Intersectionality in feminist and LGBTQIA+ Movements – Everything You Need to Know in One Book

Intersectionality in feminist and LGBTQIA+ Movements – Everything You Need to Know in One Book

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

One may wonder how being Black, queer, and feminist are related, and why they are all crucial to talking down the patriarchy, stopping violence on all levels, and fixing other systematic problems. In the monograph, Unapologetic: a Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, Charlene A. Carruthers argues why all three traits (Black, queer, and feminist) are necessary to make radical movements and transformation. She brilliantly breaks down stories of her community-organizing experiences, BYP100 (Black Youth Project 100), and her personal life in order to inspire revolutionary action. She does so by separating the book into chapters, starting with the idea of who, then discussing the what, and finally explaining why. This organization helps readers process her argument and learn some new information that they could use in their everyday life. To follow the path that Carruthers laid for the readers, this critical analysis will also be organized in the same manner. Carruthers uses analogies, personal anecdotes, historical figures, and diagrams to help the reader comprehend her argument and to understand the great amount of information that she gifted her audience within a short 140-page mandate for radical movements.

The powerful writing from Carruthers starts in her Author’s Note and Preface before her mandate even starts. She starts right off the bat with a list of terms that she would use throughout the book and the definitions that she would be using when describing her argument. For example, she defined the word ‘feminism’ by writing, “in the view of bell hooks, a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This includes political, social, and ideological methods and work” (Carruthers, X). By listing these terms and definitions in an organized way at the beginning of the book, readers can set themselves up for success to fully understand and appreciate what Carruthers has to say. In the preface, she sets us up with the points that she would use throughout the novel. One topic that Carruthers mentions here and is used throughout the book is BYP100. The Black Youth Project 100 is a team that is “full of brilliant liberationists who believe that a Black freedom movement is possible in our lifetime and that it must be Black, queer, and feminist” (Carruthers, XVI). Charlene A. Carruthers is part of this team so she refers back to it in many cases to share experiences that she had and even stories that others have shared with her during her time organizing with BYP100. She believes that collective education and storytelling of every individual’s story is crucial to fully understanding the topic, and she does an excellent job of pulling out stories that pertain to her premises. Next, she goes on to briefly explain how “Unapologetic contains histories that help tell a more complete story of the Black radical tradition” (Carruthers, XVII). She goes into more detail on this later in the book, but it is a good point to put into the readers’ heads towards the beginning to let them start thinking about where she is coming from. Carruthers uses the Author’s Note and Preface to give a smooth transition for the reader coming from their everyday life into a vulnerable work that requires much attention, which she does so brilliantly.

The name of the first chapter is called “All of us or none of us,” so with that being said, she starts with the idea of who the book pertains to. She starts with an attention-grabbing opening line that reads, “Nothing brings out the true colors of people in the United States as effectively or honestly as a presidential election” (Carruthers, 1). As many readers sit to read this book, they may have been unsure of what they were getting themselves into, especially because this book is only a few years old. With this opening line, she is able to point to every reader, not just the Black, queer, feminist readers. She is able to speak to everyone right off the bat because everyone was affected by the results of the 2016 election, some more than others. Carruthers knows the power of her writing and uses it to her advantage, as the reader will see some more, throughout her work. Once she explains the who, as known as everyone, she then talks about contradictions that she has faced as part of BYP100. She explains a story about a fellow organizer, Malcolm London, who had been wrongfully put in jail due to the color of his skin. Right after he was put in jail, BYP100 had been given notice that Malcolm London had sexually assaulted a young Black woman about three years earlier. Carruthers was put in a difficult situation because she had just spent hours getting the news about Malcolm London being wrongfully arrested into the media but she now has to deal with the sexual assault in a proper manner. As a queer feminist, Carruthers could not let the allegations go with no penalty so she goes on to write about how she and BYP100 solved this contradiction. They started a “National Healing and Safety Council to generate transformative accountability processes in cases where there has been hurt and harm involving a BYP100 member” which was built with the goal of prevention and intervention work (Carruthers, 18). This chapter held up to its strong potential in engaging the readers and helping to dive into this vast subject.

Within the next two chapters, Carruthers discussed the Black radical imagination and the reimagining of the Black radical tradition. In chapter two, she writes that “anti-Blackness works 24/7 to kill the Black imagination” which shows the deterioration that the author sees in her day-to-day life. Carruthers also gives an analogy of everybody being on a ladder, where Black women are at the bottom. They know that they are there and everybody else keeps them there because there are stereotypes that Black women can not do anything. She then goes on to explain the violence that people face, writing, “The Black imagination is systematically killed through gender-based violence, criminalization and incarceration, poverty, and environmental degradation” (Carruthers, 33). In explaining the types of violence that she is talking about, she includes a chart that shows the violence matrix of physical assault, sexual assault, and social disenfranchisement in places including the intimate household, the community, and the social sphere (located on page 34). The chart described above gives examples of each type of matrix and where it happens. The organization of this table helps the reader to understand Carruthers’ points on violence in an easy-to-understand manner. In chapter three, she writes about the ignorance and lack of education that is provided about Black history. Carruthers states, “What would be possible if Black children were taught that Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were among the founders of the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States? Johnson and Rivera cofounded the world’s first known trans rights organization, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)” (Carruthers, 49). The lack of education is a strong point about the American education system and how the government controls what children are educated about in schools. There is an extreme lack of education which she proves numerous times throughout this chapter. Carruthers writes, “Anyone committed to collective liberation must acknowledge ignorance and take up the work of comprehensive political education” (Carruthers, 51). As she was discussing before, people are uneducated and need to admit their ignorance before becoming educated, just as philosophers admit their ignorance before being able to learn philosophy. These two chapters demonstrate the idea of what her argument is, and Carruthers does an exemplary job at stating her argument and backing it up.

Within the last couple of paragraphs, Carruthers wraps up her ideas starting with three commitments and five questions to leave the reader with. The three commitments for a movement are “building strong leaders,” “adopting healing Justice as a core organizing value and practice,” and “Combating liberalism with principled struggle” (Carruthers, 64). These commitments are what she thinks will help lead to radical transformation. The five questions that she lists are “Who am I,” “Who are my people,” “What do we want,” “What are we building,” and “Are we ready to win” (Carruthers, 92-108). These questions will guide any radical movement to the results that they want to see. With these commitments and questions, Carruthers is setting any radical movement up for success so she can see change at some point in her lifetime. She concludes her mandate with the quote, “Only Collective action can bring about the transformation our world needs” (Carruthers, 138). She uses this line to tie together all her points on the who, what, and why aspects of her argument in an elegant way.

In conclusion, Carruthers does an excellent job of organizing her argument into an engaging mandate including analogies, charts, and stories to convey her argument. Unapologetic is the perfect work of non-fiction for readers to admit their ignorance and dip their toes into the stories of Black, queer, and feminist people. She organizes her points and explains them in a way that everyone can comprehend what she is saying, and does so in a respectful manner. She understands that white people, cisgender people, or straight people may be reading her work so she explains all her premises so that her wide audience can fully immerse themselves into her argument and understand where she is coming from, and where she wants to end up.

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