Category Archives: Research

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

 

“Straight and Easy” | Celie’s Rites Recap

Celie’s Rites,” this week’s episode of Black Enough, grapples with beauty and depicts the creation of Black women’s community around hair. Implicit in the question that returns throughout the webseries, “what is Black enough?” is “what is beautiful enough?” 

Amaya goes to visit Ember for her appointment for braids, in spite of the catastrophe that was the Weston Crown Scholars’ Spades Night. Ember is kind and takes Amaya in, a move that is perhaps also metaphorical. The music, soft and emotive, helps viewers to understand that this space, Ember’s space, is an arena in which Amaya can be all of herself. Ember deepens this feeling by telling Amaya a little about her childhood understanding of her own hair as she braids. Amaya listens carefully, and inspired by the film the two are watching (which we are to understand is The Color Purple), she offers up her own childhood hair story. 

The two girls fall into an easy silence when Ember’s roommate Hadiyah bursts in. The girls enjoy each other’s company until Dre knocks at the door, looking for Ember. His appearance sparks a shouting match between Ember and Hadiyah, during which viewers realize that Dre is Hadiyah’s ex. Forced to answer the door and cover for Ember, who is supposed to be at a meeting, Hadiyah begins to let us in on a moment of vulnerability. She screams at Ember when she accuses Hadiyah of letting Dre run her life, pleading for her to understand that she is “trying to learn to love [herself] in private again.” 

The episode ends with the three girls creating a sister circle, sealed by the sacred ritual of doing one another’s hair. Ember continues braiding Amaya’s hair, while she helps Hadiyah with hers. They are quiet after realizing they’re each going through something: Ember appears to be on a weight loss journey, Amaya is searching for God in herself, and Hadiyah struggles to remember how to love. They are all exploring what beauty means, and specifically, what it means to Black women. 

The creation of the sister circle around tending to hair is a theme that appears in other works by Micah Ariel Watson, most notably, in her production for stage, Canaan (2018). In Canaan, protagonist Louie’s affections are split between church going, good girl Lisa and activist and revolutionary Camille which causes a rift between the two girls before they even have a chance to meet. After Camille leaves a protest that turned violent, she runs into Lisa, who extends an olive branch in the form of offering to help Camille with her hair. We understand that a sisterhood is forming in that moment, much in the same way we see it in this episode of Black Enough.

Watson is in a long tradition of Black women who are interested in the way community is formed around hair, and also in beauty shops. The beauty shop becomes a public sphere for Black women, in which they can gossip, talk politics and church business, in one of the few spaces that was often for them and them alone. It also is the site where familial bonds are forged. For many, visits to the salon with their mother, auntie, grandmother, sister or cousin, became time that they belonged only to each other and could honor that. I remember always having mother’s full attention on our Saturday morning drives to the salon, as I prattled about nothing and looked forward to the inevitable stop at Dairy Queen for dinner on our way back, as I tossed my long, shiny, relaxed hair just to watch it move. As much of a Daddy’s girl as I’ve always been, I could always count on a good long conversation with my mother as she sat me between her long legs and pulled my hair into whatever style she thought was cute on those days in between our Saturday adventures to the salon.

Though Ember characterizes having relaxed hair as “straight and easy,” there are always complications with even the most seemingly effortless styles. In this case, it comes with identity questions– is it really you if your face is half hidden behind a curtain of hair that was often was never meant to hang that way? Black girls explore our inner, and outer, worlds through our hair. 

What will Amaya discover?


Further Reading:

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Poetic Justice, directed by John Singleton

The Virtual Beauty Shop: Crafting a Digital Black Feminism in the Blogosphere, Catherine Knight Steele

Black Hair, Black Voice,” Ravynn K. Stringfield

Hair Story: Understanding the Roots of Black Hair in America, Ayana Bird & Lori Tharps

 

Black Excellence & Hip-Hop? | Talented Tenth Recap

Amaya tries out a new look in this week’s episode of Black Enough, “Talented Tenth.” In the last three episodes, viewers became accustomed to Amaya’s casual look, either clad in yellow shirts and dresses or decked out in her dancer gear. Lena picks at her for buying a whole new outfit to hang out with an old flame (?) in a new context, but in the end, Amaya arrives to play spades with the Weston Crown Scholars in a dashiki and earrings in the shape of the continent.

The Weston Crown Scholars are varying degrees of welcoming to Amaya. Once the game starts, the conversation turns to Barack Obama, the first Black president. The debate is lively, and revealing: Dre questions whether Obama did enough, Ember defends him and his policies, while Vaughn lands on the side believing his very presence in the White House was a political statement in and of itself. Dre accuses Vaughn of engaging in “respectability politics,” when she states that “Black Excellence” has to account for something. Eventually, they ask Amaya to weigh in and she carefully notes his introduction of ObamaCare. When the conversation spins out even further, she cites her Diaspora Studies class as the basis for her interpretation of Blackness as subjective– a move that causes Vaughn to lash out.

After Vaughn’s verbal dressing down, things move on smoothly…until Amaya reneges.

How many of y’all play spades? If you do, and even if you don’t, you probably know that reneging is one of the most telling signs you don’t know how to play. In Amaya’s case, the example is that she played a spade when she had a heart she could have played.

Yikes.

 

The Weston Crown Scholars are unforgiving, particularly Vaughn and, surprisingly, Tryston. What should have been just a game turned into yet another moment in which Amaya felt as if she did not belong.

She runs out crying, only to be discovered by Jaheem as he walks home from work. He consoles her with music: back to back, they listen to music in a shot that draws directly from the original cinematic love letter to hip-hop, Brown Sugar (2002).

In a beautiful moment, deepened by “Loveyou” by KAT ft. Deja, Jaheem reaches for Amaya and tells her, “You good.” And in that moment, in the space between beats, we believe Amaya is safe.

While it would be easy to attribute that safety to Jaheem, I want to complicate that notion and consider that it’s the music, hip-hop, that throws Amaya the life line. Amaya is a dancer– music is the backdrop of her entire life. Music is dance’s soul sister, so it follows that with this song Jaheem is able to speak Amaya’s language. For once, she’s not worried about being “enough” in any capacity. Instead, she’s whole.

This is what hip-hop can do for us.

 

Further Reading:

The Talented Tenth,” W. E. B. Du Bois (1903)

My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates (2017)

Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women, Brittney C. Cooper (2017)

Brown Sugar Is Still A Love Letter to the Golden Age of Hip-Hop,” Tari Ngangura (2018)