“My truth may not be your truth, but I intend to speak it nonetheless.” This phrase might best describe Renee Martin, the phenomenal founder of Womanist Musings, as well as a self-described pacifist, anti-racist, WOC, mother, humanist – the list goes on. Renee’s writing has been featured in The Guardian and Ms. Magazine, and she is no stranger to challenging the many deeply ingrained prejudices that permeate daily life. “Decolonizing your mind is dirty work, so don’t expect to be all pretty when you are done, but at least at the end of the road you can declare yourself a thinking woman of courage and agency.” Indeed. An extraordinary writer and woman, Persephone Magazine, please welcome Renee Martin.
Persephone Magazine: You are the founder, owner and creator extraordinaire of Womanist Musings, a blog dedicated to race, humanist, and womanist issues, as well as the intersections that lie between. Can you talk about why you started your blog and what your expectations for it were?
Renee Martin: When I had each one of my children, I promised them that I would try to make the world a little better for them than it was for me. Before becoming disabled, this took the form of doing local community outreach through volunteering, but when I got sick, I had to stop doing that. Each day at home watching the Food Network was truly driving me around the bend, and I realized that I needed something to do to occupy my mind – something that would take the place of work. At the time, I had been reading several blogs, and I realized that there were not a lot of Black women/womanists writing about social justice, and I thought perhaps that picking that for a niche would fill a void in social justice blogging. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could do this and fulfill my promise to my children at the same time. This is why I often tell people that Womanist Musings would not exist were it not for my children.
PM: How do you gather resources for your writing? What keeps you motivated to write, even in light of the criticisms or harsh receptions you face?
RM: Well to be honest, I still read a lot of blogs and I watch the news quite a bit. I try to focus on stories that are not getting much attention in the mainstream media. To ensure that I am up to date on current theory, I also read a lot of academic journals and books written from a womanist/feminist perspective. I basically treat Womanist Musings like my job and therefore dedicate 8-10 hours a day to my work. The reception to my work is not always positive. There always seems to be someone who thinks they can come into my space and just spew their privilege all over the comment section. When they are not leaving terrible comments, they are sending me hate mail. There are days when I don’t even want to look at my space, but then I remember my promise to my kids and I get down to work.
As far as criticisms, being in the social justice niche is hard, because even as you are talking about privilege and oppression in real and meaningful ways, you have to remember the ways in which you are also privileged. There have been plenty of times that I have messed up, and it has been a bitter pill to swallow. Unfortunately, I have a terrible temper and so my response is not always what it should be, but I like to think that I get around to doing the right thing eventually.
PM: How are your personal experiences and identity important to your writing? Do you find that you have to remove parts of yourself when you write or are you able to lay it all out on the table?
RM: Well, Womanist Musings, for the large part, is about me as a person and how I view the world. I will occasionally write articles about my experiences with motherhood, specifically because I know that women of color are marginalized in the mommy blogging sphere. My encounters with disableism also feature on the blog. Actually, they are quite cathartic to write about and they come with the added bonus of shattering the paternalistic myth that everyone is naturally kind to people who negotiate a disability.
When I write a piece, everything I live and believe goes into it. I don’t hold anything back, because I feel to do so would be dishonest, and I would like to believe that I have built a relationship with my readers based in trust and good intentions.
PM: You have spoken about identifying with the “womanist” movement over the “feminist” one, a preference due largely to the historical and present erasure of voices outside the white middle class and cis gender experience in the feminist movement. Can you speak a bit on how you feel the movement on the ground or in the blogosphere is changing, if you think it is? If not, how do you think it can or should be changed?
RM: I think that the Internet to some degree has changed whose voices get heard and who gets silenced, but invariably, dominant bodies always find a way to rise to the top. If you look at the large feminist blogs, you will see that they are largely run by women who are White, cis, straight, able bodied, and class privileged. The bloggers who are most likely to make money freelancing, or with book deals are again overwhelmingly White, Cis, Straight, able bodied and have class privilege. The Internet gives people a chance to speak, but unfortunately, people still gravitate to the blogs run by dominant bodies because they don’t really want to be challenged.
There exists the impression that the social justice blogosphere is large, when in actuality, in comparison to other niches, it is small. I try to encourage people who are marginalized to blog. Even if you only write one post a week, or one post a month, you are getting your voice out there. African-Americans in particular have a larger presence online than is recognized, but unfortunately they tend to group on spaces like Twitter. If more of us were to write blogs, as well as tweet, I believe that we could push harder for change. As far as book deals go, I try to encourage people to self publish. What we need to do is to step around the gatekeepers, because they are only interested in maintaining the status quo. Even progressive presses will only release one or two books written by marginalized women each season. The only way forward, as far as I am concerned, is for marginalized people to make our own opportunities and to promote each other.
Many mainstream blogs claim to be intersectional but this functions more like a buzz word than a reality. The truth is that it mirrors the current feminist activism off line. Recently, at the Slutwalk in N.Y, a White woman held a sign saying that “˜woman is the n****r of the world.’ Obviously this was offensive but White women once again got on their pedestals and denied the womanhood of Black women. There is no real sisterhood and I don’t believe there can ever be until people truly dedicate themselves to being intersectional.
PM: You are also the proud mother of two young men. As a writer and mother, do you feel there is a disconnect in the “mommy blogosphere” in terms of race or experience, especially in representations of “mommy bloggers”? Why is its representation, as it currently stands, problematic? Do you identify with the term “mommy blogger” or do you feel that the term is part of a larger erasure of voices?
RM: Despite being a mother for over a decade now, and occasionally writing about my experiences, the label of mommy blogger is steadfastly denied me. Part of the problem is that Womanist Musings is an intersectional place that attempts to discuss as many -isms, from as many angles as possible. For me, this is essential to good parenting. If a child comes from a privileged space, they need never know of struggles with poverty, racism, disableism, sexism, homophobia etc., but a child from a marginalized community is intimately familiar with these isms, and will in fact negotiate them on a daily basis. My son for instance, was five years old the first time he was called the n word.
No mother who belongs to a historically marginalized group can avoid discussing the isms whereas, spaces that we consider to be mommy blogs are filled with little tips about making lunches, pictures of their kids and activities for rainy days. None of this even comes close to dealing with what it’s like to parent from a marginalized position, and so of course there is a huge disconnect. Womanist Musings only fails to look like a mommy blog to people who have privilege.
The other factor that I consider to be prevalent is the fact that only certain bodies are valued in terms of reproduction. Black women in particular are continually constructed as licentious, irresponsible breeders. Some will even go as far as to cite the high rate of incarceration, as proof that Black women need to reproduce less. No thought is given about the ways in which White supremacy has a negative impact on our children. People don’t want to hear about the experiences of marginalized mothers because they don’t think that we should be reproducing period. There is also the issue that though we pay lip service to the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, parenting quite often is an isolating experience. Though socially we benefit from children who are well fed, cared for and educated, we don’t cumulatively take responsibility for this.
PM: Do you think the widening accessibility of the Internet is changing conversations on many social issues? How effective do you think social media is for changing conversations or encouraging activism? In what ways do you think it helps or hinders us?
RM: I don’t actually believe that the Internet is changing conversations, but I do believe it is giving people the opportunity to speak who have been silenced. Sometimes it amazes me that I have such a strong presence writing from my little home in a small southern Ontario town. I do however think our belief in supporting dominant bodies lessens the effect of speech.
I must say that I do like the ability of social media to hold corporations and the media somewhat accountable for their actions. When Amazon de-listed several feminist and GLBT authors, the anger expressed through Twitter went a large way to forcing them to re-list these authors. Similarly, when director Kevin Smith complained via Twitter regarding his experience of getting kicked off a Southwest plane for being too fat, the degree to which they actively oppress fat people became public knowledge. The only drawback with this sort of activism is that people think that it means more than it does. Many people turned their Twitter icons green for Iran, but what did that really accomplish? People don’t understand that these ridiculously small actions don’t break down or effectively create long term change, or constitute engagement. Social media is a starting place, but it can never be the sole from of advocacy work.
PM: What are the positive aspects about having a platform and a community to write about things that hit home for you? The negative aspects?
RM: The best aspect has been being able to converse with so many brilliant people globally. They have had such a wonderful influence on how I perceive the world, and thus this has caused me to keep pushing to unpack my privileges and assumptions.
For me, the negative is having to deal with people who do not engage in good faith. They try to redirect conversations and force us to have the same old 101 level engagement. I understand that as an Internet site, Womanist Musings is constantly gaining new readers; however, there is a large part of me that would prefer that people learn the basics before engaging.
PM: What great work can we anticipate from you and other contributors at Womanist Musings?
RM: Hopefully, the blog will continue to evolve. I am always actively looking for new regular contributors who are willing to discuss the isms in innovative and challenging ways. Right now, I am looking for a blogger who is willing to discuss fat hatred and a blogger to interrogate ageism and class. It has been an uphill battle, but eventually I hope that all readers will see a post that deals with their life experience at least once a week.
Paul, AKA Sparky, and I also have another blog entitled Fangs for the Fantasy, where we discuss urban fantasy from a social justice perspective. We took on this project because we both really love urban fantasy and believe that it does not get enough critical engagement. Hopefully, Paul and I will be releasing our first book this coming spring, on how the isms are perpetuated by urban fantasy and why we need to pay attention to what is going on. A famous sci-fi writer once said that fantasy is the mythology of our time and therefore it is imperative that historically oppressed people are visible and have a voice.
To read more of Renee’s writing, as well as other contributors, please check out Womanist- Musings.com.