Category Archives: Research

The Big Chop | Beneatha, 2019 Recap

In the penultimate episode of Black Enough’s first season, “Beneatha, 2019,” Amaya has finally worked up the courage to do what has been on her mind since she first concocted the idea of a Black Girl Magic Potion in episode 1: The Big Chop.

For those that are unfamiliar with the term, The Big Chop refers to the haircut one gets to go from relaxed hair to natural. The Big Chop comes in a variety of packages. Some folks transition for a few months (or a few years) before cutting off their relaxed ends; some make the decision and the hair is gone days, even hours later. Some people go into salons, and some do it themselves in the bathroom mirror.

The reactions to chopping one’s hair is equally varied. It stirs up feelings of joy, release, anxiety or shame– sometimes all of the above and more. As Watson has explored over the course of this season, there is a lot of value and significance tied up with Black hair. It was never just hair. And for some of us that eventually undergo the Big Chop, we do so because we realize that we have little or no memory of our hair in an unaltered state. Though it’s unclear from the narrative, one might assume that Amaya falls into this camp.

As she waits for her turn in the salon chair, Amaya pulls out Ntozake Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo to read while she waits. This choice is all too appropriate. Amaya is about to undergo one of the most important, most magical transformations of her life, and she holds in her hand a book about and made of magic. (Remember that first line: “Where there is a woman there is magic.”) Shange’s novel, like much of her writing, weaves together forms and stories to create Black women’s narratives so that we aren’t run into the ground under the weight of the narratives society tells about us. It pulls together pieces and bits to create something new, much like how Amaya has been quietly adding and crossing off ingredients to her Black Girl Magic Potion over the course of the season.

The salon becomes a cocoon, an incubator, for Amaya, as does the book. Both are spaces of retreat and refuge where one might turn inward, but also that of unbecoming in order to transform. When Amaya steps out of the salon, she is not, and cannot be, the same person she was before.

And that feeling of knowing that you can’t turn back is heavy. It’s mixed with things you didn’t even know you could feel. Amaya has to sit with the realization that she is different, the feeling of not immediately recognizing yourself when you look in the mirror– and dealing with why that is.

Anyone who has ever Big Chopped knows the struggle. It’s that awkwardness of trying to make your outward appearance match what’s going on in your head and in your heart. It’s that discomfort of stepping out what you knew and into the unknown. It’s the realization that you’re going to have to learn yourself all over again.

It’s all of that and more.

It was never just hair.

Further Reading

Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo by Ntozake Shange

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry

“My daughter is the reason I wear my hair curly,” Taylor Harris, Washington Post, Feb. 2017

Ravynn K. Stringfield is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at William & Mary. Her research focuses on Black women and girls as creators and protagonists of futuristic, fantastic and digital narratives in new media. She often likes to say she writes about Black girls flying. When she’s not researching, you can find her writing for her blog, Black Girl Does Grad School; learning new yoga poses; or bullet journaling.

Black Love Night | The Funk In Your Right Recap

Who was your first love? Episode 11 of Black Enough, “The Funk in Your Right,” takes up the question as Amaya and the crew attend BSU’s “Black Love Night.” The event features artistic expression around the theme of Black love. Judging by the expressions on several of the audience members faces, the first performer we’re introduced to (“Zora Assata Baraka X”– admit it, you giggled) is a little lackluster, so expectations are low.

But when Nora Obi (played by guest star Hanna Watson) takes the stage to perform a spoken word called “Second Love,” a whole new world, full of new relations and wonder, unfurls before viewers’ eyes. While many in the audience are enraptured by Nora’s words, Amaya begins to curl into herself, literally and figuratively, seemingly attempting to distance herself from the rush of emotions Nora is awakening for her. Ember and Jaheem are appreciative of the performance, but Dre takes the opportunity to steal glances at his ex, Hadiyah– even though his current girlfriend is using his shoulder as a pillow. And before the performance even begins, Tryston responds to an inquiry about Amaya from Dre (“That you?”) with, “Somethin’ like that.” The map of relationships between characters has gotten messy in a matter of minutes, all thanks to Nora’s mastery of wordsmithing.

The episode is bookended with interviews from both Kemi Layeni and Freda Assuah. Kemi discusses how her expectations of college and love were shaped by the popular show A Different World. And in truth, what Black college student who watched A Different World before or during college didn’t have unrealistic expectations about what the undergraduate experience would hold for them? (While ADW had a profound impact on my expectations of love, my parents meeting at ages 5 and 6 was the relationship that really shaped my ideas about love.)

This episode also calls back to a moment from over four years ago for me, from the first Black Monologues at the University of Virginia. The script included three Love Letters, written by Black women in the cast and crew, to their loves, one night stands, and to Black men at UVA at large. Four years ago, I remember watching friends perform Love Letter Number 1, which was written by my now dear friend, about her Black Love, and this September, I had the privilege to watch those two embark on a lifetime of adventures together in marriage.

Watson’s long standing interest in depictions of Black love do not stop at romantic love. They also involve friendships (“Celie’s Rites” and Canaan [2018]), love of Jesus (a thematic arc through all of Watson’s work), and love of self, as we see in the final interview of the episode with Freda Assuah. Assuah reminds us that coming to self-love is a process, a practice that is often learned and cultivated.

Black Enough does a beautiful job grappling with all of these different layers to love over the course of the season, and in this particular episode. What is striking is that all of these components are equally important, no one overshadowing the other, working together in harmony. It points to the multi-faceted and complex nature of us as Black folks, as humans, and allows for us to be and feel everything all at once with no fear.

 

Beautiful Quotes from “Second Love”:

  • “But in dust he saw soil/where he could he plant himself and grow his whole world”
  • “See the earth is heavy when you don’t look to heaven”
  • “Love who sees all of me and stays anyway”
  • “Will you beatbox to my heartbeat when you think of me because you know my rhythms?”
  • “Beloved, be loved by Him”

Further Reading:

Hanna Watson, The Poet

Love Jones (1997)

A Different World (1987-1993)

Feminista Jones’ sex and love column at Zora Mag, XOXO”

Ravynn K. Stringfield is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at William & Mary. Her research focuses on Black women and girls as creators and protagonists of futuristic, fantastic and digital narratives in new media. She often likes to say she writes about Black girls flying. When she’s not researching, you can find her writing for her blog, Black Girl Does Grad School; learning new yoga poses; or bullet journaling.

Soul Food | Black Magic Recap

“I’d be spirit. I’d transcend space and time and physicality. I’d be soul because nobody can capture that you know…”

This week’s episode of Black Enough, Black Magic,” explores one of the most essential sites of transcendence in Black culture: the kitchen. After the beginning of a poem that asks the question we work to investigate over the course of the episode, what is magic?, we enter Professor Rekia’s class. Rekia gives a rousing lecture on the place of food in the Black intellectual and cultural tradition, invoking the innovation and ingenuity our ancestors poured into their food, performing transfiguration on scraps and creating feasts. She ends class with an invitation to her students to create their own soul food meal for extra credit.

As Amaya prepares to make her dish back in her apartment, she encounters Lena, who, due to her frustrations with her school work in the engineering school, is about to break at the seams. She lashes out at Amaya, taking out her anger on her friend and Jaheem, who arrives mid-fight, and ends the conversation with the decision to take space from Amaya.

A little later, Jaheem and Amaya prepare their dishes in the kitchen, playfully engaging in some verbal sparring about greens that turns into a deeper conversation about what, and who, both of them want to be in the world. When confronted with the question of what would she like to be if she could be anything, she finally says aloud that she would be a dancer. It is no longer a hobby– her decision to put that energy into the universe marks her decision to walk in her purpose. Amaya volleys the question back to Jaheem, asking about his mixtape, and we see Jaheem falter.

Their soul searching moment ends as Ember and Hadiyah arrive with their contributions to the meal. The four of them connect and find joy in the food they have prepared, and we see the magic, feel it even, as we see that moment they share.

Woven into the story of this episode are interviews from myself and Kemi Layeni with our personal recipes for what we think of as a Black Girl Magic Potion. It speaks to the uniqueness of our magic that the contents of our respective potions are so different. Layeni focuses more on the feeling of the magic and the things that make her feel like magic– she adds her favorite foods, confidence, humor, loyalty to Black people, and a cup of grace. I mix together more physical objects and a sensation: sunflowers, gemstones, water, coconut oil, vanilla extract, a nameplate necklace, hoop earrings and the first few notes of a Lauryn Hill song.

This question of magic is an important one to Black culture. Its traces are in our literature and the residues live in our music. We can taste it in our food and feel it in our bodies. I often think of the talisman that Frederick Douglass has which protects him from being beaten and gives him the strength to fight off Covey. I think of Zora Neale Hurston and her interest in hoodoo. I think of Charles Chesnutt and The Conjure Woman And Other Tales. I think of Solomon the Flying African. I think of the way spirits move across our literature like in Sing, Unburied, Sing.

Our magic is as large as generations and also exists in the confines of one kitchen at Weston College. That they find it themselves and one another is a gift that they can share at the kitchen table.


Further Reading:

Michael Twitty, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South

Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men

Charles Chesnut, The Conjure Woman and Other Tales

Jessica Marie Johnson, “Fury and Joy: Feminism at the Kitchen Table