Activist Blair Imani's 'Modern HERstory' Is A Mini-Encyclopedia Of The Women And Nonbinary People Who Are Changing The World
One bookstore is already too afraid to sell it.
October 17, 2018 at 6:15 am
Most of the time, there’s an air of awkwardness between myself and the person I’m interviewing. It isn’t deliberate, but it’s something to be expected when asking a stranger about their life’s work. However, I didn’t have this experience with Blair Imani. When the clock struck 1 p.m., I picked up my phone to call her, but it buzzed before I could dial the first digit.
Imani had followed me on Twitter the night before our interview, so we could connect. After I answered the phone, she excitedly told me to check my DMs in order to see what her parents did. I opened my inbox and saw photos of smiling faces standing around a yard sign showcasing the cover of her book, Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History. Though we were supposed to talk about the book, we couldn't help but commiserate about how beautifully extra Black parents can be.
First of all…I get home and they have these massive yard signs printed and displayed out front. pic.twitter.com/TH85dB3doQ
— Blair Imani (@BlairImani) October 10, 2018
THEN! When my mom @krissylupu said that she was ordering coasters I thought it was going to be like monogrammed cardboard but she ordered CERAMIC TILE COASTERS WITH @MODERNHERSTORY’S COVER PRINTED ON IT. pic.twitter.com/HJu9mvow1O
— Blair Imani (@BlairImani) October 10, 2018
Talking to Imani was like talking to a homegirl. We got so wrapped up in stories, I almost forgot about the task at hand. She told me about how her mother was initially not thrilled when she first decided to convert to Islam. However, Imani’s mom eventually came around to accepting and embracing her conversion, even sending an unexpected gift that celebrated both her daughter’s religious convictions and professional accomplishments.
“I get home, and they have two hijabs that match my book lying on my bed. The first time I wore a hijab my mom was like, ‘No daughter of mine is wearing that s**t,’” Imani said. “Now she’s getting them for me.”
Though the 24-year-old decided to convert to Islam while she was still in college, Imani’s sensitivity toward the plight of others was evident long before that.
“I wasn't Muslim growing up, but I saw Islamophobia play out in the media,” she said. “For example, I'm not Mexican, but I see the immigration conversation happening, and I've seen people get deported. Just because I see it and it doesn’t affect me [directly], doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It is part of what's happening to people in the community, so that empathy was always there.”
This journey into Islam opened Imani’s eyes to a new reality. However, her conversion and subsequent decision to wear hijab made her a target.
“When I was in Louisiana and I was wearing a hijab, people would be like, ‘These damn terrorists!’ I became hyper-visible, because we equate Muslims with the head covering,” she said.
Nonetheless, Imani persisted. In 2014, she founded the educational platform Equality for HER. While under this banner, she curated a Women’s History Month campaign for the organization, and this campaign became the inspirational foundation for her book. Fast-forwarding to 2016, while sitting in what she called a “kumbaya circle” during a leadership class, Imani shared that writing a book was among her personal goals. She then ran the idea by friend, illustrator Monique Le, who further encouraged her to write. Using her social media savvy, Imani also reached out to her Twitter family, including writer and activist Feminista Jones. Burton helped her formulate a book proposal, raise some coin and spread the word.
What resulted was the development of Modern HERstory: A mini encyclopedia of 70 prominent women and gender nonbinary individuals, who have either helped change the world or who are currently in the process of doing so.
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I am still very much in awe that @modernherstory is a real book that has already been printed in the thousands. Modern HERstory comes out on October 16 and already the support from all of YOU wonderful people has driven amazing preorder numbers. Writing a book, working with @momo_le and our editor @kmketchum is truly my greatest accomplishment to date and it is still so very surreal. If there is something that you are hesitant to do, take it from me and go for it! I never thought I’d be a published author…but here we are. Many thanks to @wellreadblackgirl for featuring us today! #Repost @wellreadblackgirl ・・・ Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History by @blairimani | Pub date: October 16th ???? • • “An inspiring and radical celebration of 70 women, girls, and gender nonbinary people who have changed–and are still changing–the world, from the Civil Rights Movement and Stonewall riots through Black Lives Matter and beyond.” #wellreadblackgirl #bookmail #preorder
Each person featured in the text has a well-written, concise biography accompanied by an illustration from Le. Choosing who was to be featured in the book wasn’t an easy task.
“Every time I read a new story, I’m like, ‘Oh damn! I should have put her in the book,’” Imani admitted.
The handpicked group features titans like Oprah Winfrey, rapper Missy Elliot, YouTube beauty guru Jackie Aina and Mari Copeny (aka “Little Miss Flint”). Stonewall veterans Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are among the trans women featured in the text, along with activist Raquel Willis, YouTube influencer Kat Blaque and writer Janet Mock.
“They should be part of the conversation,” Imani declared.
Each entry within Modern HERstory also offers instructions on how to properly pronounce the names of each person featured. Imani did this to not only make the book more accessible to a variety of readers, but to challenge societal attitudes based on expectations for name pronunciations that are subconsciously rooted in white supremacy.
“I feel like we have this thing in white supremacy where — if names are not Anglo-Saxon, European names — we butcher them," she explained. “As another means of representation, I literally went through videos on YouTube and made phone calls to make sure we had the proper pronunciations of people’s names. For instance, Jackie Aina — it’s not ‘Jackie AYE-Nah.’”
Another small but notable aspect of the book is that it includes a glossary of social justice jargon. A revolutionary text, Modern HERstory is already shaking the table. One bookstore was even allegedly too afraid to sell it, deeming the content as "too controversial.”
— Blair Imani (@BlairImani) October 16, 2018
Now that Modern HERstory is on shelves, the Los Angeles native is already planning her next book.
"I’m working on another book now. I don’t have the title yet, but it’s going to be about Black identities, specifically the time between 1910 and 1979," Imani told Blavity. "It’s going to focus on the Great Migration: Not just people who moved up North, but people who stayed in the South, people who came from Caribbean nations, and also African folks who started to move in during the ’60s and ’70s.”
Though she did not expect to become an author, Imani has fully embraced this new-found path.
"I really feel like a strong writer, and I never thought I would be an author. Now I feel like I have a couple of books in me," she said.
To learn more about Blair Imani and find out where you can get a copy of Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History, check out her website.
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