I suppose that I have always been a womanist. Even as a young teen, I was captivated by reading Maya Angelou’s, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” because these books acknowledge the desire and longing that is within me to celebrate the beauty of black womanhood. Unfortunately, when reading these stories, I could also relate to the struggles and difficulties experienced by the characters. During my early childhood, my family and I lived in a black working class urban community located in Birmingham, AL. Nevertheless, my entire educational experience came from attending predominately white and upper-class schools. These two worlds often collided, yet they both were instrumental in developing and shaping my thought process about what it means to be a black woman living in America during the 21st century.
The term womanist was originally coined by novelist and poet, Alice Walker (1983) in, "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose." It refers to a black feminist or one who unapologetically loves and appreciates black women's culture and the strength of other black women (Hamlet, 2000, p. 421). In its developing stages as a distinct discipline, during the second wave feminist movement, black feminists were responsible for identifying and acknowledging differences in their activism from those involved in mainstream women's protests. More specifically, womanist research centrally examines the intersections of race, class, and gender. Additionally, critical womanist scholars also address the suppressive nature of controlling images like Mammie, Jezebel, Sapphire, the tragic mulatto and so forth.
I believe that self-defining is the single most necessary facet of empowerment for women of color. Self-defining is also essential to progressing womanist thought. It is for these reasons that the scope of my research is typically qualitative and it also keeps within the rich tradition of Afrocentric analysis (which is to view African/African-American individuals as subjects, rather than as objects).
My dissertation focuses on self-definitive demonstrations enacted by former First Lady Michelle Obama, award-winning A-List actress Viola Davis, and pop-icon and superstar Beyoncé Knowles. By using an Afrocentric and critical rhetoric methodology, this project specifically addresses how intersections of race, class, and gender impact black women's identity formation. It also utilizes Perry's crooked room theoretical perspective to express the difficulty and complexity of self-defining. The intent of self-definition is not to replace negative stereotypes with more positive ones. Instead, it is about authenticating the lived experiences and interpretations of black womanhood from the vantage point of those who live in it. In addition to my academic interest, my work as an artist is to provide compelling visual presentations to accompany my scholarship. Ultimately, the goal is to shine a light on the efforts of black women who seek to uplift other black women. It is also to be critical of and to resist oppressive forces designed to suppress and deny equality for all people.
"Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender."
Ultimately, the goal is to shine a light on the efforts of black women who seek to uplift other black women.