Interview with Feminista Jones: Part 2
In part two this interview our events coordinator Prisca Vungbo speaks with black feminist Feminista Jones about self-preservation, social media and the advice she would give to her younger self. Missed part 1? Read it here!
Prisca: You stated that you have “decades of experience.” So with regards to this statement could you share with us some insight into your personal journey to feminism, and whether you get tired? Because it can get a bit tiring and how do you practice self-preservation?
Feminista Jones: That’s a great question. I feel like I’m perpetually tired, because I’m tired of the bullshit. Rosa Parks said they portray her as this old tired woman. She said, “I wasn’t old, I wasn’t tired,” she was like, “the only thing I was tired of was giving in.” And it seems that when you reach that point where you are tired of hearing these stories of abuse of your people, when you’re tired of hearing the injustice and the horrible treatments, you almost have to live in that perpetual state of being tired of all of it in order to keep working to end it, right?
Feminista Jones: Once you become comfortable you become complacent and then you stop fighting. So it’s definitely tiring, it’s definitely exhausting. I mean mentally, physically, spiritually it is… But the biggest thing that I keep at the forefront is that I know that where I am is a part of a journey that’s on a continuum. Sexism and racism are not going to end in my generation, they are not going to end in my son’s generation and I don’t think they are going to end in my grandchildren’s generation if my son decides to have kids. But what I know is that the work that I am doing right now is continuing to build upon the foundation of people who came before me, and my hope is that I can set out some guidelines and maybe fix some of the errors in our ways.
The biggest issue with Black freedom struggle has always been the sexism in them, and that’s just been in every country. You know, you had black freedom fighters where some of them have been misogynists; some of them have been very patriarchal. So what we’re doing with our generation is really countering that and really trying to change that because part of why these earlier struggles across the world in the 60s and 70s and 80s fell off is that we were plagued by that sexism. So now we have this generation of like, “Ok, well our job is to correct that, and push it forward.” And I think that that’s what we’re doing right now; we’re correcting those errors, and still building upon the good work while adding our own. Our issues today are sexual assault and police brutality, which are very big issues in our community these days. Domestic violence is big so we’re focusing on those issues, trying to make the improvements when we can so that when we pass it to the next generation they can continue to do the work. And I am thinking long-term. That is what wakes me up in the morning. I am thinking that today is another day that I have the opportunity to put something in place that will be effective 50-100 years from now. That’s how I think about it.
“I know is that the work that I am doing right now is continuing to build upon the foundation of people who came before me, and my hope is that I can set out some guidelines and maybe fix some of the errors in our ways.”
And what do I do for self-care? I write, I spend a lot of time with my son, I travel, I love having opportunities where I can combine work and travel. I do a lot of reading; I actually read a lot of young adult kind of novels so I read a lot of those. I do have an affinity for wine although for the next few months I am trying to stay kind of dry [laughs].
It’s tough. But I knew what I was getting into when I decided to take on this role so you just learn to live with it.
Prisca: You mentioned that we’re correcting things and we are now the generation that is pushing forward. Share your views on social media activity and how it can bring change. Recently The Times covered police brutality cases such as Walter Scott, and the use of #BlackLivesMatter came out of twitter and I wondered if you had any thoughts on the use of social media in journalism and communication.
Feminista Jones: I think what separates our generation’s ability to get work done from previous generations is that now we have instant access to each other. So we can connect and network and build in ways that I think are unifying, and that really strengthens our movement and helps us move forward with meeting people around the world. Because I think what was happening before was that there were different groups doing similar work but they weren’t really connecting so some of it was redundant. But then they also didn’t get the numbers that they needed. But now with social media we get information about all these different types of group activities and movements that are around the world so we can provide support to and we can connect with. So I think that is really helpful. I think the dissemination of information is revolutionary actually, and I think what social media is doing for our generation is what the television did for people in the 1960s. It gives us a visual representation of what exactly is happening. It’s one thing when you hear about it, it’s another when you see it. And I think that that has an upside and a downside because the downside is that we are constantly seeing and hearing. We are hearing audio, we are seeing video and images of these really horrible treatment of black people around the world, and I think that that’s is inevitably going to have negative psychiatric and emotional effects on our people. So it’s a double-edged sword. I think in terms of motivating and mobilising people, social media is just amazing. It’s something that people are going to be writing about for decades to come. Particularly this era between 2010 and 2015, in my opinion, is really going to be historically valuable when assessing how people were able to use social media for these movements. I mean I mobilised over 100,000 people in four days using Twitter and Facebook. Something like that would’ve taken at least a year or so to plan before the absence of social media and the internet. So it absolutely has had an impact.
“We can connect and network and build in ways that I think are unifying, and that really strengthens our movement and helps us move forward with meeting people around the world.”
Again, going back to the dissemination of information, we’re able to correct a lot of the stereotypes and the negative ideas that people have about issues like feminism and things like that. So the more I get to talk and the more I get to share, and the more I get to write about feminism from my point of view and from my experiences and the knowledge that I have, the more people can consume that, and when they consume it their minds change. And every single day I have somebody telling me that I changed their mind about feminism or I introduced them to new ideas that they hadn’t thought about before. I think that that’s what’s really essential to any kind of power building and any kind of breaking down of structures and systems. People have to have the knowledge. And I think that that is really the most valuable way that social media has been able to help us.
Prisca: You previously mentioned the topic of inspiring other people. I just want to get a bit lighter and ask what would you say to your younger self? What advice would you give to your younger self now?
Feminista Jones: My younger self? I was like this 20 years ago. And it’s really really fascinating because the people that have known me that long will say to me whenever my birthday comes along that, “you haven’t changed a bit” [laughs]. They will see me on TV or they’ll read about me in a magazine and they would be like “yeah, we always knew this was going to be you.”
I’ve always been the one who has spoken out for women, for people of colour. I’ve just always been the one that has been like, “that’s not right, that’s not right.” I may not fully understand everything, I may not have the language put down 100% but I’ve always known when something wasn’t right. I’ve always been fearless in speaking up about it. I would tell my younger self that you don’t have to take on everything because I think that that is probably going to be my fatal flaw and the cause of my downfall – just taking on way more than any rational human being should ever take on but I can’t seem to not do it [laughs]!
“We need to train another generation of freedom fighters.”
I was just talking with the ladies at Cornell University, and I was like, “you know we have this sense of if I don’t do it, who will?” And think that that’s something Black women internalise in a very unique way. We have this, “If I don’t do it, who will? If I don’t take care of the family, who will? I don’t do this work, who will?” And I’ve got to be able to work it out and say that yes, there are other people who can do it even if it seems that they are not doing it the way that I think is best. Or they may not have the same experience or education that I do but there are other capable people out there and perhaps all they really need to do is get some training. That is something that I have been thinking about and talking with some people about. I know that people feel inspired by me, they feel motivated but I actually want people to learn how they can do this. We need to train another generation of freedom fighters. So I am really thinking about this idea about; how can me and some of my colleagues turn this work that we do into something sustainable? So I am really looking into that idea, because we cannot do it all by ourselves, we can’t. There are not enough of us, there are not enough hours in the day, and there are not enough financial resources and emotional resources. So I would definitely tell my younger self or even other younger people to pace yourselves, really focus on one or two things that you’re extremely passionate about; things that you would be willing to give up your own freedom for. You’d be willing to go to jail or that you’d be willing to die for. If you have things like that in your life, those are the things you need to spend your life working on. And that is what I do. It is tough but it’s worth it. It’ll be worth it in the end I believe.
Image: courtesy of Feminista Jones