Kendall will visit the Keller Center to discuss her new book on Feb. 27, culminating Harris' celebration of Black History Month.
Author, activist, and cultural critic Mikki Kendall is releasing her newest book, "Hood Feminism," on Feb. 25.

If you’re a woman who feels left behind by mainstream feminism, Mikki Kendall is writing for you. She paints the struggles of life in the margins.

If you’re a woman who has been lifted by the feminist movement, Mikki Kendall is writing for you, too. Consider this a wake-up call: Your movement is ignoring sisters sidelined by hunger or violence or because they don’t look a certain way.

What is Mikki Kendall trying to do? “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable – that’s what I’m doing,’’ the writer and activist says of her new book.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot, to be published this month by Viking Books, is a collection of essays weaving history, social science, and the harsh world around us into stories of Kendall’s own life.

The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy will host Kendall for a discussion of Hood Feminism and her extraordinary journey.

Kendall will appear at 6:30 p.m. on February 27, part of Harris’ series of events celebrating and honoring Black History Month.

The feminist movement too often is focused “not on survival but on increasing privilege,’’ Kendall writes. Food security, gun violence, housing, racism, and education are seldom part of the feminist conversation. That leaves out countless women – especially women of color, those who must survive before they can thrive.

Characteristic for Kendall, Hood Feminism is blunt in tone. Her gift for writing makes it a compelling read, but not a comfortable one, even for those who claim to be allies.

Kendall is not known for nice. She says nice is overrated and, most important, nice is ineffective.

“Nobody ever got their rights by asking nicely, ‘Hey, can you please stop oppressing me?’ Yeah, that doesn’t work.’’

Her book’s first essay is titled "Solidarity is Still for White Women" and takes a direct hit, beginning: “As debates over last names, body hair, and the best way to be a CEO have taken center stage in the discourse surrounding modern feminism, it’s not difficult to see why women should be questioning the legitimacy of a women’s movement that serves only the narrow interests of middle- and upper-class white women.’’

Kirkus called Hood Feminism “a much-need addition to the feminist discourse.’’

“The book is an authentic look, from the perspective of a black feminist, at the ways mainstream feminism must be overhauled, from the personal to the policy level, and a demand that its practitioners do better,’’ it continues.

Indeed, Kendall aims to be constructive. She strives to spur conversation about solidarity within the feminist movement. She believes that “an intersectional approach to feminism is key to improving relations between communities of women, so that some measure of true solidarity can happen.’’ 

"Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot"

Kendall grew up poor in Hyde Park, in the shadow of the University of Chicago. She joined the U.S. Army, coming away with access to education – degrees from University of Illinois at Chicago and DePaul University – and also a permanent leg injury. She suffered a violent marriage, a life-saving abortion, homelessness, and hopelessness.

She believes that brutal honesty about her own struggles is vital, not just because it is real life, but also because it is in no way unique.

Society acts as though having bad things happen is shameful, and she remembers the shame she felt heaped upon her during the worst times. “If we are piling shame on people we are just making their time harder,” Kendall said. “If I act like I am ashamed of my past, I am indicating that you should be ashamed.” 

Kendall survived her hardships and is thriving. She considers herself a feminist – “mostly’’ – though she doesn’t credit her emergence from crisis to the feminist movement.

“In my head, I didn’t do anything exceptional. I had good resources and made a couple of good decisions in the middle of bad decisions.’’

Reflecting upon her childhood in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood near the University of Chicago, she writes that she “could almost see the ivory tower from my porch’’ though it “might as well have been the moon,” a world away.

“Getting a job as a caregiver, as a custodian, or in a dining facility was relatively transparent, but as for accessing anything else? There was no clear path,” Kendall writes of living near the University. “The feminism at the University of Chicago on offer to the low-income Black women living in the neighborhood might as well have been a scene from The Help.’’ 

She grades today’s University of Chicago higher with outreach to neighbors and she acknowledges that “post-college me is welcome.’’ Indeed, she has spoken on campus several times and is especially eager to engage with Harris students, those who will write the policy of the future.

Kendall hopes that Harris students will read Hood Feminism.

Growing up near UChicago, the opportunities provided by higher ed "might as well have been the moon," Kendall says.

“When you’re writing that policy, think about people who don’t have resources. Think about who this policy is for. Are you writing policy to help – or to punish?’’

This book may cause a stir. Kendall says she’s not trying to be controversial but she can take whatever comes. 

“I don’t need to win a popularity contest,” she says. She’s just doing her work. 

“No problem like racism, misogynoir, or homophobia ever went away because everyone ignored it,’’ she says.

And for the health of the movement: “Internal conflicts are how feminism grows and becomes more effective.’’

Hood Feminism is in stores starting Feb. 25.