The activist ethos of the current collection of young people of color may end up being the lasting impression of their generation.
I n the face of rising white supremacy, young women of color have responded with activism. It was young students and queer people of color who organized to oppose and confront the white supremacists who terrorized their idyllic town of Charlottesville last year. And across the country, it’s young women of color who are leading activist movements in everything from reproductive justice to removing confederate statues. In many ways, the activist ethos of the current collection of young people of color may end up being the lasting impression of their generation.
Blair Imani, executive director of Equality for Her, a nonprofit media outlet “dedicated to inclusion, diversity, and breaking down barriers,” has created a vibrantly illustrated book called Modern HERstory, which features colorful illustrations by artist Monique Le and profiles of over 70 women and nonbinary people who all engage in their own form of activism. The book is available now for pre-order, with an official release date from Ten Speed Press set for October 16. The book features celebrities like Rihanna and well-known figures like Feminista Jones, a community activist and writer whose books include Push the Button and The Secret of Sugar Water, and Raquel Willis, a prominent black queer transgender activist who works with the Transgender Law Center and Echoing Ida, a national Black women’s writing collective. With these insights, the book delves into how this current generation of women and enbies are engaging with activism in ways both big and small, taking action to make real differences in their communities.
In an interview, Imani describes her motivation for pursuing the project:
“In my life, I’ve felt like, ‘Oh this is a project I want to do,’ but there are barriers or I have to go through gatekeepers and people to approve something to make stuff happen. And so with this, I’m taking a problem I experienced when I was a kid and I still experience, which is not feeling represented, and I’m working with people who I really admire admire to make it happen.”
The book, Imani hopes, will give others something that she felt she never had growing up: representation in activism. “We’re taking it into our hands to lift up the amazing work of so many different women of color from a variety of different cultural positions and base identities,” she says. “We’re making sure that our younger siblings and cousins, our people in the world, won’t feel like they have a lack of resources on who they can be and who they can look up to. It’s really been a passion project.”
The book project is well timed on several fronts. So many different marginalized communities are under renewed threat from the Trump administration after making small gains under Obama. From multiple assaults on trans rights, to the president’s soft endorsement of the white supremacist movement, to increasingly brutal ICE tactics to deport migrant workers, to the Muslim ban, life in the U.S. for marginalized people is getting squeezed on many sides.
Raquel Willis explains in an interview the whiplash that many left-leaning Americans are now feeling under President Trump. “Americans had become spoiled during the years of the Obama presidency. I think there was a sense that there’s no way that we can really go back or there’s no way that we can have a leader that was the complete opposite of what Obama was on the surface.” Because of this radical shift, now more than ever, it’s key for women and nonbinary people of color to get involved and engaged in some way within their communities.
When Feminista Jones was first asked to be involved in Modern HERstory, she jumped at the chance. She explains in an email to The Establishment:
“I have worked with Blair Imani in the past and value her as a freedom fighter and as a voice for this younger generation. I respect and admire her courage and when she asked me to be involved, I agreed. I like that I can represent a unique perspective and voice, particularly since I am not a millennial. I really like the concept of documenting living history and making sure that more voices are represented in accounting the times we live in.”
For Jones, it’s the display of intergenerational activism on display in Modern HERstory that she finds most valuable. Leveraging the knowledge of previous generations is critical so that younger folx can understand what has and hasn’t worked in the past, and to use that knowledge to avoid mistakes and improve on previous successes. Jones stresses the importance for young people to listen to older, more experienced voices in your movement:
“Sometimes, younger activists come into this work thinking they have these brand-new solutions to eradicate oppression, but these things have been tried and tested by many others before and have not worked. Why not connect with people who have been there and done that, learn from their lived experiences, and apply the wisdom they receive to their current work? We are continuing the work of great people, some of whom lived centuries ago.”
While pressing younger activists to stay open-minded to the experiences of their elders, Jones also leans on older folx within activism to be patient in leading the next generation. “Older activists need to be willing to mentor younger activists, remain open to new ideas and tactics, and pass the torch. Younger activists need to remain open to receiving the wisdom of elders as guidance and accept the responsibilities being bestowed onto them.”
In a time when more and more marginalized people and allies are literally taking to the streets to protest injustice, representation is more important than ever. By collecting the perspectives of diverse, experienced activists, Modern HERStory could help inspire the next generation to take the action our country so desperately needs.