Self-love is necessary for survival.
Survival is a rebellious act.
As an undergrad in art school, I struggled to tell my story. I couldn’t find a safe space to speak up for myself. I felt like I was being a nuisance, singing the same song of oppression and violent acts against black women throughout history. I assumed that no one would want to want to hear it, or at the very least no one would care.
I discovered bell hooks, for colored girls, and myself, all at once.
I was introduced to the writings bell hooks, an African American feminist and cultural critic, in an African-American Studies class. Her teachings on the oppositional gaze and the necessity of self-love taught me the power of challenging the constructs of black female identity in America, that self-love is a powerful way to confront internalized oppression and as such, is a political act.
When I was introduced to Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, For Colored Girls who have considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf, it gave voice to how I was feeling at the time. I was a black girl at a pre-dominantly white university in a studio art program where I was the only…the only African-American, the only African-American female. I spent a lot of time trying to find my voice within context of what was going on around me and it was impossible. Then I saw a performance of for colored girls.
As I watched the performance, I was simply delighted and inspired until somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff was performed. It changed me. In the poem the lady in green claims that someone has taken all of her “stuff”, the things that defined her identity – her laugh, her love, her toes, her chewed up fingernails, her rhythms, her voice. She repeatedly asks for her stuff back while contemplating how it was taken – did she give it up or was it stolen. This exchange was between her and a male lover…for me, there was no lover who had taken my stuff. There was only a history that had defined what it was to be black and female in America. A history that taught us that we were less than, incapable, made for service over thought, much like Shange’s character, “a simple bitch with a bad attitude”. But I knew better. I needed to figure out what parts of my identity had been stolen. I needed to acknowledge what parts of my identity I had given away. I wanted my own things back.
Shange’s, for colored girls, is also significant because she disregards hegemonic discourse by writing “as a woman for women trying to find a woman’s voice”. More specifically she is a black woman writing to black women. This is where I found the solution to my problem. As an artist, I was speaking to the wrong audience. I needed to be talking to myself and to other women who looked like me. I needed to look back at my own reflection. I needed to stare back at the representations of black women in the media, socio-political constructs, and in our day to day lives. I needed to have a conversation with black women.
her own things… is a conversation between black women.