Tuesday, October 19, 2021

How Anita Hill’s memoir inspired her to campaign against racism

Long after the bruising sexual harassment hearings which took place 30 years ago, Anita Hill is still as passionate as ever about women’s rights. Her latest book, Fire and Ashes: Sexual Violence, Family and the Politics of Resentment, is part of the editor’s special feature on recognising the lives of women of colour this Women’s History Month. How does she feel about it being 30 years since the sexual harassment hearings?

I’m thrilled to see that the attention is continuing and in fact that it has always been there. Although I feel sad that I cannot celebrate it for those who had to wait so long. I am happy it is still the focus, especially because of the time that has passed since the hearings, when many old attitudes were reinforced. But what I am happiest about is the inspiration it continues to give. The feminist movement is global, and that must be a wonderful thing. Women today are fighting back. They have been inspired and mobilised and hopefully will be able to do something about these things.

Fire and Ashes is an interesting book. It is a mosaic of essays, some of which were written by other women of colour, many of which came about as a direct response to the horrors I had just witnessed and the sexism I witnessed around me. There are many commentators out there who repeat the story and try to have it told in a particular way. But I believe it’s a rich and complex story that should be told in its full variety.

I only realised that I was writing this book while researching it. Initially, I thought the whole thing would be about sexual harassment in the workplace. I found that it wasn’t. It was a mishmash of several different subjects including rape and the need for change in the housing system. It took me a long time to find the niche for it. The eventual focus was that racism needs to be pushed aside in this culture of sexism and I hope it gets a good audience.

In this time of #MeToo and Time’s Up, I think now is a very different time for the issue of women of colour and sexual harassment. Some people say the movement is broad, but the reality is it is very targeted and focused. But I think the movement is growing stronger and stronger. I was attracted to what I have had to put up with because it is the same kind of thing happening in another kind of time. It’s hard to fight such battles when the media is so strong. I am hopeful that the movement will continue to grow and reach out and change everything.

• Read the editor’s piece here.

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