Monday, March 8, 2021

Black Identity Politics and "Fatima, the Biloquist” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

It’s been fascinating reading responses from SIUE students who are covering short stories by Nafissa Thompson-Spires. We’re reading her collection of short stories Heads of the Colored People for my online reading group. So far, it’s clear that Thompson-Spires’s stories motivate students to think about the politics of Black identity among Black people.

I’ve facilitated a series of online reading groups with about 110 to 125 Black students nearly every semester since 2009. In several of those semesters when I was energetic or more likely, when I was behaving foolishly, I organized the students into smaller groups so that I could lead two and three different books.

After all this time, I’ve become accustomed to the ways that students respond to readings, but the stories by Thompson-Spires are inspiring responses that are new to me, at least in the context of the online reading groups I’ve organized over the years.

After reading "Fatima, the Biloquist: A Transformation Story,” one student, Kayla, mentioned a scene where a Black girl was told she resembled a white girl. The scene “confirmed my views because I experienced it,” noted Kayla. “Growing up, I was always told from my own people that I acted like a “white girl”. This always made me upset, but I have since learned that there is no set way to be a black girl.”

Another student, Mya, observed that the black identity struggles in the story coincided with “issues I have been battling my whole life. I grew up in a majority white community and attended school with 1% of students identifying with a race other than white.”

Paige noted that “Too many times I have been told that I’m ‘too white to be black’ or ‘too brown to be white.’”

Another student named Fatima, which is also the name of the protagonist of the story, said that the part that really moved her was when the main character was told that "you're, like, totally a white girl, aren't you?" The student Fatima said that the comment “really stung me deeply because I have been told this by numerous people in my life… including members of my own family.” She added: “my name is also Fatima so reading that felt like a direct blow towards me.”


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