A few weeks ago I attended Take Root 2015 in Norman, Oklahoma, a conference designed to address reproductive justice issues in “red” or Republican states. As part of the conference, attendees were able to go to a variety of workshops, some which included Reproductive Justice and Faith Communities, Native American Women Addressing Injustice, Pregnancy & Prison in Appalachia, and Trans* Health Matters. A workshop that I found to be particularly interesting was one about sharing stories. The women who organized and led the workshop had been working on a variety of projects that were all centered on transforming the culture of stigma around abortion and other stigmatized reproductive experiences through storytelling. They believed that if individuals shared their stories about their reproductive experiences, then this could not only help others who possess negative attitudes to obtain a better sense of understanding, but also lead to societal change. This change would include an elimination of the stigma surrounding a variety of reproductive experiences, especially abortion.
The workshop was quite intriguing and I left feeling empowered. I have always believed that the concept of storytelling was a powerful form of activism and the workshop affirmed why this work is necessary, especially for marginalized communities. Often times when people share stories, the media deem what is “worth” disseminating to the masses, and almost always communities of color are left out, particularly Black women. This is possibly due to a variety of factors, including the sexism and racism that is embedded in society and how historically, Black women were not encouraged to share their stories. However, I believe we could maximize on the current political and social climate in America and use this opportunity to elevate Black women’s stories under conditions that will allow Black women to feel empowered.
- In order for Black women to share their stories, they must have a platform to do so. Therefore, any barriers that would prevent Black women from securing a platform should be carefully evaluated. Though we live in a technological age, not all Black women have access to certain advancements such as the Internet. However, this should not deter any woman from the ability to share her story. Having a platform can include a woman reflecting on her experiences at a reading group, women’s ministry meeting, community discussion, at a park, grocery store, beauty shop, or in her own home. The Internet may be the most popular forum for individuals to share experiences due to the array of blogging websites, but it should not be the sole platform. When telling and sharing our stories, we should keep in mind how privilege exists in storytelling. Therefore, the goal is always to ensure that there are no hindrances to a woman who is seeking to share her experiences.
- Throughout history, men or White women have at times retold accounts of Black women’s stories. This is quite problematic. In storytelling, it is imperative that individuals are telling their OWN stories since it is their lived experiences. If Black women do not feel that they have the autonomy to tell their own stories, that their stories will be sifted through the lenses of those who do not necessarily share their experiences, then it could discourage them from sharing. Despite the shortcomings of history, in contemporary society, Black women should tell stories about Black women. We do not need others coming in and speaking on our behalf. We simply need the support to discuss our unique experience as being Black women in American society.
- Furthermore, Black women’s storytelling could not only transform dialogue but also allow for healing. Black women are one group of people who experience some of the most traumatic and stigmatized conditions with regard to our reproduction, ability to parent, sexual orientation, social class, behavior in school, and housing, to name a few. Black women sharing lived experiences with such issues can allow healing for ourselves and others. After sharing the letdowns, pains, and triumphs, we will be able to see the power in our stories in a society that has often discounted our narratives. Our storytelling is one strategy that will allow us to reclaim the humanity that has been stripped from us for too long.
With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter Movement and Black women being on the forefronts of this movement, our efforts and commitment are becoming more apparent. However, we know that Black women have always been leaders in movements for social justice, such as the Civil Rights Movement, but our work and experiences have often been overlooked. Even when there are discussions about how there is state sanctioned violence committed against Black bodies, Black women’s narratives are brushed over in the media though we constitute Black bodies. One goal of storytelling is to change the negative attitudes surrounding certain societal issues, and I believe that Black women sharing our own stories could aid in this change since so many aspects of a Black woman’s life is stigmatized. More open, community spaces should be available for Black women to discuss experiences with societal issues in order for us to work to change how we are repeatedly and intentionally overlooked by national initiatives designed to end social injustices. Black women’s storytelling is a tool for mobilization as Black women often have commonalities despite the fact that we all come from different walks of life. Telling and sharing Black women’s stories is critical in the intersectional movement that we are attempting to build and it gives us a chance to add personal perspectives in addressing the injustices that Black women have historically and presently experience.