Just as Chicago's record-cold spell began to let up the evening of Jan. 31, community members filled Women & Children First Bookstore to standing-room-only capacity to launch books by Northwestern University scholars E. Patrick Johnson and Jennifer Nash.
Both books tackle themes of race and feminism, among others, albeit from differing perspectives. Nash's tome, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality, for example, tracks how the concept of intersectionality has evolved, especially within academe, in the past several years. She explained at the launch that she was inspired both by the open-ended nature of the concept "intersectionality" as it was used by her students, as well as the centering of Black Feminism within discourse around that concept in the months following the election of President Donald J. Trump.
Nash noted that Black feminism was enjoying a "moment" post-November 2016, one that came about in part alongside an expanded discussion of intersectionality as a theoretical and rhetorical construct. But her project in the book, she said, was asking, "What are people organizing around? What does that mean, and how are Black women implicated in that?"
Following the electoral defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama, a defeat largely attributed to a highly-engaged Black female electorate, Nash added, "Somebody even thanked me in line at Whole Foods."
She said that she expected a certain amount of pushback, since she urges in the book that the acknowledgement of intersectionality be expanded beyond rhetorical policing and poses intersectionality, if so narrowly deployed continuously, as a threat to Black feminism's coherence. Nash added, "I want to free us up for other things and look at what intersectionality can tell us about sexuality, love and eroticism [for example]."
Johnson said that he was also prepared for criticism for his book, Black. Queer. Southern. Women: An Oral History. He acknowledged that the book, drawn from 79 interviews with Black southern women, would ultimately be an example of work compiled "across gender and class divides." He said that he tried not to be defensive about that complication, and turned to the women he profiled for their opinions.
Most of his subjects felt comfortable with him as writer, he said. Johnson had previously compiled remembrances of southern gay Black men, and said that he was intrigued by overlaps between those stories and those of queer women. He was asked at the launch why he used the term "queer" to describe his female subjects but had used "gay" to describe his male ones. Johnson said that many of his subjects eschewed the term "lesbian" since they had associated it with white women.
"I had to find a way to account for that, and 'queer' to me was a term that encompassed what those women were identifying with or disavowing themselves from," he added. None of his subjects were ashamed of their sexuality or gender identity, even if they did not like the term "lesbian."
"It did not tie into shame," he said. "It was not about being clandestine. It was about not being pigeonholed, or tied into an identity."