DE FACTO FEMINISM: ESSAYS STRAIGHT OUTTA OAKLAND begins with several reprinted works mostly from The Weeklings (theweeklings.com), an online forum dedicated to essay, and ends with an original piece comprised of letters between Faith, a writer, and Alexis, the wife of Faith’s deceased teacher. The latter brings all the formers to an intense close filled with both grief and joy, making a story of what started out as a manifesto. Essays on the N-word, guns, cleaning, the Beatles, black chick-lit, growing up in Oakland, and the Black Panthers flesh out what Judy Juanita means by de facto feminism: women who define feminism simply by doing what they must do, and what they do best. They make the word, not it them. So, too, the author, like the heroes and heroines she describes, exploits what might exploit her when she uses words and music as tools for change in her high school and college years and later, her own life as a source of creative material. In the final piece, “Acknowledge Me: a true ghost story/epistolary essay,” instead of cowering beneath a powerful, successful, charismatic, not to mention alluring, older white male teacher, the author (Faith) becomes his medium. She writes to his widow about their unconventional conversations and through him they become not only friends but collaborators. This last piece is a brilliant play within a play, showing Juanita’s true talent for showing (not telling) character development while also developing ideas she explores in the previous essays – the artist/writer lifestyle, the role of “the establishment” in her work, friends/loved ones’ support and the spirit world.
At first, I felt threatened by this book. How could I relate as an affluent, caucasian, Midwest woman? Even as fellow artist and writer, am I the establishment even if I don’t intend to be, because I’m white? But, as the essays became more personal (and when she mentions a fellow writer she likes because she is Midwestern, with a dry sense of humor), I felt inspired. We’re not enemies. The enemy might lie within us or outside us, but whatever it is, it keeps us apart, not together, as we are when we work for a common cause, listening to one another as Judy Juanita so graciously and wittily does with herself, her peers, students and those who have blazed the trail for her, to whom she dedicates the book. the book on Goodreads