Sunday, November 2, 2014

Poetry & the politics of "black woman" metaphors

Last week in one of my literature classes, we read Margaret Walker's poem "My Truth and My Flame," where she opens with the lines:

I am a Black woman
and I hold my head up high,
for I rise with the masses of mankind. . .
The line "I am a Black woman" opens each of the poem's three stanzas, which a different student covered when we read the poem out loud in class. Walker's poem, and more specifically the "Black woman" line intrigued the students and set the tone for the rest of the class period.

I suppose it's worth noting that although this literature class is comprised of women who are brown skin, dark skin, and light skin, and though the class includes a few students who have one white parent, and while students in the class wear their hair straight, flat-ironed, and natural, and though some wear make up and others do not, each of the students in this one class self-identify as "a black woman." 

"Ok, lil sisters," I said to the class, "all y'all say you're black women, right?"

"Yep," a few replied.

"But what if you're like the poets?" I asked. "What if you're being metaphorical when you say that?"

"Hunh?" said one, and a few raised eyebrows from others.

"I mean, I know some of us are dark, but none of us, hold up, let me check. Yes, none of us are as black as our black hair, you know?"

Folks laughed.

"So, what if you're being metaphorical when you call yourself a black woman? And while you're thinking on that, let's also consider this: what if you're also being political when you call yourselves A. Black. Woman?"

We spent the rest of the class period reading, listening to, and discussing poems about black women by Kelly Norman Ellis and Tracie Morris, among others. The students were fascinated and energized by the diverse yet interrelated ways poets defined black women.   

I was intrigued that the sisters were so intrigued that "black woman" assertions could constitute metaphorical and political statements.

 • Collegiate Students

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