Should a Black girl depend on popular music, social media, or television for her identity, she’ll undoubtedly conclude she’s ugly, “ghetto”, angry, intimidating, silly, or unworthy.
Literature, particularly the sort written by womanists, serves as a shield from such gossip, as a wellspring full of authentic stories, as a reminder that she in fact stands on the solid shoulders of Nobel Laureates, radical poets, anthropologists, and the like.
Good books call rightful attention to a Black girl's true foundations, and ensure that she is able to stand tall in her exact light.
Here are 13 reasons a Black girl must abandon the unloving media and run like the wind into the safe pages of a Black book.
1. Because in songs like RZA's "Domestic Violence" Black men and women address each other like this:
"You ain't shit, your daddy ain't shit
your brother ain't shit, your money ain't shit...
When I first met you, you was a ho.
I tried to reform you, bomb you, warn you, and teach you.
But I couldn't reach you, and you still a ho.
Your father said you was a ho.
And when you leave me, bitch you gonna be a ho."
But in novels like Toni Morrison's Sula Black men wouldn't dare:
"They had genuine conversations. He did not speak down to her or at her, nor content himself with puerile questions about her life or monologues of his own activities. Thinking she was possibly brilliant, like his mother, he seemed to expect brilliance from her, and she delivered."
And a Gwendolyn Brooks' poem just ain't having it:
"when you love a man, he
becomes more than a body.
His physical limbs expand,
and his outline recedes,
vanishes. He is rich and sweet
and right. He is part of the
world, the atmosphere, the
blue sky and the blue water."
2. Because while the memes peppering Facebook denigrate Black babies, even...
Audre Lorde is busy taking Black children seriously, honoring every bit of their growing selves:
"I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me
the boy I cannot live without
still sucks his thumb
how come my knees are
always so ashy
what if I die
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed"
3. Because social media's downright religious attacks on Black hair are not only obtuse but simplistic.
And bell hooks knows good and damn well better.
"Since the world we lived in was racially segregated, it was easy to overlook the relationship between white supremacy and our obsession with hair. Even though black women with straight hair were perceived to be more beautiful than those with thick, frizzy hair, it was not overtly related to a notion that white women were a more appealing female group or that their straight hair set a beauty standard black women were struggling to live out. While this was probably the ideological framework from which the process of straightening black women’s hair emerged, it was expanded so that it became a real space of black woman bonding through ritualized, shared experience. The beauty parlor was a space of consciousness raising, a space where black women shared life stories—hardship, trials, gossip; a place where one could be comforted and one’s spirit renewed. It was for some women a place of rest where one did not need to meet the demands of children or men. It was the one hour some folk would spend “off their feet,” a soothing, restful time of meditation and silence. These positive empowering implications of the ritual of hair pressing mediate, but do not change negative implications. They exist alongside all that is negative."
4. Because news' headlines give rapists this innocuous, almost tender language that would obviously better serve the Black women they harm.
But Ntozake Shange takes no prisoners, and paints things in a historically accurate light.
"White men roam these parts with evil in their blood, and every single thought they have about a colored woman is dangerous."
5. Because dysfunction is the norm for Black families in both reality and scripted television series.
But Katori Hall knows any Black family—broken or whole—fights tooth and nail (yes, even today) to escape prescribed ruin.
"We wouldn't never married though. Not in the white way. Massa wouldn't 'low it. I 'member he used to throw a lil' bit of cotton in my sack when we was in the fields. I couldn' never pick the 'mount I was suppose ta pick. "You slow gal!" he useta say. He knew he was a fast picker. Had a fast hand. Could play him some guitar, honey. They sold him off up river. I never saw him again after that. But I know he loved me, still love me. His guitar strang be shakin' in that bag on our marriage birthday. My second husband was a sweeeeeeeet muthafucka'!"
6. Because on Twitter Black women who are caught in the chains of abusive relationships are merely stupid and easily dismissed.
But Gayl Jones knows that to get free Black women have to first understand themselves.
"You thought you were a bad woman, so you went out and got you a bad man."
And Lucille Clifton knows the path to understanding can be some kinda rough.
"they will never understand never approve
of me loving at last where I would
throw it all off to be,
with you in your small room limbless
7. Because if you let Instagram tell it, Black women are either this or that.
But Paule Marshall reveres Black women's choices with the complete paragraphs they deserve, be the women sinners, be the women saints.
"The whores were there, perched like painted birds on the high stools, their paste jewels glinting rose in the rose light, and the men in their brutal innocence lurched around them and, for the price of a drink, laid bold hands on their ravaged bodies."
8. Because on the Internet, the Black body is sport, is fetish.
But Alice Walker takes folks to task and requires they check their own humanity before remarking on another's.
"I am an expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way…I can’t apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to… We will never have to be other than who we are in order to be successful…We realize that we are as ourselves unlimited and our experiences valid. It is for the rest of the world to recognize this, if they choose."
9. Because everybody on the World Wide Web has a vicious thing to say about how some Black women string together a sentence.
But Zora Neale Hurston thinks those same Black women spit small masterpieces, on a casual afternoon.
"Tea Cake, whut you doin’ back in de quarters when everybody else is still workin’?"
"Come tuh see ‘bout you. De boogerman liable tuh tote yuh off whilst Ah’m gone."
"Tain’t no boogerman got me tuh study ‘bout. Maybe you think Ah ain’t treatin’ yuh right and you watchin’ me."
"Naw, naw, Janie. Ah know better’n dat. But since you got dat in yo’ head, Ah’ll have tuh tell yuh de real truth, so yuh can know. Janie, Ah gits lonesome out dere all day ‘thout yuh. After dis, you betta come git uh job uh work out dere lak de rest uh de women—so Ah won’t be losin’ time comin’ home."
10. Because even Pinterest hates Black girl names.
But Black literature is sure they're magic.
Pecola, Baby, Preena, Sassafrass, Squeak, Pilate, Nettie, Shug, Odessa, Precious, Ursa, Hagar, Zahra, Sing, Sweet, Indigo, Candy Lady, Suggie, Cypress, Silla, Timmie, Sugar, May Jr., Sethe, Dottie, Beech, Bebe, Yana, Irmalin, Roddie, Prilly, Hen, Chaurisse, Sorren, Juanita, Allie, Tangie, Katina, Kiswana, Zami, Birdie, Toulou
11. Because if you depend on viral videos for your Black girl narrative, Black girls only relate through violence.
But Warsan Shire knows nobody, but nobody does friendship better.
12. Because in Cyberspace, Black girls run here and there begging, pleading, and cursing to be acknowledged.
But let me write it and ain't no begging, ain't no pleading.
"For sure, she was worth a gawk, A furious nod. Failed knees. Inelegant feet. Her granddaddy, Clarence Meeks, only spoke to tell the truth, and it was the rare occasion he let the words 'Timmie', 'grandbaby', or 'pretty' tumble ‘cross his tongue without an 'uncommonly' buttoned to them.
Structurally, God had done brilliant things with the woman, had been just fucking audacious. A nose big and strong enough to ruin another face claimed its space smack in the middle of hers, and with the widest, the widest composure. She had huge eyes buried behind two crops of climbing, frightening lashes. Her hair was a kingdom of naps. To see a pair of cartwheel earrings hung below that?"
13. Because a Google search'll have you believing Black women wouldn't know love if it bopped them on their nappy, Black heads.
But Sonia Sanchez says, chile please. Looka here...
In this cold cold, mean mean world, a growing Black girl needs judicious, vigilant, unwavering protection. She needs, as Toni Morrison says, "a chorus of mamas, grandmamas, aunts, cousins, sisters, neighbors, Sunday school teachers, best girl friends, and what all to give her the strength life demanded of her—and the humor with which to live it."
In essence, she needs a Black book.