Sensuous knowledge is a way of knowing more than your mind, with your body and soul. It connects you to power that is neither over or with, but flows between living beings, and gives you some tools to change that flow.
“Minna Salami writes a philosophy of knowledge and freedom from a feminist Africa-centred perspective for the good of people and the planet. Her new book, Sensuous Knowledge, guides readers to really find themselves in the midst of social change”.Miia Vistilä, Voima (my translation)
Salami was born in Finland in 1978, grew up in Nigeria and Sweden, and now lives in London. She writes the award-winning blog msafropolitan and for the Guardian, where she recently described her struggle to maintain the lower-case ‘b’ of “black” in her book Sensuous Knowledge (a choice I respect here). She is appropriately specific about the contexts that intersect for her – her experience and analysis of racism, misogyny, capitalism, and colonialism that she calls Europatriarchy. Reading her book soon after Emilia Roig’s Why We Matter, I was struck by the similarities – and differences. To simplify, Roig – who describes herself as a “product of French colonialism” – is more interested in intersecting expressions of oppression, while Salami is more interested in the epistemologies behind them. Both of them want to change the story.
The story is told differently depending on where you’re reading it. The Finnish, English, and German covers of Sensuous Knowledge are different windows on Salami’s book – centring the author in the UK to make a black woman visible, and with abstract colourful (“colour blind”?) designs reflecting the flow of natural forces in Germany and Finland.
Sensuous Knowledge is, as Bernadine Evaristo so aptly puts it, “intellectual soul food”. Salami explores her theme in nine chapters: Of knowledge, liberation, decolonization, identity, blackness, womanhood, sisterhood, power, and beauty.
Salami stands on the shoulders of giants. If like me, you’ve been reading Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde and bell hooks, and wondering how to carry their wisdom forward today, you’ll enjoy how Salami puts them together with a kaleidoscope of cultural, intellectual and emotional resources. Some readers might have liked more space for her own ideas than for quoting others, or for her to cast her net wider to bring in trans and ability issues, but she handles the giants critically. Is what they have to say good for anyone other than straight white men (or even for them)? Is it good for the planet? This is not just a biting rebuff to Europatriarchy, but an attempt to centre ways of seeing and knowing the world that are better for everyone.
Salami starts with a good story. A man and a woman go up a mountain. The man is an “explorer” out to conquer it; he doesn’t find much worth taking. The woman is struck by the beauty of the flora in abundance on its slopes. And she ends with a question. What about the mountain itself? What does it say and see?
If you still aren’t sure whether to buy or borrow it, listen to Minna Salami talking about the book herself. I’ll be discussing it in her birth country with a Finnish intersectional feminist book club and I personally can’t wait!
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