The Feministing Five: Zerlina Maxwell

ZerlinaIf you haven’t noticed, we’ve had quite a few new additions to the Feministing crew over the past year. Zerlina Maxwell, who also writes for Ebony, The Grio and Loop 21, is one of these new contributors. When she’s not writing her amazing commentary on the presidential debates and much more for this site, she also attends law school at night.

Zerlina got into political writing after taking a leave of absence from law school and working on the Obama campaign in Virginia (which you’ll read more about in the interview below). She wanted to continue political work after the campaign so she started a blog with a few friends, attended Netroots Nation where she met some of her favorite bloggers and writers and then decided to seriously pursue writing full-time. And we’re happy to have her as part of the Feministing family!

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Zerlina Maxwell.

Anna Sterling: What’s your favorite thing about blogging?

Zerlina Maxwell: I’m very opinionated. I want people to be convinced that my point of view on a particular topic is the right one. If I’m allowing you to think of a certain topic in a different way than you would have before reading something I wrote– that’s what I really enjoy. When people are like, “I would have never thought about it that way,” that’s my favorite feedback on a piece. One of the best things about [this job] is I’m doing something that I like. People are always looking for their passion and trying to make that into their job. I’m lucky to have paved the path for myself and have been really proactive about it. I’m literally emailing people and saying: “I want to write for you!” I’m really straightforward and I’m able to do that because I’m so passionate about it. Politics has been my obsession since I was 8.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

ZM: I really enjoy female action heroes. There’s so few women in real life that are like in action or science fiction movies with female characters that beat everyone up. Not that violence is the way to go, but women are generally weaker physically [than men] that I like that fantasy in a world where women are physically stronger. I have no idea why, but its my favorite thing! Like the girl in the Matrix and Underworld. She’s killing people. It’s not positive, but I like that! All those kinds of movies where women just kick ass.

I love Michelle Obama. I really really love Michelle Obama. Michelle Obama is the reason why I ended up in Virginia where I did not live, working on a campaign and sleeping under a desk for 4 months. It wasn’t really Barack Obama that made me want to work, it was Michelle Obama. I went to an event with her and she was so spectacular that I was like, I need to sign up immediately and help this campaign. I really admire her for acknowledging and taking on the burdens of being the first Black First Lady. You can tell she is aware of that position in history and so all of her movements, clothes and things she says are all calculated. She knows if she makes a mistake it will reflect on Black women as a group and as much as that sucks, it’s the truth. She’s carrying that burden for all of us so she’s my real life heroine.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

ZM: Newt Gingrich saying Obama is a food stamps President. The level of racism in the Republican party is so obvious right now that most people of color would be able to spot it, but for some reason they’re not called out on it enough. Newt Gingrich was in Congress in the 1990s when they reformed welfare. The welfare theme then was the evil, single Black mother who was lazy and didn’t want to take care of her kids, mooching off the system, taking money she didn’t deserve. And now, Newt Gingrich, who was in the middle of that controversy, is saying Obama is a food stamps President not only to remind everyone that he’s Black, but to smear him with the same racialized language to say he’s a Black president giving Black people money they don’t deserve, as if Black people in poverty are overusing welfare and food stamps. In reality, fewer numbers of white Americans are below poverty level and are overusing welfare and food stamps if you look at the statistics. Nobody brings that up. When he said [Obama was a food stamps President] at the debate in South Carolina, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and it was the first standing ovation at a a debate in the Republican party this cycle. Really? That’s what got a standing ovation? Saying something completely racist? Everybody loved it.

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

ZM: Making the movement more mainstream. When I first started writing for Feministing, I wondered, do I tell people I’m dating I write for a site named Feministing? And is that a test for what kind of guy this is? I don’t think that should be the case. It’s not necessarily that we only talk about women’s issues. We talk about everything through a certain lens. We need to get to the point where everyone knows a feminist blog is a blog about progressive politics and on top, talking about things related to women’s issues and that feminism is related to everyone. For example, I went to a Women, Action and Media! conference last year and there was only one guy. Feminism is not just women and we’re not just textbook issues that are usually associated with feminism. We’re much more than that and much more universal. We’re already doing the work and I just want people to realize that.

AS: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

ZM: French martinis are really delicious. Penne with vodka sauce. Definitely Melissa Harris-Perry. Her personality in real life is awesome so I know I’d be super entertained and I’d learn so much with Melissa.

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