Browsing through books: ‘Sensuous knowledge: A Black feminist approach for everyone’ by Minna Salami

Minna Salami’s book Sensuous knowledge: A Black feminist approach for everyone (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020) is included in the reading list of Feminism(s) and Degrowth Alliance (Fada). I read Sensuous knowledge while I spent my April in Mustarinda residency, since the book was literally there waiting for me in the Mustarinda library.

“If our approach to knowledge production is patriarchal, then ultimately we know, and everything a result of what we know, we do as will be patriarchal too. If knowledge production is operatically antiwoman, then these values will shape eve­rything from our intimate relationships to our social structures.” 

Minna Salami (2020, 110)

The book aims to find alternative ways of knowing beyond patriarchy. It combines what is commonly called a “personal” narrative to previous texts and ideas and, in the process, creates a feeling of a new way of knowing. The knowledge of “sensuous knowledge” does not get a neat definition, but rather it is a sense the reader gets when reading the book. While the book is packed with information, such as grounded criticism toward Euro-patriarchal ways of knowing, it is the process that convinces me as a reader. Thus, this feels like a truly feminist book, for which I’m grateful.

At one point in reading I was irritated by the lack of direct “this is how it is” style, when it comes to the topic of the book, i.e. sensuous knowledge. However, quite quickly I realised that this is the internalised hierarchical way of understanding the world. Who says we should generate knowledge that is based on someone knowing the best? (The answer includes strong theorising and a techno-rational worldview, in which things can be measured.) To manifest different ways of knowing, Salami uses various kinds of knowledges and not only “academic” or written ones. These different sources include lyrics, visual representations, poetry, arts, and speeches. “Bold”, I think, and “of course”. Who says wisdom is to be only found in books wirtten by white dudes?

“Feminism is a struggle against patriarchy, but it is equally a struggle for sisterhood. To be a feminist is to be an initiated woman, one awakened in opposition to the patriarchal oppression of women. Not just the oppression of women of one’s own race, one’s age, one’s tribe, and one’s class but of all women. Not only the specific type of patriarchal oppression that most affects one’s life but all patriarchal oppression.”

Salami (2020, 80)

This book also made me feel uncomfortable, which is a sign of somethig shifting. Salami argues, that in her experience (and backed up also by other sources) white women enable the systematic oppression of women of colour in daily life, namely racism. And just when I was starting to feel moral superiority of guilt, she goes on to state that “[a]ll too often in feminist discourse white women engage in self-flagellating and ultimately self-sensing ex­cursions of guilt” (Salami 2020, 139). Guilty of feeling guilty! As a result, I was reminded that I too have a lot more anti-racist work to do.

After the introduction, the chapters are themed according to alliances generated by struggles and connections. I enjoyed the way, in which Salami organised the vast field. This enables going deeper to the themes, which have been mentioned in passing:

  • Of Knowledge
  • Of Liberation
  • Of Decolonization
  • Of Identity
  • Of Blackness
  • Of Womanhood
  • Of Sisterhood
  • Of Power
  • Of Beauty

Towards the end the book, the terrain gets less-treaded. Salami comes up with new ideas and describes more meaningful ways of being in this world, i.e. sensuous knowledge. This is where the justifications for arguments become more undetermined. However, this observation does not take away the value of Salami’s work. On the contrary, she has created a foundation on which other feminist scholars are for sure to lean on.

A final request for anyone who has any power over the Finnish media space: PLEASE highlight Minna Salami’s work more. She has roots in Finland, and it is unfortunate that even this has not made her more visible in the Finnish mainstream media. She is a great thinker who could inspire countless others in Finland too if she would be spotligted more–instead of regular voices who represent the Euro-patriarchal worldview(s).

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