The second floor of the library holds the good stuff. For starters, rows and rows of books dedicated to feminist theory, gender dynamics, LGBTQIA+, and race theory exist there. My personal favorite includesBlack Feminist Thoughtwritten by Patricia Hill Collins – it helps me harness an understanding of black womanhood. Collins details a wide spectrum of topics such as; stereotypes, social justice movements, and specific powerhouse women. However, before we go too in depth, I pose the question to you “What is womanhood anyway?”
A single definition cannot encompass the leaps and bounds tied into the ‘woman experience’. The ‘woman experience’ must loosen a tight grip on defining womanhood only in terms of cisgender and heterosexual women familiarities. Surely, we must encompass the plight of the jezebels often labeled as ‘sexually-fast’ girls by grown adults. Furthermore, I hope ghetto black girls gain the same amount of respect for their contribution to culture and identity in black womanhood too. Black womanhood breathes from any angle we could possibly think of and the conversation has only just begun.
Within our millennia, we’re still grappling with what belongs to black women innately. Strategic spaces both online and physical address what black women can give themselves and what they can harness in community with each other. I am intrigued by the wellness retreats, creative workshops, hangouts, and fellowship meetings organized on Instagram. In these parameters, womanhood weaves a colorful thread in black feminist, womanist, and equity-driven spaces. I am convinced that sustainability in one’s identity and space for exploration can be written in the description of black womanhood. By generating intentional spaces, we can move away from feeling like the “odd one out.”
I remind myself to not subscribe to identifying as the “other.” Does this come from internalizing messages around me? In college, I took a Feminist Theory course where we read the works of Simone De Beauvoir. She states that women often are pushed into the category of being the “other” in relation to men. (Side note: Although, she addresses how this harms white women – I believe the other-ed feeling is a frequent feeling for women of color in general).
Let’s revisit the impact of a good library visit. I walk heart-in-heart with the books written by black women on what it means to own one’s life. Specifically, there are certain challenges black creative women face when entering their field. From generating content to creating a business, I believe there’s a sense of responsibility in responding to the external pressures reflected in our society (e.g. racism, sexism, economic barriers, transphobia, classism, and etc). Whether these factors affect us personally or not, I believe it’s instinctual to feel the need to respond on what punctures holes in our community. The journey of womanhood feels like a constant loop of reacting to oppressive structures in the midst of fighting for better livelihoods for future generations. Does this exist in manhood as well – certainly.
However, can people exert themselves by over-explaining their identity? How can I share my truth without feeling as though I am having the same conversation with those committed to understanding me or not?
Toni Morrison – a renowned storyteller and novelist – stated that “It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being.” Morrison stated the following during theHumanist Viewsegment in theBlack Studies Center public dialogue(part two) in 1975.
Although, one could recognize that black womanhood exists outside of comparison to whiteness, I believe there are circumstances where one notices a difference in the conversation surrounding womanhood. With my constant use of social media, I find it interesting to see quotes of prominent black feminist and womanist scholars. On one hand, I am pleased viewing a plethora of affirmations and history not being swallowed by the one-size-fits-all approach in some feminist spaces.
While we unpack theory gifted to us from our ancestors, predecessors, and current activists, there needs to be an investment on how much we understand at one time. Even if we understand some aspects and some we do not – this shouldn’t stop us from pursuing upward mobility. Do I surpass my ancestor’s wildest dreams or do I wield them together forging a space where women outline definitions for themselves? The call for strength and the call for survival embed themselves in how we carry ourselves on to do our work.
We come together in the vertebrae of Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and so many other names we can share amongst each other. I can encourage you to visit ‘The Free Black Womens Library’ on Instagram curated by Nigerian-American Director Ola Ronke Akinmowo. The page teems with hundreds and hundreds of books shared by some of the writers I mentioned here and a surplus of others as well. These book exchanges encourage access to knowledge related to radical black women – written by black women. You can view the Instagram profile at @thefreeblackwomenslibrary.
In addition, we relinquish ourselves to songstresses who weave social justice within their careers such as; Aretha Franklin, Salt-n-Pepa, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Solange, and Janet Jackson. Their lyrics, their interview soundbytes, and their willingness to show up again and again for their dream can help sustain us. Academia and culture serve as the bedrock of what unites sistas through the centuries. Yes, it may vary on how the impact reaches its audience but it will always find a way.
I savor over the intentionality to engage blackness fully. No one can teach a black woman on what it means to be a black woman. We must learn these intricacies in communion and struggle with those who mirror us. As February folds into March, black history month chugs as the steam engine moving all year.
How many names do we not know whose lives can teach us the power within ourselves? How many names can we discover who uplifted those who were left behind in ‘the struggle’? What opportunities are there to pay homage and to support those doing the work for a fortified community? Whenever her and/or their name surfaces again like so many others, I reach into my own vertebrae and breathe black womanhood with you.
Featured image: Unknown