“Let me begin by saying that I came to theory because I was hurting-the pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living. I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend-to grasp what was happening around and within me. Most importantly, I wanted to make the hurt go away. I saw in theory then a location for healing.” – bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress
Ebony, why are you a Black feminist?
I can’t actually remember someone asking me this question. But I imagine that it circulates in people’s minds every now and again, people who want to make sense of what I do and why I do it. People who are curious. Or people who disagree with my thinking, perhaps out of a belief that Black feminism is antagonistic to racial justice and liberation.*
In taking up the question, however, I am brought to the quote from hooks’ book that I provided at the top of this blog: “I came to theory because I was hurting.” I came to Black feminist thought, Black feminist ways of thinking because I was hurting. I was hurting in the institutions that I was a part of that disregarded my voice. I was hurting as a result of my genuine needs being neglected and trivialized in other spaces. I was hurting because I internalized all of the white supremacist patriarchal garbage about who Black women should be and how we should show up in the world, believing that the religious and societal expectations trumped my personal convictions and way of knowing.
In my hurt, I started searching for answers. I first turned to the biblical text but the way that my sisters had either been ignored and exploited in the pages either left me reinterpreting or rejecting the narratives that I found. But then I started reading womanist theology, and the works of Delores Williams, emilie townes and Renita Weems. The piece by Delores Williams in a Troubling in My Soul, rocked my world and helped me to think differently about evil and sin. Renita Weems’ Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets, completely changed my life and forever altered the way that I approached the Bible. And then bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and so many other phenomenal Black women who are writers helped me to see that my experiences were not an anomaly as I had been told, that they were unfortunately common among Black women. And then hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Cynthia Dillard provided me with theoretical frameworks to analyze these experiences. Over the years, I have hung on to the writings of these women, the theories that they have provided because they have been absolute lifelines, giving me language to contextualize and fight against the oppression that is particular to Black women.
So I am a Black feminist because Black feminism saved me. It rescued me from myself and forced me to take off the rose colored glasses, glasses that caused me to be optimistic – believing in the absolute good – without exercising discernment and caution. Black feminism named my pain, and did not explain it away with doctrine or confining expectations. In the last year, I have immersed myself in two important writings from Weems, What Matters Most: Ten Lessons in Living Passionately from the Song of Solomon and Showing Mary: How Women Can Share Prayers, Wisdom, and the Blessings of God. These writings! Good God!!! And I keep centering Black feminist paradigms in my writing and research in my doctoral studies as well as the work that I do with the Aya Collective. I have centered Black feminisms in both the Gospel According to a Black Woman and Incomplete Stories, and will continue to do so in all of my writings to come in the future. Get ready, because more is coming!!!
I do all of these things not just because I believe my scholarship is a beautiful, much needed offering to the world (because it is). But I do these things because I am committed to saving and rescuing my own soul, that of my children, and all of those coming after me.
We breaking all of those damned chains up in here!
*For those who think that Black feminism is antagonistic to racial justice and liberation, I would encourage you to check out my recent presentation on the topic here.