Toni Morrison & Sula
Aside from James Baldwin, few authors know how to weave an engaging tale quite like Toni Morison. Her ability to mold language into a living, breathing, true-to-life thing that damn-near leaps off the page has kept me in awe since I read The Bluest Eye back in high school. But it was Morrison’s novel Sula that really made me sit up and take notice.
Sula wasn’t afraid to be herself, and she for sure wasn’t concerned with what those in Bottom, her tiny town, thought of her. She did what she wanted, entertained whomever she wanted, and lived life on her own terms, no matter what others said behind her back. Although Sula’s life wasn’t easy and she made several questionable choices, she—like her last name—inadvertently brought peace to her community. Through Sula Morrison taught me that above all else, you should be yourself—even when those around you pressure you to change.
You couldn’t grow up in the ‘80s without being a Cosby Show devotee. While everyone obsessed about Denise’s fashion sense, Rudy’s cutesy charm, or Theo’s transformation from gangly teen to too-fine man, I was focused on Clair.
Clair Hanks-Huxtable was the epitome of fly and reminded me a lot of my mother—tough but loving, unbelievably beautiful, and seemingly able to hold down the home and the office with ease. Was she perfect? No. She struggled to take time for herself, sometimes let her temper get the better of her, and had an all-to-familiar obsession with Mexican food. But by watching Mrs. Huxtable balance her kids and work, flirt unashamedly with her man, and still look amazingly stylish I was reminded about just how versatile and multifaceted women can be.
There comes a time in the life of every hip-hop loving conscious woman when she begins to feel guilty for listening to music that rarely has her best interests in mind. Although I’m an avid hip-hop head (I love the ‘90s), I’m also a feminist and often times those two worlds clash in dramatic ways. Like singing your heart out to Ain’t No Fun at the homie’s house party, but daring any man to step to you sideways like he’d approach one of the women mentioned in the song. Loving hip-hop and being a woman is sometimes akin to being in an emotionally abusive relationship. You know you should leave, but sometimes he makes you feel soooooo good.
Enter Joan Morgan and her book When Chickenheads Comes Home to Roost which explored the very conflicts I debated in my head. Morgan’s tome articulated in print everything I had been thinking and made me realize that I wasn’t the only woman struggling to reconcile her love of hip-hop with her growing consciousness as woman. Moreover, Morgan’s brand of feminism distanced itself from the oft-too-white world of man hating and random bra burnings, and embraced a brand of self-love that understood that men were our allies, not our opponents. Through Morgan and Chickenheads I found the language and ability to think critically about the culture I loved and my place in the world.
Which women have taught you valuable lessons throughout the years?