Being a young, queer, black, Muslim woman, Blair Imani is no stranger to stereotypes and forms of oppression. Imani has found ways to speak out against the injustices she has seen in her various communities and continues to be a voice for the importance of diversity and education. Through her organization, Equality for Her, which she founded as a student in 2014 and closed this year, she created an educational platform for women and non-binary people. She also released a book in 2018 called Modern Herstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History, featuring a diverse group of women and non-binary people telling their stories. Read an excerpt of our conversation below and order a copy of the Winter 2019 issue here.
What does HERstory mean to you?
Herstory is not the opposite of patriarchal history, but it is an inclusive type of history that tells the stories of not just the winners or the most privileged, but truly everyone. I was really excited to be someone who could bring that forward in a very beautiful and intentional way. It means telling the stories that are absent from history books. It gives a fuller picture of humanity.
Tell us about the process of writing your book Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History. What inspired you to do so?
We had done a month-long campaign at Equality for Her for Women’s History Month and really used that as the groundworks for the book. We then had to figure out who made sense to include. It was a process of trial and error and making sure that we had people who were making their communities heard, but also not at the expense of other communities. In the end, it was supposed to be 50 people, and we expanded it by 20! I wanted to make sure that as many people as possible were represented.
Tell us a bit about intersectionality and how that relates to you.
I wrote a piece in VICE about how even though I am a black, queer, Muslim woman, I didn’t grow up being affected by Islamophobic rhetoric because I was not yet Muslim. Even though I am black, I am light skinned, so I don’t deal with colorism the same way; I benefit from colorism. No matter how much I detest it, that is the reality of the world. And being queer, I am in a relationship where if you looked at us in the street you would assume we were a straight couple. We do get harassed because people see a woman in a hijab and a man and assume that she is being oppressed by him. It is complex, but I get to have so many amazing connections with people because I am a part of so many different communities.
What advice would you give young women who are struggling with their identities?
Young people really know what they are doing. I think it’s so funny because [Cuneiform was one of the earlier forms of written language], and on that tablet there was a teenager who was upset at their parents for not understanding them. This is not new, the idea that you have to grow up to have some sort of impact or make your voice heard. So many of us feel unheard. Throughout history, young people have known what they want to say but have not been heard by older generations. My advice is, stay humble and trust your gut. Don’t wait for an adult to validate your feelings before expressing them. Your views are real, and the world should hear them. Whether that be raising your hand at school or asking a question that you think is stupid, you are already ahead of the game for even having the courage to ask.
STORY ANA SANDOVAL
PHOTOS ALLEGRA MESSINA
Order a print copy and read more in Volume IV, Issue No. 001 – Winter 2019.