The necessary and timely brouhaha over Black Panther, the film has sparked in many of us the need to voice or continue to voice our sheer and earnest appreciation for the resilience, savvy, strength, richness, and absolute splendour of African women. Whether the term remains semantically debatable is not the point of this article, African here simply describes culturally inclined rather than morphologically identifiable women. Women who have and do see themselves as part of a vast and colourful – not colour-blind- spectrum that they are responsible for shaping and that has shaped them over centuries and centuries irrespective of the many imaginary and real boundaries erected to further distance them . But rather than only discuss the fierceness of our social posture, what has appealed to me most in watching and reflecting on this film is the intensity of the relationships we can and are committed to nurture as women. Whereas male strength in the West is often synonymous of individuality and a rather narrow definition of heroism, the strength and ability to not only combat but also induce significant change may actually lie in our numbers and in our constant rooting for solidarity. Yet, let us not simplify a far more complex and ever-changing reality.
As much as “black girl magic” and “sisterhood” have (also) become recurrent hashtags and trendy crutch words, they have both expanded and delineated the realm of our strength. The use of these terms has significantly shifted the common belief that we need to be guided by one but rather are geared at praising, celebrating, elevating each other and in more ways than one. Our social media-attuned selves have acknowledged and embraced the need to venture off from the route of competitiveness and rivalry that we had been told defined the very core of our complex relationships and instead to sail lovingly, might I add, towards unity and mutual dependency. It is true that the latter may in time be more beneficial and, if we are honest, less tiring but does that mean that in the era of magical sisterhood, we must always get along? What shall we do when we falter, deceive, disappoint or simply cannot and will not agree to disagree? Can a suite of messy sisterhoods ruin the integrity of the movement?
I ask because like many of us I have had time-tested, nurturing, soulful and genuinely constructive relationships with women whom I consider an extension of self as well as center pieces of the community I navigate in. By extension of self, I mean women who have amplified my/our voice and seriously embodied role models for a lifetime. By center pieces, I mean women without whom I would not evolve in certain spheres, or in what I call now deliberately chosen spaces. My crew of women, my posse, my “ride or dies” (although I find the expression a tad dramatic) and of course I, are beauty-filled, have brilliant minds and are ferociously moving forward. We strive to be better, act better, create better but we are human beings, copiously flawed and insanely ambiguous. We lead active and messy lives and can sometimes act accordingly. And although, we have become fanatic self-care activists, we often omit to actively include peacefully catering to our relationships in our self-care rituals. We test our patience, our principles, our beliefs; we ruthlessly invade each other’s spaces; our sole perception of people and situations becomes our faith and we do not always realise (fast enough) how hurtful and offensive our attitudes and words can be even when we are told (or reminded).
Recognising that sisterhood is an objective as much as it is or should be our daily ‘relationship status’ may mark the beginning of an affirmed reality.* But it also relieves us from the associated pressure of wanting to always do right by each other. I was very recently involved in a situation in which I had heavily relied on sister friendships to support one of the events and subsequent space I am in the process of manufacturing. And although the event confirmed and reinforced the existing (powerful) net of sisterhood and what it can actually yield both spiritually and tangibly, it also revealed intrinsic oppositions within our community… differences that can be attributed to a plurality of factors but mostly differences that at this time seem irreconcilable. And so I began wondering about the implications of acknowledging said differences in the midst of aiming at the nobler, and loftier goal of promoting and living in unity.
Unity does and will not mean the absence of conflict and dissension. Unity does and will not mean that genuine incompatibility in thoughts, words and/or actions cease to exist. Unity does and will not mean that perceptions are not one’s reality when in fact, speaking of our perceptions best illustrates what potentially separates us (and often more so than actual facts). Acknowledging our complex humanity and striving to form communities of minds and hearts are neither contradictory nor impossible. But it takes as much emotional energy and strength to build than it does to understand the limits of our constructed world(s). At this stage, I recognise that I can neither offer answers or guidance. I reflect on the many experiences I have had over the course of my personal journey and have begun to embrace all of my encounters with sisters: the great, the ugly, the long-lasting, the ephemeral, the authentic, the vain, the insane, the nurturing, the memorable. I take pride – and relief- in the simple yet sacred fact that I continue to forge sisterly bonds across time and space. Sometimes what it takes is to simply believe things can be and so they become. Asé.
“Ma sé” – “My sister” in Haitian (and Guadeloupean) Creole
*Video Link to Danai Gurira‘s 2018 ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood acceptance speech