Category Archives: writing

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.

“When we see water, we see death” | Wash Day, 1955 Recap

In lieu of a traditional blog post, this week’s episode of Black Enough, “Wash Day, 1955,” necessitated a break down. The spoken word poem, performed by Micah Ariel Watson herself, includes deep currents of history that bridge to the present and beyond. So in the spirit of weaving, I have annotated a piece of the spoken word, complete with links and as always, further reading:

When we see water, we see death.

400 years of life flashing before your eyes.

400 reasons to stay on the shore:

We are currently commemorating the 400 year anniversary of enslaved Africans being brought to America. As a graduate student living in Williamsburg, Virginia, I know the anniversary is heavy on everyone’s mind: from student work commemorating the occasion to the Association for the Study of Worldwide African Diasporas conference which was recently held in the city, we are actively looking for ways to pay proper tribute. One of the most compelling lectures I’ve heard about the difficulty acknowledging Black people in the Historical Triangle is Mark Summer’s, of Jamestown Rediscovery, talk, “The American Heartbreak.”

Reason number one too many bones dissolved into dust on the ocean floor

Reason number no one ever asked us to climb aboard–

They took is in droves too tragic to count into waters

In the “Further Reading” section of this post, I have listed several monographs, particularly those by Black women, whose histories of enslavement have been critical to my understanding of the Middle Passage and beyond. These readings include: Scenes of Subjection (Hartman), Saltwater Slavery (Smallwood), and The Price for Their Pound of Flesh (Berry).

Reason number $5.59 for a box of Dark and Lovely

I worked too hard for my respectability to get it wet

As Tanisha C. Ford discusses at length in the chapter, “Jheri Curl,” from her book Dressed in Dreams, hair has been used as a vehicle to communicate one’s politics, as well as communicate one’s identity.

Reason number twelve million stolen dreams

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?”

 

Langston Hughes, “Harlem”

Reason number 1619, the beginning of being drowned by the land of the free

Reason number 1896 brings us to reason number 2 separate but equal fountains that said my water was inferior

 

Watson calls back to the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, which established “separate but equal,” legalizing segregation. Despite the order to have equal facilities, Black facilities were poorer and lacked support from the government.

Plessy vs. 6 shots fired in Ferguson

Vs. “I don’t even let my son play with water guns.” for fear that it might kill him

This smart line references both the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 and the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old Black boy, whose crime was to be holding a water gun, later that very same year.

Reason number this ain’t old news

Reason number 1955

We found Emmett Till’s body in the Tallahatchie

Emmett Till was a 14 year old Chicagoan visiting family in Mississippi the summer of 1955 when he made the mistake of “offending” a white woman. Shortly thereafter, he was found horribly mutilated in the Tallahatchie River. His mother, Mamie Till, insisted on an open casket funeral so that the world could see what white men had done to her child.

So you can miss me with that Mississippi Wade In The Water

It’s already been troubled

The Negro spiritual, “Wade in the Water,” includes the line: “God’s gonna trouble the water.” I’ve included a link to an Alvin Ailey dance performance to the song because something about the movement and the song together pierces my soul, and I think it might be impactful for you.

So why on earth would we surround ourselves in something that we can’t even taste?

I mean if Flint was the only water you H2knew, wouldn’t you be afraid to drink, too?

Let alone immerse your whole body into a lead poisoned pool.

 

Flint, Michigan has been without clean water since April 2014 and has birthed the rise of young activists such as Mari Copeny, whose childhood was disrupted by water crisis.

When we see water, we see death.

*

Further Reading:

*The 1619 Project in the New York Times, August 2019

*American Heartbreak, Langston Hughes

*Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora, Stephanie E. Smallwood

*The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in Building a Nation, Daina Ramey Berry

*Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, Saidiya Hartman

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