One Step Back, Two Steps Forward: Black Girls’ Memory and (Re)Vision as Agency

Image of the Sankofa bird whose name in Twi translates to “Go back and get it” in English.

In my quest to deepen my understanding of the significance of Black girls’ memory, I am lingering over the notion of what it is to remember and its possibilities for creation and agency. I presently see it as a process of spiritual reconstitution of the mind, body, soul of self and community in the present for future and forward movement based on elements of the past. In her article, “Turning the Ships Around: A Case Study of (Re)Membering as Transnational Endarkened Feminist Inquiry and Praxis for Black Teachers,” Cynthia Dillard argued that (re)membering is an endarkened feminist praxis (Dillard 2016) and is important for Black teachers, researchers, and students to employ. For Dillard, an endarkened feminist epistemology (EFE) articulates an understanding of reality or truth grounded in the historical roots of global Black feminist thought, which is markedly different from that of mainstream and dominant cultural narratives and standpoints (Dillard 2016). The five parts to (re)membering, include: (re)searching, (re)visioning, (re)cognizing, (re)presenting, and (re)claiming (Dillard 2016:411). In her case study of university students traveling abroad from the United States to Ghana, Dillard sought to answer the following questions: 1) what happens when undergraduate and graduate students from the United States have encounters, dialogues, and interactions with African heritage knowledge, culture, and peoples in West Africa (Ghana)? 2) What does Ghana have to teach about African American education and personhood? (Dillard 2016:410-411). One of Dillard’s most significant conclusions is that for Black women, (re)membering can be a means of refuting white supremacist and patriarchal lies taught by dominant culture and education.

I feel hopeful about the potential efficacy of (re)membering for Black women and its potential uses. (Re)membering as a choice and internal process of connecting to and recreating Africa does not depend on external legislation, department meetings, town halls, or so-called allies. This is something that many Black women do intuitively, but there is power in naming and having a language to articulate the process of coming back to oneself and together with others of African descent. Jacqueline’s rebirth and internal liberation is tangible through Dillard’s storytelling.  

Black Girls Are Magic Image taken from Wikimedia Commons website.

(Re)membering and memory are epistemological and ontological. Through Dillard’s case study, I could see and feel the young American Black woman Jacqueline, who Dillard focused on, becoming or (re)coming the subjectivities of mother, auntie, and sister. Jacqueline was able to (re)vision/(re)member herself based on the how the Ghanaian people saw and named her along with her ability to accept, embrace, and take on those identities. According to Dillard, Jacqueline took up those identities during the study abroad experience and carried them forward afterward. Although Dillard and her students were able to physically travel overseas to the continent of Africa in order to (re)search and (re)member their cultural roots as members of the African diaspora, this endarkened feminist praxis does not require physical transit. Black women in the U.S. perform their identities in ways that mark and signal a (re)membering of Africa and other Black diasporic social locations that serve as homeplaces for them. These practices take place both offline and online. On social media spaces, Black women and girls (re)member and reconstitute community and kinship from across different geographic locations. Some examples of this include hashtags like #CarefreeBlackGirl, #BlackGirlMagic, and #DaughtersOf.

GirlTrek’s social media call to participation for Black History Bootcamp

The #DaughtersOf hashtag, started and circulated by co-founders of the international Black women’s organization GirlTrek, is perhaps the most recent and definitely one of the most salient movements and hashtags that encourage Black women and girls to (re)member who they are and who they are descended from. T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison used the hashtag to launch the Daughters Of campaign which they describe on their website as: “a multi-media campaign [that] will examine the immediate and critical importance of self-care and healing for Black women through the lens of their matrilineal traditions.”[1] This examination of Black women through their maternal ancestry, or as Alice Walker might say, their mother’s gardens, is a contemporary example of (re)membering as endarkened feminist inquiry and praxis that is desperately needed in these times in which our general sense of time and truth seem to be in constant flux.

Me on my first day walking as a part of GirlTrek’s Black History Bootcamp.

While I had been a participant in GirlTrek campaigns in the past, it was GirlTrek’s 21-day walking meditation, Black History Bootcamp, inspired by the Daughters Of campaign that allowed me to more fully (re)member the strength, courage, and wisdom (India Arie been knowing) that I come from and that I can call on to come through in these difficult times of anti-black antagonism and violence and the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the social, political, economic,  and educational implications it will have for Black people in the weeks, months, and years to come. Journalist and scholar Sherri Williams began to recount the incalculable and rising toll of these intersecting crises for Black America in The Crisis last week. When Black women’s ways of being and knowing are consciously connected to those who we are the daughters of, we are able to (re)vision the futures we want and deserve. Perhaps the greatest contribution of transnational endarkened feminist inquiry is (re)membering that we deserve when everything outside of us tries to convince us that we do not. It is time to (re)create from this space. As our futuristic foremother Octavia Butler once wrote: “So Be It! See To It!”

Dillard, Cynthia B. “Turning the Ships Around: A Case Study of (Re)Membering as Transnational Endarkened Feminist Inquiry and Praxis for Black Teachers.” Educational Studies 52.5 (2016): 406-23. Print.


[1] https://www.daughtersof.com/

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