Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Confession Tuesday & WG

Women's History Month is a big deal to me so is feminism. Some of my sisterfriends don't like the labels feminist or black. I do. These words connote different things so if you embrace the labels, the onus is on you to define them and to demonstrate what they mean. Don't let others define you.

"One of the sad commentaries on the way women are viewed in our society is that we have to fit one category. I have never felt that I had to be in one category." ~Faye Wattleton

Why I want you to see me, a black woman.

Black isn't a marker just to identify my race. It more importantly speaks to my culture and experiences. Over the years I've been told by well-meaning folk that they don't see my color. Sorry, but that isn't a compliment. The remark suggests that you need to see me like you in order to accept me rather than being able to see me not like you and still embrace me. Does age, gender, accent or culture never register? Depending on context and level, they all do so let's not pull out race in an effort to be politically correct and instead let's acknowledge it and keep it in perspective.

I am a woman and I write from that experience. I am a Black woman and I write from that experience. I do not feel inhibited or bound by what I am. That does not mean that I have not had bad scenes related to being Black and/or a woman; it means that other people's craziness has not managed to make me crazy.
~Lucille Clifton

Sandra Cisneros said in an interview that in college she felt isolated, that no one was interested in what she had to say. She said her experiences as a Hispanic woman were very different from the lives of her college peers. She said when she acknowledged the differences to herself, when she embraced how she was unique, she found her voice. This is why race and culture matter to people of color. This is why we want you to hear our stories and to see us in living color. It's all good acknowledging how we are the same. Is there any reason we can't celebrate how we differ?

Lastly, I'm not big on what people say. Frankly, damn what you sayin', tell me how you livin'. If you're a feminist, what are you doing to support the cause for human rights for all? This is how I define feminism. I don't want to secure only my rights and freedoms but everyone's. As a feminist, I believe in speaking your truth and not apologizing for it. As a black feminist, I'm not waiting for anyone to acknowledge my presence or to celebrate who I am. I do it 365 days a year and I invite you to join me at my party. I'm a black woman and I like the sound of my voice. I hope you do, too.


* Black-Eyed Susans: a collection of stories by black women. I searched in vain for the original cover art. It is superior. Posted for WG and Confession Tuesday.


Claudia said...

Thank you for sharing this, Susan. Especially your definition of what feminism means to you in terms of actions, rather than just words.

After reading your post, my confession is this: I'm pretty sure that almost everything I know about the importance of developing, asserting, and defending my identity as a black woman, I learned from my Dad. He encouraged me to develop my own talents without judgment (even if it meant preferring the monster trucks over the barbies, ditching ballet for comic books) and when others would ask "why," he would say, "why not?" While it is true that he always wanted sons, and got two daughters instead (he wouldn't admit this now), I always got the feeling that his lessons about inner strength and self-love were not gender-specific. I really appreciated that.

So why am I sharing this... I guess because I've always had problems with labels and so it is rare that I would apply to term "feminist" to myself (though others have). And I guess the conclusion that I'm starting to come to is that my definition of feminism is one that should and must apply to my Dad as well. I'd be okay with a label like that.

Whoa - this comment is really long!

Steph Su said...

Great post. Labels can mean different things to others and so I'm glad that you think positively about calling yourself a black woman. I myself am still at the stage where I'm not sure how much I want to be defined by the term "Asian American woman." I have yet to resolve my conflicting feelings between my culture and the society I must live in, a society that more often than not depends normalcy and acquiescence to societal standards. Ah, but I'm working on it!

By the way, Lucille Clifton. Great quote from her. She's also an amazing public speaker. I had the fortune of hearing her at a poetry festival once. So powerful!

...deb said...

What an amazing post. Confession? No, it's a statement of purpose. Clear, concise, beautifully written. I like the quotes as epigraphs to your essays, as a show of force.

I'd love to hear this on NPR's "This I Believe" audio essay program. Seriously.

Erika Lynn said...

I don't fit in one category either! great quote!

My Weekly Geek

susan said...

Deb, you're too kind, but oh I love NPR.

Steph, it's a process and personal choice. Trust me, I didn't get to this space easily. And I didn't embrace feminism until I connected with feminist across the water in the UK.

Claudia, I am the first born and I am a daddy's girl. I, too, preferred hot wheels over Barbie and my dad taught me the same lessons. I know feminist men. One was my professor and mentor. Zetta and I talked about if writing is action and therefore activism and I say yes. Words truly have power. They incite, challenge and inform. They compel us to act. If we don't live what we believe, we are first failing ourselves.

How's that for a long comment? lol

Sandra said...

Great essay, and interesting quotes. You give us all something to think about.

Color Online said...

I think black women are interesting folk. :-)

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

There is no majority ethnic group in Houston or at my university.

Thirteen years ago when I got my first university job, it was a black woman who fixed my phone, and I remember thinking how cool it was to be working someplace where women were accepted on their merits and not harassed for being in a "male" field. (Don't get me started on the harassment I endured working in small businesses for ten years prior.)

My first impression was confirmed as I met a female locksmith, female director of construction projects, and women of every race in every conceivable role at the university. Our new president is an Indian woman.

All of this has been quite wonderful, but sometimes I wonder if it makes me complacent. I go out into the world assuming I'll be judged by who I am and not by what I am. I forget that gender, race, and sexual orientation are huge in the minds of some people, and it's a bit of a culture shock to be reminded of it.

Still, I don't know that I could be happy outside this environment. When my husband and I go on vacation to someplace that's heavily skewed toward any one race, we come home to our diverse little corner of the world feeling like we can finally breathe again.

The world is so much richer for our differences, and I wish everyone could see that.

odessa said...

oh susan, i just wrote a long comment and my computer froze! argh.

anyways, what i wanted to say was that i know what you mean by "you need to see me like you in order to accept me rather than being able to see me not like you and still embrace me."

as an immigrant, i've always felt uncomfortable when people say "you don't act or talk like you grow up in the Philippines at all." i know its not meant to be offensive but i believe that my culture and where i'm from is a huge part of who i am and if someone doesn't acknowledge or see that then he/she does not see me at all.

thanks for this great post!

susan said...

Odessa, yes. I am so there with you. Ann, I, too, need diversity. I love, love, love talking to people who can share with me things I don't know or haven't done or haven't seen. I know part of my addiction to the net is the access to so many people.

Thanks all for coming by and commenting.

Thinking Aloud said...

I concur with Odessa.
I first started teaching in an inner city neighborhood in New York and some of the parents who were not so well off financially,or were not as schooled, or had different"black" experiences would say that I was not really "Black".

It offened me because dispite or differences we suffer many similarities. As my color is a big part of who I am and how I am percieved.