these issues.
Chelsea Oware – “How Does A Historical Understanding of the Impact of Colonialism Help Us to Understand Contemporary Gender Relations in Postcolonial States?”
I figured I’d include this since I enjoyed reading it: so this is an academic paper that I found because it was retweeted onto my timeline, written by a university student named Chelsea Oware for what appears to be a Gender and Development course. The topic looked pretty interesting, and I actually enjoy reading research like this that deals with sociology, so I decided to give it a read. Oware researches her hypotheses about how British colonialism affected Africa by observing how it transformed the social and political gender norms of the Ashanti tribe of Ghana 🇬🇭 and the Igbo tribe of Nigeria 🇳🇬. She takes a look at the levels of power and influence women in these tribes had before the British came, and then observes the ways in which Britain’s introduction of Victorian gender dynamics ended up undermining African women’s social/political independence. Maybe I’m just a nerd for this kind of stuff 😅 but this ended up being one of my favorite things that I’ve read this month (so far). I’m not totally sure how copyright/ethics will work in this case so I won’t post a link, but I will link the writer’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/cloudchels
3 thoughts on “Reading Roundup: Essays from Audre Lorde, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and more”
These all sound like good reads! Especially the last one. You’re right that Chimamanda’s essays are very introductory. I find they are more useful for people who are new to (or skeptical about) the concept of feminism. Thanks for sharing!
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Thanks for reading!
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Thank you for sharing this list! I have had a chance to read through the Derecka Purnell essay and some of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work. Looking forward to read through the others as well.
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