July 24, 2013

Women and Race

'The Way Home' Explores Women's Stories of Racism in America


When the topic of race is broached, we hear and read so much source material from the lens of black men and non-black men of color. Whenever discourse surrounds social justice issues, it’s often laden with ways to save black and brown men and boys from the structural inequalities that impact their lives. And while I don’t doubt that people care (sometimes I do though), conversations about the protection of the lives of young black and indigenous women and girls don't seem to prompt the same sense of urgency.

In the past, I've felt embattled about being a woman writer who's been more open about sharing my lived experience as a black woman and who's chosen to write my opinions about race, intra-racial discrimination, gender and even the arts, through my lens; as well as sharing what I've learned about the experiences of others navigating similar intersections. On occasion, my inner dialogue asks, “Why do you even bother? People don’t want to read what black women have to say. They don’t want to pay you to contribute your voice either." And I  often wonder if I'm in over my head; because it's one thing to live through certain experiences, but spilling open about them can be equally as exasperating. 


And if I had a dollar for every message or comment I receive telling me to qualify my statements to underscore or centralize black manhood and white womanhood over my own whenever I post or express my opinion about the importance of self-love,self-care as a black woman, and why I need intersectional feminism in my life—lest I come off as a divisive and bitter misandrist—I’d probably be lying on a beach in The Maldives. 

I think about how so many of us struggle to be heard and have our voices added to the overall framework during discussions about race and gender, because those issues impact black women and other women of color just as deeply if not on a grander scale; not to mention the other sub-layers of shit we have to side-step: Colorism, sexism, misogynoir, grappling for control over our reproductive rights, body autonomy, and just being largely ignored (or ridiculed) by white feminists. Constantly being on the defensive takes its toll after an extended period of time.

I think of how Zora Neale Hurston who, despite being one of the preliminary and anthropological voices of the Harlem Renaissance and in American literature, was heavily criticized by her male contemporaries for her use of idiomatic language in her writing and for not penning her work from the same lens as other black male writers. Hurston only received posthumous recognition long after her death, following Alice Walker’s 1975 essay “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, which renewed interest in her work during the rise of other (much needed) black female voices like Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Walker-- all of whom (through their writing and literal language) offer invaluable perspectives about American racism, that resonate with women of color on a universal scale. So it was with great interest that I happened upon information about a 2010 documentary released by World Trust, called “The Way Home”.

The Way Home features sixty-four women, over the course of eight months, who represent a cross-section of cultures— indigenous, African-American, Arab, Asian, European-American, Jewish, Latina, and Multiracial)— who convened to share their experiences of racism in America. The women offer insight about love, assimilation, gender, internalized racism, class, beauty standards, their experiences coming of age, and more. According to World Trust’s FAQ about the documentary... 
In [our] work facilitating dialogues using various films that address culture and race, one of the most commonly asked questions was, “Where are the women’s voices?” In spite of the overall success of using these works, it was obvious to many that the voices of women need to be heard. ‘The Way Home’ is a celebration of the power that women’s perspectives, voices, and ways of knowing bring to the dialogue. (…) An individual story has been known to inspire a movement. A collective story has been known to liberate a people.
Hopefully, with the help of films like The Way Home, and even Nev Nnaji’s documentary “Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights”, we can continue facilitating conversations about race and expand the narrative to include the varied histories of black women and non-black women of color, as well as the intersections of race, gender, and class. It's all relevant. We also matter.


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