Ain't I A Woman Collective

Centring the Voices of Women with African Ancestry

Interview with Feminista Jones: Part 1

In part one this interview our events coordinator Prisca Vungbo speaks with black feminist Feminista Jones about her activism, harassment and diaspora feminisms.

“Just email her!” The women of AIAWC drummed into my ears as I nervously hovered over the send button, reminding myself that my introversion would need to be put aside for this kind of task.

“Sent.” There was no turning back now… [I google ‘how to evolve into an ambivert].

The response was almost immediate and a few emails later I was on the phone to Feminista Jones. Nervous, I blurted out how she had inspired me and that I loved that she NEVER minced her words. Her encouraging tone calmed me down, she gracefully laughed and we cracked on. A conversation now so pleasantly engraved in my memory…

Prisca: In your biography, on your website, you mentioned that you’re ‘Black’ and that your race plays a big part in your “values and perspectives.” So with regards to self-naming what is your definition of ‘Black’?

Feminista Jones: When I think about Black, and I use Black specifically because I feel it’s a unifying term for all people of the African diaspora, I know that some people don’t agree with that, and I know that when some people say Black, they think only of Black people in America. But for me, when I say Black, it’s all encompassing. So it’s Black people in North America, South America, Europe, Africa. Wherever Black people are, that’s who they are to me. And we can break it down even further, but for me I just identify as Black because that is my way of identifying with all people of the African diaspora.

“I just identify as Black because that is my way of identifying with all people of the African diaspora.”

Prisca: Thank youI had the pleasure of attending WOWLDN for the first time this year, and it was amazing to see you on the panel for ‘Beyond the Booty?’ and ‘Who owns your body?’ Tell me a bit about your experience as a Black woman in the United Kingdom, and how it compares to your experience in the United States?

Feminista Jones: That’s an interesting question because I was only there for a few days. I did get to walk around a bit and I do travel a lot so I pick up and pay attention to different things when I am travelling internationally. A couple of things I noticed was that even though London and New York City are about the same size London to me seems quieter and cleaner, which I think does have an impact on what your experience is like as a woman. I just got in from picking up my lunch and whilst I was doing that I had three instances in which men were interacting with me. And two of them were less than favourable and this is like an everyday thing for me pretty much. It starts early in the morning, it ends in the evening. For the most part when I was in London I didn’t have those experiences but I did when I went to Brixton. I did have an incident where a group of men were kind of catcalling or whatever. But I found that it was a very different experience for me like that, and I found that once I opened my mouth and people heard an American accent, I feel like they maybe treated me “nice”, or “nicer”. I don’t know if I have American privilege because the people were kind of standoffish, but I heard that that’s what London is like and so is New York, so it didn’t really bother me. But I just feel like once people heard me speaking, it just kind of changed things for them, where they were so much more interested in what I had to say. I was working mostly, so I was at the centre most of the time so I felt like it was cool.

“There’s so much amazing work that’s happening in the feminist-sphere specifically by Black women; that I feel like I am doing an injustice by not actively engaging and participating.”

You know, it’s really interesting, the thing I mentioned when I was having conversations with people is that I was noticing that white women wear like Kente cloth and Gele and things like that. They don’t do that [in the States]. That was a shocker for me.

And I am a bit put off by it because white women in America, they know better than to do that. They just absolutely would not do that. And if they do they know that they are at risk for being called out for appropriation and things like that whereas in the UK it seems like the most natural thing for a white woman to do was to wear African print! So that was really kind of interesting for me and I had to check the head and see where I was feeling what I was feeling and when I deconstructed it I realised that it’s an immigration issue and it’s a lot deeper than I can explain right now.


Prisca:  What exactly did you say to the men because I find that more often than not we tend to just ignore it.

Feminista Jones: Right. Well here, just now yeah I said something. But when I was over [in the UK], I was actually with a group of friends and one of my friends was a guy and they didn’t care, they still said what they was going to say, kind of commenting and stuff. And he was just like “We knew this was going to happen. We saw them sitting there, we knew that as we were approaching that someone was going to say something. It’s just so predictable.” And I also just came from South Africa and in Johannesburg it was the same experience. When I was in Paris I had the same experience. So everywhere I go, in this particular Black body, I attract that kind of interaction from men, where they feel the need to comment on my looks. They try to approach me in some way, or say something that kind of sexualises me. It’s just like that around the world.


Prisca:  African American literature is quite dominant in conversations about, and of black feminism. Whilst such narratives are needed, how can we pave the way for narratives from Black feminists in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America (to name a few)? As in the case of Audre Lorde and how she kickstarted the Afro-German movement. What would you suggest?

Feminista Jones: I think that that’s so essential. And let me tell you, I just took a birthday trip around the world, and I am glad I did because it really really really opened me up to my own limitations in that regard. And made me feel like I have to do more to help elevate and amplify the voices of Black women around the world, because there’s so much amazing work that’s happening in the feminist-sphere specifically by Black women; that I feel like I am doing an injustice by not actively engaging and participating. It is part of why I am definitely talking with you and that’s why I am trying to connect with more people like your publication and other people as well because we can’t act like this work isn’t being done around the world, it absolutely is. And before the United States even existed there were women who were doing things that they could to try to elevate their voices as women. So as Black American women we are obligated to not only celebrate the work that comes from us, but to actually amplify the voices of women in Britain, Paris, Ghana and Nigeria, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Haiti, wherever the women are that are doing this work we have an obligation to do that. I think we need to be more proactive about that, and I think we need to make more connections with both.


Prisca: You did mention actively engaging and amplifying the voices of women all over the world. Women in Africa play a key, but arguably, underrated role in the economies in different African countries. With some Black women in the diaspora returning to Africa, how can their Western/European exposure and education support African women to gain recognition and wider exposure?

Feminista Jones: You know it’s really interesting because I just had this conversation with someone about all of the questions that you’re asking, which is great because it’s right in my mind. When I was in Paris, a lot of the women that I met, their families were not from Paris. They were from other countries such as Cameroon, Guadeloupe, Canada, and Kenya… all these different places. But these women identified as Parisian, but not French, right? So they have this connection to Haiti, one sister was from Haiti. So you have these Parisian Black women who are fluent in French, and English and other languages. And they are very much interested in the same idea of wanting to go to their homeland. The land of their parents, or their grandparents and be engaged in the communities there and just work. But they don’t want to feel like they’re coming in trampling and taking over. They want to respect the structures and the work that has already been done while understanding that there may be some resentment because they are coming from these more westernised places, and these westernised points of view. And it made me think about that as well, so when I was travelling, I really did a lot of listening.

“If you are going to leave your country or even just for a visit or even if it’s a move somewhere, particularly if it’s on the mother continent, you have to be sensitive to the fact that these women have been working for like years, decades, even centuries to try to fight for their power.”

So we would have these conversations where we realised that so much is the same. But then there are those subtle differences whereas if I were to move, and it’s something I have been thinking about, my first priority would be to connect with some of the thought leaders and the activists in the area and really kind of apprentice with them. Even though I have, we are talking decades of experience in this realm; I would still be new to how they do things, and what their interests are. And so I would take a step back and apprentice and learn, and I think that’s what everybody should pretty much do.

If you are going to leave your country or even just for a visit or even if it’s a move somewhere, particularly if it’s on the mother continent, you have to be sensitive to the fact that these women have been working for like years, decades, even centuries to try to fight for their power. And that they have been making strides in ways that many of us have not. So we should think about places like Rwanda and we should look at places like Johannesburg in South Africa where women are really recruiting black women and black women are doing so much down there. We need to look at what’s happening and get things done and learn from them.

Rather than go in and think, “oh well you know…I am from America, I am from UK, I know how to do this.” That’s not the approach that we need to take. We can’t do that and call it sisterhood.

Want to read more? Find part two of the interview here!

Image: courtesy of Feminista Jones

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