In Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” she illustrates the unappreciated talent of Black women and how throughout time this type of talent has become shared by Black women and only black women. The ability to create differently, because of adversity, is the talent Black woman possess. This talent is overlooked, at times even hijacked by non-Black women. Non-Black women are able to mimic the way Black women create and at times are even able to receive the credit for that creation, also known as a form of cultural appropriation. Walker provides context for Black women’s creativity that encompasses their hardships and shared experiences. This background allows us to understand the particular way that they create. Through generational trauma and pain, Black women have access to a shared unconsciousness that drives their creativity.
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The shared unconsciousness between Black women is a tactic of resilience, rooted from deep, generational pain. Walker illustrates Jean Toomer’s discovery about black women where he states “black women whose spirituality was so intense, so deep, so unconscious, that they were themselves unaware of the richness they held”(231). This resilience within black women is not always recognized or acknowledged by the world or by Black women, and Toomer addresses this as an issue in his piece. He conveys that “they stumbled blindly through their lives: creatures so abused and mutilated in body, so dimmed and confused by pain, they they considered themselves unworthy of even hope” (232). Walker frames this behavior as Black women “[moving] to music not yet written” (232). This is the notion that they are able to connect with the richness of the spirit they possess without necessarily recognizing it. Walker reveals this with Toomer’s words, stating that Black women are constantly forced to reserve a place in their unconscious mind for storing particular experiences and situations that are traumatic and painful. Years of ongoing sexual, mental and physical abuse causes this stifling of Black women minds but a blossoming of a creative spirit. This pain and trauma allows them to feel and think in ways that reinforce the abilities of this spirit.
Despite personal their personal pain and trauma, Black women must continue to provide for those around them, which ultimately fosters this creative energy as an outlet. Black women are put in a place where a state of self-preservation and protection is needed to survive. From being forced to neglect their own kids to fulfill a role as a caretaker for someone else’s children during the slavery era, to having to hold back emotions after their significant other has been shot by police in order to record and report the situation accurately. An example of that perseverance is Diamond Reynolds, partner of the late Philando Castile who was shot dead by police, despite his innocence. After being what Walker refers to as “‘the mule of the world,’ because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else-everyone else-refused to carry” (237). Their own mental and physical health is not only a factor to their stress, but they are the community’s backbone as well. From there, a feminine creative energy blooms, one that accesses a level of creativity no other is able to reach. This energy, this shared unconsciousness, derives from the generational trauma, where pain passes down through the years.
So much pain and trauma might seem to diminish and completely eliminate all means of creativity, but the transporting of resilience throughout generations does the exact opposite. The shared energy has become stronger and more creative throughout time, which does not diminish Black women and the experiences of those before, but instead suggests that the spirituality grows stronger as we go. Walker analyzes the art of Phillis Wheatley, an black poetess during the eighteenth century. She grew up during a time period where the enslaved were restricted from reading and writing. Phillis Wheatley grew up oppressed by white people, furthermore, white women, and her writings praised the lifestyle and beauty of other white women. She was criticized for these writings by other black women years later, accused of self-hatred and anti-blackness, but Walker thinks differently. She poses the question “how was the creativity of black women kept alive year after year and century after century, when for most of the years black people have been in America, it was punishable for a black person to read or write?” (234). For Phillis, writing was a form of resistance, she was an enslaved black woman, who was expected to be illiterate, not a famous poet. While she may have not been creating pieces about her melanin or being a nubian queen, she was still creating.
Walker aligns her text with the theme of resistance through framing the ways black women create spaces for themselves. Walker reaffirms this notion of constructing spaces by using Woolf’s writing to be inclusive of black women. Virginia Woolf was a white woman who wrote about feminine creativity in her book Room of One’s Own. Walker deliberately inserts the history and experiences of black women into selections of Woolf’s to embed their perspective into the framework of feminine creativity. Being forced to claim and create spaces together for themselves is another way they have shared this energy and unconsciousness. It might be hard to believe this energy exists if one does not identify or is not perceived as a black woman. It is something only black women can see and something only black women can share. It is not innate, nor is it directly spoken about, it is just known. One may know of her black girl magic as well as know of the misogynistic and racist beliefs placed upon Black women.
Black girl magic is a large way this shared unconsciousness is acknowledged. Challenging and reclaiming the way black women are seen and how they see themselves is how the term black girl magic was derived. It is the idea that our skin is not dirty but instead gold and bronze, directly from our unique pigment of melanin and that our hair is not unprofessional or unkept but actually defies gravity. Our creativity is now expressed through aesthetically pleasing visuals, most popularly visuals of Solange and Beyonce, and lyrics specifically speaking on the experiences of black women, reminding many that black hair is not to be touched by curious hands. Black girl magic has led to empowerment and furthered the theme of resistance. Black women are dominating other aspects of the entertainment industry with Issa Rae and Ava Duvernay creating content about either being an awkward black girl or educating many with a documentary on the prison industrial complex in the U.S.
Black women are constantly creating out of pain, but unfortunately not all are able to even create. Phillis Wheatley was fortunate enough to be able to create, unlike many other black women whose stories remain untold. She was able to do so the only way she knew, and Walker reaffirms her creative spirit by stating “it is not so much what you sang, as that you kept alive, in so many of our ancestors, the notion of song” (237). We know Phillis Wheatley’s shared spirit, because her spirit is within us, it is within our shared unconsciousness. Her pain is our pain. Our pain derives from hers. We are carrying the pain of her and other generations before us, and that is what drives our creativity. That’s why it is a black girl thing.
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