“Rave On” is the Page Turner series that asks feminist writers, artists, musicians, activists, leaders, and scholars to talk about a book that completely rocked their world. Today we feature make/shift co-editor and copublisher Jessica Hoffmann on Women, Race, and Class, by Angela Y. Davis.
When I was 18, I lived for a few months with my best friend at her mom’s house. I’d just moved back to my hometown after some time away, I had no money and no job, and moving in with either of my own parents wasn’t an option. So somebody else’s mom took me in.
The house was full of stray adolescents like me, plus my friend and her siblings and sometimes a woman who didn’t want to go home to a fight and etc., etc. The mother who was the head of that household was in the midst of a messy divorce from an abusive man, while figuring out how to feed and house a rotating crew of us. At 40-something, she’d just gone back to school to get a teaching credential, and she was juggling a few odd/marginal jobs in education along the way.
Once it seemed clear I was staying for more than a few days, I got put into the house/child-care rotation. I did a lot of babysitting, vacuuming stairs, scrubbing tiles. At some point, the mom of the house realized that what she really needed help with was her schoolwork. It was hard for her to keep up with all her assigned reading when there was so much else to juggle, so she asked me to read the books on her syllabi while I was knocking around the house afternoon after afternoon, and then I’d tell her about what I’d read while I helped her cook dinner. I’d be at the stove stirring a sauce, and she’d listen to my initial summary while she cut vegetables for a salad. I’d switch to setting the table, and she’d ask me a series of questions to get a better grasp of some theory.
She was in a teacher-ed program rooted in an anti-oppression framework, so the stuff she had me reading was amazing: a slew of bell hooks titles, local news stories that revealed the class stratifications in public schools, Suzanne Pharr’s Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, and then, one day, Angela Davis’s Women, Race, and Class. I already understood quite a few things about sexism from growing up as a girl in a patriarchal society. And I’d been more recently learning from books about how that worked structurally. I’d also been learning—from hooks, Pharr, zines, conversations—about the ways systems of oppression are intersectional. Yet still. When I read U.S. history through Angela Davis’s eyes, everything shifted. I read about systematic, forced sterilization of women of color in the U.S., and I realized how colonized I’d been by my education and experience—how capital-H History and all dominant narratives are meant to colonize.
From the moment my jaw dropped at the info Davis was dropping on those pages, every familiar narrative became suspect, every “history” had to be read critically, and I knew it was so, so important to read, listen to, affirm, speak, and otherwise live in relationship to the vast and substantive universe of marginalized stories that are actually true.