Shelly from Bob's Burgers teaching hip hop to a class of mostly white people. Text reads "There's gonna be some profanity coming at you, so cover your ears if you can't handle the 'B; word." Shelly is based on Dana Rizzo.
(Fox)

White Academic Tries to Colonize and “Redefine” Trap Feminism as If Sesali Bowen Isn’t Right There

Yet another reason BHM 2022 was a dud, and we need a re-do.

While the book Bad and Boujee: Toward a Trap Feminist Theology by Dr. Jennifer Buck was published by Cascade (an imprint under Wipf and Stock Publishers) back in February 2022, it recently came under fire online as Black and brown feminists (particularly authors, academics, and theologians) began sharing the text over the last few days and wondering why a white academic felt the need to profit from and redefine trap feminism—a type of Black feminism defined by Sesali Bowen about eight years ago on Feministing.

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According to Sojourners, the circulation started around April 11, when Columbian American Christian podcaster and online creator Jo Luehmann critiqued this on her Instagram account.

The book’s introduction feels voyeuristic because Dr. Buck is limited by her experiences. Dr. Buck makes a point to acknowledge her privilege, but it falls flat almost immediately as she emphasizes how much trap and hip-hop mean to her. Half of the (complete) introduction sounds like an effort to give an excuse for how she got to this point. After all, Dr. Buck writes that one of her earliest jobs was as a hip-hop instructor in her teens, so she’s been taking up space for her whole life.

Black art canonized by white people for white people

Dr. Buck claims she wants to de-center her voice and elevate black narratives, and yet she, a white woman, wrote the book instead of at least co-authoring it with Black woman academics and writers—or better yet, helping Black feminist scholars working in theology, in tandem with Bowen, get the funding and resources to continue this work. She pushes back on the idea that she’s taking up space by pointing to her “well-paid” research team without explaining what that means. Luehmann rightfully pointed out that they may be in the acknowledgments, but do not get royalties and the clout from this book that Dr. Buck is already discussing—like speaking engagements.

In writing for ZORA Magazine, Whitney Alese pointed to the description that (partly) reads, “Such a project will redefine the ‘trap’ context from one of marginalization to one of joy and flourishing within black feminist theology.” Alese wrote, “There is family in the trap. There is thriving community in the trap. There is joy in the trap. Only outsiders who look on with judgmental eyes would think otherwise.”

Dr. Buck likely doesn’t control the description (or the now-deleted social media posts from the publishers that echo this). However, if someone reads Dr. Buck’s book and takes from it that she is defining something for the first time and has the authority to do this, that fault also partly, if not wholly, lies on Dr. Buck.

Bowen speaks out

@badfatblackgirl #greenscreen #booktok #badfatblackgirl #trapfeminist ♬ Spooky, quiet, scary atmosphere piano songs – Skittlegirl Sound

Dr. Buck published this book in 2022, but according to her CV, she’s formally written and taught aspects of what would become this novel about trap feminism since 2017. Publishing her own book back in 2021, Bowen wrote about trap feminism as early as 2014 in an article for the site Feministing. You would think with all her resources and team, Dr. Buck would’ve reached out to Bowen and heavily cited her in the book, at least.

Yeah, no.

Very online herself as a culture writer, content creator, and lover of hip-hop culture, Bowen quickly spoke out about this whole situation. When Bowen reached out to Dr. Buck to get more context, Dr. Bowen informed her Bowen was included in “a footnote.” While I couldn’t actually preview the page itself on Google Books, Bowen’s name indeed only provided a single result.

Reviews disappear, and publishers caught deleting tweets

As people found this was indeed an actual book and review-bombed it (particularly on Amazon), some accused the publisher of deleting bad reviews. However, others found that Amazon put up safeguards against reviews without proof of purchase because of the high volume of traffic in a short period. It’s unclear whether this was automatically triggered or enacted by someone requesting the protection.

Though it is still online, Wipf and Stock pulled the book from their website and today released a statement on their Twitter account. They acknowledged everything that was in their realm of control. Dr. Buck and others who made this happen (like Yale) haven’t apologized or admitted wrongdoing.

If you want to learn about trap feminism, read Sesali Bowen’s book Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes From a Trap Feminist or one of the other three easily accessible reads about Black feminism I put together here. Also, the Smart Brown Girl Book Club‘s (first) discussion about the book is available on YouTube.

Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist by Sesali Bowen. (Image: Amistad Press.)
(Amistad Press)

(via Twitter & TikTok, image: FX)

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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.