Category Archives: Projects

Spirituality, Dance and Magic | #BlackGirlMagicPotion Recap

This week’s episode of Black Enough, “#BlackGirlMagicPotion,” explored the relationship between dance, religion and/or spirituality, and magic. The magic of Black girlhood, we see in this episode, lies in your daydreams, in your deepest desires, in what your core essence is made of. And for Amaya, the expression of her very essence is dance.

This is made clear from the beginning of the episode, when a blaring alarm abruptly interrupts Amaya’s otherwise peaceful dream in which she dances alone in a studio. The interiority we see with Amaya is matched by a few shots of 16 mm film featuring a figure playing in substances that we might understand as physical manifestations of Black Girl Magic. The 16 mm scene provides an autobiographical, personal touch that is complemented by the vulnerability of the interview that overlays it.

The Amaya’s narrative then moves forward to her dorm room, where a conversation with Lena is put on pause by a knock on the door. Vaughn, the president of the BSU, and, Amaya’s BSU “Big Sis,” is there, encouraging Amaya to join the BSU. The scene cuts to a hilarious and cringe-worthy sequence of Amaya’s attempts at engaging in the representations of Blackness that she has seen throughout her life. She wriggles around her room, trying to milly rock, and trying out backwards baseball caps, before stumbling over saying “my nigga.” We feel her discomfort and our heart goes out to Amaya when she goes into evasive maneuvers to avoid the invitation.

But she does, in fact, have somewhere to be: church.

Although Amaya seems to understand, at least to some extent, that dancing constitutes the basis for her personal brand of magic, there is still some fracturing of identity that occurs. The religious part of her, the exterior, the diegetic narrative (or the narrative we follow in the storyworld of Black Enough), is depicted through the digital film. It is clear and bright, but we also know that there’s something deeper. This is when Amaya’s “spiritual practice,” her dancing, her rich inner life, begins to infiltrate the image of self that she puts forth to the world while she’s attending church.

She does what one is supposed to do to feel close to God: she goes to church, she prays, she reads her Bible. She’s religious in those moments, following a set of practices that inform her worship. However, when she’s dancing, she is more spiritual–it is the purest form of religiosity in some ways, more freeing. Her particular spirituality is an expression of her religious nature. This, dancing, is how she shows God she loves Him and how God is working through her. Dancing thus becomes a spiritual practice in that it is less about rules and guidelines and more about connectedness, more about feeling.

Circling back to Black Girl Magic and the potion Amaya is concocting on her mirror, I believe it is safe to say, though she likely does not include it on her list, that dancing is one of the ingredients in her potion. Part of the magic for some Black girls is this feeling of infiniteness when you know God loves you. As Elder Ntozake Shange once said, “I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.”

There’s a spirituality surrounding Black Girl Magic, which I love to think about because it further points to its uniqueness. Everyone’s brand of Black Girl Magic Potion is tailor made to their specifications and unified only by the fact that we all have a bottle, no matter how different the contents. Religion sometimes implies that rules and order regulates worship–spirituality can be the freedom of expression of what you believe, the freedom to dictate and design your own love, in the same way that you brew your own personal brand of Black Girl Magic Potion. So for Amaya, dancing is the purest expression of her spirituality, and by extension, her magic.


Further Reading:

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf, Ntozake Shange

Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo, Ntozake Shange

Jezebel Unhinged: Loosing the Black Female Body in Religion and Culture, Tamura Lomax

 

“Double Consciousness” Recap: “What Makes Up a Black Girl?”

“Stamped with a magic so spiritual that angels and colonizers alike wanna get like us.”

The long-awaited webseries, Black Enough, which premiered on Sunday, begins with a question: “What makes up a Black girl?” As the narrator lists the many things which she believes may make up a Black girl, we are treated to visual texture. The movement, the 16 mm film and the substance (which might be a tangible representation of Black Girl Magic) juxtaposed with the spoken poetry inform the viewer that this experience will require engagement and critical reflection.

After all, when was the last time you wondered what makes up a Black girl? For me, it’s a daily ritual, akin to a prayer, to daydream about the magic from which we are created. I find wonder in our quotidian experiences, like focusing on the details of the protagonist, Amaya’s (Tiffany Gordon), college dorm room, getting to know her, and learning her uniqueness. While she’s at peace in her own space, we begin to see her fractures: Amaya is unsure of herself around Lena, her friend from home; at least somewhat interested in making friends with her white roommate who has no home training; and searching for something.

When we see Amaya later in the episode watching a Brownskinned_Barbie (Brandi Jaray Mcleain) YouTube video, attempting to do her hair, viewers understand that she is reaching for this idea of Black Girl Perfection. There is a desire, however slight, to be like Brownskinned_Barbie– pretty, cool, and popular with 4a curls that act right after a single spritz of water. But more than that, Brownskinned_Barbie represents a crucial piece of Amaya’s identity struggle: her hair. Maybe Brownskinned_Barbie is not perfect, but she knows how to make her hair shiny, defined and moisturized– a Black Girl Superpower Trifecta I have yet to perfect. Amaya begins to connect her identity as a Black girl to the appearance of her hair, believing that her hair and her soul need to be in alignment. (For more Black women writing about hair as an extension of self and self-expression, see Tanisha C. Ford’s work, particularly the chapter “Jheri Curl” in Dressed in Dreams.)

Her self-doubt spirals even deeper as she sits in on the first Black Student Union, led by the seemingly perfect Vaughn (Branika Scott). Vaughn’s “welcome speech,” which details the history of the BSU at Weston and finishes with a poetic embrace of all her “brothers and sisters of the Diaspora,” unsettles Amaya. Only when Vaughn chuckles and says, “You’re already Black so you meet all the requirements, right?” does Amaya leave, feeling as though she did not meet the requirements.

The experience prompts her to create the recipe for a “Black Girl Magic Potion” on her mirror, as she tries to find the secret to a supposedly inherent alchemy we are said to possess. One of the last scenes of this episode is of Amaya circling “Go Natural” on her Potion/list, foreshadowing challenges to come.

Amaya’s story and the poetic narration are woven together with interviews with Black women and girls who reflect on their own experiences with our magic, including words from Hanna Watson, Stephanie Crumpton and myself. Altogether– the poetry both spoken and visual, the story, the interviews, the texture of the 16 mm film with the digital– creates a quilt of different pieces of art that are woven together to create a cohesive story, that wraps you in warmth. The warmth is the result of feeling seen and understood as beautiful. Black Enough leaves you feeling whole, and you, the viewer, want that for Amaya, too.


Further Reading:

Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion, Tanisha C. Ford

The Souls of Black Folks, W. E. B. Du Bois

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), Elaine Welteroth

Hair,” Elizabeth Acevedo

why you cannot touch my hair,” Eve Ewing


Feature image courtesy of Jeremy Rodney Hall

#KeioChronicles: Round Three

Summer weather is dwindling to a close and the semester has already started. But before I launch full swing into this semester’s work, I want to take a moment to reflect on my experiences with the Keio Cross-Cultural Collaboration, a two week long exchange program with students from Keio University in Japan.

2019 was my third year working with the program– I was a Course Instructor in both 2017 and 2018. This year, however, I decided I was more interested in the administrative side of the program. I take pride in my organizational and logistics skills, and after seeing the program from one side, I had been taking note of things I could potentially improve if given the opportunity.

So I applied for the Academic Director position, and after sweet-talking my friend into applying for the Assistant Director job, we were selected in early March. One of the biggest differences between between a Course Instructor and being on the Director team is that despite the students arriving in Virginia-in-August heat and humidity, Keio starts when it’s still cold outside. My new position required me to conduct interviews for the Course Instructor jobs, held by American Studies graduate students, and for the Peer Assistant ones, held by W&M undergrads. I alone was responsible for planning the Academic portion of the program, so I had to immediately begin reaching out to potential lecturers, making sure that we had a good trajectory and flow through the various facets of American culture that we would be introducing them to. By the time early summer rolled around, I had a full staff, an academic plan with lecturers on deck and a long list of other miscellaneous things which had to be taken care of before the students arrived on August 5.

Even with the five months of preparation time, the summer flew by and August 5th was staring me in the face. I hurried to prepare the blog on which the students would write their reflective journal entries, do roommate assignments for the hotels, update the handbook and syllabus, and get the students all the information they would need for the program well in advance. I was also prepping for our staff orientation the morning before the students’ arrival, making sure staff was set, while also generally panicking (as I tend to do. I’m a worrier).

On the day of the students’ arrival, I rode to DC on a charter bus along with a PA to meet the group at Dulles Airport and to escort them back to campus. We waited with dwindling enthusiasm as an hour passed after their scheduled arrival, then another, and another. Finally, three hours after they’d landed, the group finally made it through customs after being caught in a traffic jam of six other international flights landing at the same time. We made a quick pitstop for dinner before pulling into our hotel for the trip around 10 PM.

Naturally, everyone was jet lagged and exhausted when we started our program in earnest the next day. Our lectures were interesting and also challenging: Professor Kitamura did an introduction to cultural studies while Professor Knight did a history of Williamsburg; Professor Ely managed to distill 400 years of U.S. Race Relations into 45 minutes and Professor Johnson gave an interesting talk on megachurches for our U.S. religions day. Professor Losh did an excellent talk on digital feminism, followed by an impressive talk on pop culture by American Studies Ph.D. candidate Khanh Vo and ending with a lecture on U.S. social movements by Dr. Singh. Each lecture was followed by break out sessions called Dialogue Classes, where Grad Student CIs helped students through the more difficult aspects of the lectures in smaller group settings. The lecturers would visit each small group to answer questions and talk about their lecture more in depth.

Some days were supplemented with extracurricular activities such as visiting local churches on our religion day and talking a walk through Colonial Williamsburg following Professor Knight’s lecture. We also spent a morning visiting a local business, the Canon company!

Afternoons were typically spent in Swem library where the students could work on their group research presentations on topic of their choice. We had groups doing everything from a comparative look at transportation to elementary school in U.S. and Japan to the function of vending machines in the two countries. In our final full day in Williamsburg, the groups presented their final projects, which we recorded to send to Keio University, before we went off to Washington D.C.

In D.C., the students were much more on their own than they were in Williamsburg. Due to the difficulty of getting around via public transportation and/or cabs and ubers, we (and by “we” I mean the CIs) shuttled the students around the city in 12 passenger vans. But in DC, they were free to metro, take taxis and walk any and everywhere they wanted to go, so long as they met us for the required activities. As dialogue classes, groups visited the Smithsonian museums; we went on a group tour of the national mall and we visited the Japanese Embassy, where two selected students gave a presentation of what they had accomplished over the last two weeks.

Before I knew it, we were at the last night of the program, which included a Farewell Dinner and Talent show. It was filled with singing and dancing and merrriment, gift giving, tearful hugs and so many selfies. I was really proud of myself for having gotten through most of the goodbyes without crying, but the next morning, after everyone had hugged their new American friends and teachers for the last time, I boarded the bus taking them back to Dulles for a final headcount. When I had the right number of students, I took a deep sigh, smiled and waved at them. All of them waved back at the exact same time and I immediately started to cry.

As the bus rolled away from the hotel, I took a breath, realizing with pride that I had not only managed to get through another Keio, but that I had successfully planned and executed this whole thing.

**

I continue to do Keio because a part of me, the 16 year old part of me that learned about Japanese culture for the first time at High School Diplomats, never grew up. I never get over the joy of learning about a new culture, or seeing others experience a new culture. It reminds me that the world is so big and that I have a lot to see.

So, until next year, Keio.

Thanks for everything.