The first time I read (or should I say, had access to) an autobiography by a black woman was during my undergraduate career, sophomore or junior year. No Disrespect by Sister Souljah showed me that my experiences as a Black women were valid.
Throughout middle school and high school, I was never required to read any books about Black women and the curriculum tried to convince me that Black women were not important enough to learn about past a 5 second blurb in a textbook.
See I had read books ON Black women but not BY Black women.
I searched books about civil rights and black power leaders, scourging for narrative written by Black women themselves only to see images of MLK, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Huey Newton. But what happened to Dorothy Height, Diane Nash, Ella Baker, Afeni Shakur, and Joan Little? Why was it that when I searched various textbooks on the feminist movement I heard about Susan B Anthony and Gloria Steinem but I never read about Ida B Wells and Amy Garvey?
Now we can examine the political and systematic aspects of this erasure and silencing of Black women’s stories and we would have every right to rage at that. This post is an act of rage against that. For the purpose of this post however I choose to analyze the beauty of creating our own narratives and why despite those who seek to erase us, our resistance is found when we write ourselves in.
Here is what we know from what history has shown us : 10/10 when black women are kept from writing their own stories, those stories, OUR stories, becomes distorted and twisted and we end up the brunt of the insult, degradation and condemnation (case in point, after any big news story about Black women in celebration of themselves and you are sure to find at least three articles seeking to tear her down, e.g Beyonce’s performance at the Grammy’s, Serena Williams’ MANY Grand Slam wins, the success of filmmaker Ava Duvernay etc). This act of writing our stories is defiance or as Cornell University Professor Noliwe Rooks calls it, we are writing ourselves into existence.
Black feminist professor and Pioneer in Black Studies Barbara Christian stated that “if Black women don’t say who they are, other people will and say it badly for them.” This insistence on telling our stories is an African American Woman Tradition. Storytelling is the mother tongue of most African American women and is steeped in a self-identification that no one, system, place or person can steal. Consider the black documentary tradition of Black women writing in diaries from everything in their daily experiences with racism/sexism/classism to their loves.
Since the times of enslavement we saw black women penning pages of journals sprinkled with hope and defiance, intent on acquiring freedom no matter the cost. Letters articulating the next plan of strategy to free families, lovers or themselves through carefully executed routes towards freedom. These letters, diaries, speeches were all ways that black women were writing themselves into history. This tradition of telling our stories is an African American Mother Tongue. We are the ones who have carried our stories from place to space, seeking to carrying on the wisdom that we have learned from. We are defiant against any and all who seek to corrupt our narratives and we insist on the self-conceptualization of our own stories.
This is why we demand to tell our own stories, writing our herstory into the history of this nation. And considering this nation was built upon our backs and in our wombs, I say we have that right and much more.