By Logan Anderson & Blair Imani
Logan Anderson, Pumpkin Spice scholar-in-chief reunited with me, Blair Imani, for a discussion about what I call: Pumpkin Spice Feminism. When I started Equality for HER, Logan Anderson served as our very first Communications Director. Currently, Logan serves as the Digital Content and Creative Strategist for Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign. I asked Logan to speak about the cultural significance of Pumpkin Spice and we introduced #PumpkinSpiceFeminism for Equality for HER’s #NewWordWednesday.
Logan Anderson: Pumpkin has always been a foreign flavor for me. It's not present in the Cajun cuisine my father's side of the family, the island cuisine from my mother's side, or the cuisine native to my hometown of Houston, Texas. We just didn't eat it, ever. And this wasn't unique to my family—I've taken very unscientific surveys of the Black people I know and the answer is always the same: None of us grew up eating pumpkin.
So the first (and only) time I tried a Pumpkin Spice Latte, I didn't know what to expect—but the drink did not live up to the hype for me. I told my friends I thought Pumpkin Spice was gross and they were shocked. How could I not like Pumpkin Spice? It's delicious! They told me I just didn't get the drink—which is insane; it's overpriced coffee, not a Salinger novel.
Now, every Fall, I watch this weird collective freak out happen over something I am completely divorced from. It's weird to watch your peers become obsessed with something you find mediocre. And as the flavor—which, let's all just acknowledge, is a completely made-up thing—starts showing up in more and more things (there's Pumpkin Spice cheerios! Who asked for that?!), it feels more and more like everyone is telling me that there's something wrong with me for not liking it.
And it would be one thing if Pumpkin Spice was just a flavor—after all, plenty of people hate foods that the vast majority of the world loves, and they don't complain about it—but it's not: it's a culture. It's yoga pants, Ugg boots, monograms, Lilly Pulitzer dresses and top knots, all of which are, like pumpkin spice, things I do not feel associated with. Girls who can't stop talking about how much they love Pumpkin Spice Lattes are wrapping themselves in this image, trying to communicate something about the type of person they are/want to be.
Blair Imani: Thanks for the background, Logan! This brings me to the idea of Pumpkin Spice Feminism. First, I will qualify all of this with the disclaimer that I thoroughly enjoy everything associated with Pumpkin Spice culture. I love ugg boots, and I even have a pair of blue suede ugg slippers but I, a Black Muslim femme, am the last person to be associated with these things.
It is overwhelmingly clear that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are inextricably linked to whiteness. Several articles have been written about how shaming women for liking Pumpkin Spice is a feminist issue, but the idea that this flavor is associated with white femininity speaks to a larger issue.
As discussed in a 2015 article written by Sasanka Jinadasa for Black Girl Dangerous, this is particularly bizarre because neither spices nor pumpkins have their origins within whiteness. Jinadasa points out the truth that a discussion about spices cannot be separated from the extensive history of white supremacy, colonization, and exploitation of South Asian and Afro-Caribbean people, labor, and resources. Jinadasa also touches on the origins of the pumpkin which lie with indigenous populations.
The squash we call pumpkin and the medley of spices we enjoy today were cultivated within Black and Brown populations but the fact "Pumpkin Spice" is associated with whiteness speaks to the erasure of people of color.
Pumpkin Spice is seen as white because whiteness is more marketable in our society. The history Jinadasa discussed has been completely erased for this purpose. Pumpkin Spice items have become a watered-down, mass produced, and easily consumable appropriated product that’s been put through white supremacist capitalist filter to make it more palatable.
These same problems appear in the ways feminism is discussed. White feminists are more palatable to our white supremacist society and the capitalist machine of white feminism is a result erasure of the people of color who continue to do amazing work.
For example, Pumpkin Spice Feminists ignore the work of people like Moya Bailey and Trudy who have done extensive work around the concept of misogynoir, assuming that Katy Perry's use of the term meant that she invented it.
Pumpkin Spice Feminists view Hillary Clinton as the shero who shattered the metaphoric glass ceiling keeping women away from the position of commander in chief, while ignoring the ways women of color like Shirley Chisholm cracked and chipped away at that many ceiling years before.
In closing, during this season of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and Pumpkin Spice Feminism, our hope is that while you enjoy your appropriated products and movements, you consider their origins and you honor the contributions of those who are erased.
Blair Imani is a Black American Muslim activist living in Brooklyn, NY. Blair is the founder and Executive Director of Equality for HER.