By Rebecca Ann Wilcox,
“[For some,] the trajectory of womanist religious scholarship has left [them] in a house without enough furniture.” As a first-generation womanist, I accept [this] critique of “a house without enough furniture” as a fair and honest assessment…and now it is time for [them], to furnish the interior, to provide supportive objects that indicate a readiness for occupancy.” – (Katie Cannon’s response to “Must I Be a Womanist?”)
“Between the Earth and sky, though I heard my savior cry, you got a Home in A-Dat-Rock don’t you see?” (Jubilee Singers’ I Got a Home in a Dat Rock)
I have a confession, I am a millennial womanist. However, I am living in a liminal space and confounded by the cognitive dissonance of the unfurnished house built by womanist, and the unreachable home that the spiritual promises. The source of my anxiety is finding a way to reconcile the womanist theories that diagnose and deconstruct the systemic injustices black women face, and aligning them with a praxis that is not just reparative of Black woman’s suffering, but constructive. My angst notwithstanding, I found that the descriptive nature of womanist methodology was pure and true to how my grandmother, mother, sisters, and I navigated the many realities that forced us into sub-human conditions –homelessness, welfare, diabetes, frequent court visits, and literally fighting my way through school, to our present reality that has ebbs of thriving amidst survival. But the gag is, what many have been erroneously calling “Black Girl Magic” are actually the womanist tenants named and defined by womanist ethicist Stacey Floyd-Thomas –Radical Subjectivity, Traditional Communalism, Redemptive Self-Love, and Critical Engagement (Read it, Get your life!) . The reality is, if we have any hustle (hope) of seeing facets of freedom, it is going to come by way of womanish, queering, loving, black women that have been doing the magical work since the beginning of our struggle; from the bitter cup of sweat and tears, to a cold glass of Lemonade. So yes, as long as I navigate this universe that is unjust and unkind I will be amongst a community of womanist that name the problem, and do the work.
Womanism’s descriptive nature has prevented our ability to remain numb and blind to the continuity of race, class, gender, sexuality, and all other categorical nuances that form the people on the margins. The descriptions have provided an analysis of how black women can redefine, and reclaim our humanity through communal agency. What is clear to me, is that womanism is deliberate in constructing an alternative reality to suffering. But what remains unknown, at least to me, is not only how we can imagine our freedom, but live into our flourishing. Though the progenitors have constructed the building for womanism, and following generations are furnishing its rooms, how might we now forge real lived practices to make it a home? Perhaps that’s just it, the description of our experiences as victims of oppression have been so cemented with the essence of who we are, that it often seems that we can’t move beyond who we hope to be, once freed from these ontological realities. Therefore, the process of defining ourselves within a moral universe beyond the realms of race and gender is constrained by a redefined and reclaimed identity that was never our own. If we don’t home in on the real life applications of our methods, we’ll be stuck in a house that will never be our home. Be it from theory to practice, or one generation from another, we need to cultivate practices of the tenants to form our future selves with the tools we have now. After all, as Luther Vandross states “A room is not a house, and a house is not a home, when the two of us are far a part.”
Through identity politics, communities are formed through a shared experience of suffering. Although we know that black women are not monolithic, we also know that what contributes to black women’s communalism is the margins in which we all straddle. Therefore, as a millennial womanist I believe our work and our witness is to be the spirit of womanist hospitality that makes room not only for those who built it, but those who have yet to come. Not only in terms of present generations or progeny, but to our own future selves who are unborn or dying to be free. For womanism, like many other liberation discourses survival, though necessary, should only be penultimate. However, our ultimacy must be hewn in the rock of our freedom to flourish. And this makes my aforementioned confession, my proclaimed profession, and here and now….my womanist work.
Rebecca Ann Wilcox is a currently pursuing her Master of Theological Studies degree at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and an HBCU graduate of Clark Atlanta University. She currently serves as a community organizer, and research analyst at Vanderbilt’s Medical Center’s LGBTI Research Department. Wilcox has a special interest in the intersections of Public Policy and Ethics.
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