book review: De Facto Feminism

de-facto-feminism

De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland by Judy Juanita. EquiDistance Press| October 2016| 233 pages | $19.99| ISBN: 0-9716352-1-0

RATING: ****/5*

Essential feminist reading, these provocative, contemplative essays cover feminism, sexuality, spirituality and race with clarity and depth. In her outstanding debut novel, Virgin Soul, author/activist/teacher Judy Juanita details a young woman’s transformation and radicalization when she joins the Black Panther Party. I admire Judy Juanita and how she experienced so much and remains open to new experiences. She’s open and caring and understands both the realities and limitations and joy in a following creative endeavors and passionate causes.  Several months ago I received an email informing me that this essay collection would be released in the fall and asking if I’d like to review it. I soon received the review copy along with a lovely hand-written note. In the introduction author Judy Juanita writes: “Though exploration and unintentional trespass I’ve crossed boundaries of art, sexuality, spirituality and feminism at the margins of society, where sexual-racial bullying is most intense. Freedom fighters, word warriors and pushy heroines have informed the public of this dilemma, this discomfort borne of alienation, classism, sexism and racism. I stand among them.” Being a white female feminist I won’t proclaim to understand her detailed essays on race such as “Black Womanhood #1” but I’m glad to be both an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement and removed from White Racist America. This essay collection thrives as an insightful meditation on the connection between black women and current events in this society. Most essays first appeared in The Weeklings where Judy Juanita is a contributing editor. Readers will glean new information, empathetic moments and enlightenment.

“Cleaning Other People’s Houses” proves to be an interesting contemplative piece because so many educated women find themselves under-employed at various times of their lives (nearly my entire adulthood). There’s something to be learned in every experience. She learned through the clients for whom she worked as well as in the work itself. Juanita offers: “Whenever I ran into problems, cleaning or otherwise, I feel back on the great rhetorical ‘Why am I here?’ Testing my strength against that of my ancestors? Tackling a horrific job that one should ever have to do? I knew it was temporary, and it wasn’t horrific, just tedious and inglorious.” Two essays tackle writing:  “A Playwright-in-progress” and “Putting the Funny in the Novel.” The first essay explains what she learned about her process and her needs as a writer. In the other when her agent tells her to add more humor to her novel, Juanita embarks on stand-up comedy. She decides that her novel doesn’t need to be funny. In “The N-word: Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater,” she reflects: “Used with the threat and/or act of murder, discrimination, prejudice, or brutality, of course the N-word is an abominable travesty. Used with affection between friends, in the height of lovemaking (yeah ,people get freaky with it), when making an emphatic  point in dialogue between podnahs, e.g. at a barbershop, on a street corner, at a family dinner with o.g.’s in the family a little toasted, the N-word is appropriate.” Black Lives Matter, the author’s personal Black Panther Party experience, gun-obsessed America and mass shootings powerfully evoked and reflected upon in “The Gun as Ultimate Performance Poem.” There’s a plethora of cultural and historical references in the thorough and provocative “De Facto Feminism.” She writes: “The blur of legality, morality and practicality at the heart of de facto activity has been a feature of African-American life since the first Africans arrived on these shores–and a part of immigrant life. Making it in America means going from the margin to the mainstream, not so easy in one generation. The stigma that black people carry as pigment forces them to be what others would term illegal, immoral but not impractical. The dividing line between feminism and black independence is necessity.”

–review by Amy Steele

 FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the author.

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