Minna Salami is a Nigerian, Finnish and Swedish writer, lecturer and the founder of the award-winning blog MsAfropolitan. Her debut essay collection, Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Approach for Everyone, challenges the Eurocentric, patriarchal ways of thinking that have had a chokehold on our world for centuries.
In the book, Salami “draws on Africa-centric, feminist-first and artistic traditions to help us rediscover inclusive and invigorating ways of experiencing the world afresh.”
Sensuous Knowledge consists of nine chapters that discuss, in order, knowledge, liberation, decolonisation, identity, blackness, womanhood, sisterhood, power and beauty. Each chapter explores how we’ve been conditioned to think about said themes while offering additional or alternative ways to do so, in favour of a black feminist approach.
African histories and African mythology underpin many of the book’s chapters. I loved that because these perspectives enhanced what I took away from the book. Salami’s writing is sensual and comforting and authoritative all at once. Her enchanting way with words made me reread several pages and passages. I had to take a moment to appreciate her writing and make sure I soaked up every word. Salami interweaves her social commentary with her personal experiences throughout the book. I particularly enjoyed the parts where she talks about spirituality.
“What matters when it comes to decolonisation is that it must not be Europatriarchy in blackface. In the twenty-first century, decolonising the mind cannot be the same repackaging of patriarchy with Pan-Africanism.” – Quote from ‘of Decolonisation’
In the brilliant first chapter, Knowledge, Salami interrogates what it means to be knowledgeable in the Europatriarchal context and how inherently oppressive it is. Knowledge is widely understood as something one should always aim to acquire and possess. Salami argues the need for Sensuous Knowledge, which is a more humane and feminine way of engaging with knowledge. Salami’s proposal of Sensuous Knowledge spoke to me on an intellectual and emotional level. It convinced me 110%.
Salami references prolific black feminist texts throughout the book, particularly those by Audre Lorde, bell hooks and Alice Walker. She also draws on the words, ideas and art of other influential black women such as Beyoncé, Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Lauryn Hill. The Liberation chapter opens with Salami’s fond reflections on the personal significance of Lauryn Hill’s 2002 album Unplugged 2.0.
Decolonisation, Identity, and Blackness were some of the chapters that resonated me with most. In the latter two sections, Salami talks about the politicisation of identities and the limitations of this. I found myself nodding enthusiastically when Salami spoke about the importance of prioritising joy in our lives as marginalised people. As a black woman, I am all too aware of the inequalities and oppression I experience due to my race and gender. This angers and exhausts me but it’s important that I intentionally make space for joy and pleasure in my life. Ultimately, I want my existence in this world to be a joyful one.
“For a marginalised identity to be a source of joy, it cannot by default exist as an instrument of resistance. Conversely, for an “othered” identity to be a source of resistance, it must be a source of joy.” – Quote from ‘of Identity’
My favourite chapters were Knowledge, Womanhood, Blackness, Power and Beauty. All of the chapters are incredibly valuable and I took something from them all. Womanhood begins with an ancient myth about a goddess who coveted the colour blue. Salami uses this story to talk us through how the colour blue came to be a feminine colour in Africa. I didn’t know this and found it fascinating because all my life I’ve subconsciously associated the colour blue with masculinity.
The chapters that challenged my perspectives the most were Womanhood and Beauty. They were almost uncomfortable to read because I felt like I was being mildly dragged (in a good way). Reading them made me realise that I’d internalised some limiting and problematic ideas about womanhood and beauty, ideas I had never thought to challenge or resist until reading Sensuous Knowledge. Beauty discusses how the concept of beauty relates to men. Salami interrogates the language we are conditioned to use when talking about attractive women and men, and the harmful impact of Eurocentric beauty standards on black women.
This short book is an enriching and transformative read, full of refreshing ideas and sharp social and cultural commentary. Sensuous Knowledge is a necessary addition to the growing number of non-fiction books about black feminism. Ultimately, the upholding of Euro-centric, patriarchal ideas has done much more harm to the world than good. This book shows us how different our world could look for everyone if we adopt Salami’s Africa-first, black feminist approach. Everyone can take away something valuable from Sensuous Knowledge. As the book reminds us, feminism wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for black women. Sensuous Knowledge drives home the importance of listening to black women and ensuring our voices are heard and valued.
My rating: 10/10
Sensuous Knowledge by Minna Salami is out now and published by Zed Books.
*Disclaimer: I received a copy of Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Approach for Everyone from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.