A Feminist Mandate for A Radical Movement

Natalie McNeal

When Charlene Carruthers set out to write her new book, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, she realized that her role models — Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer — didn’t necessarily have the opportunity or the space to write about the science of organizing and how they got things done. So Carruthers, the National Director of the Black Youth Project 100, an organization of Black activists between the ages of 18-30, she thought about the things she was looking for as a youth organizer. She set out to publish a book that spoke to the issues that resonated with young people. The book is an organizing call-to-action, training guide and self-reflection.

The 33-year-old Chicagoan recently sat down with The Crisis to discuss youth activism and her new book project. Crisis: Why did you name the book Unapologetic? Carruthers: I titled the book Unapologetic to really name that I wasn’t going to cut corners about what needed to be said. That I was going to name what lineage my work existed and be unapologetic. These are Black radical feminists. These are Black LGBT folks. These are all kinds of Black nationalists, Black suffragists, and all kinds of folks that I do my work in the tradition of and I wasn’t going to apologize about that. Also, for the first time I was able to speak from my own voice and not the organization’s (BYP 100’s) voice. Crisis: What do you think it’s going to take to get millennials and Generation Z to the polls? Everyone says that our ancestors died for the right to vote, but that doesn’t seem to be enough of a selling point. Carruthers: When people say “Our ancestors died for our right to vote,” they actually misname what they died for. They were putting their bodies on the line for human rights, for civil rights, for dignity, for access to determine who represented them in government, for access to determine how land was used, to create jobs and fair housing in our communities. When the story is distilled down to “They died for the right to vote” that’s actually inaccurate, and it undersells what our ancestors did. Voting was included in that, and that wasn’t the final destination for them. When we tell the full breadth of what our folks sacrificed for, then I think people can see themselves within that. What I’ve seen that engages young Black people is focusing on issues and not candidates. Crisis: What made you get involved in organizing? Carruthers: From a very early age, I was just aware of a number of things. We lived in a predominantly Mexican-American and Mexican-immigrant neighborhood. We were the only Black folks on my block. My parents were real clear we needed [to] respect people no matter who they were and where they came from and that we needed to focus on our education. That’s what they were telling us in the home, but in the world, those two things didn’t always hold true.

Between going to South Africa my first year in college and becoming a student activist on campus around the DREAM Act, student government and the representation of students from marginalized communities and groups — that’s what got me into activism. Crisis: Why was it important for you to use “queer” in the title of your book ? Carruthers: It’s to name the lineage I do my work in — folks like Marsha P. Johnson and Audre P. Lorde. And, it’s also to name space for radical queer politics. It’s a politic of expansiveness and it’s a politic that says that we have been marked as abnormal or deviant by many entities and we don’t see that as deviant. We don’t see it as abnormal.

It’s about what issues we focus on and what we think is Black liberation. We’re going to complicate that. We are going to make some interventions. If we’re able to do the work to decriminalize this group of people, then we are going to decriminalize all our folks. n — Natalie P. McNeal is the author of The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life. She may be reached at @frugalista on Twitter.

#CharleneCarruthers #BlackFeminism #Blackbooks #Blackwriters