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#blackgirlmagic AN ONGOING SPIRITUAL P R AC T I C E OF LOVE AND CARE SENIOR THESIS IN RELIGION & AFRICANA STUDIES B Y A L L I YA H A


I had spent many years pursuing excellence, because that is what classical music is all about... Now it was dedicated to freedom, and that was far more important. -Nina Simone In Loving Memory of My Grandmothers Patti and Ms. Diane Dedicated To: My Mothers, Angela and Toy My Grandmothers, Angelet, Bessie, and Etta My Sisters, Kiamani, Hadiyyah, Shantal and Mecca Terrance Wiley, The Religion Department, Juli Grigsby, Paul Farber, Raquel Esteves-Joyce, Talia, Travis, VIcky, and Q


Contents 3 Introduction

10 I am a Womxn, Too

15 Invoking the Spirit: A Light Practice

27 On Mothering

39

A Witness to the Magic


introduction

SISTERS OF THE YAM : BELL HOOKS “IN A REVOLUTIONARY MANNER, BLACK WOMEN HAVE UTILIZED MASS MEDIA (WRITING, FILM, VIDEO, ART, ETC.) TO OFFER RADICALLY DIFFERENT IMAGES OF OURSELVES. THESE ACTIONS HAVE BEEN AN INTERVENTION. WE HAVE ALSO DARED TO MOVE OUT OF OUR “PLACE” (THAT IS AWAY FROM THE BOTTOM OF EVERYTHING, THE PLACE THIS SOCIETY OFTEN SUGGESTS WE SHOULD RESIDE). MOVING OURSELVES FROM

MANIPULATABLE

OBJECTS

TO

SELF-EMPOWERED

SUBJECTS, BLACK WOMEN HAVE BY NECESSITY THREATENED THE STATUS QUO”


Subjected to biological, physical, and emotional

“Here,” she said “in this here place, we flesh;

servitude, the black woman exists at the bottom end

flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare

of American culture. The constricting stereotypes,

feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do

including mammy, welfare queen, jezebel, and

not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t

angry black bitch have reduced and neglected the

love your eyes, they’d just as soon pick em out. No

body and presence of the black woman. Existing

more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder

in a society that upholds structures that oppresses

they flay it. And O my people they do not love

her spirit and mobility, she has no other choice but

your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop

to rely on the depths of African American tradition

off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them.

and culture to engage in the revolutionary acts

Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with

of love and care; for her preservation, survival,

them, pat them together, stroke them on your face

and liberation. American author, Toni Morrison,

‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love

contextualizes

by

it, you!...” Saying no more, she stood up then and

prioritizing love as a central theme in her novel,

danced with her twisted hip the rest of what her

Beloved.

heart had to say while others opened their mouths

this

necessary

engagement

and gave her music Love populates the novel as a difficult idea to grasp, but a physical necessity in the process of

In this excerpt, the love ethic emerges as a need

reversing the damaging effects that institutional

to use dance as a means to reconnect to the

slavery brought to the characters of the novel.

body after the torments of slavery Baby Suggs

For example, Baby Suggs plays a crucial role in

gives a simple framework for the community to

the novel, as a community leader and unofficial

follow— love for the body. She understands that

preacher. Her son, Halle took on slave work so

slavery manipulates the mind to see how the body

that she could live a free life. However, slavery has

is a tool for the slave master. Even further, the

taken away each of her children. While this leaves

white people, who she refers to as they yonder,

her often depressed and unfulfilled, she turns to

do not appreciate the black body in the beauty

her community, finds healing within them, and

and capability of it. She expresses that by saying

helps others to heal as well.

that white people will pick at the body and abuse it. This was clearly done many times to slaves.

Baby Suggs’s role as an unofficial preacher is

However, Baby Suggs tells the community that the

dictated by the form and delivery. Her frequent

only way to appreciate the body again during this

messages to the community performs in the

time, is that the person needs to physically love it.

same ways as a preacher, in terms of maintaining

Baby Suggs stresses how that person must raise

sacredness of space while carrying the emotional

their hands and kiss them. She is forcing the

response through example. Even though there

community to focus on the eyes and the skin,

might be parallels in form, Baby Sugg’s delivery

because the appreciation of these body parts lead

is distinct. Her sermons are usually conducted

to a full appreciation and love for self. We see this

in a clearing, where Sethe, her daughter-in-law,

transformation in Baby Suggs because she starts

recalls her “dancing in sunlight”. In one of her

dancing. Particularly in an African American

sermons, Baby Suggs embodies this love ethic and

context, dancing is one of the dominant forms of

says,

expressing control and ownership of the body and soul. Baby Suggs danced with the rest of what her


heart had to say. Her body and dance expressed her

Given these circumstances, the extent of this project

wholeness and connection to her personhood in the

aims to explore portrayals of black women in order

clearing.

to explicitly define the intricacies of their everyday experiences that ultimately define and model their

Feminist Scholar, Keisha-Khan Perry’s ethnography,

realizations of liberation. In such exploration, it is

Black Women Against the Land Grab: The Fight for

crucial to highlight that the magic represented by

Racial Justice in Brazil, supports Morrison’s literary

#blackgirlmagic is not an otherworldly or inhumane

claims about Baby Suggs’ work in the clearing. Perry

experience that warrants black women to not be seen

traces the foundations of community work done by

as equal or human. This is the very ideology that

black women in Brazil and finds that the practice is, in

contributes to the various stifling and inaccurate

fact, rooted in African religious traditions. She draws

representations that dominate the black woman’s

on black feminist theory and explains, “In diasporic

image.

religious traditions, black women also learn and practice a feminist ethics that encourages a focus on

To avoid reifying such damage and violence, I will

the collective rather than on the individual. Patricia

employ

Hill Collins argues that these kinds of moral and

embodies the sacred traditions of black woman

ethical principles stem from women’s experiences in

culture that fosters the ethics of self-love and care.

religious institutions.” With that said, black women

Furthermore, I will engage with tools provided by

are relying on black theological practices in order to

the socio-political framework built from African

uphold a level of morale and ethics to love and care

American cultural practices, womanism, to provide

for community, in midst of physical and emotional

an account of how #blackgirlmagic manifests as a

brutality brought on to the black body.

spiritual extension of black cultural practice that

#blackgirlmagic

as

a

mechanism

that

prioritizes ethics of love and care, in order to heed This ability to prioritize ethics of love and care as

way to liberation.

means to the survival of such oppression can be translated as the point in which black women have

Methodologically, this project is concerned with

turned to #blackgirlmagic in a digital era. The

exploring the portrayals and experiences of black

clearing where Baby Suggs dances in the sunlight

women that are created and told by black women.

interestingly becomes the various social media

The source of the narrative is a major concern, as

handles and accounts circulating amongst Instagram,

stereotypical depictions and images typically fall

Twitter, and Facebook. The hashtag becomes a

short in truly representing the experiences and

virtual sacred space in itself and the magic serves as

essence of black women. There is a silencing and

a central location for black women to identify their

othering that occurs and black women are not in

stories and create their own images. Similar to the

control of the creation of such narrative. Therefore,

formation of womanism, #blackgirlmagic emerges

to

from a set of institutional values, namely speaking

#blackgirlmagic as a liberatory experience from such

the black church. However, given the deep and long-

violence, I engage in a visual ethnographic process.

lasting effects of institutionalized slavery, black

Relying on my positionality as a black woman, I

women have modeled liberation on personal level, as

immerse myself in an applied praxis that brings

it becomes an intense application of love and care, to

incorporates womanist ethics of love and care into a

both the black woman herself and other.

photographic and storytelling project.

challenge

such

normativity

and

introduce


In the first chapter, I will complete a media analysis that introduces the archive of portrayals of black women more explicitly, in order to contextualize the specific moment in which #blackgirlmagic emerges as a cultural and spiritual practice. Then, the next chapter introduces light, both physical and spiritual, as an entry point to #blackgirlmagic. To explicitly show such I use photographs I captured in a studio setting in preparation for the art exhibition, RECLAIM, for the students of the Black Student’s League at Haverford College. The next chapter, partakes in storytelling as another means of unpacking #blackgirlmagic as a liberatory framework. With a combination of personal memories and interviews from my stepmother, Torveena, I will rely on specific moments of Torveena’s life story to show how the ethics of love and care are the crux of #blackgirlmagic and tenets of their liberation.


one

I AM A WOMAN, TOO

“O, YE DAUGHTERS OF AFRICA, AWAKE! AWAKE! ARISE! NO LONGER SLEEP NOR SLUMBER, BUT DISTINGUISH YOURSELVES. SHOW FORTH TO THE WORLD THAT YE ARE ENDOWED WITH NOBLE AND EXALTED FACULTIES. O, YE DAUGHTERS OF AFRICA! WHAT HAVE YE DONE TO IMMORTALIZE YOUR NAMES BEYOND THE GRAVE? WHAT EXAMPLES HAVE YE SET BEFORE THE RISING GENERATION? WHAT FOUNDATION HAVE YE LAID FOR GENERATIONS YET UNBORN? WHERE ARE OUR UNION AND LOVE?” RELIGION AND THE PURE PRINCIPLES OF MORALITY MARIA MILLER STEWART


“LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT MY ARM! I HAVE PLOUGHED AND PLANTED, AND GATHERED INTO BARNS, AND NO MAN COULD HEAD ME! AND AIN’T I A WOMAN? I COULD WORK AS MUCH AND EAT AS MUCH AS A MAN - WHEN I COULD GET IT - AND BEAR THE LASH AS WELL! AND Aint I A Woman?!”


Even though Sojourner Truth’s contributions predate the hashtag and movement, her legacy is one that grounds itself in the very essence of #blackgirlmagic. During her famous Ain’t I a Woman, speech she says, “Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman?” This demand for her audience to “look” at her, through her physicality, pain, and endurance, presents evidence of Truth transforming the way in which her humanity is viewed. By bringing forth questions of equality, she highlights the challenges she has endured as a slave, in order to elucidate how she has not been recognized as levelly human while making a call for change. While her prose has made deep impact, Sojourner Truth’s physical image also deeply contributed to the formation and charge for the equality for black women. To finance her speaking tours of the US, Truth sold her portrait as a carte-de-visite, a small card-like photograph. She captioned the photograph, I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance. There are many interpretations of the shadow that Truth is referring to. It could be the physical image itself, as she is photographed posed sitting with a white shall dressed around her black garb. As the flowers decorate the table where she rests her hands from knitting, the image suggests a sense of ease and acceptance. Even the deepness and vibrancy of her skin shines through the reflected light as Sojourner Truth physically becomes a beacon of hope and harbinger of freedom across the US. The shadow in which she sells could also be interpreted as the haunting and traumatic experiences she has endured as a black woman. Regardless of how one chooses to read this shadow, Truth makes it explicitly clear that she sells this shadow. Truth copyrighted this image and legally owned it. To own and distribute her own image was instrumental in transforming the portrayal of black wom-

en. There were many instances where photography was used to objectify black women. Even more, photographers would profit from the distribution of these degrading images. However, Sojourner Truth refused to accept such standard, and repurposed the tool of photography to revolutionize the portrayal of black women to depict her real lived experiences. Following the power that Sojourner Truth conjured in how she controlled her image, black women are rallied behind her legacy in this era of social media, hashtags, and selfies. Given such transformation one may look at the experiences and various portrayals of black women and find that #blackgirlmagic emerged as a primary site to contest these over-powering stereotypes and images. Dating back to 2013, CaShawn Thompson, was a primary source of recognition as she was one of the first to use the hashtag. In one tweet to over 10,000 followers she says, “A lot of ppl thought #BlackGirlMagic just came from the ether. Well, I am the Ether. Recognize.” Thompson’s self-recognition and reclamation shows how #blackgirlmagic originated from a source of power and ownership. Whether used through a hashtag, instagram photo, t-shirt, award show, or proclamation, #blackgirlmagic has fostered into an ideology in which black women are able to push past the confines of failing institutional and societal placing, in order to create a home within themselves, form communities of solidarity, and ultimately explore the realities of liberation. Even though #blackgirlmagic surfaced through the energy and wit of black women, many have found it to also be on some levels limiting. In cases of mental health, political movements, community spaces, and more this magic has proven to be reductive, which is made evident by the liminal state of recognition and representation in society. While #blackgirlmagic has become a major foundation for solidarity amongst black women, it also has created tension, given the fact that it continues to portray an otherworldly or inhumane nature of black women. In a preliminary research initiative via social media, I asked if black women found #blackgirlmagic liberating or constricting? Afrah Yaa Boateng, soph-


omore at Wesleyan University, replied, “we’re not magical creatures, we’re just people.”5 Boateng’s point about the simplistic nature in which black women exist suggests a more complex understanding in how black women are portrayed and chooses to see themselves. Even in the allure of the magic and extent of solidarity, black womxn still face this liminal state in which their imaging and portrayal denies their humanity. Yet instill, given processes of discovery there has been a means of reclaiming identity, imaging a range of experiences, and declaring liberation in present form. Clearly, there has been a shift in the ways black women show and create their solidarity. However, even in such transition, the roots of black culture remain. Even though, #blackgirlmagic emerged in a new digital era, it still marked a means of highlighting their socio-political identities while combatting degrading stereotypes and labels. In this project, I will use the rise of social media, the art of sharing, and the sacredness of the hashtag exists a continuation and extension of black culture and tradition. Tara Conley’s essay, Decoding Black Feminist Hashtags as Becoming, follows this transition by highlighting digital space as a means black feminism to exist and flourish. She writes, “Black feminist hashtags are not simply a confluence of text, hypertext, symbols, and ‘racially charged’ feminist trends on social networking platforms. They do things. They proliferate to mediate connections across time and space. Black feminist hashtags described in this essay epitomize becoming as the process of perusing and rupturing dominant systems wherein black women’s experiences and their bodies have been demarcated among an entanglement of sociopolitical, institution, and juridical processes.” Here, Conley is displaying how black women have used the hashtag as a space to resist the societal injustices. Therefore, the hashtag, #blackgirlmagic, stems from a set of traditions that prioritize blackness, resistance, community, love, spirit, and more. Even more, the hashtag simply becomes a means of communicating and expressing the everyday experiences of black women and girls. Given this new set of digital tools, the images of Sojourner Truth begin to come alive in a dynamic archive. Those who choose to go into such can begin to shift the ways in which they see these women and understand the levels in which they possibly imagine their liberations. Sojourner Truth becomes more than just a slave or abolitionist. But rather, we now see how she encompasses such labels, as well a mother, caretaker, woman, and human being. Her call to look and see her fullness and contributions revolutionized the terms on which black women could be portrayed. Even more, she took control of her physical imaging and supported herself in spreading such message. There is also a community of women who use #blackgirlmagic to do the same. For example, on this Instagram page showing the top posts for #blackgirlmagic, one finds many selfies and photos of black women expressing themselves and loving themselves. Ranging from over 8 million posts, #blackgirlmagic has become a sacred space for black women to control their images and post the successes, bodies, creativity and smiles worldwide.


“WHERE THERE IS A WOMAN THERE IS A MAGIC. IF THERE IS A MOON FALLING FR OR NOT SHARE HER POWERS. A WOMAN WITH A MOON FALLING FROM HER MOUTH IS A CONSORT OF T

SASSAFRASS, CYPRE NTOZAKE SH


ROM HER MOUTH, SHE IS A WOMAN WO KNOWS HER MAGIC, WHO CAN SHARE H, ROSES BETWEEN HER LEGS AND TIARAS OF SPANISH MOSS, THIS WOMAN THE SPIRITS.”

ESS AND INDIGO HANGE

two

INVOKING THE SPIRIT: A LIGHT PRACTICE


Krista Thompson, author of SHINE: A Visual

and its liberatory effects.

Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice speaks of physical light as a means of

Following Thompson’s focus on light and critique

connecting and tracing black folks to the diaspora,

of history, representation, and the visual archive,

which fosters a strong sense of visibility. This

I decided to experiment with light in my own

practice of visual culture is often not considered

artistic practice as a photographer to explore

in most spaces as a viable means of representing

portrayals and the various dimensions of the

the

Thompson’s

experiences of black women. Take this photograph

study focuses on non-traditional means of visual

of Haverford College students, Talia Scott and

culture, including, the music video and street

Safiyah Riddle. The photograph was initially taken

photography to show how when light, both literally

as part of an exhibition, RECLAIM, with the Black

and figuratively, shines on this particular group

Student’s League of Haverford College to glorify

of people, mobilizes and generates another means

the black body and skin. At first, both Safiyah and

of reading into their experiences. Essentially,

Talia were reluctant to participate in the photo

Thompson is showing that history, culture, and

sessions with me as they were consumed by work

experience can be represented in a fashion that

schedules, social lives, and finding a way to survive

goes against confining stereotypes and recollects

in the stifling environment of a college campus.

the voice, space, and narrative of the people of the

I have found this to be a particular overarching

African diaspora.

theme amongst black girls on campus. They are

black

experience.

However,

so consumed by balancing career development, More specifically, she writes, “The circulation

work and academic schedules, social lives, and

of photographic and videographic expressions

campus organizing. They often do not have time

has influenced how people across the African

to participate in practices of self-care. Also,

diaspora learn to see and assign value to being

this photoshoot was a full-on production. We

seen, to perceive and participate in viewership

dressed models in nude and minimal clothing. We

and spectacles, and to create forms of cultural

painted their bodies with gold paint and glitter

production in which the camera— the video

to exaggerate the glow that would shine upon the

camera, the still camera, even the telephone

sorts of lighting arrangements I set up with both

camera— is central. These technologies facilitate

bicolor LED lights and strobe flash lights with

a shared visual literacy and spectacular visibility,

color gels.

which is manifest in the way diasporic subjects engage in shared performances of visibility.”

Both Safiyyah and Talia, agreed to let me shoot them after they saw the first round of photos

In a nutshell, it is through this artistic practice

distributed amongst campus. Models were posting

that members of the African diaspora can both be

with hashtags including #self-love and #melanin,

seen and see themselves. Therefore, having control

which fostered a creative energy. I eventually

over the physical light and who is shining it is

convinced both of these women to participate.

beyond crucial in the attempts of portraying black

However, it seemed as if their agreement was

women in their fullest capacity. From a spiritual

based off the pretense of the work I had already

and physical stand point, light is a very powerful

done. They were most impressed with how the

tool, as it is essentially the mechanism in which

light captured a range of emotion and expression,

we are ultimately able to see this #blackgirlmagic

and decided that, they too, could benefit from


the art. The process of shining light to physically

women, that speak to their spirits as well. Even in

take a picture transformed into a more convincing

process of critiquing my work and technique, I was

invitation had allowed my intentions and product of

able to read the women photographed completely

my photographic process to become clearer.

differently. With my hyper-focus to get the light set to a particular angle or strength, I was able to extend

When they both arrived on set, I instantly connected

my makeshift photography set into a space for these

with both women. They came to me with an air

women to shine.

exhaustion roaming around the fresh make-up and styling done while I prepared my set. My positionality

Even more, womanism offers a framework that

as the main photographer dictated a particular power

provides languages, terms, and tools that explicitly

dynamic throughout the classroom, that eventually

represent the everyday experience and realities

transformed into a pop-up studio. Everyone kept

of black women. Poetically crafted by writer and

checking in with me about make-up decisions, body

artist Alice Walker, womanism created a home,

paint, music choices and more. I worried that the

which I will define as a place for both affirmation

power dynamic would offset the shoot.

and contestation, for the black feminist and woman.

However, when models, including Safiyah and Talia,

Rooted in black culture, womanism came to forefront

were able step on set, I noticed that they looked

as both a socio-political effort to end the oppression

straight ahead to me, which I interpreted as trust

of black women and as a means of normalizing the

to create this image truthfully. I directed them both

everyday experiences of black women. Alice Walker’s

to place their hands on themselves, as if they were

preliminary

loving themselves. They both naturally fell into a

“From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous,

gentle pose with their eyes closed and head back.

irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or

The unison of such performance informed me that

feminist of color. From the black folk expression of

perhaps they actually were loving themselves in that

mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,”

very moment under the lights. As they place their

i.e., like a woman.” The very expression comes from

hands on the tender section between the jawline and

a space where black women have defined certain

neck, my camera captured their collective exhale. As

experiences that exist beyond what society has

we fell into the groove of capturing that moment, I

deem standard, acceptable, or normal. The “black

began to notice a sacred space emerge even on set.

folk expression” is repurposed under the womanist

four-part

definition

begins

with,

agenda, as it becomes the primary source for After the photoshoot, I reflected on the quality,

normalizing the experience and providing means for

placement, and effect of the image during my editing

accurate representation.

process and found speckles of magic pouring through. The black and white color change brought forth an

With this said, the third part of Walker’s definition

aesthetic that brings out the shine and glow of their

follows through in such normalizing techniques by

skin. Even more, the light reflections pick up hints

speaking of the actual actions that black women

of glitter, which brings forth a layer of detail that is

who are womanists do. She defines, “Loves music.

not easily read. The beauty of the photo exemplifies

Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves

an aesthetically perfect matching, even given the

love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves

diversity of height, skin tone, hairstyle, and bone

the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.”9 Here, Walker

structure. However, the overall tone of the photo

employs love for both mundane and extraordinary

informs the viewer of a physical light shun on these

objects, which in effect restores the humanity that


has been degraded through harsh images and hate back to

and also perform enabled her to physically glow. In the

black women. However, this love ethic for self and other is

editing process, I wanted to keep changes as minimal as

central to the sacredness of African American tradition and

possible to really let the glow shine through. Produced by

to the liberation of the black woman.

the light, her glow was reflected across all photos. Even more, the lightness of her body and pure enjoyment on set

During the photo sessions love was an interesting emotion

proves that the light she reflected was also a reflection of

to bring forward, as there is an infinite number of ways to

her deeper connection to the presence moment and light

express it. Circling back to the photo of Talia and Safiyyah,

within; otherwise known as the spirit.

hand placement and a direct engagement towards light is helpful in performing a tender display of the spirit.

Layli

Maparyan,

However, I also had a wide range of color gels to help bring

“LUXOCRACY” as a mechanism to normalize the everyday

forth the range and dynamic complexity of the models.

experiences of black women. It means “rule by light”,

From vibrant purples to deep blues, I had more control of

which is can be applied across a wide range of religious

light which would ultimately tell a wider set of stories. For

traditions.

example, Praxedes, a senior black girl, stepped on set, she

an inner light, which results in having the capacity to

had a brown tube dress on with glitter down her neck and

recognize humanity and world perspectives beyond the

chest. Knowing her story and that she was a dancer, I knew

confines of governance. If anything, it suggests that

her time under the light was to be fluid and incorporate

priority be given to the spiritual. Maparyan defines

movement.

luxocracy in the Womanist Idea and writes, “LUXOCRACY

Across

womanist

the

scholar,

spectrum,

offers

everyone

the

term

possesses

rests on a foundation of spirituality... LUXOCRACY rests Even though at first, I thought I would just talk about

on internal, personal notions of spirituality rather than on

dancing and directing Praxedes to create shapes for me,

external, organized religion.” In this light, LUXOCRACY

she started by sitting in a stool and just moving her arms

becomes a tool for understanding where the spirit emanates

around fluidly. I would throw comments to her like, “I

from, as it is a reflection of one’s inner light. Even more,

love this shot”, “I love this light on you”, and “I want

LUXOCRACY becomes a dynamic force that maneuvers

you to pose as if you’re loving yourself, what does that

through the various structures that shape society. This

feel like, what does that look like”. The space maintained

definition and ownership allows for an expanding of how

together felt very much connected and she was able to

many understand all that encompasses the woman, more

produce everything I was looking for. Knowing that I had

specifically the black woman. This dedication to the spirit,

already captured the shot I wanted, I told Praxedes to get

through inner light can also be read as #blackgirlmagic.

up from the stool and just dance around for fun. We had extra time on set and the free range of movement seem to

Following the language of LUXOCRACY, love becomes an

fit the presence she gave me. She requested my team to

essential tool in making the inner light, or magic, that

play a mixture of songs featuring Bad Bunny, Cardi B, and

black women possess tangible. Love for self and others

Daddy Yankee.

formulates as the inner light that black women possesses. From a womanist framework, love is a “transformative and

Her natural movement to listen to my direction, let go,

highly motile energy that pervades personal, interpersonal,

and just start dancing paralleled Morrison’s description of

and

Baby Suggs in the clearing dancing in the sunlight. My

experience. Self-love, interpersonal love, revolutionary

team and I played Praxedes the music in the space to let her

love, and spiritual/cosmic/transcendental love are all

move about and let her spirit shine through. She listened

interrelated and manifestations or emanations of the same

to the my advice that communicated love for physical body

underlying energy.”11 Perhaps under this definition one

and self. Eventually, the love that she was able to embody

can better trace the usage of the hashtag and movement.

transpersonal

realms

or

dimensions

of

human


With that said, #blackgirlmagic becomes an affirmative tool

just look at that inner self without blame or censure. And once

for black women, as it emerges from the African American

she names what she sees, she might think about whether that

cultural tradition. When read with supporting tools and

inner self deserves or needs love.”

frameworks, #blackgirlmagic demystifies the idea of magic pertaining to supernatural or inhumane abilities. Rather,

For example, American artist Alison Saar’s Washtub Blues is

#blackgirlmagic, when read with tools given from the African

a print on wood that expresses this difficulty. Featured in the

American cultural traditions and womanist technologies, can

National Museum of Women in the Arts, the description of the

serve as grounding extension of the spirit and a strong love

piece reads, “Exploring the role of women in the household and

ethic.

economy, Washtub Blues shows a barefoot African American woman from the back, her face visible to the viewer only via

While, such connection to spirit through a love ethic is

the reflection in the tub water. The figure’s position is meant

essential to the true essence of #blackgirlmagic, that does not

to emphasize how those in domestic work often go unnoticed

mean that that connection is always easily felt or established.

and underappreciated, despite their vital role in a household.”

Following the stories of black women like Sojourner Truth

This portrayal explicitly shows how the black woman is seen

and even literary figures like Sethe and Baby Suggs, there is

through the gaze of strictly her service. What’s interesting

a difficulty with loving. There is a deep trauma that black

about this depiction is the focus on blue. The woman only

women have struggled with love due to the continuing effects

sees her face through the washtub, which is colored blue.

of institutionalized slavery, the Jim Crow era, and more. bell

The visual depiction is very telling of the experiences of

hooks gives insight into this in Sisters of the Yam. She writes,

black women during slavery, however, it also communicates

Our collective difficulties with the art and act of loving began

a greater need for black women to see themselves; more

in the context of slavery. It should not shock us that a people

explicitly through self-love and care. During my research for

who were forced to witness their young being sold away;

the project, I thought blue might be a particularly interesting

their loved ones, companions, and comrades beaten beyond

color to explore, especially given its striking effect in this

all recognition; a people who knew unrelenting poverty,

print. Typically used to communicate sadness, depression,

deprivation, loss, unending grief, and forced separation of

and grief, I wondered if it could be transformed to speak the

family and kin; would emerge from the context of slavery

beauty of the black skin to communicate a process of self-

wary of this thing called love. Clearly, there is a difficulty

love and care.

present when it comes to loving. Black feminist, Jennifer Nash touches on this need for selfIt may appear as if love from black women to either self or

love and care in her article, Practicing Love: Black Feminism,

other is easily established or directed. The act of loving for

Love-Politics, and Post-Intersectionality. To communicate

black women can be incredibly troublesome, as their various

the her call for specifically second-wave black feminism to

statuses has been unforgiving and traumatizing. From losing

capture this love ethic Nash traces a scholarly tradition, both

children and family to poverty and servitude, black women

literary and political. She writes, “This particular moment

have shown by society that they are undeserving of love.

has long been celebrated for its advocacy of love as a resistant

hooks continues to write, “Where is the love when a black

ethic of self-care. If ‘bein alive and bein a woman & bein

woman looks at herself and says: “I see inside me somebody

colored is a metaphysical dilemma’—to borrow Ntozake

nobody would love, ‘cause I don’t even l like what I see;” or

Shange’s oft-quoted lines—then black feminism’s insistence

maybe: “I see inside me somebody who is so hurt, who is just

on love, particularly self-love, might be read as a practice of

like a ball of pain and I don’t want to look at her ‘cause I can’t

self- valuation. [Patricia Hill] Collins captures this reading of

do nothing about that pain.” The love is absent. To make it

black self- love, arguing that, ‘Loving Black people . . . in a

present, the individual has to first choose to see herself, to

society that is so dependent on hating Blackness constitutes


a highly rebellious act”. According to this scholarly tradition, love is a politics of claiming, embracing, and restoring the wounded black female self.”

Clearly this politic of self-love and care is evident and fundamental for the survival and liberation of black women. Given Nash’s reflection on second wave black feminism, one is able to see that the ability to love and care for one’s self is not easy. However, this culture of care for self and other through love is being politicized in black feminist politics and agendas. Even more, the need for self-love and care has been normalized in the everyday experiences for black women. It is not uncommon to hear and see black women love themselves and loudly.

My final photo session concluding the RECLAIM project was of one of the board members, Kiamani Wilson. Kiamani is incredibly popular and involved on campus as she spearheads multiple committees and executive boards. Whenever there is a huge event or production on campus, one typically hears her name attached to it, as her hard work is a reflection of her dreams to be an event planner. People often wonder how she able to balance her work load, social life, extra-curricular activities and more, while being able to maintain a high energy on campus that is inviting and welcoming to everyone. It would be easy to portray such as a supernatural and unearthly magic. However, while taking her picture, I noticed that it was in her ability to accomplish all that she does on campus and still remain true to herself is from a strong sense and love for self. Even more, she is incredibly vocal about expressing her needs and conditions for self-care. As I prepared the blue strobe light for her sections, I noticed Kiamani didn’t need much direction. I was excited to use the blue on her glittered skin just as glorify what I had already saw. The little direction that I did give her was more of me affirming what she was already doing. She understood her angles, how to move her body, and the confidence she wanted to portray throughout the photos. I tried to tell her to pose a certain way and it felt incredibly forced and unwanted. While she was covered in glitter, the glitter became subtle details in her shining her light. The confidence and excitement she brought to set attracted more people to watch and just affirm what I already saw; a black woman who loved and cared for herself abundantly.


three

ON MOTHERING


“INSTEAD OF BEING PERCEIVED AS WHOLE PERSONS, THEIR BODIES BECAME SHRINE: WHAT WAS THOUGHT TO BE THEIR MINDS BECAME TEMPLES SUITABLE FOR WORSHIP. THESE CRAZY SAINTS STARED OUT AT THE WORLD, WILDLY, LIKE LUNATICS—OR QUIETLY, LIKE SUICIDES; AND THE “GOD” THAT WAS IN THEIR GAZE WAS AS MUTE AS A GREAT STONE. WHO WERE THESES SAINTS? THESE CRAZY, LOONY, PITIFUL WOMEN? SOME OF THEM, WITHOUT A DOUBT, WERE OUR MOTHERS AND GRANDMOTHERS.”

IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHERS’ GARDENS ALICE WALKER


Two girls and three boys, four mothers, one father, many houses, and one home. Perhaps a diagram would map out the family structure or even tell the stories that follow. Yet, in order to follow the womanist framework that grounds this thesis, I decided to consult with my stepmother, Torveena, who we call Toy for short. I can not recall the specific day that she entered into my life—as there was vague feeling that she had always been there. As I grew older and watched, I soon learned that Toy and my father actually grew up together and knew each other for the longest. In that relationship, they had one child together, Ke’son. However, my father also had two other girls and two boys by three other women. Each child was born between 1994 and 1999, however Toy did not marry my father until 2007. A family was being created and did not even slightly resemble the normative structure of what the American family should be. Throughout my journey, I would attempt to explain my family structure and I struggled. Either friends would not be able to follow or they just did not believe it to be true. In turn, my father became the defining image of our family. Some would laugh in shock that my father found a way to take care of all five of his children, while avoiding the pressures that many black men face in the inner city. He secured jobs and shelter, while avoiding gang life, drug and alcohol addiction, prison and more. I would see family members regard my father highly and affirm his ability to provide. While my father does play an integral role in our family, it requires a certain level of work to see how Toy, also, shaped our family. Through my research, I would soon discover that her story is instrumental in the fabric of our family dynamic as it is a site of transformation and recovery. In this chapter, I will explore Toy’s story, in efforts to both affirm and complicate how one views black mothers in the inner city. I will show how her magic actually resembles a trans-generational spirit that was informed by a series of mothers that fosters her ability to love and nurture children that ultimately were not her own. Before delving into Toy’s story, it is important to situate her in context to the greater social climate of the time. Turning to Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, becomes an incredibly helpful source as it details the socio-political factors that shape the various portrayals and status of black women. Harris-Perry begins her analysis with the crooked room theory. She writes, When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up. Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion... To understand why black women’s public actions and political strategies sometimes seem tilted in ways that accommodate the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior. It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room.16 Given this crooked room theory, one is able to expand upon what exactly the black woman faces in urban America. This image allows one to see that her position is one is which is never fully about to be upright given the confines of American society. The crooked room might not look to the same for each woman. However, it morphs to the policies and conditions that are created in order to make it impossible for black women to find their collective status in America as equal. For black women, similar to Toy, the baby momma stereotype has been a stigma that has lasted through many generations and times. A baby momma is a woman who has children out of wedlock. Popularized by day-time shows like Maury and Jerry Springer, baby momma transformed into a site of drama and entertainment. From movies to songs, baby momma’s were not respectable women as they often lied about the fathers of their children, fought other baby mommas, did not provide for their children, and heavily depended on welfare and child support. For example, rapper Kanye West’s hit Gold Digger portrays the typical baby momma. He raps, “Eighteen years, eighteen years/ she got one of yo kids got you for 18 years/ I know somebody paying child support for one of his kids/ his baby momma’s car and crib is bigger than his” In this depiction, baby mommas are completely dependent on the father. Even more, they are portrayed negatively because such dependency is centered in an exploitative nature. The fathers are regarded as being trapped or locked down. All the while, the baby momma is living a luxurious and carefree life. This image of the baby momma is a heavy contributor to the difficulty in which black women face in finding a way to stand upright in the crooked room. The exploitative and dependent baby momma over powered and claimed space for what the black mother could be. As Harris- Perry explains, assuming the role of baby momma does occur for many women, as it is difficult to “stand up straight in a crooked room”. However, when delving into the real-life experiences and stories of these women, one can begin to see that the baby momma stereotype glosses over the intricacies of the reality of these mothers. For example, Toy gave birth to first and only child, Ke’son, out of wedlock. Even more, she decided to take in and care for many other children. Toy and I sat down for dinner at the Maplewood Diner in New Jersey and I finally worked up the courage to ask how she was able to take in and care for four other children that were not her own. The waiter returned with her ginger ale, she took a sip, and she exhaled, “It came like first nature”.18 Her response was simple. It did not come with a heightened sense of emotion. Rather, her instincts shined through as she made it explicitly clear that her ability to care for others was something she always knew how to do. At first, I thought the conversation would be centered around my father and her story would speak about how she overcame the challenges of both being a baby momma and dealing with three other baby mommas. However, her source and passion for care-taking stemmed from her very own relationship with her mother. “My mother was my best friend. Before that dinner Toy spoke very little about her mother. I would gather small pieces here and there, like when my aunts and uncles would come over and say things like “Diane’s Kids”. Or even seeing her portrait19 sit in the corner of the living room. We all knew that she had passed, but the details remained silent. As a young girl, I pieced together who she could be from strength and love that Toy shared to me. My memories of Toy braiding my thick and unruly hair, taking me to buy clothes, and even cooking every night resembled the same she shared about her mother. As we sat in the booth and continued Toy recalled the moments when her mother would do her hair and eventually Toy had to learn to do the same for her younger sisters. If anything, caring for her siblings was the most important value that Ms. Diane taught to her children.


Toy’s memories came to life and her spirit awakened as she reminisced on the many times she and her siblings were there for each other. Ms. Diane was a fighter, which meant her children were also fighters. Fights in the inner city never came as a surprise. It was something that almost everyone who grew up there went through. Especially during the times when Toy was younger, her mother was known to be the bold woman on the block to make sure everyone got along. And in the minute that any static ensued for her children, Ms. Diane made sure they would fight it out and end it. A smile grew on Toy’s face with small chuckles of laughter when she remarked, “We took care of each other.” Clearly, there was a bond where she knew if she could not finish her own battles, her brothers, sisters, and mother would be there. Perhaps the strength of this bond is what accounted for the silences around Ms. Diane’s death. Toy began to fill in the gaps where I fell short in completing my image of Ms. Diane. Before our meal, I imagined a woman who could do no wrong and was on some levels invincible. This was the woman who taught my stepmother how to prove for my huge and unusual family, while remaining beautiful and true to herself. I questioned where exactly the teaching happened? What is the source and how exactly Toy was to manifest such spirit from her mother? Where did the magic come from? As I pondered these questions, Toy naturally began talking about the process in which she essentially became a mother. Interestingly, it did not spur from her being pregnant or physically having a child. Rather, her adoption into the mothering role spurred from a dire and urgent need to take care of her mother. During the early 90s, Ms. Diane had contracted the HIV virus via a contaminated needle used for heroin. Toy explained how it was difficult for her mother because her father had become incarcerated. This meant that Ms. Diane had to become the primary caretaker and provider for five children by her lonesome. All the while, she struggled with a n ongoing heroin addiction that ultimately led to her passing. Ms. Diane did not receive much support elsewhere and was responsible for raising a family on her own. Pressures stemmed from several different directions, including finances, social stigmas, health, and more. Reflecting on the struggles that she watched her mother endure as a single mother, Toy began to describe the times when she became her mother’s keeper. For example, when Ms. Diane was in an abusive relationship, the toxicity elevated to the point where even Toy found herself jumping on the back of Ms. Diane’s partner and fighting in attempt to save her mother. “My mother was my best friend. I took care of her until her dying day.”,21 Toy proclaimed. The love she had for her mother peaked through the story as Toy knew that her mother’s addiction did not define her memory, contributions, or relationship. As Ms. Diane condition grew worse, Toy was in the hospital constantly caring for her mother. Toy being the oldest daughter around her late teens, meant that she naturally took on the role as her primary caretaker. She explained that her older brother, Derrell, was away at school so the burden fell mainly on Toy’s shoulders. Even though, these pressures exerted on Toy’s family proved to be incredibly challenging, Toy’s ability to overcome such and not fall into the traps and stigma of the black broken family shined through in her ability to nurture and love. As we sat in the booth, Toy made it concluded the story and explicitly stated, “people were amazed of what we accomplished because of what we went through. But, my mom gets all the credit.” Clearly, Toy felt as if any success was she attributed was due to her mother. Even in sickness, Toy was strict in sharing that her mother’s story should not be reduced to the pressures of a society that does not grant them many opportunities to be perceived any differently. The various means in which Ms. Diane’s story and relationship with Toy should be accurately portrayed must be constructed with understanding the social-political structures that factor into their everyday lived experiences. The story would not be complete at the simple conclusion that a single black mother experienced addiction and her children were able to still love and care for her and each other. This underlying presence of love and care is fundamental to their survival. Yet in still, the recognition of the factors that impact such survival are necessary fibers in showing the truth of Ms. Diane and Toy’s image. Furthermore, such clarity also allows a means for contributing to any road of liberation. Upon Toy’s father being incarcerated, many would assume Ms. Diane’s leadership of their home as a symbol of matriarchy. However, the absence of a father does not equate to a matriarchal society, which would be a society that writer bell hooks explains has never existed even in American culture. Many have attempted to equate the strong presence of a woman in the household as a measure of equality and progress. However, when closely examining the intricacies of the formation of such theory, in relation to the black family, one finds that the basis of the argument ignores the traumatizing and oppressive effects of institutionalized slavery in America. In the book, Ain’t I a Woman, black women and feminism, bell hooks sheds light on this and writes, “Yet black women embraced the label matriarch because it allowed them to regard themselves as privileged. This merely indicates how effectively colonizers are able to distort the reality of the colonized so that they embrace concepts that actually do them more harm than good. One of the oppressive tactics white slavers used to prevent rebellions and slave uprisings was the brainwashing of slaves to believe that black people were really better taken care of as slaves than they would be as free people. Black slaves who accepted their master’s picture of freedom were afraid to break the bonds of slavery. A similar tactic has been used to brainwash black women. White colonizers encourage black women, who are economically oppressed and victimized by sexism and racism, to believe that they are matriarchs, that they exercise some social and political control over their lives.” Returning to Harris-Perry’s crooked room theory this black matriarch stereotype becomes another way in which black women struggle to find their own liberations. This is not to say they should reject the role of mother. Rather, such analysis shows that being a matriarch does not necessarily equate to freedom, as it exists within an oppressive structure. This portrayal definitely suggests a more positive sentiment. Who would not want to be seen as a strong mother. However, for black women especially being viewed in such light becomes difficult given confining social and economic structures. The emergence of the matriarch, which occurs mainly in the case of the absence father, still operates under a patriarchal and colonial system. Even as matriarchs, black women still are tasked with dealing traumas and violence of racism, sexism, and colonialism. More explicitly, for Ms. Diane, her coping through this change unfolded throughout her addiction. Given the environment, drugs and alcohol were a major component of urban life. There would be a liquor store on every other corner while driving down the same street. Even walking down some streets or even playing in a park, one might find a crack vile or dime bags for weed. In the self-recovery book, Sisters of the Yam, bell hooks speaks to this theme of addiction and says, “Considering the way black people have been socialized, from slavery to the present day, to believe that we can only survive only with paternalistic support of a white power structure, is it surprising that addiction has become so all-pervasive in our communities?” When framed in this light, one is able to better grasp the occurrence of drug-addiction in black communities. The source of her addiction did not stem from an unknown place. Rather, the incarceration of her partner and the difficulties of providing for five children follows the reasoning why Ms. Diane would fall to such struggles. Even given such addiction, Toy passionately and sternly made clear that this heroin addiction did not define her mother. “Everyone knew how strong she was. She took care of everybody.”24, explained Toy. Ms. Diane remained a primary caretaker, even during her ill days.


When Toy first informed me of her mother’s story, I was shocked. Growing up my parents hid us from any conception of drugs or alcohol. As a child, I assumed that they were just teaching us as they were taught. I was under a naive and spoiled impression that life was effortless. There was never any conflict between my mother, father, and stepmother. Their ability to see past different, provide, and simply make it work always surpassed any suspicion of trouble or worry, and I expected that they grew up the same way. As I heard more stories and uncovered more truths, I realized their denial from drugs and excessive alcohol was so a precaution and prevention from exposing their children to the realities they had to face. When Ms. Diane passed, Toy revealed to me that she had fell into depression. However, having to watch her mother struggle with her health, being in hospitals, dealing with abusive and absentee relationships, and having to take care of others, Toy mentioned how she knew her life would be different. Even though, she struggled with the death of her mother, becoming pregnant with her first and only child Ke’son changed her perspective completely. Nibbling at her food and avoiding eye contact, Toy explained “Ke’son pulled me out of that depression”. While coping with her mother’s passing, she understood that she had a baby on the way and responsibilities to follow. However, during her pregnancy, she and my father discovered that I was born. My father had met my mother during their undergraduate studies at Caldwell College in Caldwell, NJ. Upon realizing her unexpected pregnancy, my mother returned home to Trenton, NJ without notifying my father of the pregnancy. That summer as my father returned to school to register for classes, a mutual friend congratulated him on the baby that he had no knowledge of. At that moment, he found himself with an one-year old daughter, Mecca, a newborn baby girl, and a baby boy on the way, all by three different women. For Toy, it was a lot to comprehend at the time, especially given her difficult pregnancy. She was adamant about not moving in with my father, as she knew she was not ready for that level of commitment. Being that she just lost her mother, Toy found herself living with her other relatives, like her Aunt Christine. Recalling on her time living there, Toy spoke on how when her aunt found out about the pregnancy, she made a comment saying “she’s about to ruin her life”. Hearing this comment sparked a fire within Toy to both prove her aunt wrong and prove to herself who she really was. After that comment, she did not to speak to her aunt in months and she found apartments elsewhere to stay. While she did not move in with my father, they both agreed to find an apartment for her and Ke’son to live. Also, she made sure that Ke’son would be able to grow up with his siblings. Reflecting on the time, she told me, “All I knew was: I can’t see 10 years from now. But I’ve never turned my back. I know at the core who I am, and I know there’s a baby out there.” With this mentality Toy was able to accept me and my sister, while becoming a mother of her own. Time passed and my father had two more boys, Kauraun and Kareem. Even with the new additions, Toy and Ke’son eventually moved in with my father in their first home together on Centre Street in East Orange, NJ. Toy also took in her nephew Dashawn, which made the family even bigger. This house on Centre Street easily became one of my favorite homes because Kareem and I would visit from Trenton on weekends and Toy would cook dinners. We took family trips to places like Virginia and New York. We stayed up late watching scary movies and cartoons and made root beer floats. Toy introduced me to her Uncle Dennis who took me to see my first play at his church and I got all dressed up. My sister and I made up dances to hottest songs and performed them for all of my new aunts. I learned how to wash dishes, iron my clothes, and beat eggs. We all went over to the park across the street to learn how to ride bikes and play in the snow. Our family’s bond was remarkable and Toy made sure to help maintain it instead of cause harm to break it. This transgenerational spirit and continuing call for black women to love and care for beyond what is expected is what creates #blackgirlmagic. Toy did not take on the responsibility of caring for her mother or even extending her love to all my father’s children because she had to. Rather, she did so because she felt it in herself. It is not solely in their ability to do such that creates the magic, rather it is in the moments of self-awareness and determination that reflect the light they possess and the power of their spirits. In that process, liberation is deemed possible. To be explicit, I am not speaking of liberation on an institutional level. However, much like womanist value, LUXOCRACY, the liberation of the black woman occurs on a much personal level. Perhaps, this is the reason why is it thought of as magic. Even in the midst of drug addiction, incarceration, poverty, relationships, teen-pregnancy, and more, black women find a way to love and care. The realization and occurrence of liberation, even on the personal level, for black women should still be deemed credible on the basic premise that through such magic, which is a culture of love and care through cultivation of the spirit, is a direct process of claiming one’s humanity. Under a womanist framework, this process can be read as a self-actualization, which Maparyan describes as “an alternative to the dehumanizing domestication process that currently passes as socialization... Preconditions for self-actualization are self-knowledge, self-love, freedom to explore, express, and create from the place of one’s own vision or inner light, and a baseline of physical health.” Throughout Toy’s story there was an underlying theme of her knowing herself and having a sense of what she needed to do grow. This is not to say that she was perfect or able to perform inhumane task. Rather, it is to point out that she was actively fighting against dehumanizing and oppressive structures through the power of love and care. Our work together, in sharing and remembering, was ending a cycle of glossing over the truth behind Toy’s presence and contributions to society. She was reduced to just a baby momma or young black matriarch. Rather, I was able to see Toy and all that encompasses her magic. The relationship as interviewee and interviewer was pushed beyond its limits and transformed into a display of how black mothers and daughters connect to and learn from each other in a liberatory fashion. Alice Walker touches on this relationship in her essay, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens speaks to this ways in which this transgenerational spirit is constructed in hopes of recording the lives of our mothers. She writes, “And so, our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read. Yet so many of the stories that I write, that we all write, are my mother’s stories. Only recently did I fully realize this: that through years of listening to my mother’s stories of her life, I have absorbed not only the stories themselves, but something of the manner in which she spoke, something of the urgency that involves the knowledge that her stories—like her life—must be recorded. Clearly, Toy needed to be heard and it became my duty to record it. Our transaction felt demanding as we finally got to connect and share the stories. However, my time spent with her became even more fruitful as her laughs, smiles, eye contact, or lack thereof and more, prioritized the truth of her story. If anything, talking to Toy made her essence tangible and #blackgirlmagic shined through.


Instead of Toy just providing or giving too much, which is a phrase that captures the sentiment of the oppressive structures that contribute to the stifling confines of the crooked room that black women are expected to stand in, Toy was also able to receive a level of understanding and curiosity to understand her experience in a light that she could control. The questions I prepared quickly became useless as the conversation flowed. I was thankful for Toy’s ability to speak about such traumatic and triggering events in her life. However, the clarity of her memory and ease in sharing is telling of the magic that Toy has. Each story was given with a high level of care and love that was clearly passed down. While Ms. Diane’s passing was difficult for Toy, it did not erase all that Ms. Diane gave to her daughter. Her spirit continues to move through Toy and her siblings as they support, love, and care for each other. Toy’s will to care for four other children that were not her own is example of such love, and as she expresses something her mother taught her. When reflecting on the stories Toy shared combined with my own personal memories, I could clearly see how she challenges stereotypical portrayals of what it means to be a black woman in America. Her candor and vulnerability proved that her everyday experiences should not be considered otherworldly or supernatural. While she was able to achieve overcome the odds, it did not make her superhuman. Rather, Toy’s retelling of the story felt freeing as we were finally able to sit as mother and daughter and open up about the realities of our family histories. Her story was fantasized or romanticized. She told me exactly what the conditions of her life was and what she had to do get through it. In fact, her bluntness and flow spoke to how real and human her experiences were. Even more, her story was able to fill several gaps in my memory that I feared would be lost to the damaging effects of racism, sexism, classism, and more.


four

A WITNESS TO THE MAGIC


there is magic in my grandmother as she shares the recipes that keeps us alive there is magic in my mother as she teaches me the speech of truth there is magic in my sister as she becomes mirror in which I look to see myself there is magic in my friend as she holds the power to keep me present there is magic in my niece as she lives as the hope to live our liberation there is magic in my unborn daughter as she will become the reflection of me and tell my story the story that says there is still magic in my dark skin as it scarred and neglected but still manages to glow with this coconut oil that there is still magic in my hair as it defies gravity and grows out as I grow up and wiser that there is magic in my smile as the effort exerted to show my teeth becomes an extension of my spirit and reminder that I am still alive that there is magic in my hands as they write our stories and craft the history that there is magic in my body as my hips move in a dance that is inviting and cares for my health our stories are not complete and our magic is ongoing just know that it is here. See it. Witness it. Love it.


Capturing and curating the photos and stories presented in this project, allows for #blackgirlmagic to emerge as a site for manifestations of the spirit, love, and care. Following a womanist framework, #blackgirlmagic became a digital extension of sacredness of African American cultural traditions. Looking specifically at the Christian Church, the underlying ethic of love for thy neighbor, is expressed through the photographs and stories. However, #blackgirlmagic pushes the love ethic further by showing that black women are recognizing and loving themselves first, which in turn, becomes a revolutionary and liberatory concept. Relying on the toolkit provided by a womanist framework one can more specifically see how #blackgirlmagic exists as an extension of African American tradition and culture. Even more, one can begin to see how such prioritizes the spirit through a continuing culture of love and care. There are a number of ways in which one can paint how this relationship unfolds. Whether through vibrant images, literary analysis, or intricate details from an interview, one can trace how #blackgirlmagic represents a culture of resistance, style, and change. In a society that dehumanizes the black woman by reducing her to purposes of servitude or reproduction, it should be expected that she is able to find a means of re-creating a culture of love and care. This is not to say the black woman is perfect or supernatural. Rather, the black woman defines her magic in her ability to maneuver the everyday and still find a way to love and spread care. Therefore, the focal point in this work and final argument is that accurate portrayals of black women must be created, as black women are examples of how liberation unfolds. From Melissa Harris Perry’s crooked room theory in Sister Citzen to bell hooks insights as to how black women may undergo self-recovery in Sisters of the Yam, there are clearly frameworks that show how black women are mistreated, oppressed, and forced to deal with traumas in society including violence, addiction, lost, broken families, and more. These theories and frameworks make it incredibly explicit that these all stem from the effects of institutionalized slavery. However, the magic lies in the simple acts of love and care, as they are extensions of the spirit that says the human form is still present and breathing. The process of constructing this argument was difficult. As a black woman who used her personal memories, art practice, and family as an example of why the stories and images of black women should be prioritized, I realized too late that I was engaging in a vulnerable process. I witnessed the stories, the laughter, the tears, the love, the hate, and more that contributed to the creation of the #blackgirlmagic. I’ve retweeted tweets and posted images of these women myself. Similar to Toy, I have felt the depression of feeling detached from my mother, as I embarked on this writing process away from her direct care, it was difficult to carry the stories she told of addiction and abuse of Ms. Diane. However, I also was able to look to my sister-friends and engage in a creative process where we able to establish trust and care to take beautiful photos. All in all, this process was difficult as I had to actively engage in acts of self-love and self-care to take control of these narratives to portray some truer form of what I actually saw. In engaging in my own acts of self-care and self-love, I learned that it was not easy. I had experienced several panic attacks and periods of depression, especially when reflecting on stories of death and addiction. Even more, when trying to visually trace some sorts of representation of such, the color blue was popular, but not in a liberating fashion. Instead, I would feel even more stifled by what I was learning and reading. However, when I was able to take control and model the #blackgirlmagic I was researching, I found the color blue to be inviting. And even a major staple in photography sessions with BSL. In this light, #blackgirlmagic does not exist as a single entity. Rather, it becomes an ongoing practice in which black women are daily contributing to, refining, and sharing. Ms. Diane’s story did not end, as Toy found the strength to open up and tell me about it. Furthermore, she found means of healing by using her mother’s image as a model for who she should be as a person and mother. This resulted in Toy having multiple children, without birthing them all, but loving them all the same. Even more, the photos of the black women of BSL are physical proof that black women, who work hard to provide insight, creativity, and more to campus, can also take time, indulge in self-care and love, by taking emotionally and aesthetically beautiful images. To conclude, this project communicates that when approaching religious studies, there should be a central focus strictly on the personal and everyday experiences of black women. Even more, methodological concerns of who is studying and how they are portraying them are essential as they aid in taking up larger claims about ethics and society. The religious studies discipline is essential to the liberation of black women and communities following, as it gives us the tools to trace humanizing factors that have been stripped away. Furthermore, the theological implications and claims to truth, spirit, community and more are steps to normalizing the everyday experiences of black women, in a fashion that does not exacerbate the oppressive notions that black women are not human, supernatural, or magical. Rather, it prioritizes the history, stories, experience, personal, sacredness, community, and more. In a nutshell, religious studies, concentrating specifically on ethics and society, has potential to be a very powerful tool in liberation discourse and movements. However, given the scope of the project, it must engage with specific groups in society with bits of the magic depicted throughout this project. Tapping into the creative, transgenerational, and even traditional contexts in which people live, with an extra attention to ongoing cultures of love and care self and other, becomes a true liberative framework and the essence of #blackgirlmagic.


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Bibliography Photographs As Shown: By Author, Alliyah Allen Hadiyyah & Kiamani - Sister Friend Tsion Deoborah Hadiyyah - Wavy Safiyyah & Talia - Self Preservation Praxedes - Dancing in the Light Kiamani Toy Family Photos Self-Portrait Safiyyah, Cristian, Tsion, Aszana, Talia - Five Women


#blackgirlmagic

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#blackgirlmagic  

An Ongoing Spiritual Practice of Love and Care

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An Ongoing Spiritual Practice of Love and Care

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