A Light Loose Commitment

When I was a graduate student in New York, I worked as the managing editor of a feminist academic journal that focused on art and performance from 2013-2015. The journal was founded in the early 1980s by graduate students in my department, and run by a feminist collective, primarily consisting of graduate students, contingent faculty, junior faculty, and artists in the Tri-State area.1 When I was a member, the collective had meetings once a month, which a senior faculty member hosted at her apartment by Washington Square Park. Before meetings, our professor would leave her door unlocked a convenience for her, so that she would not have to keep answering her door, but also an invitation for us to come in whenever we arrived and make ourselves comfortable, even if she was still getting ready in another room.

Stepping into her living room felt like a familiar embrace. It was warmly lit, filled with books, musical instruments and paintings, a couch, a chaise longue (a broken leg had been replaced with stacked books), a dining table, some dining chairs, and thick rugs for sitting in a circle. The apartment ran hot, especially during the spring and summer, but we never minded. Sometimes, she would have food and drinks for us, with stacked plates, cups, and utensils, which we would bring to the kitchen at the end of our meetings. During longer meetings, we would take breaks so people could use the bathroom or smoke on the balcony.

In preparation, I wrote an agenda, accompanied by a production timeline that we rarely adhered to (not for lack of trying). I printed out copies of the agenda and passed them out at the beginning of every meeting. However, we all knew there would be deviations from the plan: small talk around the discovery of a mutual friend, details about a party or event happening later in the week, questions of who is going or who is interested, announcements regarding someone's upcoming talk or performance, funny stories, and tense moments of disagreement. When the latter came up, our conversations often revolved around questions of what the collective envisioned for the journal.

Some collective members, myself included, wanted to solicit more special issues and articles that engaged with critical race and ethnic studies and Black and women of color feminisms within a global context, beyond New York's art scene, and specifically beyond U.S.-based white feminist and queer art and performance. We wanted to make an intentional, concerted effort to feature work on Black, Latinx, Asian American, and Indigenous art, performance, aesthetics, and popular culture, in conversation with not just scholarship on dance, performance art, and theater, but also on film and television, new media and technology, visual cultures, popular culture, literature and poetry. This is not to say that the journal did not already publish this kind of work, but that we wanted to make this a clear priority for the journal, rather than an initiative contingent upon what special issue guest editors chose to submit to us.

Conflicts did not fall along racial lines, but at times they were undeniably about race about the willingness of some to grapple with these issues openly, and the unwillingness of others, as if to talk explicitly about race was too obvious or earnest. These conversations could become vastly indirect. Whatever avoidance came up in communication seemed to be for the sake of preserving the ideal of the feminist meeting, as if no one wanted to ruin what was happening in the room. These meetings felt special, and they were. Yet sometimes members did not respond well to these conversations, feeling judged or antagonized: tears were shed, passive aggressive remarks were made as well as aggressive ones. Some members resigned or stopped showing up.

Despite all this, when a meeting ended, it was often followed by conversations at a nearby restaurant or bar, for those who stuck around. We did not blame those who went home afterwards for not staying; everyone had their own reasons and other obligations. But those of us who could and wanted to stay would leave our professor's apartment and walk together. We talked about the meeting's proceedings, and gave each other advice on teaching and love lives. Our meetings, then, begat more meetings to talk about these other important things, while the trace of those other earlier conversations remained hanging, sometimes uncomfortably, in the air, to be taken up again at the next meeting, but for now temporarily shelved.

Occasionally, depending on the time of year, depending on our disagreements, attendance to collective meetings fell off. We wondered if it was because we were not doing more in our meetings to directly engage with the ideas and theories in the scholarship we oversaw and published in the journal. We were not sure if the meetings were social enough, or engaging and fun enough the issue was not only the content of the journal itself, but how we made use of each other's company. We were not sure if we needed to meet every month; we debated meeting less frequently. We also considered turning our meetings into a salon, seminar, or workshop, where we read and shared work so that meetings did not feel solely administrative. But when we had discussions about whether or not we should meet less, or if we should change the format of our meetings, we ultimately decided against it.

One member said that they liked having a light, loose regular monthly commitment, one without additional homework. We liked how that sounded: a meeting where attendance was not strictly required, but still a constant on our calendars. It felt reassuring to know we would always have a time and place to meet, even if a day or two beforehand it felt like the last thing we wanted to do. But if we could not make it, if the train was not working, or if we could not go given our workload or some other obligation, it was okay. So, we kept our monthly meetings for their regularity, for the way they shaped our time in non-threatening ways. I felt the same way, even when I was no longer running the meetings and another collective member became the managing editor.

I think back on those meetings, and the ambivalences of social, political, professional commitments that these meetings asked of me and others who were there, and are going to collective meetings now. I begin this essay with an anecdotal account of attending feminist meetings for the ways it conveys the obligation to repeatedly organize meetings and attend them, as well as the effort it takes to be with other people, in the face of potential conflict, disagreement, difficulty, and misunderstanding. The light, loose commitment of a feminist meeting offers feminist sociality an infrastructure. As the infrastructural, the feminist meeting can often feel like what Lauren Berlant describes as an "impasse" of getting through and getting by in the present moment, stuck in the middle of things that feel ongoing, without transition or change.2

In this essay, I think about how attending feminist meetings, and giving anecdotal accounts of them, expresses an attachment to an idealization of feminist sociality and living the good (feminist) life that is necessarily constituted by ambivalence.3 One keeps showing up to meetings because of the obligation to continue conversations that demand more meetings, more conversations, and more plans down the line. The ethical risk of the feminist meeting entails going, regardless of whether or not one wants or prefers to or perhaps precisely when one does not want to or "would prefer not to."4

Patricia Stuelke writes that when she was attending meetings while involved in anti-imperialist solidarity movement organizing, "I learned a lot in those meetings, and especially from the conversations I had afterward with my most trusted comrade in reading and organizing, during which she reminded me, at least once, that my feelings didn't really matter all that much to the movement's work of liberation."5 For Stuelke, these "communal scenes of political disappointment and frustration" taught her that feelings good or bad should not and cannot be the reason for going or not going to meetings.6

Of course, collective meetings for a feminist academic journal are not the same as meetings for anti-imperialist solidarity movement organizing. However, Stuelke's point, relayed as advice learned from a friend, is illuminating. It reflects on the moments before, during, and after a meeting, when we decide, in the midst of difficulty, to pull back from refusal, not to disregard feeling but to work through the difficult ones, in order to relinquish the kinds of self-care that refusal might promise. To hone in on this moment is not an endorsement for something as cruelly idealized as resilience or the notion that given enough time, we might all get along and like each other. Not everyone is here to make friends. Rather, these moments present a challenge to continuously re-enter and stick around in the scene of the feminist meeting, as I do here in re-entering past scenes of feminist meetings that I went to, as well as meetings others went to that I was not present for, which I read alongside you here.

I seek out moments on the brink of refusal, non-return, and negation, where another sense of a political, social commitment emerges, one to which Black and women of color feminists have long been attuned. Such forms of commitment are not a given, they must be tended to, in clouds of doubt, with some assurances, and shored up continuously, again and again. They cannot offer or ensure rest and respite, even if and when the need for both is so acutely felt. And although one more feminist meeting might not make a difference this time although it might not be any different from all the others one still attends this one and the next one in hopes that it will be, that it will make a difference.

As Stuelke's friend reminds her and us, feelings do not matter to a movement. How might we see this as an invitation not to do away feelings (we can only wish), but to turn to ambivalence as a durational feeling both good and bad, both love and hate? Such ambivalence, Elizabeth Wilson reminds us, is not a failure of feminist sociality, or the loss of a feminist ideal of collectivity, but always already exists prior to that failure and loss.7 You already hate what you love, which is to say, a feminist already hates the meeting she also loves, even before the conscious realization that the fantasy of the good feminist life made up of good feminist meetings is unattainable.

How, then, might the feminist meeting be the site of Black and women of color feminist theorizations of ambivalence toward collectivity, to being in the company of others, and to feminism itself? How might this ambivalence not result in refusal, as the turning inward of oneself away from the social in the face of failure, loss, and deidealization, but instead, what Wilson describes as reparative acts that are bitter, hostile, aggressive, and directed outward towards others? Here, I read anecdotal accounts of feminist meetings told by Black and women of color feminists in order to trace the commitment to continuation, transformation, and difference that makes up the ambivalences crucial to the feminist socialities we live with and pursue. While I am generally speaking about feminist meetings, I focus on Black and women of color feminists' stories about these meetings, written in the 1980s and 1990s that, like the meetings I went to, did not explicitly center Black and women of color feminism, and for that exact reason, become the encounters where ambivalences, and difference, arise.

Not All Meetings are Feminist Meetings

Not all meetings are feminist and not all meetings with feminists are feminist meetings. However, any feminist will tell you that they have been to a lot of meetings. These meetings are routine, nonidealized events. At times it feels like we rarely want to go to the meetings to which we are obligated or required to show up. For how often, as we always say, could a meeting be an email instead? Yet we keep going to meetings, for exciting reasons as much as for forgettable ones. The feminist meeting is figured through the anecdote, as ordinary evidence of the ongoing feminist reproduction of the social.

Like the montages in Lizzie Borden's 1983 film, Born in Flames, with its passing scenes of feminists gathering in kitchens, living rooms, offices, and bedrooms, feminist meetings are at times insular, contained moments of transition that bring other separate, longer scenes together, enabling a sequence of events larger and perhaps more significant than the meetings themselves.8 There will always be more reasons to meet, there is always a next time. As such, meetings are quotidian scenes where we gather and enter into the same space with others, often with those who are not necessarily strangers, but with whom we are not (perhaps yet) close and familiar. Meetings require attendance and participation, with comments offered, questions asked, concerns voiced, data presented, notes taken, or votes given. Meetings, for personal, political, or professional reasons, much to our chagrin, continue to be how we come together.

Feminist meetings could be for consciousness-raising, for a reading group, for putting together a publication, coordinating an action or protest, or for planning a performance, fundraiser, or party. The feminist meeting can happen anywhere: in a coffee shop, at a bar, in line for the bathroom, in someone's living room or, as I will address later, at someone's kitchen table. They happen at any time, sometimes they are scheduled in advance, and at other times they are impromptu and last-minute, out of urgency or for fun, like running into an old friend at a conference, like catching-up with someone briefly after another meeting or another event over coffee, tea, or a drink. Any feminist will tell you that these meetings can be inefficient and boring, as much as they can be lively and fulfilling. The feminist meeting is not exceptional. They are part of a continued, repetitious commitment to feminism and to the social worlds it desires and makes possible.

Meetings are sites of democratic participation, organization, and struggle.9 Francesca Polletta writes that for social movement activists, meetings are where consensus is reached and decisions are made not under the assumption and pursuit of an abstract, formal equality among the group, but rather through the complexity, difficulty, and informality of social relationships within that group. As such, participatory democracy is difficult to put into practice, "fine for those with the time and taste for endless meetings," which is also to say almost no one.10

While Polletta addresses the social complexities undergirding the democratic and its endless meetings, there remains an assumption that those who show up share an identical investment in a self-determined political subjectivity within the public realm of civic life, as the political horizon of democracy. To be critical of such an assumption is, of course, not to undermine the importance of democracy. But this assumption does risk overlooking how marked, racialized subjects, like Black protestors in the Movement for Black Lives and in the George Floyd uprisings, have already historically been excluded from the state's purview and protection, from the right to meet, to gather, and make demands for recognition, justice, and redress by the state. Theorizations of the undercommons, the party, and the crowd take this into account, turning to alternative modes of social reproduction like feminist meetings.11 These theories of social reproduction trace relations where one meets up with many, in a way that renders inoperable idealizations of participation, democracy, and the subject formations it enables and by which it is enabled.

Elsewhere I have written on staying in as an Asian American form of asociality that attunes Asian American subjects to both the possibility and necessity of going out into one's social worlds again.12 Staying in is not just for the care of the self, it can also be for the consideration of others, so that next time, one can be more readily answerable and accountable to a group, to a feminist collective. I extend upon such considerations of asociality here, thinking with the work of Xine Yao, who articulates "unfeeling" the unrecognizability of feeling as a rejection of the ways white sentimentality demands that minoritized subjects be legibly affected, moved, and susceptible to the feelings of others in order to be worthy of receiving another's sympathy and care.13 While Yao and I attend to how staying in and unfeeling can be critical forms of care and survival, here I want to put pressure on my previous writing, partly keeping in mind Stuelke's critiques of how contemporary reparative turns to care and survival in solidarity activism, along with reparative reading in the academy, can veer into a neoliberal "reprise"14 of sentimentality with all its "unfinished business"15 that emphasizes "feeling-as-practice."16 For Wilson, these are approaches to the reparative mode too enthralled with its nonaggressive and nonbitter aspects that overlook "the necessary place of aggression (bile) in feminist theory" and feminist politics.17 Through this nonaggressive reparative mode, Stuelke writes, there is the tendency and desire to find comfort, amelioration, and nourishment for the "affective renewal of relatively privileged subjects," rather than dismantling and transforming the world as it is.18

I step back from refusal, then, not to do away with it for it is a much needed measure one must periodically take but alternatively, to consider how Black and women of color feminists still critically, angrily, frustratingly engage with each other and with the white women around them. When Audre Lorde wrote to Mary Daly in 1979, she decided to share her letter, to "open it to the community of women," after she initially sent it to Daly and received no response.19 This was not a refusal to engage, but a refusal not to a means of calling a feminist meeting of her own, opening up to a community of women by making private correspondence public, requiring communication and accountability. In her letter, Lorde writes of a decision she made to not speak to white women, to let them talk amongst each other instead. Yao writes, "Lorde reserves the right to refuse the demands of emotional labor" for her own "emotional well-being."20 Yet while Lorde holds onto her needed and reserved right, to the possibility that she could refuse, she still writes to Daly, she still opens the letter so that it can be read by other women. Her letter speaks of refusal, addressing the annoying asymmetry of their exchange, at the same time that there is the commitment to write, to respond, to demand a response in return Lorde reserves that right, suspending refusal, for an ambivalent form of relation.

Like Lorde, there are Black and women of color feminists who find themselves in the same meetings, in the same letters and correspondence, in each other's citations in their writing, and crucially, they do so without the expectation that it will feel good or right, or that these meetings and the conversations they enable and necessitate will lead to immediate and complete healing and repair.21 This essay, then, considers how Black and women of color feminist's anecdotal accounts of attending meetings throughout the 1980s and 90s theorize the meeting as the ambivalent, protracted practice of recommitting to feminist sociality that offers a different political, social horizon than refusal. This particular feminist recommitment grapples with the tedious, exhausting, at times painful encounters with others, with the knowledge that safety is not guaranteed and that sometimes, in order to get through to another, one must risk failure, impingement, and miscommunication one must become, however begrudgingly, vulnerable and open to how people may disappoint you, but also surprise you.22 The meetings Black and women of color feminists wrote about were for consciousness-raising, academic conferences, or for other reasons not given or specified. It is the generic nonspecificity of the meeting, rubbing up against the specificity of the anecdote, which presents the meeting as a distinct site for Black and women of color feminists to narrate and theorize their ambivalences around the socialities they are a part of and must navigate through, as also the necessary site of the difference feminism makes, and that makes feminism.

I follow the ways that Black and women of color feminists theorize difference through the ambivalence they feel during meetings, as fraught yet fruitful relational scenes. Often, the anecdotes are delivered as if with the tense, gritted teeth of a grimace, the irritable, impatient chewing of one's lip, an eye roll and a crinkled brow, or a sharp inhale and shuddered exhale of a sigh. Black and women of color feminists are repeatedly exhausted, dissatisfied, and angry with the meetings they attend. This is why meetings become anecdotal sources: they become proof of more of the same, of what lacks transformation and change. The meeting becomes the quotidian scene that attests to the structural.

Importantly, in the face of such dissatisfaction, sometimes not all the time Black and women of color feminists keep going to meetings. As mentioned, the repetition of the telling, of the anecdote that shares an experience applicable to a broader context, speaks to the systemic, but it also speaks to Black and women of color feminists' tense, ongoing commitment to being in relation with others within the constrained space and time of the meeting. Through the writing of Black and women of color feminists, the meeting is a particular form of ambivalent relation made narrativizeable through and as the anecdote.

"More Than One Story"

The anecdote ushers a reader into a writer's thinking by divulging a moment that holds significance yet might otherwise go untold into the recesses of a forgettable past. How often, for instance, does an academic monograph, chapter, or essay like my own, here use an anecdote for an introduction that lets you know there is more to the story it has only started to tell? The anecdote presents the exigent timeliness of a complicated, irresolvable event that in its specificity reveals itself to be indicative of an issue or question that resonates beyond the event's particular time and place. Often, such events are meetings, and those meetings take the form of conferences, where keynote speeches, book awards, panels, roundtables, and book parties, alongside passing conversations in the conference hotel lobby, offer a wealth of anecdotal material. As Rachel Corbman writes, both the infrastructure of academic feminist conferences and their informal, personal networks of encounter and exchange are crucial aspects of collaborative feminist knowledge production.23 Let us turn here, then, to one such opening, anecdotal scene.

Barbara Johnson's collection of essays, The Feminist Difference, opens with her account of a series of talks given at the 1995 meeting for the Modern Language Association on "Feminist Criticism Revisited." What she noticed most were speakers' "gestures of ambivalence" towards the topic at hand.24 Those who were asked to speak to the current state of academic feminism responded in a myriad of ways that took the form of sidesteps, redactions, asides, hesitations, or refusals. She muses upon this ambivalence, situating it within different, clashing debates in feminist thought and asks, "Is there a necessary ambivalence within feminism today?"25 Rather than seeing this ambivalence as a hindrance, she writes,

Perhaps there is something healthy about claiming the right to ambivalence. Or at the very least, there may be something deadening about having to renounce one's ambivalence too soon, on someone else's terms. If resistance is always the sign of a counter-story, ambivalence is perhaps the state of holding on to more than one story at a time.26

Ambivalence becomes palpable through the anecdotal account of a feminist meeting that holds in suspension "more than one story at a time." The lack of consensus among speakers with the same prompt enacts the constitutive differences of feminist criticism. With Johnson's anecdote, the resistance of the "counter-story" and the compliance of a singular agreed-upon story cannot be reached in the feminist meeting. Such end goals are "deadening" rather than "healthy." Ambivalence is the "simultaneity of contradiction and transformation," where the difference feminism makes enables and invites difference internal to itself.27 Ambivalence is then not only necessary to feminism, but feminism is necessary to theories of ambivalence to articulations of what it feels like to encounter difference. Johnson writes, "difference has opened up and brought into view the energies of contradiction that had been hidden inside the unsayability of what feminism has now given voice to."28 This "unsayability" marks the proliferation of multiple stories, all of which refuse to settle any claims other than "the right to ambivalence."

The unsayable becomes a necessary part of the anecdotes that Black and women of color feminists tell about the meetings they attend. Audre Lorde's essay, "On the Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism," originally a keynote at the conference for the National Women's Studies Association in 1981, begins with Lorde naming the anger that Black women and other women of color feel as a response to racism, particularly to the racism of white women. This anger is distinct from "hatred," "guilt," and "defensiveness," which are but obstructions and foreclosures "bricks in a wall against which we all flounder; they serve none of our futures."29 To better clarify the necessity of such a response, to ground the anger and give it shape, she describes a series of encounters with white women. She prefaces, "Because I do not want this to be a theoretical discussion, I am going to give a few examples of interchanges between women that illustrate these points. In the interest of time, I am going to cut them short. I want you to know there were many more."30 She does not reject the theoretical so much as she insists on having a discussion where theorizations of anger are not abstract, and instead come out of the personal and concrete, of exemplary, illustrative contexts.

In these encounters, Lorde is confronted by white women who see her, and particularly her anger, present or projected, as "useless" and "destructive" to feminist discourse and collectivity.31 When she speaks out of anger at an academic conference, a white women responds, "Tell me how you feel but don't say it too harshly or I cannot hear you," refusing to engage unless Lorde eases her discomfort.32 When Lorde gives a reading at a forum on Black and white women at a Southern university, a "vocal white woman" says that after meeting for the forum, she believes Black women have a better understanding of her and where she is coming from, "As if understanding her lay at the core of the racist problem."33 When Lorde is on multiple college campuses, she continuously overhears people wondering how they can organize programming to address racism when "no women of Color attended," or when "We have no one in our department equipped to teach their work."34 When Lorde reads from her work on rage, a white woman asks her "Are you going to do anything with how we can deal directly with our anger?" diluting and displacing Lorde's anger so that it no longer is hers, but that which must be made to speak for others who would not think to do the same.35 When she attends an international gathering for women, a white woman interrupts a women of color poet to read her own poem and then leaves for another "important panel."36

Lorde's collection of moments of elision and accommodation illuminate Black and women of color's presence within the women's movement, within literary circles, as well as within women's and gender studies. She moves through academic conferences, a women's studies forum, a reading, and college campuses, and gathers them into a list of bullet points. The list functions as the accumulation, repetition, and variation of separate encounters, which in relation to each other, become variations of the same, as if they might as well be happening in the same context, in the same room at the same time, again. The content of these anecdotes matter as much as their form, a certain way of telling a story as one among many that must be brief because Lorde is limited to the time allotted for her presentation, but also because otherwise the anecdotes would be endless, too many to count.

In each encounter, Lorde is asked to become quieter, softer, and approachable. She is expected to make space for the dis-ease of others, while her own dis-ease becomes a threat and inconvenience. She is expected to remain patiently visible and present, as proof of the inclusion these spaces claim. As she makes clear in her comments for another feminist academic conference in 1979, published as the well-known essay, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," she is wary and critical of how she, a Black lesbian feminist, has been invited to speak only to and with the only other Black feminists and lesbians, on one panel as an isolated group.37 Lorde's anger arises as a necessary response to how the ill treatment she experiences hinders the broader, collective commitment to meeting.

While Lorde prefaces that her use of the anecdotal in "The Uses of Anger" steers away from the theoretical, her telling of the anecdote is another way of theorizing. "For people of color have always theorized," Barbara Christian writes, "but in forms quite different from the Western form of abstract logic."38 Indeed, Christian continues, "I am inclined to say that our theorizing (and I intentionally use the verb rather than the noun) is often in narrative forms, in the stories we create, in riddles and proverbs, in the play with language, because dynamic rather than fixed ideas seem more to our liking."39 Christian's crucial essay, "The Race for Theory," critiques Western philosophical forms of abstract logic that "fix" ideas into namable, prescriptive theories, and instead draws attention to Third World and/or Black women writers, who theorize not as "an occasion for discourse among critics," but as a practice of "necessary nourishment."40

One of these narrative forms is the anecdote. The anecdote is, as Jane Gallop describes, the "short," "trivial," and "specific."41 It speaks to an event or occasion ill-fitted to the grander narratives of Western masculinist theories oriented towards the universal and ahistorical. The anecdote's relevance and applicability are unclear, perhaps dismissed and inadmissible for being not quite an anomaly, but not commonsense either. It is a story that is too personal, too rooted in its own present moment of a "here and now" to be evidence of anything larger than itself. 42 Yet this is precisely the point: "emphasis on the moment is a crucial piece of telling stories about theory. Emphasis on the moment is crucial for anecdotalizing theory."43

Lorde's anecdotes, as the narration of story after story about meeting after meeting, are a mode of theorizing, but moreover, are a mode of "telling stories about theory." Lorde and Christian make clear how what they have long wielded as the personal is a means of telling stories about theories of living, which refuse to work under the assumption that they are Western thought's "'historical' other," for as Christian writes, "many of us have never conceived of ourselves only as somebody's other."44 The anecdote, then, does not merely move underneath the sign of "minority discourse," which Christian shirks, but instead reads as the centering and grounding of lived experience in a way that tells a story about the theories one has put into practice in to order to live what Cherríe Moraga and the writers of This Bridge Called My Back call "theory in the flesh."45

Such an attunement to lived experience, however, does not become what Joan Scott describes as a wholesale belief in the uncontestable evidence of identity. Through the anecdotal, lived experiences is not the static facticity of an unbreachable divide between one's lived experience and another's. Lorde's anecdotal accounts of meetings are sites of inquiry, interpretation, contestation, and communication, where, in there being no assumption of relation, relation must then be worked through in its telling, which becomes a story about theory. For Lorde, writing out meeting after meeting, in essays adapted from talks delivered for a specific occasion, at specific meetings, become the occasion to recommit to the social, as an ambivalent site of sociality theorized in hopes that the next meeting will be different.

At the Kitchen Table

For Black and women of color feminists, the kitchen table has long been a multipurpose site for meeting: for cooking, eating, planning, commiserating, gossiping, and debating what has been brought to the table, who has come to the table, and who has yet to arrive but is or soon will be invited. It is both metaphoric and material, an object of perception and social orientation.46 As the threshold that renders indistinguishable the public from the private, it is the landmark of domestic, intimate, social spaces designed and laid out for hosting others, for inviting others to share space with you, in ways that emphasize function, utility, labor, and reproduction. As a result, the kitchen table has become an anchor for Black and women of color feminists' anecdotal accounts of meetings as moments of rest and reset, but also transition and regrouping, as the site where next steps are mapped before taken.

Consider how, in 1989, Barbara Smith tells the story of the creation of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. In the 1970s, Smith explains, feminist activists, writers, and teachers, who were mainly Black women, were pushing to publish work by women of color in the face of the whiteness of both commercial and alternative publishing houses, while also insisting that their work not be relegated to the supplementary "special issue" of white feminist journals and periodicals.47 There was the need, then, for a women of color press. She writes that in 1980, Lorde and Smith organized a meeting of Black women who were all in Boston for a Black women's poetry reading. They did not finalize the press's name for another year, "but at that initial meeting we did decide to publish all women of color, although there were only women of African American and African Caribbean descent in the room."48 "This was one of our bravest steps," she states, "most people of color have chosen to work in their separate groups when they do media or other projects. We were saying that as women, feminists, and lesbians of color we had experiences and work to do in common, although we also had our differences."49

A meeting, planned during another overlapping event, and thus coordinated for the convenience of location, leads to starting a press for women of color that considers the presence of other women who are not in the room, who are not at the meeting, yet who are invited into it in solidarity and relation. That "bravest step" of making a collective plan on behalf of others with whom one would like to collaborate becomes the grounds of an anecdotal account of the press' emergence, as well as the grounds to theorize "experiences and work to do in common, although we also had our differences." Smith's account of the beginnings of Kitchen Table Press is a certain narrative form that is also a theorizing one, where the meeting surfaces as the site for thinking through what is in common with those in the room, and what is different outside of it that should nevertheless be accounted for within. With regards to the name of the press, Smith explains,

We chose our name because the kitchen is the center of the home, the place where women in particular work and communicate with each other. We also wanted to convey the fact that we are a kitchen table, a grass roots operation, begun and kept alive by women who cannot rely on inheritances or other benefits of class privilege to do the work we need to do.50

The kitchen table is metonymic, standing in for the kitchen, but also for the home, as its center of domesticity and necessity, for women who have to get work done in the home, whose work is in and of the home as caretaker. It becomes the space for last-minute meetings held while friends and collaborators are in town for a different event; it is a space of grass roots organizing that must fit around work schedules. The formation of Kitchen Table Press happens in the informal meeting at home, the feminist meeting that takes into account women's work and the socialities emerging out of it.

Carrie Mae Weems's seminal 1990 work, The Kitchen Table series, is a collection of 20 black and white photographs and 14 text panels that depict Weems playing the role of an archetype at her kitchen table lit by an overhead lamp. Weems worked on the series while she was teaching photography at Hampshire College; therefore photographs were often taken early in the morning or late at night, whenever she could find the time. In the series, the fictional life of a woman is told in the same room, at the same table. The varying roles she plays throughout the series depend on who else is with her, in the room, at the table. She is a partner and lover, accompanied by a man she sits with, dines with, embraces, and stands behind, either touching his shoulders with her hands, looking on as he reads the newspaper at the head of the table, or in the shadows behind him, standing against the far wall. She is also a mother, sitting at the head of the table reading a book alongside a young girl, who reads a book of her own, who stands behind or across from her, at dutiful attention or with a defiant gaze. In one photograph, Weems looks at her reflection in a mirror that sits on the table, as she applies lipstick, while the young girl, who has her own mirror, mimics Weems' gestures. In other photographs, Weems is also a friend. She is comforted by two other women as she holds her face in her hands, eyes closed, or staring off into the distance with a cigarette between her fingers, as the three of them sit in silence, or in mid-laughter, her friends appearing as a blur of movement, heads tossed back with open-mouthed smiles.

There are also photographs of Weems sitting at the table alone, playing solitaire, standing at the head of the table looking out directly at the camera, or leaning with her head, neck, and back against the table, eyes closed in the release of a bodily stretch. These solitary images hold the interiority of the home, at the same time that they hold back the psychic interiority of the different roles Weems plays. While Weems switches roles, the table stays the same, as a grounded point of reference for us and for Weems, who stands in as her own muse. Sometimes a birdcage rests in the corner of the room, at times there is a tapestry or painting hung on the far wall, or one can make out posters and photographs. The change in the background conveys the passage of time, but also the multifunctionality of the kitchen table: it is the setting to more than one scene, to more than one role a woman dons in her everyday life. With each photograph, we are reminded that Weems has come back to the table again and again, over time. Each scene is a return, alluding to a life just beyond the kitchen table.

The Kitchen Table series does not reinforce the gendered, racialized notions of separate spheres between the public and private. Such a fantasy of separation gets misapplied to the lives of Black women, who have historically been stigmatized, surveilled, and intruded upon in their own homes by the state, whether by violent force, or through exclusive, restrictive policies made to uphold white middle-class respectability and the nuclear family. As Candice Jenkins writes, "African American subjects have a particularly complex relationship to the exposure of intimacy, and to its peculiar vulnerabilities, because of the vulnerability that many blacks already experience through racial identity and its associated dangers."51 In other words, "the vulnerability of blackness, might make the vulnerability of sexual and familial intimacy somewhat more burdensome for the African American subject."52 Through the depiction of the private life of an archetypal Black woman made public in a photographic series, Weems captures this doubled vulnerability in the "exposure of intimacy" by way of the solitude of a constructed figure, burdened with the ways that Black women have been excluded from white notions of womanhood, purity, sexuality, and the home. Weems's series takes up what Samantha Pinto and Shoniqua Roach describe as the challenges that "black privacy" presents to an anti-Black public sphere, a "critical withholding" that undoes the correlation of privacy with possession and publicity with dispossession.53

The series includes text panels that Weems wrote after taking the photographs. In interviews, Weems says that the text came to her when she took a long drive after a conversation with a friend.54 As she drove, she recorded herself reciting what came to mind, which she later transcribed. The text, consisting of prose, verse, and song lyrics, tells the story of a relationship between a Black woman and a Black man "He was an unhardened man of the world. She'd been around the block more than once herself, wasn't a tough cookie, but a full grown woman for sure." As the relationship progresses throughout the panels, the woman and man have a child, but drift apart, alienated in their disagreements with one another. By the last panel, the relationship has ended, and while the woman felt that she wanted to be with someone again, "Presently, she was in her solitude, so it wasn't nobody's business what she did." The text breaks up the series, lending its visual sequence a textured interiority through the distant third person narration that Weems initially spoke to herself alone in her car. Moments of speaking to oneself alone, after a meeting with a friend, become solitary moments transcribed for a viewer, moments which nevertheless hold onto what remains nobody's business but the figure's own as she orbits the kitchen table.

By granting entry to a viewer, rendering a viewer privy to what takes place at the table in serial photographic and textual form, Kitchen Table, like the anecdote like Johnson's, Lorde's, and mine is an invitation to think through the specificity of a scene as case study. Weems's series artfully resides at the threshold of the kitchen table, of the doorway into the space she has staged, activating the viewer in their movement outward then inward and vice versa, at the moment when the private and personal becomes an occasion to consider, as curator Sarah Lewis puts it, "How are women going to image themselves?"55 I would add, too, how are women going to be seen by another? How are women going to meet?

Smith's account of the collective creation and naming of Kitchen Table Press marks a similar orientation to the kitchen table. For Smith and Weems, the kitchen table is the site for portraying the lives of Black women and women of color with a different relation to the social, where binaristic spatial logics are taken apart in how, where, and when Black women and women of color meet. Smith and Weems tell stories about the kitchen table, around the kitchen table. As such, it becomes what Ellen Rooney calls the "semiprivate," which figure a space of "peculiar intimacies and coercions" that are exclusionary, contingent, and impersonal.56 The possibility and "practice of a contemporary critical 'publicity'" a mode of public critical exchange, engagement, and encounter can be derived from the exclusionary discursive practices taking place within the semiprivate room.57 Instead of being a problem to fix, the exclusion comes to enable the "partialities, accidents, and historical limits" of the semiprivate that activate the critical exchanges those who enter the semiprivate room are after.58

With the hospital room and the classroom as Rooney's examples, the semiprivate room "shelters strangers who have in common the quite particular neediness that brings them there."59 The semiprivate structures a certain "mode of attention" and address between strangers, who continuously negotiate and challenge the operations of authority, power, and knowledge that circulate in the room, between colleagues, comrades, teachers, and students. Within the semiprivate room, what strangers need is something they do not yet know. They enter the semiprivate to pursue new modes of thought and new objects of knowledge, which subject them to the risks of transformation as well as failure.

As seen in Smith's story and Weems's series, Black and women of color feminists know what it is like to experiment with the semiprivate. They have known there are ways to move through the at times necessary exclusion within critical engagements with difference in, for instance, the conversations and dialogue put into print in This Bridge Called My Back, in the exchanges between women coming together to start a press for women of color, or in photographs taken at a kitchen table, to then be collected and put on display. The "impersonal intimacy" of the semiprivate has then always been a part of how Black and women of color feminists meet, in ways that cannot be merely dismissed as the safeguarding of identity, but rather must be understood as the ongoing processing of what Cathy Cohen describes as identity's destabilization.60

Anecdotes about feminist meetings move through the semiprivate with the knowledge that a designation like the "feminist meeting" can be vague and inexact. After all, Rooney's usage of semiprivate is "in some sense, a nonstandard one or a neologism, a kind of semiprivate joke. . . . The semiprivate room spawns neologisms."61 Neologisms spawned within the semiprivate room give a name to the anecdotal as an object worthy of study, and it does so without making that object into a propertied one, to be claimed by any single writer or scholar. While academic scholarship might put stock in the neologism as the grounds for an exceptional, exigent claim, I turn to the feminist meeting as a neologism or semiprivate joke that pokes fun at its own weight and significance, precisely by naming what many already experience and know to be true.

"Maybe we shouldn't meet"

I would be remiss to talk about feminist meetings without also talking about feminist consciousness-raising (or CR), which became a crucial organizing tool during the late 1960s. Histories of second-wave feminism, radical feminism, and the women's liberation movement trace the beginnings of consciousness-raising to 1968, when members of New York Radical Women (NYRW)62 started formalizing CR as a strategy. Feminists developing CR strategies drew upon their involvement in the new left and civil rights movements, particularly with the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the South. By 1970, CR groups were meeting across the U.S.

In CR, women met in small groups to collectively work through the ways they experienced oppression based on their gender. As a form of what Mariame Kaba calls "mutual self-discovery," the discovery of one's self became enabled by and contingent upon the company of others.63 As Liz Kinnamon writes, CR forged a relational practice of freedom, one that was not merely constituted by self-expression, but by gathering data, gleaned from personal, subjective experience, to create objective theories of power and tools for structural critique.64 Kinnamon states that through CR, feminists reappropriated the charge that they were "too emotional" for the "intentional theorization about the place of feeling in radical social transformation."65 In addition to being a practice of freedom, it was also a pedagogical tool, one Joan Lubin and Jeanne Vaccaro describe as "the work of teaching and learning as a material practice of reinhabiting the space of collectivity: learning in public."66 They write, "If one way to understand feminism is as the practice of unlearning patriarchy, then we can see consciousness-raising as the formalization of the counter discourse about what it means to learn."67

CR has come to represent second-wave feminism's strengths and successes, as well as its shortcomings and failures. Alice Echols notes that some feminists were critical of CR as a strategy for political organizing. They found that CR's privileging of personal experience did not lead to action and instead fostered self-indulgent "navel-gazing."68 Others found CR groups too insular, too entrenched within existing social groups that made them feel unwelcome. Polletta points out that since organizations and solidarities were largely structured around the informality of friendship and "sisterhood," it became difficult for members outside of close-knit friend groups to feel involved and included.69 All of this, for Jo Freeman, contributed to problems not only with CR, but with the movement as a whole, giving way to "the tyranny of structurelessness."70 Formality, then, became necessary to the movement and its organizing at the same time that it felt contradictory to what made friendship between women meaningful and a part of everyday life.

At times, some felt as if their differences in experience based on race, class, and sexuality, were pushed aside, discounted as disruptive to the process, and as that which compromised a collective whole and the strength of the movement. The unmarked whiteness and heterosexism of second-wave feminism overlooked and excluded the longstanding, ongoing traditions and communities of Black and women of color feminists, who took to task white women's racism, Western, U.S.-centric feminist discourse, the moralism of anti-pornography and anti-sex work feminists, as well as the abstract idealization of lesbianism that covered over considerations of desire, sex, and power.71 Within histories of second-wave feminism, then, CR has come to name a way women met and came together, but also a way women stopped meeting and came apart, as a result of what was left unaddressed in meetings.72

In Menominee two-spirit feminist Chrystos's poem, "Maybe We Shouldn't Meet If There are No Third World Women Here," the meeting becomes a site of the "familiar shock" and "ricochet" of "rage desperation fear pain," through a "thin red scream" and "bitter boiling" that comes with not being seen, as the "brown & golden in this sea of pink."73 The poem is part of a collection titled, Not Vanishing, which opens with Chrystos prefacing that she is not a "Spiritual Leader," "although many white women have tried to push me into that role."74 "So you will find no creation myths here," she states.75 That is not the story she will tell; it will be a smaller one.

Chrystos's poems insist that Native people are "not vanishing," nor reduced to Native spirituality and stories told for a white reader's pleasure and consumption. Instead, she writes, "My purpose is to make it as clear & as inescapable as possible, what the actual, material conditions of our lives are."76 Chrystos' poems are an assertion of Indigenous people's everyday lives of the banal over and against the perceived exceptional, exotic Native ritual. For Chrystos, one such banality are meetings, where she aligns her frustrations of not being seen or heard with those of other Third World women.77 Whether as individuals or representatives of organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Gay American Indians, or the Disabled Women's Coalition, they are either present and ignored or not invited in the first place. She writes,

We're not as many as you

But we're here / You're the ones who called a community

meeting & didn't contact the Black Lesbians or G.A.L.A. or

Gay American Indians or the Disabled Women's Coalition or

Gay Asians or anyone I know

You're the ones who don't print your signs in Spanish or Chinese

or any way but how to talk / You're the ones standing three

feet away from a Black woman saying

There are no Third World women here78

A "community meeting" reflects a lack of community. By only publicizing a meeting with posters in English, there is poor community outreach, yet this still leads to meeting organizers' confusion when they see the low attendance and are faced with the predicament: "There are no Third World women here." To say so, only a few feet away from a Black woman, is to overlook the collectivities and solidarities with transnational anticolonial, anticapitalist movements forged by women of color through the term "Third World women."

As Lorde conveyed in her anecdotes, women of color are either present and ignored, or not invited and made welcome in the first place, and yet it becomes their responsibility to attend and show up. Nevertheless, the poem still takes place in the "here" of the meeting, where Chrystos holds out a conditional "maybe," much like Lorde's reserved right to disengage when she wants and needs. I read both not with the force of an ultimatum, but with the touch of a discerning suggestion that ambivalently holds a desire to still meet, as long as things are done differently at the next meeting. "Maybe" is the hope and the requirement that the next meeting better go another way.

There is another possibility another kind of meeting in Chrystos's "maybe." Akin to Lorde's articulations of anger, Chrystos's exasperation with the "here" of the meeting she finds herself in does not foreclose encounters with others, which the meeting "here" promises and fails to give. Within "here," Chrystos attends to what Johnson referred to as the unsayable difference of feminism, which is to say, the multiple, unspoken, ongoing ways that women of color navigate overlapping movements and political commitments, actively constructing their own strategies for processing, communicating, and meeting that at times did and did not align with what was recognizably CR and the legible pursuit of "sisterhood" in the movement.

When Chrystos proposes that maybe we should not meet, it is also an appeal and a demand that, as Hazel Carby writes, "White Women Listen!"79 With this exclamation as the title of her essay, Carby moves her writing into the scene of the meeting, as that which must to be listened to, not just read. In her call for white women to listen to the troubling assumptions made in the movement about what constitutes the family, patriarchy, and reproduction, Carby lends her writing an aurality, sounding off on the urgent centrality of racial difference and legacies of imperialism.80 Her words resonate as if spoken in a room, one inhabited by Carby and her readers, both white and non-white women, who meet together in and through the text to interrogate the limitations of the presumed "we" of "sisterhood."81

A consideration of Black and women of color feminists' meetings, whether covertly planned or happenstance, puts into question the forms of belonging that constitute the feminist bonds and socialities of sisterhood. As anecdotal accounts, they are told within and alongside histories of CR, as another story about another meeting to tell, which necessitates and invites another way of reading, processing, and doing feminist historiography. Given how anecdotes about feminist meetings not only tell stories of the past, but also touch upon the past of CR, second-wave feminism, and the women's movement, such anecdotes are a form of what Elizabeth Freeman calls "temporal drag," wherein one turns back and returns to the anachronistic, as an incomplete, opaque past that purposively stalls and distorts notions of progress in the present.82 To keep going to feminist meetings, and to keep telling stories about them, is to be taken in by the "undertow" of the past, to defer an unrealized, not-yet-inhabited future, where more, hopefully different, meetings await.83

Following Jennifer Nash's wariness around fetishizing feminist histories and waging battles over the proper interpretation of feminism's foundational texts, I am not interested in asserting or claiming there is another, more correct, origin story of CR.84 Alternatively, I am interested in attending to socialities that might not always fall within the purview of CR's history. Black and women of color feminists' anecdotal accounts of meetings trace another history, and as such, they require a different kind of feminist reading practice. There is a distinction to be made between the kinds of structurelessness that obstructed political organizing and the informality of Black and women of color feminist socialities that did and do not always operate under the name of CR. For "maybe," they were just meetings, mentioned in passing, offered as evidence of how women came together, in the same room at one particular time for reasons either memorable or inconsequential to the movement.

The enactment of CR as a strategy, and the experimentation with it, became a reason to keep meeting. CR should not merely be emblematic of second-wave feminism's whiteness. Black and women of color feminists did not do away with CR. It was a strategy they practiced and refined in their own ways, through the impetus to meet away from those who would discourage the airing out of difference. As the Combahee River Collective (CRC) writes, "In our consciousness-raising sessions . . . we have in many ways gone beyond white women's revelations because we are dealing with the implications of race and class as well as sex."85 CR enables the possibility of moving beyond "white women's revelations."

As Sandra K. Soto writes, the CRC's statement, "by virtue of its circulation in print, performs C-R," wherein the feminist meeting becomes the feminist text that invites other ways of meeting, in the classroom, in another CR group, in a reading group, or elsewhere in an ongoing practice and recommitment to feminist sociality.86 CRC's statement insists that are other ways of coming together in the sharing and reading of a text that enacts what Soto describes as their "long-term and unwavering commitment to C-R by and for Black women."87 What falls outside of the revelatory of "white women's revelations" are the anecdotes informally moving throughout Black and women of color feminist texts, as the narrative form that can account for multiple forms of difference within a meeting.

Soto states that this commitment to CR "demanded any number of challenging acts: devoting the time, finding the space, showing up physically, making oneself present mentally, speaking-listening-hearing-disagreeing-trusting-analyzing, and perhaps most taxing recommitting again and again to that process with the knowledge that it had no foreseeable end."88 This recommitment of the "again and again" becomes the repetition of the scene of meeting, which speaks to the necessary incompletion and failures of meeting the failures of the last meeting to resolve things, to be different in a meaningful way, to accomplish tasks, or make space for difference. Such failure speaks to the exclusion of Black and women of color feminists' experience, but it also speaks to the work of recommitment that has no promised or "foreseeable end."

Another Meeting is Not a Given

Through CR, the feminist meeting is rendered through its moments of insufficiency, inefficiency, and failure, which necessitate its very function, insofar as they become the reason for feminists to still meet, to try again, because the next time it might work, there might be a breakthrough. Alongside Chrystos's near refusal to attend meetings, in Cherríe Moraga's preface to This Bridge Called My Back, she writes of attending meetings as an ongoing, embodied experience her body bears:

I am ready to go home now. I am ready. Very tired. Couldn't sleep all night. There is a deep fatigue in my body this morning. I feel used up. . . .

Another meeting. Again walking into a room filled with white women, a splattering of women of color around the room. The issue on the table, Racism. The dread and terror in the room lay like a thick immovable paste above all our shoulders, white and colored, alike. We, Third World women in the room, thinking back to square one, again.

How can we this time not use our bodies to be thrown over a river of tormented history to bridge the gap? Barbara [Smith] says last night: "A bridge gets walked over." Yes, over and over and over again.

I watched the white women shrink before my eyes, losing their fluidity of argument, of confidence, pause awkwardly at the word, 'race,' the word, 'color.' The pauses keeping the voices breathless, the bodies taut, erect unable to breathe deeply, to laugh, to moan in despair, to cry in regret. I cannot continue to use my body to be walked over to make a connection. Feeling every joint in my body tense this morning, used.89

Moraga's exhaustion weighs heavily and constricts her depleted, "used up," and "walked over" body. She must catch her breath in the brevity of her sentences. Coursing through the shortness of sentence and breath is the irritation felt in the need to keep going to keep going to meetings, as well as the need to keep putting into words what her body knows too well. She is "ready to go home now," at the same time that she must also be "ready" for the next meeting that inevitably will come after another sleepless night, through the thick of a "deep fatigue." For Lorde and Chrystos, the anecdote is the grounds for anger, and alongside anger is irritation. Like Lorde and Chrystos, Moraga tells a story about meetings where her feelings of irritation are made to seem misplaced, as if she does not have the correct capacity for anger because what she is explaining does not seem to meet the occasion.90 Irritation speaks to the ambivalence around the dissociation needed to attend disappointing meetings and to narrate them after the fact as its observer a task contingent upon the sociality of the meeting taking place, on the contact and friction experienced when in the same room with others.

The particularity of the anecdotal account is obfuscated by a different kind of repetition in "another meeting" to walk into "again," rather than the list Lorde provides. The anecdotal account is no longer constituted by its specificity, but rather in how it becomes evidence of the same. Once again, she finds herself walking into another room, which might as well be the same room as before, because it is the same situation with the same people: "a room filled with white women, a splattering of women of color around the room." While white women speak, Moraga watches as they trip on their words and "pause awkwardly at the word, 'race,' the word, 'color.'" But their own trips become her own; her own pauses and breathlessness are matched by those who hesitate to say the unsayable but feel it "race," "color" as palpable. Dialogue is delayed, as Moraga is made to accommodate and match the discomfort of the white women speaking around her. Her own dis-ease becomes overshadowed and overtaken by theirs. Together, their bodies become "taut, erect," stalled and stationary, but Moraga breaks off from the other bodies, feeling herself acutely become the "bridge" "used" and walked over so that the white women around her are given space, while she is not.

Yet, in the middle of this passage is a mention of another, different meeting, one with Barbara Smith, "last night." What is this meeting? Perhaps it is not an official meeting like these others, but an informal meet-up, an evening spent with a friend, and perhaps it is the same meeting Moraga mentions earlier in the preface, when, in 1980, she takes the train in Boston from the white suburbs of Watertown to the predominantly Black neighborhood of Roxbury, where Smith lives. While on the train, she witnesses a Black teenager assaulted and arrested by a white undercover cop, while the day before, another Black teenager was shot in the head and murdered by another white cop.91 As she rides the train, she writes, "I hear there are some women in this town plotting a lesbian revolution. What does that mean about the boy shot in the head is what I want to know. I am a lesbian. I want a movement that helps me make some sense of the trip from Watertown to Roxbury, from white to Black. I love women the entire way, beyond a doubt."92

While "women in this town" meet for their own revolution, Moraga prefers to meet another way, and someone else, in a way that can travel and speak to the anti-Black violence of the police as much as to her love for women "the entire way" from Watertown to Roxbury. Moraga's journey to meet with her friend, a woman she loves, cannot be disentangled from what she sees in order to get there. This meeting might not have the force of that "lesbian revolution" but it is intimately felt as the gesture of Smith making a bed for Moraga to stay the night, of Smith giving Moraga a kiss and grasping her shoulders to say, "very solid-like, 'we're sisters.'"93 This is a different kind of touch than that of bodies made taut, erect, and tense in "another meeting," one that does not harden but instead softens with warmth and assurance. Moraga writes,

I nod, I put myself into bed, roll around with this word, sisters, for two hours before sleep takes on. I earned this with Barbara. It is not a given between us Chicana and Black to come to see each other as sisters. This is not a given. I keep wanting to repeat over and over and over again, the pain and shock of difference, the joy of commonness, the exhilaration of meeting through incredible odds against it.94

Moraga writes of exhaustion, anger, and frustration as well as a compulsion to meet, to keep showing up. While black and women of color feminists were at times dissatisfied with CR, with the organizing being done within the feminist movement and with how meetings were conducted, there is nevertheless a commitment to its process, worked out in other informal meetings. Moraga does not write of her refusal to attend meetings. Instead, she writes, like Lorde's list of anecdotes, of repeatedly going to them. But the exhaustion and irritation of attending meetings again and again, here gives way to that pain, shock, and joy in the repetitious utterance of "sisters" through and across difference before drifting off to sleep. The reminder that relation is not a given is itself repeated "over and over again": another repetition, another way of sitting with what must be said with each encounter, sleep-over, and moment of contact, as "the exhilaration of meeting."

Black and women of color feminists' accounts of meetings are neither a negation nor romanticization of the social, so much as the ambivalent recommitment to it and the scenes it shapes. This recommitment speaks to how negativity is necessary to sociality, and that sociality does not, and need not, always feel good, fun, productive, or right. One comes to meetings with the hope and determination that this meeting will be different, and the next time too. In relating anecdotes, Black and women of color feminists are offering theories of and for meetings, as a tense, sustained, ongoing practice, but also the light, loose commitment that is there when needed, still and always with its reservations, hesitations, and conditions. This is the welcome of the unlocked door, the warm living room, the kitchen table.

Summer Kim Lee is an assistant professor of English at UCLA. Her work can be found in ASAP/JournalSocial TextWomen & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, as well as in The New York Times MagazineThe NationArtforum, and others.

Banner Image: born in flames by .Hels. is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.


Thank you to Michael T. Dango and Tina Post for the invitation to be a part of this collection of essays, as well as for their thoughtful feedback and engagement. Thank you also to fellow contributors, Christina León, Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan and Mark Seltzer, as well as to the anonymous reviewer for their generous comments and suggestions.

  1. The journal was initially published independently, but in the early 2000s, it became acquired by a well-established British multinational publisher. While we met as a collective, the journal's affiliation with a department at a private university and a larger academic press meant that our meetings could not be disentangled from our reliance on institutional affiliations, funds, office space, and library subscriptions. This all could not be separated from the fact that we were mainly graduate students, as well as untenured contingent and junior faculty. Additionally, other than a summer stipend for the managing editor, the work was unpaid. As a result, there was high turnover in the collective, with various positions being passed around from outcoming to incoming members. This presented issues with keeping records of collective and editorial board responsibilities. The journal could only function when associated with the names of tenured faculty in the department (for instance, when our bank account with a major bank was suddenly closed, not by our choice, a new bank account with the NYU Federal Credit Union had to be opened in a professor's name). The rest of did not know how much longer we would live in New York or if we would be able to contribute from afar, with whatever teaching nor non-teaching jobs we might have. []
  2. Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 4-5. []
  3. I am thinking here of Sara Ahmed's Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017). []
  4. I am referring to Herman Melville's oft-cited 1953 short story, "Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street," touching upon the range of scholarship on refusal that has come out of readings of Bartleby's own refusal: "I would prefer not to." In particular, see Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005). []
  5. Patricia Stuelke, The Ruse of Repair: U.S. Neoliberal Empire and the Turn from Critique (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021), vii. []
  6. Ibid. []
  7. Elizabeth A. Wilson, Gut Feminism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), 70. []
  8. Lizzie Borden, Born in Flames, 1983. I am also thinking of Borden's first film made in 1976, Regrouping, a documentary about a women's collective, which, in part due to Borden's own interventions as a filmmaker within the collective, falls apart. For more on Regrouping, see Ethan Philbrick's forthcoming Group Works: Art, Politics, and Collective Ambivalence (New York: Fordham University Press, 2023); Melissa Anderson, "Regrouping," 4 Columns, May 20, 2022. []
  9. What also comes to mind is Judith Butler's work on assemblies in public spaces, as "transient and critical gatherings" with an embodied, coordinated, plural performative function (7). As a mass of bodies coming together, assemblies have an indexical force, becoming evidence of their own reason for gathering. They insist that those who are present be recognized as "the people" representative of a popular will (9). See Butler, Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015). []
  10. Francesca Polletta, Freedom Is an Endless Meeting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), vii. []
  11. See Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013); Joshua Chambers-Letson, After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life (New York: New York University Press, 2018); Nijah Cunningham, "Decolonial Materialisms," unpublished manuscript. []
  12. Summer Kim Lee, "Staying In: Mitski, Ocean Vuong, and Asian American Asociality," Social Text 37, no. 1 (2019): 27-50. []
  13. Xine Yao, Disaffected: The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth-Century America (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021), []
  14. Stuelke, The Ruse of Repair, 25. []
  15. See Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008). []
  16. Stuelke, The Ruse of Repair, 9. []
  17. Wilson, Gut Feminism, 5. []
  18. Stuelke, The Ruse of Repair, 8. []
  19. Audre Lorde, "An Open Letter to Mary Daly," Sister Outsider (New York: Crossing Press, 1984), 62-67. []
  20. Yao, Disaffected, 16. []
  21. Here I am thinking of what Stefano Harney and Fred Moten have called a necessary "general antagonism" of sociality that cannot fit within institutional life. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 109 []
  22. Alexandra T. Vazquez, via Barbara Johnson, writes of surprise as that which enables and generates methodologies "not about an excavation, but an inclination" (Vazquez, 301). To be keyed into surprise is to relinquish the fantasy of mastery and possession, and it is also a way of orienting oneself toward the world, with a ready, curious openness, and, as Johnson writes, "in indulging in some judicious time-wasting" (Johnson, 16). See Vazquez, "Salon Philosophers: Ivy Queen and Surprise Guests Take Reggaetón Aside," Reggaetón, edited by Raquel Z. Rivera, Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Pacini Hernandez (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 300-311; Johnson, "Nothing Fails Like Success," A World of Difference (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 11-16. []
  23. Rachel Corbman, "The Scholars and the Feminists: The Barnard Sex Conference and the History of the Institutionalization of Feminism," Feminist Formations 27, no. 3 (2015): 49-80. []
  24. Barbara Johnson, The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race, and Gender (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 1. []
  25. Ibid. []
  26. Ibid., 2. []
  27. Ibid., 3. []
  28. Ibid. []
  29. Audre Lorde, "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism," Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 1984), 124. I am also thinking of Jennifer Nash's articulations of defensiveness as an affect shaping particular modes of engaging with Black feminist thought. See Nash, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019). []
  30. Ibid. 124-125. []
  31. Ibid., 127. []
  32. Ibid., 125. []
  33. Ibid. []
  34. Ibid. []
  35. Ibid. []
  36. Ibid., 126. []
  37. Lorde, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," Sister Outsider, 110. []
  38. Barbara Christian, "The Race for Theory," Feminist Studies 14, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 68. []
  39. Ibid. []
  40. Ibid., 69. []
  41. Jane Gallop, Anecdotal Theory (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), 2. []
  42. Ibid., 5. []
  43. Ibid., 4. []
  44. Christian, "The Race for Theory," 70. []
  45. Cherríe Moraga, "Entering the Lives of Others: Theory in the Flesh," This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, ed. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1983), 23. I am also thinking of Hortense Spillers' theorizations of flesh, wherein the "materialized scene of unprotected female flesh . . . offers a praxis and a theory, a text for living and dying" (68). Spillers, "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book," Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987): 64-81. []
  46. See Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006). []
  47. Barbara Smith, "A Press of Our Own Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press," Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies 10, no. 3 (1989): 11. []
  48. Ibid. []
  49. Ibid. []
  50. Ibid. []
  51. Candice M. Jenkins, Private Lives, Proper Relations: Regulating Black Intimacy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 4. []
  52. Ibid., 5. []
  53. Samantha Pinto and Shoniqua Roach, "Black Privacy: Against Possession," The Black Scholar 51, no. 1 (2021): 2. See also the special issue of The Black Scholar, which Pinto and Roach co-edited on "Black Privacy"; Shoniqua Roach, "Black Sex in the Quiet," differences 30, no 1. (2019): 126-147; Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On Surveillance of Blackness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015); Kevin Quashie, The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012). []
  54. Hilary Moss, "Revisiting Carrie Mae Weems' Indelible Series - Almost Three Decades Later," T: The New York Times Style Magazine, April 5, 2016; Carrie Mae Weems, "Carrie Mae Weems Reflects on Her Seminal, Enduring Kitchen Table Series," interview by Stephanie Eckhardt, W Magazine, April 7, 2016. []
  55. Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, "Foreword to Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series (2016)," October Files: Carrie Mae Weems (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2021), 74. []
  56. Ellen Rooney, "A Semiprivate Room," differences 13, no. 1 (2002): 128. []
  57. Ibid. []
  58. Ibid., 145. []
  59. Ibid., 131. []
  60. Cathy J. Cohen, "Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?" GLQ, Vol. 3 (1997): 437-465. []
  61. Rooney, "A Semiprivate Room," 130. []
  62. Alice Echols, Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 91. []
  63. Mariame Kaba, "Foreword by Mariame Kaba," Trying to Make the Personal Political: Feminism and Consciousness-Raising (Chicago: Half Letter Press, 2017), 6. []
  64. Liz Kinnamon, "Undoing the Property Form: Feminist Consciousness-Raising as a Practice of Freedom," Middlebury College, April 7, 2022. See also Kinnamon's dissertation, "Playing Attention: Marxism, Feminism, and the Politics of Presence" (2022). []
  65. Ibid. []
  66. Joan Lubin and Jeanne Vaccaro, "Learning in Public," Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory 29, no. 3 (2019): 278. []
  67. Ibid., 291. Lubin and Vaccaro turn to Cherríe Moraga and Amber Hollibaugh's 1981 dialogue, "What We're Rollin Around in Bed With," as a form of CR, wherein the space between Moraga and Hollibaugh becomes a space for learning, as it moves from a private recorded conversation to a published transcript circulating elsewhere and outward. []
  68. Echols, Daring to be Bad, 86-87. []
  69. Polletta, Freedom is an Endless Meeting, 153-154. []
  70. Jo Freeman, "The Tyranny of Structurelessness," 1970. []
  71. I am referring to Ti-Grace Atkinson's "Feminism is the Theory and Lesbianism is the Practice," which Moraga and Hollibaugh critique in "What We're Rollin Around in Bed With." []
  72. See Winifred Breines, The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). []
  73. Chrystos, "Maybe We Shouldn't Meet if There are No Third World Women Here," Not Vanishing (Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1988), 13. []
  74. Ibid., i. []
  75. Ibid. []
  76. Ibid. []
  77. I am thinking here of how Janey Lew writes of the feminist meeting as a literary trope that conveys an intersectional Indigenous feminist praxis. See Lew, "A Politics of Meeting: Reading Intersectional Indigenous Feminist Praxis in Lee Maracle's Sojourners and Sundogs," Frontiers 38, no. 1 (2017): 225-259. []
  78. Chrystos, "Maybe We Shouldn't Meet," 13. []
  79. Hazel V. Carby, "White Women Listen! Black Feminism and the Boundaries of Sisterhood," Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in '70s Britain (London: Routledge, 1982), 110-128. []
  80. I am thinking of how Roshanak Kheshti has written about white women's aurality, specifically in relation to the genre of "world music." See Kheshti, Modernity's Ear: Listening to Race and Gender in World Music (New York: New York University Press, 2015). []
  81. Carby, "White Women Listen!" 52. []
  82. Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 61-64. []
  83. Ibid., 65. []
  84. Jennifer C. Nash, "Intersectionality and Its Discontents," American Quarterly 69, no. 1 (2017): 126. See also Nash, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019). []
  85. Combahee River Collective, "A Black Feminist Statement," in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, ed. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1983), 213-214. []
  86. Sandra K. Soto, "Experience, Difference, and Power," in The Cambridge Companion to Lesbian Literature, ed. Jodie Medd (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 50. []
  87. Ibid. []
  88. Ibid. []
  89. Cherríe Moraga, "Preface," This Bridge Called My Back, xv. []
  90. Sianne Ngai describes irritation as a "minor, low-intensity negative affect," constituted by a combination of "distance" or "emotional detachment" and "contact or friction" (174-175). Irritation is perceived as an inadequate, disproportionate reaction to the situation at hand, as if it emerges where it is not supposed to be, unwarranted. See Ngai, Ugly Feelings. []
  91. Moraga, "Preface," xiv. []
  92. Ibid. []
  93. Ibid. []
  94. Ibid. []