Academic Book Review- Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era by Ashley D. Farmer

Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era: Farmer, Ashley D.:  9781469634371: Books - Amazon.ca

            In the revolutionary book Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era by the Historian Ashley Farmer, the political, social, and economic impacts, and significance of Black women to the formation and development of the Black Power Movement was documented, accounting for the perspective of Black women who usually get silenced in history. The author does so by arguing that formations of womanhood by Black women were crucial sites of Black Power expression and investigates how they portray Black women’s intentional efforts to reformat racial, and gender hierarchies not only within the movement but in society at large (Farmer, 2017).  Farmer achieves this intervention by using the gendered imaginary to study Black Power and centering the research on the “theoretical, textual, and visual representations of black women’s ideas” (Farmer 2017, 2).  

Farmer defines the concept of “gendered imaginary” as “activists’ idealized, public projections of black manhood and womanhood” (Famer 2017, 2). This concept considered Black women activists to be independent intellectuals, and thus the diverse yet overlapping works of literature and artwork they created to broaden public opinion of Black womanhood became a window to their notion of liberation (2). By using different resources and data from those that originally claimed Black Power as a male-dominated era, Farmer was able to move the conversation of the Black Power movement and create a different conclusion about the era. As such, Remaking Black Power is a significant contribution to Black history, Black feminism, and intellectual history.

Remaking Black Power was a timely work with the increased rise of the Black Lives Matter movement after its three female co-founder activists were vocal during the 2016 United States presidential election and illustrated the influence of Black feminism in political organizing. Farmer’s brief introduction of Black nationalism, ideologies, and organisations along with a brief history of Black Power and discussion of key figures during the movement, and a brief history of Black feminism in the book was a good foundation of her research for the audience, especially those who found her book by exploring ideas regarding Black feminism after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the introduction chapter of the book, Farmer acknowledged that there are limitations in her research is addressing all the nuances of identity politics, and in the sources chosen considering it biases the book towards recognized organizations and print media. Chapter 1 focused on how the gendered redefinition of Black women was the development and evolution of the Black Power era, and thus much more than a response to the sexism of male activists in the 1960s. This was followed by a clear portrayal that the writing of Black womanhood was crucial sites through which Black women created inclusive application of political theory in chapter 2.

The next chapter explored how cultural nationalism in political organising created a push to redefine Black womanhood and re-understand gender roles. Chapter 4 on the other hand, situated Black power as a movement that had global scope by discussing the intersection of Pan-Africanism and Black womanhood, and thus highlighted the significance of gendered imaginary as Black women’s intellectual activism. The final chapter widened the scope of Black feminism in political and cultural work and countered the notion that Black nationalism and Black feminism were in oppositional theoretically and in terms of their activist pursuit.

            Farmer’s research illustrated that any future works on the history of the Black Power era that do not include Black women’s gendered experience are incomplete. This illustration has the power to influence other works of Black history and other areas of history by pushing Historians to ask themselves whether women were missing from the narrative because they did not play any role, or simply because they were not included.

Bibliography

Farmer, Ashley D. 2017. Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Book Review: Pachinko

Title: Pachinko

Author: Min Jin Lee

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literature

Pages: 453

Level of difficulty: 4/5 Dictionaries

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

Sunja, the daughter in a loving family falls for a stranger often seen near the market in her hometown in Korea as a teenager. Their interaction leads to her pregnancy but unfortunately, she soon realises that she cannot marry him. She instead accepts a marriage proposal from a gentle, sickly minister and moves with him to Japan. This decision further unfolds in a breathtaking way through the generations.

Trigger warnings : Assault, Addiction and Suicide

Favourite Quote:

“Sunja had heard this sentiment from other women, that they must suffer—suffer as a girl, suffer as a wife, suffer as a mother—die suffering. Gosaeng—the word made her sick.”

Pg. 373

Review:

Pachinko follows the lives of several individuals in a family tree from before the Japanese occupation of Korea to way after the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We are told the story from a bird’s eye view, where we see each character and learn about them from a third person’s perspective. However, the story was not difficult to follow at all. It was not only well written but highly moving too. I actually cried less than 50 pages into the novel.

On a whole, the story is about life, more specifically the lives of Korean immigrants in Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea and long after the Cold War, and thus encompasses many themes. The author did a good job of highlighting how racism and discrimination limit people’s options and changes their lives drastically. Something that is sadly still prominent in today’s time. She was also brutally honest yet compassionate while portraying the lives of women throughout the history of which the story plays out.

However, something I was disappointed about was the lack of explanation for certain characters death. Then again, it might have been intentional to represent life and how we rarely get answers to a lot of painful experiences.

Despite the story’s slow pace, it was a page-turner!

Intersectionality

The number one streaming song of the week January 12, 2019, according to Billboard was the hip hop/rap song Sicko Mode by Travis Scott ft. Drake. Like most if not all rap songs, the persona, Travis sings about all the women he has ‘gained’ because of his music career and about sex. This was evident from the lines: “All of these hoes I made off records I produced/(Don’t stop, pop that pussy!)”( Lenniger) Likewise, one minute and forty-two seconds into the music video, Travis is seen with numerous women of African descent lying with their butts facing the camera, on the floor of what looks like an abandoned car park in nothing but a bra and a G-string. He, on the other hand, sits half-naked on a sofa in front of all of them. The display of women of African descent in provocative clothes or bikinis dancing or interacting with the two rappers continues throughout the video.

The image created is that the worth of women of African descent is based on their sexual appeal (Gordon 246), and they exist only to serve men. This is because only women of African descent are being hyper-sexualized and sexually objectified in the music video. The image denies these women the power to be equal to men as they are “reduced to body parts rather than as whole persons with thoughts, feelings, and desires” (Gordon 246). In addition, they are denied the power to create their own narratives, because the image normalizes the stereotype of women of African descent as naturally sexual, fertile, and submissive to men. Hence, the image is controlling, and the dominate group men create the identity of women of African descent as “the other”. (Collins 68)

Malcolm X once said that “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” (Common) One area where this is very evident is hip-hop, which was birthed in America, because “the proliferation of highly sexualized and exoticized images of women…in numerous hip hop music videos…for the most part, [are] of African descent” (Maultsby and Burnim 306-307) . Hence, these women are not only perceived inferior to men, they are perceived inferior to women of other races too. This sexual objectification in the hip hop culture reflects different forms of oppression for women of African descent – their race, their gender, and their sexuality.

The group that benefits from the image discussed, apart from the music industry who receives lots of money from the popularity of hip-hop music, is men. This is because they get away with objectifying women of African descent and sexually taking advantage of their insecurity. When a negative image such as the devalue of self-worth is constantly repeated, it is “embedded in psyche”, and it eventually becomes the nature of the individual (Gammage 51). In addition, due to cultivation theory (Gordon 246), young girls and women of African descent grow up believing that they have to be sexually appealing to get and keep a significant other. However, young boys, and men are victims of the image too. They grow up with the notion that having sex is equivalent to power, and incorporate that into their lives and music, even if they enter the industry because the art form demands they speak of their reality. This creates not only a cycle of the image but of abusive relationships in the culture too.

The consequences of this cycle and this image are numerous. For example, girls of African descent are sent home from school because of violating dress codes, when in fact, it is because the institution “deems their bodies too provocative” (NowThisNews).

Due to the fact that the image of women of African descent intersects multiple areas, its solution needs to be intersectional. Liberal Feminist tools are required to tackle gender inequality because ‘female rappers’ don’t have the same opportunities nor popularity in the music industry. Poststructuralist Feminist tools are required to educate rappers on the impact of what they say, how they talk about, and depict these women. Marxist Feminist tools are required to stop the music industry from exploiting these women’s sexuality. Post-colonial Feminist tools are required to reverse European enslavement of Africans and colonial enhancement of the hyper-sexualized treatment of these women’s femininity (Gammage 34). Action needs to be taken now!

Works Cited

Common. “Malcolm X.” Twitter, Twitter, 24 Dec. 2017, twitter.com/common/status/944995848886218752?lang=en.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. Routledge, 2000.

Gammage, Marquita Marie. REPRESENTATIONS OF BLACK WOMEN IN THE MEDIA: The Damnation of Black Womanhood. TAYLOR & FRANCIS, 2017, http://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781315671550.

Gordon, Maya K. “Media Contributions to African American Girls Focus on Beauty and Appearance: Exploring the Consequences of Sexual Objectification.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 3, 2008, pp. 245–256., doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.00433.x

Lenniger, Shea. “Here Are the Lyrics to Travis Scott’s ‘Sicko Mode’.” Billboard, Billboard, 26 Sept. 2018, http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/lyrics/8477102/travis-scott-sicko-mode-lyrics.

Maultsby, Portia K, and Mellonee V. BurnimIssues in African American Music: Power, Gender, Race, Representation. Routledge, 2017, http://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781315472089.

NowThis News. “Author Monique Morris Shines A Light On The Black Girl’s Unique Experience In America.” NowThis, NowThis News, 29 Aug. 2018, http://www.nowthisnews.com/videos/her/author-monique-morris-on-black-girls-unique-experience-in-america.

“R&B/Hip-Hop Streaming Songs.” Billboard, Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/charts/r-and-b-hip-hop-streaming-songs.