I found Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf, before I became fully acquainted with the throes of black life. The words and images permeated my soul years before I needed it.
Its contents conveyed, to employ Zora Neale Hurston’s term, the awful beauty of dreams that became forgotten thoughts, love that became hate, and fantasies blistered with harsh realities.
but bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical
dilemma/ i havent conquered yet/
Through my tears
I found god in myself
and I loved her fiercely
Continue to permeate the souls of black women decades after Shange first penned what many consider a masterpiece. The work bears a literary treasure whose gems betray the black female experience.
The text, narrated by literal women of color, employs the English language to delineate the trials, terrors, and the unspoken truths that encompass the black female experience. Thus, Shange’s choreopoem operates as a means to transport the black “woman over the rainbow.” This rainbow, posits the black woman’s life as exponentially improved once detached from the black man. Therefore, this rainbow is not and cannot be enough for the black woman or black collective.
For Colored Girls is just one of many physical and visual texts that superficially unite black women by castigating black men. Films and books like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Terry McMillian’s Waiting to Exhale, and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, are among a plethora of examples of films and literature that anchor black female upliftment to black female detachment form the black male.
All three examples feature strong female leads juxtaposed to venomous black male characters. The black men appear as poison that must be neutralized in order for the black female protagonist to assume a heightened version of herself.
In considering texts that illuminate black men and black women as disparate entities, I also think about how Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye feature black male characters who impregnate their daughters. While both texts evidence prose mastery, their content delineates black authors espoused to white supremacist forces of perception. Particularly, these novels depict black characters as defined by white caricature and delineates how the western world violently casts gender onto black males.
My observation regarding the chosen literature does not imply that these selected works or selected authors do not make notable contributions to black literary genealogy.
I do, however, employ these examples to illuminate the black demographic as the sole demographic where liberation remains anchored in a divorce of the sexes. This is, of course, not liberation but a form of mental imprisonment that summons the severed black man or woman into the arms of a non-black opportunist.
This divorce, in its contemporary nuance, often results from black female espousal to the feminist agenda. Dr. Valethia Watkins calls this ideology compulsory feminism, or the belief that feminism is a default means of conceptualizing the female experience. Watkins also notes the either/or binary component to compulsory feminism. The either/or binary speaks specifically to the mutual exclusivity too often assigned to black men and black women with regards to one another.
Similarly, in her text The Invention of Women, Oyeronke Oyewumi reminds the black woman that gender is a European invention. Oyewumi’s assertions do not discount organization amongst indigenous African societies. Rather, Oyewumi sites age as this defining factor. Moreover, to adopt gender as default or contingent with biology is an error that predisposes black women to adopting an identity antithetical to her African essence.
What I mean to say here, is that the black female technically emerges from a womanless origin. The western world projects a particular form of woman rooted in anti-blackness. This anti-blackness assumes its form in casting the black man and woman as disparate elements or, as evidenced in the selected literature examples, constituting a toxic coexistence. To project such an image, of course, detracts black people from the true toxin—white hegemony.
The African descended man and woman are composites. To sever this union is to disarm the fiercest weapon we have—one another.
In her book To Tell the Truth Freely, author Mia Bay takes readers through the trajectory of anti-lynching journalist Ida B Well’s well-lived life. She discloses that Elizabeth Cady Stanton censured Wells’s marriage to Ferdinand Lee Barnett. Stanton, was, of course, a married woman. Stanton did not fear not how marriage would affect an ambitious young woman, but feared that the union between a black man and woman would “improperly” influence Wells against her anti-black, feminist agenda.
For there is nothing more fear-inducing to anti-black agents than black unity.
So as we examine Kwanzaa principles “Self-Determination” (Kujichagulia)and Unity (Umoji) in tandem with one another, it is imperative to examine the ways in which daily black life in America thwarts unity snd self-determination among African-descended people through a divisive gender ideology.
Africana people are a force.
We must compose a fist to combat the ways of white supremacy. As individuals, or fingers, we remain predestined to point in opposition to our collective purpose. It is integral that we remain pro-black man and pro-black woman, but we can only do so if we are pro-black people. Thus, all theories said to critically encompass the identity and idiosyncratic needs for the black individual must remain anchored in unity and proceed toward a collective self-determination. The way forward is paved in togetherness. If we as a collective stand for anything anti-black, we as a people compromise everything collectively.
As the keeper of culture and birther of nation, western gender politics operate with clear intentions. There intentions are to sunder the black woman from her nurturing nation and bearing the cultural and cognitive fruit for a potent Afro-future.
In closing, let us return to Shange’s poignant line from her chore poem:
“I found god in myself/and I loved her fiercely,”
our Afro-future remains vested in finding ourselves in one another, and finding one another in ourselves. This discovery consummates the only rainbow worth having. Furthermore, this constitutes the only rainbow that is and will ever be enough.