Hello again, BlackLight readers! As we wrote last week, we plan to continue reading and posting our reflections on DuBois’ Black Reconstruction in America; however, we’re broadening the scope of that original plan! Each week, we’ll be highlighting stuff we’re reading– DuBois, of course, but also all the other articles we come across that fall into that BlackLight beam. Here’s our reading roundup for March 7:
This week (ok the past few weeks) have been all systems go at work. And by all systems go I mean “aaaaahh, eeeeeek, woah!” When I get stressed like this, I need the visceral power of poetry. So I have been reading poems by Lorde. I bought her collected works last year during our initial reading for ThisIsBlackLight, so it felt even more appropriate.
I love how poets can make you feel like the lyrical notes, their voices are your voices, your thoughts, your pain or celebration. Lorde has such a powerful voice, so I can sink really deeply into her melancholy too, in poems like Change of Season:
Am I to be cursed forever with becoming
somebody else on the way to myself?
Walking backward I fall
into summers behind me
salt with wanting
lovers or friends a job wider shoes
a cool drink
freshness something to bite into
a place to hide out of the rain
out of this shifting melange of seasons
where the cruel boys I chased
and their skinny dodgeball sisters
flamed and died in becoming
the brown autumn.
She goes on to describe her loves and the pain of losing the “allamericanfamily.” Losing love is hard, losing dreams can be harder.
I have paid dearly in time for love I hoarded
summer goes into my words
and comes out reason.
Some of her work is arresting, especially the parts that make me think about relationships, and our place in them (or society). She gets angry in A Small Slaughter, which ends with the words:
I am the stream
past which you will never step
the woman you can not deal with
I am the mouth
of your scorn.
Which, I mean, wow. This is particularly relevant to me as I think about women’s month and the struggle for identity, for voice, for respect that plays itself out in so much of society at the moment.
Finally, as one thinks about sisterhood and solidarity, about intersectional feminism and reaching out beyond just out own world, here is the final verse of Sister Outsider:
Now you have made loneliness
holy and useful
and no longer needed
your light shines very brightly
but I want you
your darkness also
and beyond fear.
About a month ago, not long before Valentine’s Day, my local library (shout out to Geneva Public Library District) had a great idea: they wrapped a bunch of books, put the faintest description on the wrapper, and encouraged us to have a blind date with a book. I don’t recall what the wrapper on mine said, but I ended up with “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I normally don’t go for books that have been adapted into major motion pictures, but I had seen Adichie’s Ted Talk and some of her writing about feminism, so I was pleasantly surprised to find her second novel as my blind date book. Given all of the non-fiction reading during the best month of the year (shout out to February), I decided to take a wee Du Bois break and read some fiction instead.
The book is great so far – I’m about 100 pages in. The characters are vivid and compelling, and I’m excited to see where the story goes. I don’t have much to report on that yet. But because I love to Google and am apparently REALLY drawn to non-fiction, I did wind up reading some interviews with and essays by Adichie during the week. First, I re-read a chunk of “We should all be feminists.”
I really appreciate the intersectionality and comparisons between gender and race—and how easy it is for someone that should, theoretically, understand to be blind:
“I learned a lot about systems of oppression and how they can be blind to one another by talking to black men. I was once talking about gender and a man said to me, “Why does it have to be you as a woman? Why not you as a human being?” This type of question is a way of silencing a person’s specific experiences. Of course I am a human being, but there are particular things that happen to me in the world because I am a woman. This same man, by the way, would often talk about his experience as a black man. (To which I should probably have responded, “Why not your experiences as a man or as a human being? Why a black man?”)”
I also read a profile of Adichie in The Guardian where she had a lot of interesting things to say. One in particular that stuck with me, which starts off with article author Emma Brockes’ voice and then transitions to Adichie and back:
“It’s like the people who go around saying All Lives Matter, I say, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. ‘Right, which I find deeply offensive and very dishonest. Because we have to name something in order to fix it, which is why I insist on the word feminist or feminism.’
“This, she says, in spite of the fact that many of her friends, particularly black women, “resist that word, because the history of feminism has been very white and has assumed ‘women’ meant ‘white women’. Political discussion in this country still does that. They’ll say, ‘Women voted for…’ and then, ‘Black people voted for…’ And I think: I’m black and a woman, so where do I fit in here?”
One last article to recommend: The Atlantic had a piece called “The Intolerant Left: A conversation with the writers Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Jeffrey Goldberg about self-righteousness among progressives, the appeal of Donald Trump, and the entitlement that comes with being white in America.” In this, again, Adichie weaves feminism and the experience of being Black in different locations.
“Adichie: In America, I feel black with all of the rubbish that comes with it. So I became black in America.
“Adichie: In Nigeria, I wasn’t black. I didn’t think of myself as black. When I go back home now, when I go back to Nigeria now, I get off the plane in Lagos and I just don’t think of race. I get on the plane and arrive in Atlanta, and immediately I’m aware of race.”
So to sum up the week: I’m digging Adichie’s writing and the feminism she’s putting down, and I’m excited to read her 2017 essay, “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,” once I’m done with this book.
One of the highlights for me this week was this article highlighting that much of the talk of “work-life balance” is imbalance for women of color. Over the past several years, we’ve all heard a lot about women needing to “lean in”, as Sheryl Sandberg put it — and we’re also heard criticism of how it’s easy to lean in when you have a staff to lean on. Here, Kimberly Seals Allers covers the many facets of how work intersects with race for women of color, in an article that’s impressive not only for its important subject, but for the wide scope and nuance she covers in a relative economy of words. Lots to think about here.
More on the workplace tip, check out this article about the so-called “Black Ceiling” that is creating a dearth of Black women CEOs, and also this article on how recruiting practices keep women out of tech. The latter article doesn’t specifically address race, but there is a video linked at the bottom of the article featuring a number of women of color discussing their experiences as engineers in the tech industry. Erica Baker of Slack recounts a colleague asking what workplace diversity had to offer them, and her excellent reply: “There should be no one group who gets to say ‘what’s in it for me?’ in an industry that’s changing the world right now.”
I also enjoyed Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Decolonising the Mind, which discusses the role of language in colonialism and identity.
Finally, if you also find yourself still pondering the beautiful vision of Wakanda, also take a moment to read “The Nubian Body, African Aesthetics, and Cultural Imagination” by Janell Hobson, who discusses the way Black women’s bodies are presented not only in Black Panther, but in other forms of both modern and historical art imagery– and what that (slim, tall, dark) ideal means for women whose bodies do not conform to that particular ideal.
I hope to be back to reading DuBois this week, but right now my head has been stuck in the present!