Why We Tell Our Stories
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
We are resilient and refuse to stop believing in the possibility of a world where we live in dignity. We don’t just imagine it, we can feel it, even when we don’t see it coming to pass in our own lifetime. Our imagination lives despite messages and actions telling us that we are not good enough, human enough, or woman enough. And we do think that is possible in our lifetime, here, right now. it is possible right now. The ability for us to live and walk down the street without being afraid of being physically, sexually, or mentally assaulted is possible. Charlene A. Carruthers.
There once was a Black woman, so fierce, so brave, she struggled across America with Black men; with Black women; with white women; with all women. She rallied a cry for freedom and rights; she stood in court for silenced voices; she mentored and mobilized. This woman is said to be one of the few Black feminists who worked in the predominantly white feminist movement, but her theorizing and activism are neglected in histories of the movement (Randolph 2015, pg. 6). Indeed, she disappeared from the history of the 1960-70s white feminist movement. Her name was Florynce "Flo" Kennedy and “…she stood at the center of so many battles, yet [most] had never heard of her, and there was not a single book or even a scholarly article about her life” (pg.3). Flo was an innovator and connector whom Randolph says, “brought the ideas of the Black Power Movement to the emerging women’s movement and made Black Power into a pivotal ideological influence on the radical feminist politics that was developing among predominantly white women. Kennedy played a crucial leadership role within the nascent feminist movement” (pg. 7). Randolph also says that many young feminists from across the country literally and figuratively sat at her feet and absorbed her wisdom and her wit. And the women who recollected being at Flo’s, emphasized that she made no distinction between members of different movements or groups, between whites, Hispanics, or Blacks, and between lesbians or straights (pg. 147).
The story of Florynce “Flo” Kennedy is inspiring and truly captivating but it’s also a cautionary tale of what happens when Black women do not speak up and do not demand recognition for their place in history. I read Randolph’s book and wondered, how different my feeling and understanding of feminism might be if I had known that the white feminist movement was also led by Black women, like Flo, who saw liberation and freedom as something all people should experience. How might I have been influenced by knowing that the struggles of one group, any group are my own?
Fortunately, I was not completely lost because of the injustice against Flo. I had other Black radical feminists to learn from, and like Flo, they also spoke and acted radically for one and for all. If there is anything I have learned from Black feminists, it is the importance of fighting for everyone, even if they do not look, talk, or speak like me. Even if they do not believe in the same God and the same values. Even if they are living in places far from my community. As a Black feminist, I stand for the rights and freedoms of all.
I emphasise my Black feminism because, as Jerkins 2018 points out, “It’s true that we are all victims within a patriarchal society and we must fight. But the fight to empower all women under the veil of feminism has historically and presently centered white women (pg. 23).
The moral of Flo’s story? The stories and perspectives of Black females are crucial to the rights and freed
oms of everyone and they too deserve to be centred in social movements.
Black women’s stories have largely been ignored and when they are made public, they are subject to the whims and wants of an audience that can only comprehend them as entertainment, as object, and as other.
When black women speak about themselves to those who are not black, somehow our interlocuters get offended that we dare speak about how both race and gender affect us. Somehow our acknowledgement of our blackness and womanhood causes others’ brains to short-circuit because they have never been encouraged to focus on the type of person who has been dehumanized and neglected for centuries (Gilliam, 2019 pg. 23).
One would wonder why Black women keep speaking and shouting from the roof tops to be heard far and wide. Are they somehow so destroyed, so traumatized that they cannot do without pain and trauma? No, we have not fetishized our pain or become addicted to suffering. We understand that our stories, as difficult as it is to tell them, and even more difficult to experience the negation, dismissal, and foreclosure of our pain, we understand that our stories build character not only in ourselves but in schools, neighbourhoods, workplaces and nations. Black females’ stories confront racism, misogyny, and discrimination. Our stories centre the past and present trauma we face and other marginalized people face. Our stories unsettle systems that would have us remain docile and downtrodden. So, we tell them.
The world may not love Black women or love their stories but we love us and we love our stories. We see in ourselves the scars that make us beautiful and the wounds that make us strong. And like Gilliam says, it’s when we look in a mirror and really look at ourselves, that who we are becomes more visceral. And when we turn from the mirror to gaze at another Black woman we see how much being seen by another for what we truly are matters. So, we keep speaking and shouting, we keep demanding the world looks at us because we also love the world with the same fierce conviction we love ourselves. Black women believe our stories are the magic key that will one day click in the lock that has kept us hidden and forbidden. When that lock opens, we will be victorious because we refused to be silent and boldly told our stories.
Our stories begin in our girlhood. There’s the little girl wishing for bone straight hair so that she can be a cheerleader (Jerkins 2018). There’s the one who doesn’t understand why when uncle calls her beautiful it should feel good because she longs to hear it ever so much, but there is something in his eye that makes the beauty in her feel like a curse. If the world only knew that for most Black girls there is a moment, and it comes in a flash when we realize that this is a story we will need to tell someday. Many of us are born poor, if not in money, it is in spirit because the world has already decided no matter what we do, we will never measure up.
For example, Roxanne Gay admits the internalized lack that she feels even as she achieves accolades and milestones. She says, "I had worked hard and it didn’t matter. I was exceptional and it did not matter. In that moment, I was reminded of my place. I was reminded of why my ambition would never be sated, and would, instead, continue to grow ferociously. I hoped my ambition would grow so big I would be able to crowd out those who were unwilling to have me among them without realizing their acceptance should never have been my measure" (pg. 136).
It’s true, Black women are ambitious. We have no choice in that and our ambitions can sometimes seem irresponsible because it’s as if we forget who we are supposed to be and what way the pendulum swings. We carry around a pile of hope in which we stuff all the rejections and all the blows we receive when we present ourselves to the world. Our hope is a balm for our wounds. It is a splint for our broken dreams. It is glue for our shattered hearts. It is all we have in so many ways. It is food when we are starving and water when we thirst. It is resistance in the face of oppression.
We go from girlhood to womanhood and still we keep resisting. Our resistance becomes our identity. We are angry. We have ungroomed hair. We are ugly. We are undateable. We are aggressive. We are ratchet. We are! We are! We are! And still we resist.
The Future Black Female anthology is resistance. It is the stories of the Black women of the future who may be written out of accounts history if they do not write their stories themselves. Today’s movements and struggles are not limited to the girl who has become a woman but it draws strength from girls like those telling their stories in this book.
Everywhere, poverty wears the face of a woman. Sixty million girls lack education and three quarters of them belong to ethnic, religious, linguistic and racial minorities. These girls not only lack opportunities to realize their potential, they lack power, voice and influence; thy are extremely vulnerable to sickness, violence and disasters, both natural and manmade (Kanyoro 2018, pg. 151).
These girls and young women offer stories of hope in the face of poverty and they announce that the vanguard of the new Black radicals is already here. In the prevalent discourse of Black Feminism and Black Radical Thought, the voices of the future are just as crucial as the voices of the past. These voices call out to the world that Black feminism and Black Radical Thought is not limited to the West but it is a global movement with each individual, each community, adding to the collective of dreamers and activists molding the future.
These young people add to the thoughts of Carruthers (2018) who declares, “We are dreaming about and fighting for a world without prisons, without gender-based violence, where definitions of valuable work are transformed, and where the land we live on is liberated alongside its peoples” (pg.19-20).
Without the voices of these young people and others like them, the challenges the world faces will not be resolved. There is so much more available to young people in their social movements. They are taking advantage of books, social media, television, and a globalized world to speak out. And yet it is only certain voices that get publicity and get noticed – white, western, and privileged.
“Now is the time for young Black community organizers on the ground to challenge the mostly white, mostly male, and mostly cisgender and heterosexual narratives on the whys and hows of building a social movement” (Carruthers, 2018 pg. 40).
And now is the time for the literary world to open its spaces to the stories of Black female youths because there are other youths out there who need to be encouraged, and confronted, so that the future is brighter for everyone.
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