I have often been lectured that I shouldn’t be concerned with what others think of me. And though I understand the sentiment and reasoning behind the statement, it has never quite settled in as making complete sense. I agree that I shouldn’t let others’ thoughts DEFINE me, but I should be concerned about what they think of me, particularly since those thoughts may be guided by problematic representations of Black women in history and media. Those guided thoughts can turn into actions that are guided against me, and I think it is important to acknowledge that reality. Acknowledging that reality led me to the need to embody and personify some of those more weaponized ideals as a form of autoethnographic catharsis and sharing.
It is hard to describe the peculiar sensation of entering a space and pondering exactly which of the established stereotypes you are battling against in someone else’s mind. Am I the strong and long suffering type who will be eternally self-sacrificing for the collective good? Am I the token exception to the rule type Black person that is often used as a weapon against their own community because I “prove” that “making it” is possible with enough hard work? Am I the wild siren bent on luring upstanding men into wickedness with my scantily clad, curvaceous form? Am I the fuming antagonizer who rowdily challenges everyone and everything? I fit none of these personas. But at moments, I am the fiercely strong woman who is willing to sacrifice…and the college educated Black voice in the room…and the 21st century woman who embraces her sexuality…and the passionate advocate with real emotions. I know these things about myself. I know what to call myself: a complicated woman. But what do they call me? What have they called me? What is the resulting struggle and implication? That is the idea that I wanted to explore with this multimedia autoethnography.
I pay homage to Nina Simone’s already iconic and thorough exploration of stereotypes by setting the project to the song “Four Women.” This version was performed by Kelly Price, Marsha Ambrosius, Jill Scott, and Ledisi at 2010 Black Girls Rock Awards.