What can mainstream feminism learn from game-changing Black women like Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, and Cardi B? Entertainment journalist Sesali Bowen and film and culture critic Zeba Blay joined us to discuss a new, inclusive feminism that celebrates Black female identity. Bowen’s debut memoir, Bad Fat Black Girl, interrogates sexism, fatphobia, and capitalism through personal and cultural commentary. Blay’s collection of essays Carefree Black Girls contributes to this conversation, examining the strength and fortitude of Black women in American culture. Joined by Shayla Lawson (This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope), the two explored their work in this installment of our On America series.
Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture
By Zeba Blay
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
In 2013, film and culture critic Zeba Blay was one of the first people to coin the viral term #carefreeblackgirls on Twitter. As she says, it was “a way to carve out a space of celebration and freedom for Black women online.” Her new essay collection, Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture is an empowering and celebratory portrait of Black women—from Josephine Baker to Aunt Viv to Cardi B.
In Carefree Black Girls, Blay expands on this initial idea by delving into the work and lasting achievements of influential Black women in American culture—writers, artists, actresses, dancers, hip-hop stars—whose contributions often come in the face of bigotry, misogyny, and stereotypes.
In Blay’s own words, “The journey of Black women in the culture, of culture, has been a fraught one. It has also been incredibly beautiful. Our stories are culturally and historically relevant, worthy of being shared, heard, awarded, nerded out over, explored, analyzed, debated, referenced, lovingly critiqued. Most of all, our stories are our own.”
In writing that is both luminous and sharp, expansive and intimate, Blay seeks a path forward to a culture and society in which Black women and their art are appreciated and celebrated.
Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist
By Sesali Bowen
Published by Amistad
From funny and fearless entertainment journalist Sesali Bowen, Bad Fat Black Girl combines rule-breaking feminist theory, witty and insightful personal memoir, and cutting cultural analysis for an unforgettable, genre-defining debut.
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Sesali Bowen learned early on how to hustle, stay on her toes, and champion other Black women and femmes as she navigated Blackness, queerness, fatness, friendship, poverty, sex work, and self-love. Her love of trap music led her to the top of hip-hop journalism, profiling game-changing artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo, and Janelle Monae. But despite all the beauty, complexity, and general badassery she saw, Bowen found none of that nuance represented in mainstream feminism. Thus, she coined Trap Feminism, a contemporary framework that interrogates where feminism and hip-hop intersect.
Bad Fat Black Girl offers a new, inclusive feminism for the modern world. Weaving together searing personal essay and cultural commentary, Bowen interrogates sexism, fatphobia, and capitalism all within the context of race and hip-hop. In the process, she continues a Black feminist legacy of unmatched sheer determination and creative resilience.
Bad bitches: this one’s for you..
Zeba Blay is a film and culture critic who has contributed to publications including the New York Times, the Village Voice, ESSENCE, Shadow and Act, Film Quarterly, and Indiewire. Formerly Senior Culture Writer at HuffPost, Blay has spent her nearly decade-long career writing about pop culture at the intersection of race, gender, and identity. Born in Accra, Ghana she is based in the New York City area.
Photo Credit: Sylvie Rosokoff
Sesali Bowen is a writer who curates events, writes for film and television, and creates elevated pop culture correspondence. Bowen is the former Senior Entertainment Editor at NYLON magazine and Senior Entertainment Writer at Refinery29. Focusing on Black pop culture, she helped launch Unbothered, R29’s sub brand for Black women. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and Feministing. Bowen lives in New Jersey.
Photo Credit: Nailah Fumilayo Davis
Shayla Lawson is the author of This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope (Harper Perennial, 2020) and three poetry collections: I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean, A Speed Education in Human Being, and PANTONE.
She has also recently appeared on OPB with Tiffany Camhi, NPR’s Live Wire Radio broadcast, The Special Report with Areva Martin, Salon Talks with D. Watkins, The True Romance Podcast, at The Center for Fiction with 2 Dope Queens’ Phoebe Robinson, Storybound by LitHub, at The Strand with Ashley C. Ford, Memoir Monday, and the Tanz Im August Art Festival in Berlin, Germany.
She is a regular columnist at Bustle magazine and has written for ESPN, Guernica, Vulture, New York, and the Cut. Shayla is a MacDowell and Yaddo Artist Colony Fellow and a 2020 National Book Critics Circle Finalist.
Photo Credit: Nicholas Nichols