South side Peoria native and Manual High School alum Terrion Williamson returns to her hometown to discusses her first book. Williamson will share her thoughts on "Scandalize My Name: Black Feminist Practice and the Making of Black Social Life" at the Peoria Public Library - Lincoln Branch at 3:00 p.m on May 21.
Williamson is an Assistant Professor of African-American and African Studies, with joint appointments in American studies and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota. She sets the tone for "Scandalize" early by reiterating how black feminism has been grounded in women working outside academia, and women who are particularly poor and working class. Like many black academics, Williamson comes from a poor, working class black community.
"And that totally shapes the way in which we come at questions," said Williamson. "Particularly thinking about the early stages of what gets talked about as second wave feminism in the 70's and 80's. But even in a more contemporary moment, which is thought of as third wave or even fourth wave feminism."
As more young people entered the academy and not necessarily those who were first generation college students, Williamson noted that feminist conversation evolved to some extent, but that black feminism in particular remained fundamentally rooted in a working class ideology and space.
"That doesn't mean that everyone who considers themselves a black feminist is working class or comes from that space," said Williamson. "But generally that's where that work has been grounded and has shaped the discourse in particular kinds of ways I think are really important for not only black feminism, but thinking about feminism more broadly."
So how does feminism more broadly, (read: white feminism) differ from black feminism? Williamson used work as one example, where early feminism pushed for women to be able to work in the same kinds of places with opportunities on par with men.
"For black women, we rarely have the opportunity to NOT work," said Williamson. "That work has been a fundamental part of our existence, even back in slavery when we were forced to work, and forced to work in particular kinds of way. And that becomes important because it changed the whole discourse and narrative around what feminism is, and who it is for."
Williamson incorporated media heavily into her arguments in "Scandalize My Name," specifically reality TV aimed at black audiences, as well as music. She used Karyn White's 1988 R&B hit song "Superwoman" as the starting point for examining the stereotype of the "black superwoman." She said the idea has been brewing since grad school when she wanted to write an entire book about reality television, as she recognized certain tropes emerging on especially shows aimed at black audiences. Anger was one such trope.
"Part of what I'm trying to do by way of my book is to get out of the conundrum that occurs by way of trying to think of media representations only in terms of good or bad. Negative or positive. Ultimately I feel those are unanswerable questions. I can make a case for a particular kind of show being a negative representation of black women, but there may be someone else who might suggest that image is liberatory for some reason," said Williamson.
She said during these conversations, the "experts" or those considered academics often have the loudest megaphones. She's trying to change that dynamic by embedding reality television themes into her arguments.
"Whatever one feels about the rightness or wrongness of particular kinds of representations or certain shows, I have found there are conversations occurring on reality television that are happening in few other places," said Williamson.
Keyshia Cole's reality show was one she relied on heavily to talk about drug addiction and its effect on black families. She said her generation had parents and close family members affected by the 1970's crack epidemic.
"And so the places where the generational conversations about what the crack epidemic meant and how it has affected our communities and our families showed up on reality television shows in ways that weren't showing up in another places," said Williamson.
Domestic assault and sexual assault is another topic Williamson saw addressed where it wasn't being given a conversation elsewhere.
"The ways black women are affected by domestic violence and sexual assault are so rarely talked about in public discourse, but are so fundamentally important to BE talked about because if affects our life so deeply," said Williamson. "And these reality television shows become the sites where those conversations can be had. I've had those conversations with those in the academy as well as with people who I know and love and care about who have never sat in a college classroom."
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