After scrolling on Instagram one day, I came across a post that hit double time: my favorite author and favorite book bar were coupling up for a speaker event. Mikki Kendall, author of “Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists” and “Hood Feminism” delighted the space for an evening where the owner of The Literary and Kendall had a conversation, mostly honing in on “Hood Feminism” and Kendall’s background. Their conversation got into more detail with Kendall’s time on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s campus, and how the city of Champaign allowed her the time and space to get back on her feet.
Despite my careful attention, and relatively planned script in the opportunity to meet Kendall face-to-face, you could have assumed I overlooked everything in their preceding conversation. I completely and without a doubt fumbled the delivery. And it taught me that no matter how much you make a fool of yourself, life goes on. In applying the lasting lesson Kendall presented in the talk’s conclusion to take action even if (and often when) you might not know what that will exactly look like, I learned that I can act imperfectly and still find practical ways to use that discomfort to go in another direction of personal development.
In debriefing the story, my kind friends offered support. They comforted me, saying that it couldn’t have been that bad – after all it was just a short interaction and most people are probably nervous to meet her as well.
Kendall literally told me: “It’s okay, calm down.”
At that time, it stopped me in my tracks. Once the shock subsided from realizing the gravity of how nervous I was, we ended up continuing the brief conversation. Now, as many prominent individuals probably don’t remember the same intensity of these types of interactions, it pointed me in the direction of learning and applying a lesson.
No one is paying attention to what you’re doing as much as you are, because they’re too busy worrying about themselves. This idea can be succinctly referred to as the spotlight effect and it’s all about how we can be egocentric when addressing our realities.
Of course there are exceptions to this, and it’s safe to say that my nerves were transparent in that interaction. But a general rule for my life is that we’re all inherently self-absorbed, so you might as well go for it! If what you need is permission to make mistakes, go forth with knowing you can evidently not be put together all the time. When you get that combination of vulnerability and confidence and humility, that’s where true growth can materialize.
Having a cursory experience of awe with Kendall is not a final look at how much I have been able to learn from her. Thankfully, I’ve read “Hood Feminism” a few times now. I would confidently say that’s not enough, because something new sticks with me every time I return to this tried-and-true favorite.
Docking in around 260 pages, Kendall delivers a realistic and comprehensive look at antiracist rhetoric that doesn’t hold back about mainstream feminism’s shortcomings. This, accomplished and encountered in a biographical sense through the course of the non-fiction novel, paralleled her presence at that book bar and when I met her.
At the event, this came out in the way that Kendall said “progress looks a lot like someone not just having an idea but following it through; even when people think that they can’t.”
While that progress might not be salient, nor linear, for me that was working through that graceless interaction and refusing to let it cloud the silver lining. I have learned a lot through self reflection and this book. Read it, keep learning, and remember to not get caught up in what other people think of you.
Feature image courtesy of Maggie Burnetti.