The author maintains it is a myth that digital activism is less important than the organizing being done on the ground.
“Black women’s relationship to feminism has always been a reflection of ‘both/and,’ where both race and gender were crucial to the strategies and futures we developed.”
In this series, we ask acclaimed authors to answer five questions about their book. This week’s featured author is Moya Bailey. Bailey is Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultures, Societies, and Global Studies and the program in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Northeastern University. Her book is Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance.
Roberto Sirvent: How can your book help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?
Moya Bailey: Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance speaks directly to the way Black women and people interpreted as Black women are treated in society. I coined the term “misogynoir” in 2008 to talk about the rampant anti-Black misogyny that Black women negotiate, particularly on digital platforms. This text will be the first book length analysis of the word and its implications. The text also explains how Black women and their allies use social media to challenge these negative representations by creating content for themselves that is more in line with what we want to see. Whether through hashtags that create community, YouTube shows that reimagine relationships, or even Tumblr posts that recalibrate our ideas of what and who is beautiful, Black women, and Black nonbinary agender and gender varient folks are creating what they need and want while also challenging the way they have been maligned in media. I’m excited for this book to get into the hands of BAR readers because I think I do a good job of explaining why race and gender need to considered together, that we need to end the sickly synergistic way that race and gender combine into misogynoir if we really want to achieve the liberation of Black people.
What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your book?
I hope activists and community organizers see their work reflected in some of the examples of transformation I offer in the text. I also hope they are inspired to keep imagining new worlds with the media they so masterfully wield in new ways. I hope that they are inspired by the stories of Black people who use social media in generative ways and I hope it leads to more experimentation on different platforms and perhaps sparks a desire to create new ones. Activists and organizers already know the value of social media and one goal of this text is to remind everyone else what they already know. For some reason this has me thinking of a envisioned Black Planet that truly connects the diaspora. I’d love to see and be a part of the creation of something like that with community organizers and activists at the center of such an effort.
We know readers will learn a lot from your book, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?
I hope readers un-learn the myth that digital activism is less important than the organizing being done on the ground. Additionally this book makes clear that this distinction is false as both what is happening in digital space and in the world informs each other. I want to dismantle the barriers that would separate activism from academia and from art. We need all the tools we have to create a new world. I also hope the text helps us unlearn a false conception that talking about sexism, transphobia, homophobia, misogynoir is a distraction or takes attention away from dealing with the harmful effects of racism in our lives. None of these oppressive forces operates in isolation and if we are going to achieve liberation, all forms of kyriarchy have to go.
Who are the intellectual heroes that inspire your work?
The Combahee River Collective is an important part of my activist and academic genealogy. Their statement, particularly the lines, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression,” is at the core of all of my work. Demita Frazier, one of the members of the Collective, has also been instrumental in my thinking about intergenerational coalition building and I hope this book is a bridge for some older members of our communities who see the digital as a distraction. Additionally, the people I met through Tumblr played such an important role in shaping my political thinking. Attending Spelman College is what set me down the road to thinking about misogynoir and all its harmful effects on Black women. Professors like Beverly Guy-Sheftall, M. Bahati Kuumba, Ayoka Chenzira, Akua McDaniel, Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, Tarshia Stanely, among others really helped me to develop my critical thinking skills. Cathy Cohen’s work has been so important to my thinking about the limits of identity and the need for coalitions based on people’s relationship to power. I am super grateful to be in conversation with their intellectual work and I hope to continue to be in future projects.
In what way does your book help us imagine new worlds?
By focusing on both the generative and reactionary aspects of Black women’s digital resistance I argue for the dissolution of an either/or when it comes to our activism. For me, Black women’s relationship to feminism has always been a reflection of “both/and,” where both race and gender were crucial to the strategies and futures we developed. This text helps us imagine new worlds by looking at all of the ways we have transformed misogynoir’s negativity into new outlets and possibilities for ourselves. I think the text pushes us in new creative directions that mean we can imagine new worlds with infinite possibilities for all of us. I hope the text inspires us to dig deeper into our radical imaginations and envision other possible ways of relating to one another. The conclusion is an opening, a call for our transformation of misogynoir through experimentation in a bunch of different ways including how we address harm, how we script relationships on web shows, and how we might recreate social media platforms such that they best suit our interests and not corporations. This book is a reminder that we don’t have to accept what we are given, we can imagine something else entirely too.
Roberto Sirvent is a teacher living in California.
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