Celebrating Black History Month – And Black Women’s Self Definition

Seattle/Black Feminist Library

For this Black History Month, we’re highlighting the voices of Black women, focusing on what they had to say about their lives — in their own words. While it’s important to hear the ways all Black people make up the realm of attributes that constitute this sacred month (and throughout the year), highlighting Self-Definition through autobiographies and other forms of cultural texts, where Black feminists write their own story is especially important, since it is rarely emphasized.

In her renowned work, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Patricia Hill Collins emphasizes that self-definition is important toward a larger effort that highlights our experiences, connects us and challenges structurally-imposed identities. Black women have been in unique and complex positions. There is not one of us who has escaped having too many others speak on our behalf, stereotype, study us, and place these narratives in many facets, to produce negative assumptions, and even resistive strategies, or otherwise. Resistance and celebrating Black feminists is important and welcome, but what these women had to say about their own lives must be examined. By understanding this, we can understand that part of what Hill Collins discusses is the important fact that there is strength in numbers.

In The Autobiography of Nina Simone, we read Simone discuss family and the many avenues regarding what created this musical legend. But it doesn’t stop at the music. Nina Simone is extremely candid about family, disappoints, failed relationships and many other trials as well as aspirations and these are all explained in detail in this text. bell hooks, in Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood, emphasizes the importance of Black women writing about their childhood as she does in this account of her years growing up. Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road tells us the story that is extremely reminiscent of Their Eyes Were Watching God, one of the more popular novels of the past decade. Finally, in Does Your Mama Know: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories, editor Lisa C. Moore has brought together a group of Black lesbians who share the revelation of their same-gender-loving relationships to others in their social circle, a narrative that can be told by none other than the women themselves.

Visit the library to explore these stories and many others, within autobiography, biomythography, participation in the Black Panther Party, church ministry, and more. These aren’t focuses on groups, and data collected in scientific studies. They are Black women — Black feminists, speaking, and reflecting directly on their own experiences.

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” — Audre Lorde


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