Reclaiming Our Space represents the transformation of what is virtually Black women’s influence on social media.
While Black women have played a part in social justice long before the days of Twitter, it has reached a new era in the past few years, in part because of the opportunities that social media can provide. Feminista Jones shows us exactly how Black women’s influence on social media has changed how these social movements operate. From boosting ratings by live-tweeting a show to building momentum on digital spaces for social issues. Jones reveals the ways Black Feminists have used social media to create social change.
Jones introduces herself as a queer Black Feminist community activist who believes that “Black Feminism is the key to Black liberation (8).” Her stated aim of the book is to answer the questions, “how do we move forward? What do we all lose by not moving forward? What does “moving forward” even look like? And what innovations and political and societal progress are stymied in our refusal to deal with all this? (6)” Before introducing us to the myriad of ways in which Black Feminists use social media to amplify their voices in “moving forward,” Jones takes up the difficult task of providing a concise understanding of Black Feminism, and it’s complexities. A strength of this book is that it offers a political and cultural context of the evolution of Black Feminism as a movement that now finds itself amplified on social media. Its look into the movement’s historical roots, however, is a bit of a disappointment considering how in-depth the analysis of where it is today is.
Jones goes on to briefly explain how Black Feminism “has been the guiding theoretical framework for our collective progress (6).” While analyzing the nuanced understanding of the Black female identity both on and offline, she makes it clear that Black women are erased in two ways: “Where all the women are White, and all the Blacks are men, we are not White enough to be women and too womanly to be Black (11).” She helps the reader to grasp what she believes should be the basic premise of Black liberation. Her philosophy is that Black liberation should center the experiences of marginalized groups that exist within the Black community to eradicate oppression instead of the “trickle-down (6)” approach, which puts Black cisgender, heterosexual men as first inline. In this analysis, she briefly touches upon Black Feminism as the “theoretical template (8)” that offers the best chance towards liberation from systemic racism since it’s inherently intersectional and incorporates all Black people.
She recalls the Combahee River Collective, a Black Feminist organization that made sure to be intersectional, who felt if they would not speak for Black women, no one would. She draws on existing discourse from Sojourner Truth, Audre Lorde, Queen Latifah, Angela Davis, and Alice Walker to show how diverse and broad Black Feminism is as an ideology. Her reference to some of their work shows the different political and social trends that Black Feminism has influenced. She also uses the work of current scholars such as Meredith Clark, who has written an award-winning dissertation on Black Twitter, to show how Black women are using digital spaces as a tool to be heard and supported.
To explain how Black women are building community on social media, Jones takes a look at "Black Twitter," and some of it's most successful hashtags, which were created by Black women. These hashtags include her own #YouOkSis, which she was inspired to create after an incident with street harassment. Hashtags such as #BlackGirlsAreMagic and #BlackWomenLead are also movements offline, others which started as unpaid labor such as live-tweeting “Scandal Nights” then turned into compensation for black women when marketing companies saw a boost in viewership. These hashtags have helped the community fight back against discrimination, exclusion, and erasure.
The personal accounts of her experiences can become a bit chatty, but Jones is at her best when she’s recounting the ways she’s watched black women use social media to make an impact. She sits down with some of the women who created these hashtags to detail their origins. These innovators include CaShawn Thompson, Jamie Broadnax, and Glynda Carr, to name a few. Cashawn Thompson is the founder of the Black Girl Magic movement, which highlights Black women’s accomplishments. Jamie Broadnax is the editor-in-chief of Black Girl Nerds, which has inspired live-tweet events for Black television and cinema. Glynda Carr is the founder of Higher Heights in America, which supports and invests in Black women in politics.
In these examples of Black women who made a community in their digital niche, Jones does an excellent job of inspiring the reader to use their platforms. She believes using “personal branding, activism, and marketing strategies (66),” such as regular live-tweeting, coverage of events that don’t receive attention from mainstream news, community involved hashtags, and innovative tweet threads can help them be heard.
Feminista Jones has captured this moment in history that is being pushed forward by Black Feminists. Reclaiming Our Space is an essential contribution to feminist literature and theory because it shows how Black Feminism has changed culture and society by building digital communities and using social media as powerful platforms. As she says in her book, “origin stories matter (16),” and by documenting the start and continued influence of Black Feminists on social media, she has drawn attention to their work, which doesn’t get the attention it deserves. As Black Feminists continue their work, I hope someone picks up from where Feminista Jones left off in sharing their stories so that it doesn’t go untold.
Even those who have grown alongside social media will learn something new from this book on the benefits that social media brings. Those looking to understand Black Feminism not just as social theory but as a social movement will find this book adequate. Those looking for a theoretical discussion on Black Feminism may have to rely on other sources. It’s not a lesson on social media but a lesson on the tools used by online communities. Not only is it a look inside the work Jones and other Black Feminists are doing, but it’s a source of inspiration on how you can use social media to make a change too.
Reclaiming our space: how Black feminists are changing the world from the tweets to the streets
Feminista Jones, 2019, Beacon Press, Boston, MA
198 pp., ISBN: 0807055379