Posts Tagged ‘ identity politics ’

Danzy Senna on Identity Politics

I’ve already talked about the book To Be Real a few times. One of my favorite essays was the introductory piece by Danzy Senna, also titled “To Be Real.” In it, she talks about trying to find an “authentic” identity to maker her real. She explored the search for a “neat culture box.”

She writes:

“I was left with only questions. To Be or Not to Be: black, Negro, African-American, feminist, femme, mulatto, quadroon, lesbian, straight, bisexual, lipstick, butch bottom, femme top, vegetarian, carnivore? These political identities let me into the maze of American identity politics, and hopefully out the other side.”

I’ve been trying for months to come up with something clever to say about this essay I very much enjoyed. I’ve been searching for some intelligent discourse on the appeal and danger of identity politics. Something about how we are always more than we seem. How we each exist at the sum of all of our identities. Something about how making the boxes too small pushes others out.

I’ve been thinking about this more today, 9 years after the September 11, 2001. With a lunatic threatening to burn Korans and American up in arms over the place of Muslims in American society, it seems more important than ever to remember that people are more than symbols, or labels, or movements.

Needless to say, I still haven’t formed my coherent thoughts. Instead, I will just share the concluding part of her essay.

“…it is not my “half-breed” lipstick-carrying feminist muddle that is too complicated, but identity politics which are too simplistic, stuck in the realm of the body, not the realm of belief and action. I have become suspicious of kente clothe and womyn symbols, the sale and mass consumption of cultural artifacts. My yearning to be real has led me in circles, to red herrings called identity, those visible signifiers of liberation that can be bought and sold as easily as any other object. Breaking free of identity politics has not resulted in political apathy, but rather it has given me an awareness of the complexity and ambiguity of the world we have inherited- and the very real power relations we must transform.”

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Review: To Be Real

I always read at least two books at once. One is always a novel, and the other is more often than not a collection of feminist essays. Most of these collections read like a school assignment. There are a few interesting essays, and a lot of uninspiring rambling. In contrast, the collection “To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism” was a pure delight.

Now don’t get me wrong, as in any anthology, some pieces are better than others. However, this one had a much higher good read to tedious read ratio.

Published in 1995 and edited by Rebecca Walker, this collection seeks to break down notions of what makes a feminist, showing the “infinite number of moments and experiences that make up feminist empowerment.” This is a collection that goes beyond experiences of being a women in a sexist society, and explores contradictions and ambiguity. It’s about lesbians embracing a femme identity, it’s about fulfilling a white wedding fantasy, it’s about male dykes, rape fantasies, and creating a sexy bachelor parties without female strippers. It’s about coming to terms with your feminist “failures” and knowing that those makes you no less of a feminist.

Though published 15 years ago (Was 1995 really 15 years ago!?), these essays are as relevant as ever.

In the introduction, Rebecca Walker writes, “A year before  I started this book, my life was like a feminist ghetto. Every decision I made, person I spend time with, word I uttered, had to measure up to an image of what was morally and politically right according to my vision of female empowerment.” A decade and a half later, young feminists struggles with this same dilemma. (Or perhaps I should say, me and my peer circle struggle with this same dilemma- I don’t know for a fact that other worry about the same thing, though I have a sneaking suspicion that they do.) I wonder how my sexual desires fit with a feminist identity. I worry that I am buying into mainstream culture too much as I write a fashion blog. I question my ability to be a “good” feminist because I’m spoiled with white privilege. This book explores the array of ways that feminism manifested during the third wave.

Essays I particularly enjoyed include “Femmenism” by Jeannine Delombard on merging third wave feminism with third wave lesbianism, “Identity Politics” by Jennifer Allyn and David Allyn on merging names in marriage, and “Close, But No Banana” by Anna Bondoc on coming to terms with ones political “failures”. Seriously, this collection is worth having on your shelf, or at least worth checking out from your local library.