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The Feministing Five: Jamia Wilson

Jamia Wilson is an intersectional feminist activist powerhouse, a storyteller, a media maker, and now, the first women of color to lead the Feminist Press.

Before the Feminist Press, Jamia was the Executive Director of Women, Action, and the Media, a TED Prize Storyteller, and the Vice President of Programs at the Women’s Media Center. Her thoughtful and sharp ruminations on race, gender, and women’s rights issues can be found in New York Magazine, The Washington Post, Rookie, Teen Vogue, Bust, and more. And if you didn’t think she could possibly get any more badass, she’s currently writing her own book on Beyonce and feminism.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Jamia for this week’s Feministing Five to talk about her new role at the Feminist Press, her own evolution in women’s activism, the feminist that inspires her most, and more! Catch Jamia on Twitter and @jamiaw and in the pages of your fave magazines.

Senti Sojwal: Congratulations on your new role as Executive Director of the Feminist Press! You are the youngest person to have this role and the first woman of color. What excites you most about what’s ahead of you, and in what ways do you hope the Press can grow and evolve?

Jamia Wilson: Thank you so much! What excites me most is that the press is coming up on its fiftieth anniversary as the longest running feminist press in the world. I recognize that in this position, as the youngest and first women of color in this role, I not only bring myself into this but I bring the communities that I’m a part of and the people who are doing this work to the conversations that we’re having along. I’m excited to be part of this team and to be leading the press at a time when we’re planning for our fiftieth and have our eyes on the future. It feels really special to me to have followed Jennifer, my predecessor, who has been a friend and mentor since I’ve been in the movement and someone who has inspired me as I was developing my own path in activism. To me, this is really an opportunity to model and experience what intergenerational feminist movement building and thought leadership means by having a board that has members my age, some younger, and some almost 90 years old! What draws us together is that we’re all feminists. It’s really special. We represent so many feminisms, and the press holds space for so many different ideas and we will continue to uplift feminism in many different forms. I’m so excited for that.

Senti Sojwal: What does intersectional feminist publishing mean to you?

Jamia Wilson: Well, one of the things I love about this press is that we are affiliated with a university. We are a trade press, so we uplift work from communities that aren’t often heard, and are actually usually systemically invisibilized. What I think is important and intersectional about our work is that even from when the press started, we have always been a space that says feminist ways of knowing are varied and comprehensive and global. When I think of the truly intersectional work we’ve produced, I think about the Afro-feminist coloring book that came from people who were out in the community creating things, and in our work uplifting work that has been lost or is hard to publish elsewhere. While there have been academics that have published with us, we are not gatekeepers who are saying that you have to have some specific feminist credential to have a feminist voice. We recognize that feminist thought leadership is inclusive and comes in many different forms and from various generations. We create space for many different perspectives and communities to speak, even if they might be in disagreement. That’s one of the reasons I took this job – I was inspired at the thought of many conversations happening at once. I think we also place emphasis on engaging communities that are most targeted. We are very intentional about that. For example, in the The Crunk Feminist Collection, those are academic voices but they’re also talking about hip hop and television and sex. We champion that as much as a text that might be seen as more traditionally academic. We have a radical reproductive justice book coming out this fall that is edited by Loretta Ross that I think is a true testament to our commitment to intersectionality because it represents a variety of voices within the framework that reproductive justice is a human right. It’s an inherently intersectional perspective driven by feminists of color and the thought leadership of black feminist theory.

Senti Sojwal: How have you evolved in your feminism since your early days in the movement? You are so accomplished today and have achieved so much as a thought leader, an advocate, and a visible champion of gender justice. I’d love to learn about how you’ve grown along the way.

Jamia Wilson: I feel like I’m growing everyday. Even being in this new role for under a month, I feel like I’m learning so much from my team and staff. I came into this role having done a lot of writing and editing, but not having had worked at a traditional publisher. I definitely have skills and a vision that may be considered nontraditional for a publishing company. I’ve been able to learn so much there, even with regard to putting myself out there for a position like this. It’s important to think about what role internalized oppression has in terms of thinking about what I’m capable of doing and leading. Interrogating how patriarchy and racism have impacted me in terms of my own spirit and thoughts about where I can go is a huge part of my growth. I’ve had to think, what habits must I let go of for the sake of my own well-being and perseverance, but also, in what I model to younger feminists and in what I give back to my community? I find myself in a deep practice of interrogating what I need to let go and what I need to maintain to fortify myself for the future and for the movement. One of the things I’ve learned more about my time in the movement is to really listen to the generations that have come before. I think a big part of that comes from my Southern African-American culture. There’s a level of deference and reverence for the older generation. It’s something I was taught as a value. My late grandmother lived to be 95 and my other grandmother is that age now. They were always very strong women. I’ve always looked to older women to guide me. It’s made me so much more committed to intergenerational feminism in a completely new way. I truly believe we all have to work together and that there is so much to learn from our foremothers who have dealt with so many things that we deal with now in a different form. Those roadmaps are already there. Ida B. Wells already told us everything that is going down. Unlearning is also so important to learning. Unlearning limited perspectives. Always consider who is not in the room. Being open and forthright about the fact that I have an invisible disability that I was born with. Being unapologetic about it and also remembering that because I have privilege not everyone knows that about me.

Senti Sojwal: There’s no denying the darkness of this political moment, especially with regard to gender justice and feminist liberation. How do you care for yourself and keep going?

Jamia Wilson: I care so much about this that Rookie gave me a column to talk about it! It’s always been my nature to nurture and care for others but not always so easy to do it for myself. I’ve been trying to do more of that. I really believe in sleep. I know I sound like Arianna Huffington, but I think setting boundaries around sleep, especially in a city like New York, where everyone is out and about all the time, is so important. I need to have some nights where I can just really get nine hours. I practice mindfulness meditation and am often involved in the spiritual practices related to my religion in terms of meditative practices, journaling, and movement to let go of negative space and trauma. I try to eat food that’s nourishing. I have an autoimmune disease, so I need to eat food that gives me energy rather than depletes me.

Senti Sojwal: Who is the feminist that inspires you most today and why?

Jamia Wilson: I feel like everyone always talks about mom, but I’m going to talk about mine. My mother is a feminist and has always unapologetically been one, just like my grandmother. She is a trailblazer in her field and has always worked in male dominated environments and has thrived. She has always pushed me to claim my power, own my space, and take up space even if other people didn’t want me there. I one hundred percent get it from my mama when it comes to that — boldness and having a vision and seeing myself in places that other people might not be ready for yet. She’s someone I greatly admire. My mom went to college very young and wanted to be independent in a time when that was really maligned. She’s someone people don’t forget — she supports and loves others so much. I wouldn’t be who I am without her support and coaching and her telling me that I have what it takes to do everything. When I was a kid, I would ask her, how come you don’t bake like other moms? How come you don’t do stuff like the moms on TV? She would tell me, I’m not like those moms. With me, you’re going to see food from all over the world. Work makes me travel, and I’ll take you with me. I won’t bake for you, but I’ll buy you pastries, and someone else will make them because I’m busy doing other things. She made it clear to me that she had a conscious choice to have me — that she had been on birth control when I was conceived and it didn’t work, but then she decided to have me. She also said she could have made another decision, and that one could have been right for her, too. I so respect that and that she respected me enough as a woman to tell me that. When I’d be upset about relationships, she’d say, I can’t believe you’re crying over some guy when you have empires to build. She changed everything about what I imagined as a possibility for myself.

Photo courtesy of Aubrie Pick

NYC

Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics, and has worked with NARAL, The Civil Liberties & Public Policy Program and its sister program PopDev, and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She currently works at Sakhi for South Asian Women, an advocacy organization that supports immigrant survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence through an array of culturally competent services and programs. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

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