Oppression will have you believing that you are the only one who experiences life the way you do. Oppression will have you feeling as if you are the only one who keeps making the same mistakes, the only one who feels held in place while the rest of the world passes you by. It will have you utterly convinced that you are the only one rejected, the only one paid less, the only one who struggles to keep all the balls in the air, the only one who battles depression, suicide ideation and anxiety on a daily basis.
This is because one of the results of oppression (by design) is isolation. When we are isolated, we cannot see ourselves or our story in anyone else. And if we cannot see our lives reflected in those of others, we begin to personalize what we feel instead of realizing the structural barriers limiting access to opportunity. This is why family and community are so important, because then we see ourselves reflected in the faces of others around us – then our story makes sense. This is also why reading texts from the vantage point of others who look like us and who share our experience as Black women is critical to our sense of self and wellbeing. When these texts are missing from the pulpit, from policy discussions, from the academy, once again, we feel we are by ourselves.
I remember when I began to feel less alone. When I read the Bluest Eye for the first time in my early thirties (yes, it took that long), I found resonance in Pecola’s desire to be accepted. When I read Chanequa Walker Barnes “Too Heavy a Yoke,” I found the language to articulate my experience as a Black woman who was a mother, a wife, working full time and burning the candle at two ends. When I read Dr. Joy DeGruy’s “Post Traumatic Slave Disorder,” I finally had textual evidence to describe how the objectification of Black women’s bodies and sexualities was rooted in slavery (which the Church as well as other institutions capitalizes on). Renita Weems “Battered Love,” helped me understand that the violence against women in the biblical text was outright abusive and not godly, even when couched in religious language. The first time I sat in a group of mostly Black women, sharing our experiences related to the Church, our childhood, our ancestry, and more, I felt fully seen and heard.
The Kinky Curly Theological Collective is a collective for this reason. It is not about the stories or experience of one black woman but many Black women, who by virtue of location, race, culture, and gender, will share many similar experiences. KCTC is about finding strength and commonality in each other stories, using them as a tool to build power and community.
KCTC is also about knowing that while Black and African women share similar experiences, there are also differences among us because we are different. We have different faith expressions, different sexual orientations, have different diasporic experiences based on whether or not our ancestors were enslaved and where they were enslaved. It is about knowing that even in the differences, there is something particular and unique about being a Black and African woman, a something that deserves to be protected, honored, and respected.
This is also our 2019 conference was all about. Our panel discussion Troubling the Binary: Black Women and Identity consisted of five Black Women who embody a myriad of identities featuring Leah Fulton, Nelima Sitati, Claudette Webster, Marjorie Grevious, and Sandjock Likinè. They are ascendants of Africans who were enslaved, recent immigrants to the Americas, and from the Caribbean. They practice a variety of faith traditions and adhere to different spiritual practices. They are queer and straight, partnered and single, mothers of natural children as well as mothers of community. Together, these women will take up the question of whether or not there is an essence to being a Black woman, or whether Black womanhood is a concept that can hold multiple ways of being.
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