In the art of black women and the writing of black women, God exists in herself – in nature – in the beauty of the world around. For Zora, God was in the storm; For Alice, the field of purple of flowers, the color purple, the relationships between women was where you found God; For Ntozake, God was within the woman herself. Even India.Arie says "So many different flowers, sunshine and rainshower,/So many different crystals and hills and volcanoes./That's how I know that God is real/(all of this is not by chance)"
I am a black woman artist, one that would not call herself religious, but certainly spiritual. And in that spirituality I am thankful everyday for the world that is around me. And so in my creation of this dance work where I am bringing specifically Zora's ideas to light, it is important to me to bring this perspective of God to light. It is an honoring and an homage to bring this perspective to light.
There was something about being a Black women at Barnard from the 1920s when they first started letting us in up through the 1960s and 1970s. Those women, they didn’t even want to return or recall the experience. They were absolutely reluctant to come back to Barnard and support the black girls there now until Frances - who in 2008 became the first black president of the alumnae association - said so.
How was my experience at Barnard different? I felt supported. My self discovery was supported by the black women around me, by the greater community of women around me and by black alumnae. What is more, my peers and I felt such a strong commitment to passing on our knowledge to younger classes of black women, to being big sisters to them, motherly like, friends, confidantes at their home away from home. We wanted to be for them, what we had been for each other.
Then here I am in Iowa. Maybe now I know a little bit how Zora and Ntozake felt? Never more aware of my blackness than I am now. Literally because the black folk are so few and far in between and my interaction with colored folk on a daily basis is minimal. And as Connie said, how fortuitous that literally the only bodies I have to work with to create this piece about the black woman's story are non black bodies (!) And with their commitment to the movement, to the experience, it drives home the point that the black woman's experience is the woman's experience. It is the human experience. It is universal.
I was always told that I had to work 3 times as hard because I was born with 2 strikes against me: being woman and being black. Nanny in Their Eyes Were Watching God says that "De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see" (14). In the 1920s when Zora was at Barnard and then through the 30s when all of her contemporaries were getting on her case, hating on her writing, not only because she was telling the truth, but also probably because she was a woman, that notion that she gave Nanny probably resonated through every fiber of her being.
And here we are in a day and age where our first black First Lady is setting trends for the world in how to keep a family and raise children; in the level of knowledge, authority and accomplishments one can (a woman can) make in the academic and work arenas; in spirituality and faith; even in fashion and style. Michelle Obama reminds me of my mother. And now my children will grow up in a world where the precedent is set that someone who is just like my mother, their mother, can be in any position of authority and power.
So I decided mother nature is a black woman, and so is the spirit of God. Maybe we used to be the mule of world. Maybe some folk wish we were the mule of the world. But we are so much greater than that. I hope my dance says that. Not in a generic, we are one-kumbaya kind of way. But in a real, upfront, in your face way.
My story is universal.