About this Medium Publication
“It has been painful to me, in many ways, to recall the dreary years I passed in bondage. I would gladly forget them if I could. Yet the retrospection is not altogether without solace; for with those gloomy recollections come tender memories of my good old grandmother, like light, fleecy clouds floating over a dark and troubled sea.”
— Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs throws the reader into stark un-relief. Here is a story of enslavement and fugitivity; a continued scene of terror predicated on extracting black women’s unique labor, even while it refused the possibility black female sentience. A violence of the body and the psyche, slavery tried its might to render black women into flesh. Consequently, Jacobs paints a picture of a wide violence with few exits. Freedom, even when “achieved” through self-manumission is tenuous, ephemeral, shaky. Throughout this slave narrative, one of few psychic furloughs is family and kinship. Yes, Jacobs might be confined to a coffin-like garret for seven years, but from that incarceration is a peephole through which she watches her children grow.
In WGS/AAAS 136: Black Feminist Thought, we ask how black women’s lives and histories are consequential to meanings of freedom, belonging, and democracy. We do not turn away from the fact that violence against black women has been part and parcel of nation-making. For this knowledge project, as Morrison has written about literary canons, “everyone has skin in the game.”
This Medium Publication is evidence of that skin.
After a semester of engagement with black feminist theories, I asked my students to offer their own critical rendering by applying black feminist theories to a topic or question that is urgent for them. What is missing from the syllabus? Make it available to an audience bigger than the professor and her two (wonderful) TAs.
These students’ work ranges in terms of breadth and scope. Their posts are an attempt to extend their own critical offering to the field. This collection is an index of ongoing questions, topics, and theoretical queries that remain at our semester’s end.
As a class, we read Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl early in the semester and it framed our work over the next few months. Black women’s history is shaped by violence and captivity, yes. But tenderness, sweetness, and joy have a seat at the table too. Jacobs teaches us that we must reckon with the troubled sea while we tilt our heads upward — lest we miss the fleecy clouds.