She’s Gotta Have Some Black Feminist Thought

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon the amazingness of Spike Lee’s new She’s Gotta Have It remake on Netflix. I’m a bit ashamed as a Black New Yorker that I never saw Spike Lee’s 1986 original, but in my defense it was before my day and trust that I am going to watch it ASAP.

Episode 1 spoiler note: I haven’t finished the series yet and I hate spoilers, so I’m only focusing on sharing a few details from the first episode.

I was struck by the beautiful cinematography and photography in the opening, the gorgeous Black people, the art, the shots of NYC and the Black commentary on the reality of White gentrification in places like Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

A few things jumped out at me in the first episode that got my head buzzing about the Black female experience, Black Feminist thought and Black resistance in relation to some current movements. Early in the episode, there is a montage of men like this catcalling, which made me think of some of the ridiculous things men have called to me as I’ve walked the streets. The main character, Nola Darling, works to defy labels as she navigates the world as an artist and sexually liberated Black Woman. The episode ends with Nola having an encounter that pushes her to send a message against harassment with some strong art.  

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(peep the reference to the original in the last image. Image shots from She’s Gotta Have It 2017 Netflix)

The beautiful images and messages of resistance made me think a lot about a recent conversation that I had with one of my homegirls in the struggle. She is my Korean sister/wifey who has taught me so much about multi-partiality, resistance, and changing mindsets through sharing our stories and narratives. We were out one night talking about the beauty of resistance of women of color and the amazing resilience of women of color like Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement.

Inevitably, as we celebrated the badassness of people like Tarana, we were also forced to confront the contradictions and the hypocrisies we encounter as Women of Color in relation to some recent women’s movements. My friend shared the Atlantic article; The Glaring Blind Spot of the Me Too Movement,  with me and it took me back to many of the feelings I initially had with the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year.  The author, Gillian B White, discusses the double standard around sexual assault allegations – the ways women of Color are often dismissed and the recent controversy between biracial author Zinzi Clemmons and Girls creator Lena Dunham.  White also names that many discussions of the #MeToo movement, The Women’s March on Washington, and resistances such as #WomenBoycottTwitter have centered the experiences of affluent White women.

In my own experience, returning to my work office after the inauguration of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, I heard many women of Color who had attended the March recount horrible instances where they were disrespected, ignored, and even pushed by White women at the March, intended to be an act of collective female resistance. The image below is one that was pretty popular  and sums up so much on the subject of relations between Black and White women at the start of 2017. Clearly this picture represents just a fraction of the complicated relationships between Black and White women in general over the decades, but to me it shows just how in tune some Black women are with the contradictions of feminist movements and just how oblivious some White women seem.

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KEVIN BANATTE, @AFROCHUBB: Protester, Angela Peoples, at the Women’s March in Washington

Reflecting on these dynamics between Black and White women and the contradictions I feel like I’m navigating right now are  very relevant to my experiences as a Black female educator (thanks for the push, KB!). This 2016 Department of ED  report breaks down some of the statistics around racial diversity in public schools and in New York City, the vast majority of teachers in low income schools of color are White women (around 80%). Black women who teach Black students are inevitably dealing with the racism of White women every day in school settings. As an educator, coach, and someone who has navigated a variety of educational nonprofits in NYC, the stories I could tell you are mind blowing. When I was a teacher, I remember getting into a huge disagreement with a White female colleague who had an issue that I wouldn’t let her touch my hair whenever she wanted to. I know Black female teachers who frequently find themselves explaining Black culture and experiences of students to the White women they teach with. I’ve struggled in work with White female teachers who want to suspend or write up Black girls for showing “attitude” or “disrespect” in the classroom. I’ve had to constantly list off my credentials and cite my multiple degrees from Brown to get White female teachers to listen to me.

This article, Are White Female Teachers to Blame for Pushing Black Children Through the School-to-Prison Pipeline brings ups so many good points and questions about the impact White female teachers are having on the lives of our Black students. The author, Renegade, shares a quote from Monique Morris who writes, “Teachers often [perceive] Black girls as being ‘loud, defiant and precocious’ and that Black girls [are] more likely than their white or Latina peers to be reprimanded for being ‘unladylike.’” How are White women responsible for policing Black bodies in hallways and classrooms? How do White feminine standards of behavior and beauty impact the self-esteem of little Black girls? What kinds of things are White female teachers saying to Black girls who show up to school weighed down by their experiences of sexism and racism in the world? How are Black female teachers fundamentally not understanding the experiences of their Black female colleagues and Black female students?

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The fact is that Black female teachers and Black female students experience sexism in ways that White female teachers are completely unfamiliar with. Black female teachers are recruited to school settings and we are often praised for our perspectives in the interview process, but wholly unsupported when we begin to experience racism and sexism once the school year starts. We are often challenged, doubted, or questioned even if our test scores are high and our students are learning. Sometimes we experience pressure to tone down our ways of being or we’re called out for the way that we intimidate our White female colleagues.

I’m thinking back to the Women’s March and my conversation with my friend, and how the blow up of topics around “women’s issues,” sexual harassment, and feminist resistance caused me to feel negatively because of the unspoken elephant of White female racism within feminist movements.  The scenes of Nola plastering her art around Brooklyn in She’s Gotta Have It  reminded me of the legacy of Black female freedom fighters who fight against sexism and racism every day. I’m thinking of the Black women who fight street harassment daily, the Black female teacher speaking her truth in the classroom, the little Black girls who stand up and defend their hairstyles in class, and the great Black Female writers and intellectuals who have inspired me.

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 9.02.14 AM.pngTo navigate all my feels, I turned to one of my favorite texts, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. This book has taught me so much about Black female identity. With statements such as “BLACK FEMINISM is not white feminism in blackface” (p.60) and “the literatures of all women of Color recreate the textures of our lives, and many white women are heavily invested in ignoring the real differences,” (p.118) Audre Lorde blows minds with her frank and thoughtful reflections. One thing she shares in terms of creating holistic understandings of Black Feminist resistance is valuing and engaging with the work of Black Women. Though Audre Lorde focuses on reading Black literature and writing in particular, the scenes from She’s Gotta Have It ground me in the power of Black female art.

For all the educators out there trying to support Black girls in the classroom and Black female educators, it is crucial to also center the voices of Black women in educational spaces.  As Mama Audre writes, “Every Black woman in America has survived several lifetimes of hatred.” The hatred we have experienced sheds light on the ugliest forms of sexism and racism, but our continued resistance and our Black Girl Magic are a testament to our strength and the key roles we continue to play in all liberatory movements.

Listen to Black women and to Black girls and to women of Color.
Center our narratives, our experiences, our voices.
Watch She’s Gotta Have It.
Read Audre Lorde…and this Black Woman anthology…and Angela Davis… and Nayirrah Waheed.

Learn about the experiences of Black educators in the classroom.
Talk to Black women, listen to our stories, seek to understand.

Please share other dope sources of inspiration from Black Warrior Queens and Freedom Fighters and let’s all continue to learn and grow together.

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