For so long, Black women’s stories and memory have often been ignored, erased, and neglected in and out of academia. However as Jaimee A. Swift writes, 2018 showed itself to be a year of reclamation of Black women’s narratives, agency and memory.
From our MD Academic Space
“No Black woman writer in this culture can write “too much”. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much”…No woman has ever written enough”
― bell hooks, remembered rapture: the writer at work
Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, hit stores in November and instantly became a bestseller. In fact, Becoming has sold more book copies than any other book in the United States in 2018, with 3 million copies sold. While Obama is widely known as the former and first African-American First Lady of the United States, her memoir allowed readers to see her and her life in a more personal light. In her book, she discusses her role and the pressures of being a First Lady; her relationship with—and lust for—her husband, former President of the United States, Barack Obama; and her love for two daughters, Sasha and Malia.
Obama delved into and sculpted intimate details of who she is and where she comes from. The narrative persona that Obama portrayed was of a proud, Black woman from the South Side of Chicago, who like many other Black women, has had her fair share of trials, tribulations and loss but also triumph, success, joy, love, and unshakable life lessons. While readers have different perspectives on Obama’s memoir, the book has served to highlight the dearth of Black women’s perspectives and stories in public and political life and in the literary canon.
As a Black woman political scientist living in the United States, I have experienced first-hand how Black queer, transgender, and cisgender women’s narratives, memory, politics, and agency has often been erased in academia and society writ-large. With my academic research and also personal interests in Black women’s radical political resistance, and movement building in the African Diaspora, I have witnessed the lack of integration of Black women’s insights, leadership, histories, and voices in countless reading lists, syllabi, books, speeches, sermons, theoretical frameworks, literature, epistemologies, political and community strategies, organisational mission, visions, and values.
“Academic and non-academic institutions alike have historically sought to invisibilise Black women’s socio-political saliency as agents of change. This violent and chronic erasure can be seen in classrooms, in social settings, and in the political arena”
Politico’s latest list of “top” historians –– which barely includes people of colour or Black women at that –– or Stanford’s all-white and all-male history events, are two of the many examples of the erasure of Black women’s intellectual, cultural and political productions.
Academic and non-academic institutions alike have historically sought to invisibilise Black women’s socio-political saliency as agents of change. This violent and chronic erasure can be seen in classrooms, in social settings, and in the political arena. It can also be seen, felt and heard in the failure to incorporate Black feminist thought and praxis in literature, at conferences, debates and and even in everyday conversations.
In order to overcome this exclusion, Black women’s voices must be centred and centred with critical thought and analysis of the locations from which different Black women speak. It is only with and through Black women’s critical understandings and interrogations that we can truly sustain and cultivate radical Black possibilities and imaginations, present and future.
As Audre Lorde noted in her 1982 speech, “Learning from the 60s”, it is “through examining the combination of our triumphs and errors, [that] we can examine the dangers of an incomplete vision”. Here, Lorde was persuasively urging Black activists to learn from the mistakes of their previous militancy and advocacy. She warned them not to continue in the tradition of erasing, ignoring and demonising the marginalised within the Black community but to instead include them and their leadership to create a more complete vision for Black freedom.
We have seen throughout history how the exclusion of Black women’s voices are profound errors that have catalysed an incomplete vision. This partial vision that Lorde spoke against is shaped not only by the lack of inclusion of Black women’s academic and non-academic scholarship. It also comes from the failure to actualise Black liberation that is feminist, queer, trans, and disabled affirming because a diversity of Black women’s political contributions and perspectives have been thwarted out of movements for Black self-determination and freedom.
“Here, Black women are ensuring that these “errors” and the exclusion of their voices will never happen again. This is why Black women-centric organisations and collectives that encourage and concentrate Black women’s citation, memory, and politics… are vital to championing Black women’s narratives”
Voices such as Charlene Carruthers’ personal and political testament of what it means to be a Black, queer feminist activist in the quest for Black liberation and Olajumoke ‘Jay’ Abdullahi and Kym Olivier’s perspectives on being Black women with disabiliites are narratives that have been historically neglected but are much needed in contemporary efforts to catalyse an inclusive present and future.
Here, Black women are ensuring that these “errors” and the exclusion of their voices will never happen again. This is why Black women-centric organisations and collectives that encourage and concentrate Black women’s citation, memory, and politics such as Cite A Sista, Cite Black Women, Well-Read Black Girl and Black Women Radicals are vital to championing Black women’s narratives as modes of socio-political and cultural resistance, discovery, significance and sustainability.
2018 was truly a powerful year for Black women’s non-fictive and fictive narratives and stories. There was Bianca C. William’s critical work on how Black women pursue happiness and Imani Perry’s biographical scholarship on the life and times of activist, intellectual, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry. 2018 also saw the recovery of Zora Neale Hurston’s interviews with Cudjo Lewis, the last living survivor of the Middle Passage in Barracoon and Djamila Ribero’s essays on Black feminist thought and politics in Brazil.
Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan and Rafeeat Aliyu produced a compilation of personal accounts of queer women in Nigeria in She Called Me Woman: Nigerian Queer Women Speak and Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyami published the acclaimed fantasy novel Children of Blood and Bone. Other highlights include, Tayari Jones’ best-selling book on love and loss An American Marriage, Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Morgan Jerkin’s New York Times Bestseller, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America; Ijeoma Oluo’s work on race and racism and Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele’s personal reflections and politics on the Black Lives Matter Movement.
These books, and many more, by Black women that were published last year illuminate the omnipresence of Black women’s stories, politics, and lives across time, space and place in the African Diaspora. Most importantly, such works showcase that Black women’s narratives have always been here and are here to stay –– and will never be etched out of history again.
And 2019 will be no different.
Jaimee A. Swift is a journalist and Ph.D. candidate at Howard University studying Black feminist thought & behavior and Black feminist politics in the African Diaspora.Follow @JaimeeSwift