A Few Questions

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The neon yellow steps with words like Gender, Race and Feminist announced in bold black halted my hurried walk to the subway. It isn’t often that we see or say such words in public. I was especially struck by the question on the bottom step: Is RACE a feminist issue? Only when “feminist” is code word for “white feminist” does such a question arise. Black and other “women of color” feminists already live that answer.

The other questions, while still relevant, also seemed to issue forth from a “second wave” white feminist perspective. “You can’t reduce 21st century feminism to 1970s slogans,” my friend Tricia Matthew intoned as we stood and wondered aloud about the questions those steps posed.

After Googling the artist Suzanne Lacy, I found out that the steps were a prelude to conversations that took place on October 19 on steps and stoops along Park Place in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Creative Time and the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center for Feminist Art presented Lacy’s Between the Door and the Street, a public performance that brought together hundreds of feminist activists. Attired in arresting black and yellow, the activists facilitated discussions about contemporary gender issues.

Audience-member/participant Salamishah Tillet, professor and co-founder of A Long Walk Home, Inc. suggests in her piece for The Nation that the organic conversations that sprung up on the stoops and in the streets were a productive model of feminism-in-action: “By encouraging us to eavesdrop on these discussions, Lacy sought to break the fourth wall — the imaginary wall at the front of a traditional theater stage that separates the actors from the audience — as well as challenge the historical record of feminism as racially exclusive and single-issue focused.”

I’d like to imagine that those stoop conversations generated new sets of questions that reflect the diversity of those who were assembled there. What questions about gender and feminism should we be asking today?

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About jennifer williams

Jennifer D. Williams is a writer and professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies. She has published in academic journals and online at Ms.blog, PopMatters, among other sites. Jennifer is currently working on a book that looks at black women's urban literature between the Depression and the civil rights era.

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