In March 2021, in collaboration with Feminist Book Society and the Feminist Press in the US, we will publish This Is How We Come Back Stronger, an honest, challenging and inspiring collection of short stories, narrative non-fiction, interviews and poetry from a stellar line-up of intersectional feminist authors. With 20% of our cover price going to Women’s Aid and Imkaan, pre-order now to support women and non-binary survivors of domestic violence.
Continue reading for an exclusive extract of Layla F. Saad’s piece.
We first came to know you through your 2017 essay ‘I Need to Talk to Spiritual White Women about White Supremacy’. Since then you have written about your faith and how it intersects with your feminism. How has spirituality and religion supported you throughout the last few months?
It’s the foundation of my life and of who I am. It informs how I do what I do, and why I do what I do, because as a Muslim woman – and as someone who is deeply spiritual – ideas of justice and equality are baked in to my belief system. My parents are a great example of the living embodiment of the practices of Islam. They inspire me and my brothers. They built an orphanage for over a hundred orphans in Tanzania (where my mum’s from). They taught us that everything you make, you’re not going to take it with you once you’re gone. So you must make your life meaningful. Make it mean something. And so having them as that example really informs why I do what I do, but it also informs how I do it as well.
What makes you hopeful about our immediate feminist future? And what about the long term?
What has always given me hope is the people who have come before us. Those who saw the status quo and chose to go in another direction, to insist on their full humanity. They chose to insist on demanding their rights, they chose to insist on speaking truth to power.
It wasn’t any easier for them. In fact, it was harder for them than it is for us now, because we’re in a different world now. I don’t know if I could have drawn on the courage that they drew on. And so I draw from theirs now.
Today, my peers and leaders are speaking up and doing this work in the same environment of anti-Blackness, of sexism. And they still show up. There’s so much evidence of the other side of humanity – capitalism, racism, sexism – yet we are all capable of great courage, of being caring, of being great self-listeners and of giving up privilege so that others may live more freely. Hope comes from the potential of the human spirit.
Bearing in mind the widespread commitment to the work you set out in Me and White Supremacy, do you think the resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement would have happened without the pandemic?
I don’t know that I could say whether it would have happened without it. But I do think that being at home, not being with each other, has created more space for many people to be able to say, ‘Let me just sit my butt down and open this book right,’ or ‘Let me just sit down and learn something that I didn’t know before.’ Being indoors has created space in our minds.
I don’t think that we can say that the pandemic has played no part in what’s going on right now. But I also think it’s important to note that it was long overdue and we shouldn’t have had to wait for a pandemic for any of this to happen.
And even in the midst of the pandemic, Black people and brown people in the UK and US are fighting two pandemics: they’re fighting Covid-19 and they’re fighting racism. For those with white privilege, this should be at the forefront of their minds as they’re using phrases about how the pandemic has been a ‘great equaliser’.
So many people who read and love books are looking at racism and feminism from an intellectual perspective, and not digging deep into how it plays out in their life; and so not taking any action. While we saw all the protests, we saw companies and institutions being forced to reckon with racism that has always been there. This is a time when we’re seeing that pairing of the two consciousnesses: the awareness and the action. It’s my hope that this continues to play out.
What I have seen – in becoming aware of any ‘–ism’ or any place in which you have privilege and realising, ‘This is what it’s like for those who don’t have privilege in that area’ – is that once you get that real understanding, you can’t go back to before. And so it’s my hope that as people are coming into a more conscious awareness, they can’t go back to before, but that it continues to be paired with action.
What is the feminist book that made you?
The first one is Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. Given my own understanding of myself, specifically as a straight Black woman, it was being able to hear from the voice of somebody who was a Black lesbian woman. That book really did make me; it’s a book that I return to again and again. As a Black Muslim woman in the predominantly white publishing industry, with a very white-facing audience, it can be easy to lose yourself, and I really appreciate her writing on the importance of defining yourself for yourself, no matter what your outside environment looks like; as well as the importance of speaking up, seeking truth and not staying silent.
And the other one, which helped me more to understand things from historical and systemic contexts, is Ain’t I a Woman by Bell Hooks. It gave me a very specific understanding of US history, in a feminist movement that I had no context for, and the relationship between white women and Black women; and Black women and Black men; and white women, white men and everybody else. It helped me to understand that, as someone who isn’t a descendant of enslaved Africans of the Atlantic slave trade, while I may be able to relate with women and people of the African diaspora because we’re Black, I don’t have the shared experience of the specific context of US history to be able to know what that must feel like. And it gave me an understanding of how to observe things with a wider context, and how to ask questions about what’s going on under the surface that you may not be aware of. I remember reading and thinking, ‘Every white woman needs to read this!’
Do you have a call to action for readers of this book?
This moment has exposed to us how the most marginalised amongst us are impacted, and given us no more excuses. The call for me is the same call it would have been before lockdown, which is to look towards the leadership of Black women and Black femmes, of all backgrounds and experiences. Throughout history, we are the people who’ve shown up consistently, for ourselves and for everybody else. Support our bodies of work, uplift us, share them with other people. Support Black businesses, because – as we’ve seen through this pandemic – these are the people who slip through the cracks, even though we work so hard. And it shouldn’t just be the people with bestselling books; it should be the people in your communities, at your jobs, in your work, at your schools, because they need the support and they’re often doing that same level of work, but without that public recognition.
And so, what do you want us to let go of?
I specifically want Black women to let go of the need to work for everybody else – we should be able to rest. Other people should be picking up the mantle of all the work that we have created and put out into the world for the next generations and saying, ‘Let’s put this into practice.’ We’ve always been there, we’re always going to be there. We continue in all areas across all industries to show up, despite sexism and despite racism, right? And we show up in excellence. We show up wanting to take everyone else along with us too. I just wish that other people would do the same for us that we do for them.
Layla F. Saad is an East African, Arab, British Black Muslim woman who was born and grew up in the UK, and lives in Qatar. She is a New York Times– and Sunday Times–bestselling author, anti-racism educator, international speaker and podcast host on the topics of race, identity, leadership, personal transformation and social change. Her ground-breaking anti-racism education workbook Me and White Supremacy debuted on the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists.
Extract from This Is How We Come Back Stronger. Publishing on 23 March 2021 (£14.99)