By Erin Kendrick
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 a nuisance, singing the same song of oppression and violence against black women throughout history. I assumed no one would want to want to hear it, or that no one would care.
I discovered bell hooks, for colored girls, and myself, all at once.
I was introduced to the writings of 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 my feelings. I was a black girl at a pre-dominantly white university in a program where I was the only…the only African-American, the only African-American female. I spent time trying to find my voice in this context and it was impossible. Then I saw a performance of for colored girls.
When somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff was performed it changed me. In the poem, the lady in green claims someone has taken all of her “stuff”, the things that defined her – her laugh, love, toes, chewed up fingernails, rhythms, voice. She 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 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.” I knew better and needed to figure out what parts of my identity had been stolen and what 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.