Saturday, April 19, 2014

Briana Whiteside's Mailbag #1

On April 16 and 17, we coordinated a presentation of Briana Whiteside's mixed media exhibit “Uncanny Black Women: Octavia Butler’s Mary and Shonda Rhimes’s Olivia Pope,” which was based on her research. Attendees completed note cards with questions for Briana about her project. What follows are select questions and her responses. 

Does Briana Whiteside think of herself as an uncanny black woman? Why and how so?
No, I don’t think of myself as an uncanny black woman. I am one black woman in a long lineage of black women who want to bring about some type of positive change. I position myself around other black women who are making differences in the world. Now, if I were to remove myself from them and enter into another circle of people who weren’t necessarily into doing the things that I do, then they might view me as uncanny.
[Related: Briana Whiteside's Mailbag #2 and Mailbag #3]

Why do negative stereotypes of black women still surface even when the main writer is a black woman?
Stereotypes do not go away. It would be naïve of a writer to pretend that stereotypes for black women do not exist. What black women writers tend to do is present the stereotype but manipulate it in a way where they can exert some type of power over it. Black women writers are aware of the stigmas that plague black women, so they adopt the caricature and repurpose it in various ways. I think of it as a coping mechanism.
Why did you not focus on white women?
I did not focus on white women because I feel that there has been a large body of work that focuses on white women. From captivity narratives to the feminist movement that did not per se include black women. More specifically, I am a black woman and the works by and for black women are near and dear to my heart. I believe that it would be impossible to understand white women’s literature and problems without understanding black women’s. All women’s issues are not universal, so I decided to start with what I knew.
Should Olivia Pope be looked up to as a role model?
It depends on what we are trying to model through her character. If we are highlighting determination, and strong work ethic then yes. If we are trying to promote abstinence until marriage, then no. We have to approach Pope’s character from various angles. I think her character exposes the complexities surrounding black womanhood fairly in some respects. Her character is situational, in that it highlights how we as a people are viewed based upon circumstance. It is so easy to be seen as a savior in one arena and be demonized in the next.
Uncanny Black Women: Octavia Butler’s Mary and Shonda Rhimes’s Olivia Pope

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