A 4 AM Conversation with Annie John
by Georgia G.P. Love
Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid may have been the dark rabbit hole that led me tumbling unconsciously into a world of black feminisms. At 13 years old when many of my classmates had decided it was “nasty” and “weird” because of its explorations of sexuality and intimacy between women, I remember devouring it and feeling an intuitional ease with Annie.
It was set in the Caribbean, the region where I grew up, and her persona and life mirrored mine with her melancholic disposition, stable family home and top tier education all with their lessons about womanhood and separation from inherited legacies. Here I am 22 years later engaged in my own feminist crisis of faith and I return to Annie as I move into a kind of dark night of the soul.
When Audre Lorde says “the erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women”, similarly blackness has been libeled and used against black women. Images of black as savage, unfeminine, undesirable and inadequate. From the vantage point of their blackness womanists/feminists astutely pointed out that feminism can’t be a single issue movement as long as we live multi issue lives. The organizers of the Black Feminisms Forum have deliberately pluralized feminisms because black women are night women who often push forward in several different ways with only the moonlight to guide our feet. Black women may never get their due for their contributions to feminism, because as Doreen St. Felix said in her article about Rihanna, to be a black woman and genius, is to be perpetually owed.
Black women help us unsettle binaries and position intersections in social and personal identities as an analytical cornerstone. From this cornerstone we can explore blackness in its breadth and variance in our feminisms. Black women quickly learned that light-less conditions often require patience, to allow our eyes to adjust so we can see. With our hidden secrets tucked in our darkest places to guard our erotic power, it’s our nimbleness in unchartered dark territories, where uncertain futures have been our only birthright and our willingness to engage places of unknowing which fuel our rage against racism and misogyny. We’ve dived into social and intellectual black holes in order “to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, [our] work becomes a conscious decision—a longed-for bed, which [we] enter gracefully and from which [we] rise up empowered.”
However, right now while I know I’m still a black feminist, do I feel empowered? I’m not sure. I don’t feel empowered in that triumphant sense, but I hope that my black feminism can be more than an endless chase for triumphs and fixing outward signs of ailments. Given the thankless drudgery of this work we must be allowed periods of sacred withdrawal from our camps of familiarity. It’s my hope that community can enable moments for us to sit with things we don’t want to look at because it’s what we may most need to see.
Like Annie I once enjoyed “special bath(s) in which the barks and flowers of many different trees, [melded] together with all sorts of oils, [as we sat]…in darkened room(s) with strange-smelling candle(s) burning away.” I welcomed those spaces of intimacy to share secrets with my Sisters of The Dark as I found faith within chapels of black women activists. But now I need space to acknowledge that my feminist faith is shaken, and as I search, I hope a Ma Chess (Annie’s grandmother) will find me and hold me in ways that help restore my trust and belief. More so than defeating an enemy, my black feminism must change me and help me navigate tenuous relationships. Audre Lorde said “the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us”. The oppressor’s wrongdoing is the oppression she inflicts, as well as her certitude and sense of entitlement. We are most in danger of stumbling when we think we know where we’re going.
For centuries black women have shared the generational secrets of using indigo and dyes to transform everyday white cotton into prized deep blue cloth. Most recently I experience my blackness and my black feminism as more indigo than achromatic absolute, stainy and unpredictable like purple dressing or gentian violet. Gentian violet, a rudimentary antiseptic dye used by many Caribbean people for cuts and infections that makes healing a very exposed process. Now I must heal the faith-rattling wounds we all experience when you’re vulnerable, and when you trust and are betrayed. Like Annie I have begun “to feel alternately too big and too small. First, I grew so big that I took up the whole street; then I grew so small that nobody could see me — not even if I cried out.” Just as Annie stood before an endless sea, facing “la noche oscura” she knew that at some point we all need freedom more than we need a home.
What kinds of painful/difficult questions have you grappled with inside your black feminism? How have you dealt with separation and estrangement within your feminist communities? Email Georgia Love at firstname.lastname@example.org ; Twitter @findmisslove
Read all the entries in our Black Feminisms Blog Carnival here