Do Me Justice: Responses to the Literature and History of Six 19th Century African American Women

Written by Dr Kiefer Lambert

Edited by Jessica Hannah

Illustrated by Maia Walcott

Introduction

“Children, as there is no school to-day, will you read Sojourner the reports of the Convention? I want to see whether these young sprigs of the press do me justice.”

– Sojourner Truth, quoted in Anthony, Gage and Stanton, History of Woman Suffrage Vol. 2 (1881), page 926.

When, in the late 1860s, Sojourner Truth challenged the “young sprigs of the press” to do her justice, she was perhaps being a little unfair. By that time, Truth was already the legendary figure that many people are familiar with today: the tall, physically powerful, formerly enslaved woman, who had walked away from her enslaver’s plantation because he had broken an agreement to free her, had become involved in the Cult of Matthias in New York City, had shunned her enslaved name by renaming herself Sojourner Truth, had calmed a riotous mob by singing to them, had published her narrative, had begun copyrighting and selling portraits of herself to raise money, had campaigned for women’s rights, had stopped Frederick Douglass mid-speech with the question “Is God Gone?”, and had given her own famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. No one, apart from Truth herself, could ever really hope to “do justice” to her. 

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The subversion and empowerment of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s “Black Woman”

Written by Hope Olagoke 

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Sâde Popoola @shadz_art

Poetry (either reading or writing it) had always been a form of artistic expression I tried to evade – a habit I picked up from secondary school as I found poems often ambiguous. My swift decision to major in English and literary studies in university lacked a reminder that I would have to deal with poems throughout my degree. A course I took in my junior year of university introduced me to Négritude, a cultural and literary movement that laid importance on embracing African heritage and identity. Therein, Léopold Sédar Senghor’s “Black Woman” was recommended as a Négritude poem written by one of the reputable figures, who pioneered this significant cultural movement. Thus, I discovered the masterpiece that would not only ignite my love for poetry, but also awaken my sense of self as African and, above all, as a Black Woman. 

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I May Destroy You, Atlanta and Get Out: Afro-Surrealism and the everyday horror of Blackness

Written by Laura Hackshaw

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Daley North

This is a show tune
But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail

Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

–  Mississippi Goddamn by Nina Simone

‘‘Afro-Surrealism is drifting into contemporary culture on a rowboat with no oars…to hunt down clues for the cure.’’

–  D. Scot Miller – Afrosurreal Manifesto: Black is the New Black a 21st Century Manifesto (2009)

*This essay contains spoiler alerts for several TV shows and films

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Learning the Multiplicity of Being with Akwaeke Emezi

Written by Amuna Wagner

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Olamide Florence Adeoye aka Sharp Txngue

Do you believe in spirits? And does it matter whether you do? Akwaeke Emezi taught me that to Black people this question is essential for collective survival the day I stumbled upon Freshwater (2018) in my partner’s bookshelf. The novel pulled me into the life of Ada, the child of a Nigerian father and Tamil mother who suffers the pain of being a spirit trapped in flesh. An ọgbanje, to be exact. Ada is born a screaming baby “with one foot on the other side” (back cover), only a half-step ahead of madness. When she moves to the United States for college and her boyfriend sexually assaults her, spirits that have been living inside her emerge and assume increasing autonomy: the feminine Asughara, masculine Saint Vincent, and a collective “We” of brothersisters. Ada continues life as a fractured, multiple being, navigating her several selves’ desires and darkness.

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Centring Pleasure Activism with adrienne maree brown

Written by Amuna Wagner

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Olamide Florence Adeoye aka Sharp Txngue

“How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience?” (back cover) asks adrienne maree brown in her phenomenal book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (2019). Guided by its opening chapter, Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic: Erotic As Power” (27-37), the anthology explores a world that centres pleasure and care for ourselves and others. The book doubles as a collection of radical theories and a study guide of hands-on practice. I was living in Cairo in 2021 when I stumbled across a class on pleasurable feminisms; a group of people gathered weekly to intimately study the book, intrigued by brown’s question: “How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life?” (back cover). Over the course of three months, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good reordered my world view and became my road map on how to live a consciously political life without guilt.

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Octavia Butler is in Defence of Failure: Kindred’s Black Grief as a New Dawn

Written by Alma Simba

Edited by Katya Zabelski

Illustrated by Sage Anifowoshe

I come to Dana through Saidiya. And Saidiya comes to Dana in relation to Venus. We all convene under a sky of grief particular to black women. Of the crushing weight of history. I pick up from where Saidiya leaves off. The archive, the futility, the resignation to language and history never being enough. Of failure as the new sky. But maybe also the new dawn.

*

I come across Kindred by Octavia Butler in a reference by Saidiya Hartman’s 2008 article, “Venus in Two Acts.”  In the article, Hartman explores how the history of domination must be accepted by black people to try and untangle it. The article functions as a continuation of her earlier book, Lose Your Mother, where she charts the journey of the middle passage, loss, and connection to history. In “Venus in Two Acts,” Hartman continues this historical reconstruction and methodological struggle when she writes of a young girl who was murdered on a slave ship with little further information cited in the records. In both, Hartman highlights the difficulty in deciphering the blankness and violence in black historical narratives, while discussing the different options in the weighted obstacle of writing black history. 

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Sisters of the Yam and (Re)politicising Mental Health with African Feminisms

Written by Michelle Udoh

Edited by Temitope Lasade-Anderson

Illustrated by F. Seck

I think of mental health as the world’s lingua franca. I hear it spoken in the kitchen when female relatives season their meat with salt, Maggi, and tales of patriarchal violence. Its cadences caress the mouth of my elders as they gather and recount harrowing memories of the Biafran War. My friends and I speak it quite fluently as well: we use it to gist and articulate the many pains and joys that come with adulthood. The fascination that I have with this language, one that entwines our psychosocial wellbeing with our lived realities, is the reason I chose to study Neuroscience for my undergraduate degree.

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Why We Must Decolonise the Environment

Written by Jonas Jungwoo Lim

Edited by Jess Hannah

Illustration by C.L. Gamble

Ecology in the DMZ

Growing up in the borderlands of South Korea, I was trained by ecologists before I came to be trained by historians at university. In my town of Paju—which is closer to the border than to the capital—I had the privilege of being able to spend time acquainting myself with the ecology of the streams, the vegetation, and the rice fields nearby. This was the case even, at times, in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that separates North Korea and South Korea.

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Watercolour painting on a streetscape in Lahore, Pakistan. The streetscape features colour canopies in blues, yellows and reds, balconies and windows.

Language: A Squatter’s Home

By Iffat Mirza

Artwork by Iffat Mirza

Edited by Katya Zabelski

There are some decisions that are made for us which completely change the trajectory of our lives. This experience is not anything particularly shocking or controversial, especially when those decisions were made for you as a child. As a nine-month-old, my family relocated from Lahore, Pakistan, to London, England. As I’m sure most children of immigrants feel, growing up with two cultures gave me a unique lens from which to interpret my experiences. Alternatively, is the realization that you are essentially an orphan of both cultures. Now I find myself quietly asking my mother what certain words mean during conversations at family gatherings, or I avoid wedding functions because I don’t know the words to any of the songs sung. It is the quotidian bumps in the road which remind you that you’re not quite home.

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