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Arms Akimbo: Africana Women in Contemporary Literature

By Janice Lee Liddell; Yakini Belinda Kemp | Go to book overview

3
A Woman's Art; A Woman's Craft
The Self in Ntozake Shange's Sassafras, Cypress, and Indigo

CAROL MARSH-LOCKETT

"If Black women don't say who they are, other people will and say it badly for them." ( Christian xii)

In the last lines of her choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange's characters declare the ultimate affirmation of their personhood: "i found god in myself / & i loved her / i loved her fiercely" (63). Such a potent utterance posits a viable solution to the problematic spiritual and psychological existence of African American women who have been forced to confront the vicissitudes of life in America and their particularly hostile implications for African American women from the seventeenth century to the present. Marginalized, therefore, by the triple hazard of gender, race, and class, the African American woman has continually been forced to define herself, to struggle against the stereotypes of mammy, matriarch, and jezebel to name herself and her place in society--indeed, the universe.

Ntozake Shange is one of several African American artists and intellectuals who have deconstructed the stereotypes. Confronting the inherent contradiction between the ideologies of womanhood and the devalued status of African American women, she has created works ultimately undergirded by a troubling and painful realization that in spite of the western patriarchal myth that women are supposed to be on a pedestal, African American women, left to the devices of larger society, are mistreated and assigned, as Zora Neale Hurston has written, the status of mules. She has, however, like the earliest of African American literary

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