I’ve been reading Jennifer C. Nash’s work since I was a baby black feminist trying to make my own provocative claims about the roots and routes of black feminist theory in predominantly white US-based gender studies classrooms, intellectual spaces that, in my own experience, barely held a brief for black feminist theory and theorizing beyond the work of heavyweights Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and bell hooks. And even those selective engagements barely skimmed the surface. In that context, Nash’s work on black female sexuality and pornography posed necessary (and necessarily) unnerving questions about black feminisms’ preoccupation with reading black female representation through the frameworks of trauma and injury—with black feminist engagements with pornography serving as a paradigmatic case in point for her first book. In so doing, Nash eloquently and persuasively urged the field of black feminism to move beyond some of its most deeply entrenched epistemological and affective impulses. At the same time, by exposing the limits of black feminisms theoretical orientations toward injury and inviting us to embrace the varied and complex possibilities for black feminist pleasures, some might (and did) argue that Nash aired some of black feminism’s dirty laundry; others might (and did) suggest that she pushed the field to feel and move.
Nash’s second book and the centerpiece of this Syndicate forum, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality, is no less compelling, no less provocative, and certainly no less urgent. It asks readers to imagine, explore, and mine the felt life of black feminism(s), and, perhaps implicitly, the felt lives of black women. Nash invites black feminists to “let go” of “defensive” attachments to (the increasingly institutionalized analytic) intersectionality, attachments, which, she argues, both restrict theoretical travel and engender pernicious proprietary claims to intersectionality that constrain the black feminist imagination. As a kind of corrective to defensiveness, Nash proposes love and intimacy as more robust affective and critical frames through which to engage with intersectionality, black feminism(s), and black women.
The contributors to this forum take up much of what is productive and provocative about Nash’s book. They also exemplify the riskiness of defensiveness and love, of pleasure and danger, of intimacy and institutionalization. Collectively, the contributors demonstrate that this is a book that generates messy feelings, that forges counterintuitive intimacies, that asks and answers difficult questions about a field that is still too often denied a brief—at least in the US academy—as a crucial site of intellectual motility, critical inquiry, and capacious knowledge production. Feel and be felt, move and be moved, for this is a book that boldly, lovingly, and unapologetically “goes there.” Now, hold on (or not). And let(’s) go.