Black Women Writers as Dynamic Agents of Change: Empowering Women from Africa to America

Article excerpt

Abstract

Black women have a long history and tradition of activism that can be traced to pre-colonial Africa. Women of African descent who are writers have challenged the status quo in the cultural, political, and spiritual realms of their communities by using their craft to present women who defy traditional roles and resist strictures of oppression. Using a cross-cultural analysis, I will establish how the Senegalese writer, Mariama Ba (So Long a Letter); the African American writer, Alice Walker, (The Color Purple) and the Zimbabwean writer, J. Nozipo Maraire, (A Letter to My Daughter), all give voice to women who had long been silenced and devalued--women who, according to Zora Neale Hurston, have the status of a mule.

A principal question guides the paper's examination of activism and leadership: How can we use these rich, dynamic literary portraits and knowledge of Black women to model qualities necessary for activism and leadership to empower women to foster social change in contemporary African and African American communities, as well as in other communities ?

Introduction

Black women have a long history of activism that can be traced to pre-colonial Africa. Those women who are writers have challenged the status quo in the cultural, political, and spiritual realms of their communities by using their craft to present women who defy traditional roles and resist strictures of oppression. Using a cross-cultural analysis, I will establish how the Senegalese writer, Mariama Ba (So Long a Letter); the African American writer, Alice Walker, (The Color Purple) and the Zimbabwean writer, J. Nozipo Maraire, (Zenzele: A Letter to My Daughter), all give voice to women who had long been silenced and devalued--women who, according to Zora Neale Hurston, have the status of a mule. (1)

A principal question will guide the paper's examination of activism and leadership: How can we use these rich, dynamic literary portraits and knowledge of Black women to model qualities necessary for activism and leadership to empower women to foster social change in contemporary African and African American communities, as well as in other communities ?

A sense of community exists among African and African American writers: Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga says that the black American female writers offer more relevancy for her than does white Western feminism. (2) Generally, African women embrace African American women writers and vice versa: South African writer Bessie Head had established friendships with several African American writers, including Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, and Toni Morrison, all of whom admired her writing. Whether writers or from Africa or American, they have common interests and goals. According to Jayne Cortez, poet and president of Organization of Women Writers of Africa, "Black women writers from around the globe have been struggling against racism, exploitation, gender oppression, and other human rights violations." (3) She continues, "The psychological and physiological consequences of globalization have been a major part of the subject matter of the contemporary African writer. In relation to Africa and African culture, the international slave trade and colonialism forced significant contact with globalization in its early manifestations. What Black women writers want is to participate in global decisions concerning survival and the future of humanity. They need access to the progress of globalization." (4)

African women seem to embrace Walker's womanist tradition and have created fictional characters reflecting this tradition. However, in looking specifically at womanism as defined by Walker, some African women argue that Walker's concept of womanism applies mostly to African Americans, and does not adequately fit African women. According to Chikwenye Ogunyemi, African American womanism overlooks African peculiarities. Areas which are relevant for Africans but which Blacks in America cannot deal with include extreme poverty, in-law problems, older women oppressing younger women, women oppressing their co-wives, or men oppressing their wives. …