The Importance of Reading Black Feminist Womanist Texts
Reading started and saved my life. Literally and figuratively. I grew up in poor parts of town in Cochran because I was from a poor Black welfare family. Many times, I felt very isolated because my mom did not want us to socialize with a lot of folks in Cochran. I understand why now. She was born and raised in Cochran. So, she knew everyone and how they operated in the community—Black and White. She did not want others to know our family business—not a lick of it—and she warned my sister and me not to associate with others in the community.
As a kid, I did not understand why she wanted things this way. I wanted people to like me, and I wanted friends. I especially wanted my Black peers to like me and have them as friends. Yet, some of them were resistant in being friendly towards me and being my friend. Reflecting on it, I can see why others didn’t want to be my friend; I believe that they perceived my family and me as acting better than everyone in the Black community even though we hardly had a cent to our names. I see it from their point of view…how dare them [my family] act like they are better than us when they are poor as dirt!
So, I retreated in reading and writing. I found great comfort a few years ago when I read Evelyn C. White’s Alice Walker: A Life with two White female advisor friends/acquaintances. I put forth the idea that we have a bookclub and read books that we were interested in. We decided to read Alice Walker: A Life and have a lunch book club meeting about it. Our book club did not last, but what I learned through the process is that Alice Walker and I are quite similar. Not identical…but downright eerily close to it. Alice grew up in Eatonton, Georgia, which is over one hundred miles away from Cochran. She grew up in a poor family as well. Yet, there are vast differences as well. One is that she grew up in a larger family; she had more siblings; I have two siblings. Her childhood, teenage years, and twenties are in the mid 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. My childhood is the early 1980s, teenager years in the 1990s, and twenties in the millennial (2000s). Although we are thirty-seven years apart in age, between us, we both have experienced the weight of sexism, racism, and classism. How can two Black women from different generations still experience the weight of these isms and more of them?
Well, it is because we are still under weight of the system of White Supremacist heteronormative cisgender capitalist patriarchy. It hasn’t been that long between us and Black folks who were granted freedom (Lincoln’s The Emancipation Proclamation) and having our civil rights/liberties enforced (The Civil Rights Movement)—and part of rights/liberties is having a solid education in school systems.
Walker’s mother pushed for her children to have an education. I am the child that results in the after effects of sharecropping and civil rights and civil liberties being enforced. My mom pushed me to attend school because it was the law; if we didn’t attend school, my mom would be jailed. Whether it was the law or our parents that pushed us to attend school, we learned the foundations of reading and writing, but we did not have the opportunity to learn about Black female writers, activists, and contributors to our movements, and if we did, it was limited. Of course, Alice is a part of the Civil Rights Movement; her young adulthood was developed while participating in the movement.
Right, thirty seven years later, I would be born and as I grew up, I would be introduced to the Civil Rights Movement in school, but there were not intricate details that further discussed how the movement came about. It would be thirty years later along my own self-educational journey of learning when I discovered that Black women were the vital parts of the Civil Rights Movement. That Black women have a long history of protest activism in wanting our rights/freedoms. We created women’s clubs. We asked could we marched in the front of the line in the Women’s March in the first wave of feminism and was thrown scrapes of marching in the back of line.
As an eighteen or nineteen year old, I would be exposed to The Color Purple. I finally decided to read the novel, and my breath was taken away. How could this not be taught in public school systems? Why wasn’t this taught in my school system? The answer is obvious. White male narratives are on the educational curriculum hierarchy. They are the primary text that is taught to all of us. If there is any time or if teachers are able to, White female texts or Black male texts are next…and depending on what school system you are in, maybe Black female texts are taught, but it is not usually The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye because they are on the banned books, especially, in rural communities like Cochran.
I’ve spent many years thinking about how books have changed my life. How they have created emotional intelligence—also known as empathy. How if it wasn’t for books I would not have the common sense and intelligence that you see before you. Alice Walker, in her biography, discusses that the pen and the paper is the only items that she had to express herself creatively because her family could not afford for her to pursue other arts. This is powerful because this is our connection: the same for me. All I had was the pen and the paper. These writing tools were accessible/affordable. You definitely had to have them when you were attending school. To escape some of my dark days as a developing adolescent and teenager, all I had was the pen and the paper. I started writing when was in elementary school. So, the pen, the paper, and I go way back. I put my stake and claim my spot: I wanted to be writer. After time, writing became a necessity.
This all had to do with reading. It is sad that I had to learn that there were Black female writers later on in my education, and a few of them were in plain sight. Although I could hold onto and become bitter about it, that’s not who I am. Instead of saying what I did not receive, I am grateful what I know now and the era that I am in. For, I can do something about this as well.
This is where the brainchild of #sophiamurielflemmingreads comes in. There are many Black, Brown, and White girls who don’t know much about Black women’s contributions at all. They know that there are autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, slave narratives, histories, and fictions about Black women. There is a wealth of writing about us. It may not be a lot compared to White men’s, Black men’s, and White women’s narratives, but we have our own body of work.
It would be an injustice for me not to use my talents/abilities to expose those works. I am passionate about Black girlhood and womanhood and how we are seen through the eyes of others. We are not just monolithic characterizations through others eyes from history; we are kaleidoscope of narratives in an anthology. It is important that many of us know about Black girls and women have done in America and a global scale.
#sophiamurielflemmingreads is an interactive, engaging series about reading texts primarily about Black and Brown women. It is my contribution to make sure that Black and Brown women are seen as visible to many individuals as we can. We are not merely here. We have never been. We are living breathing human beings who have, still are, and will forever contribute to the production of our own thoughts, ideas, intelligence, and spirituality. We have made significant contributions in the U.S. as well as abroad. Black and Brown women are not just a part of the U.S. We are all over. We maybe separated by geography around the world, but we are never far a part in our experiences. We all have different experiences but what connects us is that we experience many levels of interlocking oppressions because of our intersecting identities as Kimberle Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality tells us.
One way to eradicate a system that continues interlocking oppressions on individuals with intersecting identities is to make them more visible. Just like reading taught me to see others as a kid, I didn’t see enough of different types of characters—especially characters like me or similar to me. It is great when we learn from other people and read about other people. Yet, it is harmful when we don’t have enough choices expose to us to learn about different people—and to combat others’ views/perspectives of characters in books that might be wrong (like stereotypes of individuals’ race, gender, ethnicity, class, etc.)
My overall goal of #sophiamurielflemmingreads is to expose others to Black and Brown women folk who they may not know; this is not just limit to cisgender/heterosexual Black/Brown women. It is to read about all folks who identify as woman. To learn about their lives and how they fit into the American society and the global society as a whole.
There will be other texts that I will read that are by White male, White female, Black male, and Brown male authors as well, but these will be read through a power conscious lens. A power conscious lens is to read text in a critical way looking at how characters, their experiences, and situations are seen through the eyes of race, gender, class, age, etc. comparative to others experiences (i.e. reading F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby and looking at through a Black feminist reading…seeing how certain attributes in the text treat Black and Brown folks…etc.).
So, come along with me and check out #sophiamurielflemmingreads. I will provide updates on the books I choose to read. I would love it if you read along with me as well! Don’t feel pressure to get a book finished. Since this is my first time doing a series as such, please be patience with me as I figured out the best structure of this series/initiative. Everything is a learning process, but anything we begin cannot be perfect, and mistakes have to be made in order to make it amazing!
Thank you for reading,