Critiquing the Plight of the Black Matriarch in Theatre and Film

Langston Hughes spoke of dreams deferred, the pain from unrealized yearnings and forsaken visions that combust within wounded hearts. He pondered the fate of these dreams; do they dry up like raisins in the sun or do they fester like sores that eventually run? Do they stink like rotten meat or crust over like the sugar on syrupy sweets? Perhaps they sag like heavy loads; perhaps they explode (Hughes). Who is to know where these rejected dreams go?  Likewise, the deferral of dreams is an underlying theme in Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life and the 2016 film adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences. Both films are interwoven with overt and underlying allusions to how Black femininity, race, and class interact for Black women in 1950s America. Though set in contrasting contexts, one in the urban and newly industrialized Pittsburgh and the other in glamorous Broadway-obsessed New York, Fences and Imitation of Life both utilize the medium of melodrama to depict the struggles of the Black matriarch and directly appeal to Black female spectatorship.

mrs. johnson pictured with her white-passing daughter, Sarah jane, in  imitation of life

mrs. johnson pictured with her white-passing daughter, Sarah jane, in imitation of life

The experiences of Rose - the wife, mother, and only Black female protagonist in Fences - simultaneously parallel and contrast with the plight of Mrs. Johnson, the Black matriarch and only Black-identifying female protagonist in Imitation of Life. Both women sacrifice their dreams of independence and a fulfilled livelihood to cater to the families in their care. Subsequently, viewers witness the demise of their agency and observe the forced employment of strength and resilience made to appear inexplicably tied to their Black womanhood.

One flaw of the Black matriarch, present in the narratives of both women, is a martyrdom inspired by Christian values. These Christian values are often an integral flaw of the matriarch because she, in efforts to emulate the selflessness of Jesus Christ, ultimately martyrs her own happiness and independence for endless compassion, sacrifice, and servitude to her loved ones. The lacking appreciation that she often receives makes these acts of kindness a flaw in most contexts because the love she exudes is unrequited and takes a large toll on her mental and emotional state of being when all is said and done. While Christian ideology does not take up significant space in Imitation of Life’s overarching thematic landscape, it plays a large role in Mrs. Johnson’s life. She is a member of various Black church communities, a fact that goes unnoticed by the people she sacrifices the most for, and she holds on to her pious faith until her last breath. This unwavering faith alludes to a component of the Christian faith: heavenly rewards promised to those who walk a path emulating Jesus’s own life. These promises propel Black matriarchs to continue their walk on earth with the faith that their heavenly Father will reward them when they enter the gates of Heaven. We see this walk of faith as Mrs. Johnson continues to love and forgive her daughter despite her transgressions.

Similarly, but in a more outright fashion, Fences integrates Christian ideology into its thematic makeup. This is done mostly through dreams recounted by Troy, the patriarch, and the imaginings of his mentally disabled brother Gabe. However, Rose displays an unwavering faith and constant walk of compassion and forgiveness. Though viewers only see Rose within the domestic confines of her home for the majority of the film, when we see her elsewhere it is enroute to a church event. One scene in particular shows her praying and being prayed over by female saints dressed in all white. These theological elements contribute to the depiction of Black matriarchs as endless martyrs, pious in nature and endlessly compassionate.

Fences and Imitation of Life both use melodramatic contexts to provide ideological critique centered on the plight of the “strong Black woman”. Mrs. Johnson’s characterization as a strong Black woman aligns closely with the mammy trope as derived from the slave figure trope described in Stuart Hall’s The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media. Like the devoted mammy trope described by Hall, Mrs. Johnson is “dependable [and] loving in a simple [and] childlike way” (Hall 21).  Mrs. Johnson’s stagnation comes as a result of her servitude to a white woman and the emotional toll of her daughter’s plight as a tragic mulatress. Mrs. Johnson is painted solely as a nurturer, whose womanhood is defined in opposition to the white woman prototype. Sirk’s portrayal of Mrs. Johnson aims to provide a racial social commentary and attack the “inferential racism” existent in societal norms (Hall 20).

rose pictured with her husband, troy, in  fences

rose pictured with her husband, troy, in fences

Meanwhile, August Wilson’s depiction of Rose offers the same ideological critique of the strong Black woman trope. he, instead, positions her solely in opposition to toxic Black masculinity and shows how that influences her role as both a mother and a wife in the traditional Black American family. This critique is more subtle, although enhanced by impassioned monologues, and often hides behind a larger critique of Troy and an overarching commentary on the realization of the American dream for Black Americans. Wilson’s commentary differs from Sirk’s pointed critique of race relations and primarily intertwines an assessment of socioeconomic status with that of misogynoir in the traditional Black family. Rose describes Troy’s persona as having been so big that she failed to ask for room for herself. Thus, Rose’s stagnation comes at the hand of her husband Troy, whose domineering masculinity overshadows her needs and wants, while gas-lighting her disapproval of his actions.

Comparable, as well, are both women’s appeals to Black female spectatorship. Mrs. Johnson and Rose respectively appeal to the varying Black female gazes discussed by bell hooks in “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators,” chapter 7 in her book, Black Looks: Race and Representation. Mrs. Johnson’s mammy-like demeanor inspires an oppositional gaze that disassociates Black female viewers from her servitude to a white woman. Such a trope resurrects a stereotype contested by post-liberation Black American women. Thus, these “black female spectators actively choose not to identify with [Mrs. Johnson] because such identification [is] disenabling” (hooks 122). Imitation of Life engages Black women by enabling them to “critically assess the cinema’s construction of white womanhood as object of the phallocentric gaze and choose not identify with either the victim or the perpetrator” (hooks 122). Rose engages Black women in a type of masochistic victimization in which “grown black women…identify with her frustrations and her woes” (hooks 120).

Overall, both women appeal to two dominant types of isolation Black women encounter: at the hands of white women in feminine discourse and at the hands of Black men in heterosexual relationships. Mrs. Johnson’s tragic relationship with her white-passing daughter addresses the pain that accompanies Black femininity and sexuality. Her daughter’s rejection of blackness in order to achieve Eurocentric desirability appeals to the isolation Black women face in a generally anti-black society. Rose’s narrative highlights the pain of combined attraction and rejection from Black men. Though Black characters surround Rose, she is the only woman we see in the film and maintains that physical isolation throughout. The other women are only present by way of name. Rose is sexually desired by Troy and does what she needs to do to be a loving and caring wife, but Troy selfishly cheats on Rose and betrays her loyalty. This appeal to Black women’s pain of rejection within their own communities, particularly by Black men in heterosexual relationships, and provides commentary on the complex nature of desirability in Black heterosexual relationships. Through her endurance and continued forgiveness, Rose appeals to the victimization and isolation often felt generationally by Black women who feel an onus to uphold Black family and serve as the pillar of strength despite the abuse they receive from their Black husbands.

dorothea lange “mother and child”, 1930

dorothea lange “mother and child”, 1930

What remains painfully true about both films is the manner with which they speak specifically to the realities of Black women only. Only Black women carry this particular burden of resilience and strength that has trailed their steps in the wake of colonization and slavery. Black women are made to feel that they owe it to Black men and their families to endure pain and embarrassment, just as they have seen their mothers, aunties, and grandmothers do. Imitation of Life speaks to the aspirational white femininity that many young Black girls, light and dark alike, secretly and overtly combat. The approximation of desirability and success to whiteness inspires consistent pain and public exclusion for Black women in particular. Both Fences and Imitation of Life depart from the widely accepted, but isolated, view of white men as the primary assailant and move to see victimization of Black women at the hands of white women and Black men. The commentary provided by Sirk and Wilson follow a tradition of defining Black womanhood by way of suffering and pain. Black women are arguably the most affected by both films because they leave the theater having received a portrait of themselves, a portrait that masks their cyclical oppression as an unstoppable resilience. Thus, in films like these, Black women are represented but their complexity erased.

Works Cited

Fences. Dir. Denzel Washington. Screenplay by August Wilson. Perf. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington. 2016. Film.

Hall, Stuart. "The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media." Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean McMahon Humez. N.p.: Sage, 1994. 18-22. Print.

Hooks, Bell. "The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators." Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End, 1992. 115-31. Print.

Hughes, Langston. "Harlem." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 1994. Web.

Imitation of Life. Dir. Douglas Sirk. Screenplay by Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott. 1959. Film.

Diversity in Media: Situating the Latinx Experience in Contemporary Television

In a media era undoubtedly characterized by visibility, discourse on representation has expanded from a sole focus on racial black-white binaries to include narratives of all people of color. Conversations about bias and prejudice in casting, and critique of ethnic tropes and tokenization in film and television are on going but not complete. Though such discourse challenges the universalism of whiteness as the default in popular culture, and broader society by extension, it does not halt monolithic depictions of varying ethnic groups. We see this in the contextualization of Latinx experiences in contemporary television. Existing in a space that does not lend itself entirely to either side of the white-black binary, Latinx media representation often falls victim to a visibility that negates any variance in the Latinx experience. This type of representation ultimately mistakes celebrated stereotypes as authenticity and stagnates opportunities for Latinx actors and actresses to break from that mold. Through an examination of Latina women in Modern Family, Cristela, and One Day at a Time, I will assess the construction of “Latinidad” in the contemporary sitcom and the role of iconicity and hybridity in reinforcing and challenging tropes. I focus on the Latina woman in order to highlight both the gendered and racialized signifiers that shape the representational politics of Latinx people in mainstream texts.

sofia vergara pictured with her  modern family  fictional family

sofia vergara pictured with her modern family fictional family

The concept “Latinidad”, as discussed in Guzmán and Valdivia’s “Latina Iconicity in u.s. popular culture”, is a formation of Latinx identity that circulates solely in United States’ popular culture and context. They assert “we live in an age when Latinidad, the state and process of being, becoming, and/or appearing Latina/o, is the “It” ethnicity and style in contemporary U.S. mainstream culture” (Guzmán and Valdivia 206). The result of this concept is a homogenization of the Latinx experiences and a removal of specificity when discussing the incredibly nuanced culture and people that comprise Latin America. Nonetheless, as Latinx populations rise across the United States, the “articulation [of Latinas] into commodity culture is an inescapable affirmation of [their] increasing centrality” to popular culture (Guzmán and Valdivia 205). There has been a recent onslaught of Latina female protagonists in various films and television shows. Latina women like Salma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara, Eva Mendes, and other noteworthy celebrities have become trailblazers for the visibility and inclusion of what Guzmán and Valdivia would call the “female ethnic subject” (206). Because ethnic women undergo a concurrent process of racialization and gendering, “the female ethnic subject is [consequently] othered through its categorization and marginalization in relation to dominant constructions of Whiteness and masculinity” (Guzmán and Valdivia 206). This placement outside the margins of socially palatable femininity and beauty results in a rendering of Latina women as overtly sexual, yet sassy and threatening. Such tropes create room for misleading iconicity and ignore the “symbolic resistance embodied in hybridized Latina bodies” (Guzmán and Valdivia 207).

The proximity of the U.S. to the Caribbean and Latin America has created a demographic shift in which Latinx populations comprise a large portion of the target audiences for television programming and other media advertisements. Thus, Latina women have generated an iconic position in United States’ culture. An icon is a single figure or image that serves as a stand in for a constellation of meanings. More often than not, it is a tokenization of identity. “Iconicity, as a form of representation, involves the transformation of meaning that arises through the interactive relationship between an image, the practices surrounding the production of that image, and the social context within which the image is produced and received by audiences” (Guzmán and Valdivia 209). The iconic Latina woman, in contemporary television, serves to resignify the meanings surrounding her particular image. However, this act of resignifying does not necessarily mean a departure from tropes, but instead a departure from the threat that comes from certain tropes.

one day at a time  cast

one day at a time cast

In Modern Family, Sofia Vergara plays Gloria, the beautiful and saucy Columbian wife of Jay, a wealthy and older white man. Gloria maintains her thick accent, stays true to her Columbian roots and encourages her son to do so as well. The character embodies two of the most enduring tropes surrounding the representation of Latina women in U.S. popular culture- tropicalism and the Latina spitfire. Tropicalism, as discussed by Guzmán and Valdivia, is a trope that paints Latina female sexuality and appearance as bright, vivacious, exotic, brown/olive, rhythmic, and alluring (211).  Gloria is the typical “spitfire female Latina characterized by red-colored lips, bright seductive clothing, curvaceous hips and breasts, long brunette hair, and extravagant jewelry” (Guzmán and Valdivia 211). Throughout the show Gloria’s body is repeatedly, though comically, hyper sexualized with the camera sometimes focusing on her breasts or butt as a punch line. Yet the resignification of her meaning occurs when we “read Vergara’s performance of Gloria as a recession-era contemporary Latina spitfire designed to allay the anxieties of white resentment” (Molina-Guzmán 67). The Latina spitfire archetype, also referred to as the female clown, serves as a humorous tool of intercultural translation between white patriarchal society and Latinx populations. “The ideological role of the spitfire archetype [is] to make foreign Latin America less threatening through humor while celebrating the potential for intercultural exchange and heterosexual romance” within a domesticated and Western framework (Molina-Guzmán 67).  Gloria’s commodification as a sexy nonthreatening Latina mother is resignified. Instead of being solely used for jest, the Gloria’s complex representation of Latina motherhood “provides a moment of ethnoracial visibility and [introduction] to a safe and romanticized image of ‘illegal immigrant motherhood’ that contrast with news images of Latina motherhood as social problem” (Molina-Guzmán 67). Vergara’s performance of the spitfire, combined with her own biography, “presents the potential for producing a transformative representation of Latina motherhood that destabilizes the…hostility toward immigrants and ethnoracial minorities…during the recession era” (Molina-Guzmán 67). While archetypes like tropicalism and the spitfire may work to berate Latina womanhood, they may be reappropriated, as is the case with Gloria’s character.

cristela  cast

cristela cast

A reliance on tropes in the media erase specificity and homogenize Latinx culture, while ignoring its rich and versatile history- one informed by European, Native, and African roots. Such erasure ignores the hybridity of the Latinx people; particularly in an American context where numerous Latinx families consist of new generations of Americans. “Hybridity as a theoretical concept is particularly significant for analyzing popular representations of ethnic populations whose histories of colonialism and imperialism have resulted in the continuing construction of…a third space” (Guzmán and Valdivia 213). This “third space”, so to speak, refers to the racial and ethnic fluidity of Latinx culture. In a way, the general ambiguity of Latinx people allows them to flow between white and black spaces in a way that calls into question the rigidity and legitimacy of the racial binary. Hybridity may also refer to fluidity between socioeconomic and ideological spaces. General media typically depicts traditional Latinx culture as archaic and only progressive when it allows for “Western” ideas, thus making it seem as if no common ground exists between the two. In One Day at a Time, the single Cuban mother is constantly at odds with her teenage daughter over tradition and its place in her life. In the series premiere, the two battle over whether or not the daughter should have a Quinceañera. Traditionally a coming of age celebration in which a young daughter steps into the realms of womanhood, the ceremony holds large weight in many Latinx communities. Yet, it is painted as a sexist tradition, while ignoring the similar Western tradition of debutante balls. In Cristela, a Latina woman aspiring to become a lawyer must balance her traditional background and gendered expectations with her career goals. Once again, a placement occurs in which Latinx culture is rendered a regressive force to be mitigated. Both women are seen as struggling to navigate the intersections and divides between Western expectations and their culture. However, this struggle is exaggerated, as it depicts the authentic Latinx experience as old school and lacking progressive ideology. we see Latina women navigate notions of hybridity and authenticity in various films and television shows. They tend to ultimately resort to a strategic essentialism in which they must deploy or adopt an essentialized depiction of their identity in order to gain social or economic advantage and mobility. The namesake protagonist of Cristela must do this in an uncomfortable interview with her White boss who makes racist jokes and expects Cristela to laugh along or risk not getting the job. The expectation for Latinx people to forsake their tradition, less it coincides with stereotypes that place Western culture higher ideologically, moves beyond the media and permeates society as well.

Media representation of Latina women has a long way to go before it may accurately portray Latinx culture as compelling and multidimensional. Moving beyond tropes is the first step, as television programs like Modern Family inspire discourse around the reappropriation of archetypes and what resignification of meanings can mean for Latinx livelihood in the United States. Society may continue to rely on racialized and gendered signifiers in its understanding of the Latinx experience, but perhaps television has the propensity to challenge that. A more zealous attempt to depict the hybridity and nuance in the Latinx experience is a task that may not see accomplishment overnight, but the conversation is open and that is a start.

• • •

Works Cited

Guzmán, Isabel Molina, and Angharad N. Valdivia. "Brain, Brow, and Booty: Latina Iconicity in U.S. Popular Culture." The Communication Review 7.2 (2004): 205-21. 

Molina-Guzmán, Isabel. "Latina Wisdom in 'Postrace' Recession Media." Gendering the Recession (2014): 59-80.

“Patriot Games.” Modern Family. ABC. 6 May 2015. Television.

“Pilot.” Cristela. ABC. CBS, Los Angeles. 10 October 2014. Television.

“This Is It.” One Day at a Time. Netflix. 6 January 2017. Television

Life in Drag: Examining the Gender Myth Through RuPaul’s Drag Race

RuPaul famously reminds her twitter followers that “you’re born naked and the rest is drag.” But, perhaps there is more truth than humor in her statement. Heteronormativity and societal gender roles create a strict binary along which men, women, and those who identify as neither, tip toe around from the time they begin to conceptualize gender at a young age. Societal definitions of masculinity and femininity naturalize gender and project it as a rigid component of one’s identity. However, philosophical and sociological theories render gender a social construct and position gender roles as socially conceived behavior. Judith Butler, in Gender Trouble, describes gender as “an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylized repetition of acts,” the effect of which is produced through one’s stylization of one’s body (Butler 179). RuPaul’s Drag Race reinforces the notion of gender as a construct through drag queens that give hyperbolic and exaggerated performances of femininity. The queens provide the ultimate gender performance to “enact and reveal the performativity of gender itself in a way that destabilizes the naturalized categories of identity and desire” (Butler 177). Thus, RuPaul’s Drag Race challenges the authenticity of gender as an absolute, fixed trait of one’s identity and portrays it as something to be imagined and performed.

Gender categorizations generally relate to the way one talks, dresses, walks, and so forth. Thus, RuPaul’s Drag Race uses drag to revolutionarily deconstruct such categories and dismiss gender normalties. In each challenge and task given to the contestants, the drag queens competing in the show must change and adapt to different contexts. Vital to their femininity is a malleability and fluidity that allows them to retract or project a different female character for each challenge. That fluidity is reinstated by the manner in which the queens separate their day-to-day personas from those they perform on stage. RuPaul uses interchangeable pronouns to regard the queens, often calling them “gentlemen” and “ladies” in the same breath. This linguistic characterization of the queens rejects any assertion that gender must remain a stagnant component of one’s identity. In episode eleven of season six, “Glitter Ball”, the competitors refer to each other using female pronouns like “she” and nouns like “girl” before they dress up as their drag characters. In referencing one another through a feminine lens, while outwardly dressed as men, the queens prove that the constraints of one’s gender association need not correlate with their perceived external gender performance. More so, they iterate the notion of gender as a fluid and changeable component of one’s identity, a component not integrated with one’s sexual anatomy or identity. Consequently, the concept of drag is often unpalatable to heteronormative audiences who conflate sexual anatomy with gender. Judith Butler addresses this when she explains the distinction between the performed gender and the anatomy of the performer as “three contingent dimensions of significant corporeality: anatomical sex, gender identity, and gender performance”(Butler 175).  She further explains the resulting dissonance between sex and performance, sex and gender, and gender and performance that arises when the anatomy of the performer is already distinct from the gender of the performance (Butler 175). So, when RuPaul dawns a wig but keeps her penis, she reveals “the distinctness of those aspects of gendered experience which are falsely naturalized as a unity through the regulatory fiction of heterosexual coherence” (Butler 175).

season 8 cast of  rupaul’s drag race

season 8 cast of rupaul’s drag race

In accordance with the notion of femininity as a performance and versatile aspect, and not the entirety, of one’s identity, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and drag culture in general, reinforces the difference between being a woman and being feminine and, in its own distinct manner, highlights the difference between embodiment and performance. Jordan Stein, in “You Better Work; or How to Tell Friends from Faux: On RuPaul’s Drag Race,” defines this difference as the idea that “regardless of the body with which one is born…one could enact the conventions of masculinity or femininity.” This idea rests the importance of gender on external actions and outward performances. Likewise, Judith Butler asserts that “gender…can never be fully internalized; the internal is a surface signification, and gender norms are finally phantasmic [and] impossible to embody” (Butler 179). The whole idea of such fluidity and, more so, choice in how one chooses to externally position one’s self on the gender spectrum is essential to the underlying framework of drag culture and the tasks and challenges presented in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

If, as Judith Butler posits, “cultural values emerge as the result of an inscription of the body, understood as a medium,” RuPaul’s drag queens utilize their bodies and manipulate them as their medium of choice to challenge societal mandates of femininity (Butler 166). The queens regularly add padding, makeup, and self-enhancements to perform a specific characterization of exaggerated womanhood. They redraw their eyebrows and accentuate their lips to achieve a particular state of femininity, one that they define on their own terms. What is interesting, however, is the variation in the stylization that they all ultimately employ. While Bob the Drag Queen from season eight may choose to employ a more minimalist look, Naomi from the same season chooses to portray a more glamorous persona. Even still, the identity they choose to portray is no less a part of them than their redrawn eyebrows. For, as Stein points out, many cisgendered women alter their appearances as well to achieve a certain portrayal of femininity. It seems that RuPaul, perhaps inadvertently, drew this parallel between the drag woman ‘s experience and that of cisgendered women when he tasked the queens with the challenge of emulating and portraying their mothers in episode eight of season eight.

Drag walks the fine line of embracement versus parody and does so in a way that reappropriates the stigma gay men often face in reaction to their performances of femininity. The queens are often tasked with overtop challenges that somewhat parallel to the task of performing a palatable depiction of the female narrative. More so, these acts are repeated weekly and seasonally, as goes the cyclical nature of reality television. RuPaul’s Drag Race’s cyclical nature projects gender as an act, a performance to be repeated and ritualized. “This repetition is at once a reenactment and re-experiencing of a set of meanings already socially established; and it is the…form of their legitimation” (Butler 178).


Another noteworthy component of RuPaul’s Drag Race is the visibility that comes with such repetition. The rigidity of societal gender roles may be likened to the panoptic surveillance described in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. The manner in which societal ideals of masculinity and femininity mentally imprison men and women mirrors the Panopticon, a symbol of the disciplinary society of surveillance, one that encages individuals through the trap of visibility. For, “in the context of prisoners…the strategy has been…to compel their bodies to signify the prohibitive law as their very essence, style, and necessity” (Butler 171). It is for this reason, trans men and trans women experience hate crimes at an alarming rate, and it is for this reason many countries outlaw homosexuality as a punishable offense. RuPaul’s Drag Race flips the script and challenges the repression, inferiority, and shame that comes with the dismissal of gender roles and channels that into outlandish performances filled with humor and passion, and most importantly choice. Each queen comes to the show with her own identity and while some rely more heavily on glamour, and some on comedy, all queens share the same push to reject external characterizations and exert their own definitions of themselves and who they are.

The impact of a show that does not focus so much on gender authenticity and reinforce the constraints that box both men women into a particular reality, is liberation. As Stein iterates, “to spare authenticity is not to avoid authentic liberation, authentic feminism, and authentic performances of women’s agency.” Drag performance allows vital room for a discourse of femininity, one that continuously strips away at societal conventions and mandates of what true womanhood is. The end goal of RuPaul’s Drag Race is not a mere model for aspirational femininity. In fact, we see this when season eight’s Derek is critiqued for forming his drag identity as an exact replication of Britney Spears. Drag culture is one that surpasses imitation and reality; it is a category of its own, fixated in the crevice of society that allows a freedom from norms and inflexible expectations. Drag “moves the conception of gender off the ground as a substantial model of identity to one that requires a conception of gender as [a] social temporality” (Butler 179). It is what Stein frames as a “performance of hyperbole, of attenuated glamour and dramatic display” that can be constructed to fit any way one wishes to frame one’s self. Ultimately, RuPaul’s drag race aims to promote self-love and self-acceptance that does not rely on societal prescriptions.

• • •

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York and London: Routledge, 1999. 162-91. Print.

Murray, Nick, dir. "Glitter Ball." RuPaul's Drag Race. Logo TV. 28 Apr. 2014. Television.

Murray, Nick, dir. "RuPaul's Book Ball." RuPaul's Drag Race. Logo TV. 25 Apr. 2016. Television.

Stein, Jordan A. "You Better Work; Or, How to Tell Friends from Faux: On "RuPaul's Drag Race"." Los Angeles Review of Books (n.d.): n. pag. 28 Jan. 2013. Web.


i always wanted to be an artist and as fate would have it 

i indulge each day in my artistry


i write

i speak

i breathe

you do the same 

are you not art?

a creation

limbs glued sounds conjured by 

a masterful being who with intention 

masters your existence 

into a light 

so powerful

one can only call it 


Odemi Pessupoetry, artComment
Musings on Mindfulness

What if you had the power to undo every mistake you have ever made? Every misstep, each time you created a reality that you ultimately would have preferred to never exist.

When I was young, I watched this movie starring Adam Sandler called Click. I vaguely remember the plot going as follows: man has issues in life; man gets magical remote to control life and rewind situations; man realizes that he is happier without the remote.

I haven’t thought about this movie in years and its recollection only popped into my mind as I began writing this piece. What is it about erasing mistakes that captivates us so? Although I am an advocate for the “no regrets” mantra, I still find myself thinking about situations in which I could take back something hurtful I said or instances , when viewed retrospectively, present a different course of action as the optimal choice.

I have been entranced lately by the idea of a digital detox, the idea of removing myself from the disparaging interconnectedness of constant availability and performance through the internet. I love nature, I love the feeling of laying in grass outside and just feeling nothing but the caress of the sun massaging away my worries as I close my eyes. At risk of sounding like a luddite, I must admit that I am extremely weary of the physiological tolls of constant technological connection. I find myself increasingly reminiscent of the 17 years I spent without a smartphone tethering my attention to a screen. Those years were filled with walks in the park with my mom and little sister and picnics that ended in feeding the ducks at the nearby pond. My childhood was spent in light- I was constantly illuminated by the artistry of the universe and the embrace of the loved ones around me. My time spent living in Manhattan has made me hyper aware of this deep connection I must feel to the Earth and its vitality in my happiness and well being. This realization led me down a virtual rabbit hole (aka Google search) of various retreats aimed at creating exactly what I need - peace. One retreat in particular was called the Digital-Detox, and it presents just that. When one embarks on the spiritual and physical journey of the retreat, mindfulness is placed at the forefront and your emails, mentions, tweets, and all else, are not.

When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
— Greater Good Magazine at UC Berkeley

I dove into the retreat’s website with an excitement, or perhaps desperation marked by my unhappiness in the concrete jungle. You can read the retreat’s mission below:

In an era of constant technological acceleration and innovation, an over abundance of screen time, information overload, tech-driven anxiety, social media everything, internet addiction, a constant sense of FOMO (fear of missing), selfies, and being endlessly tethered and always available,
– many have referred to us as the ultimate decelerator.

We help you slow down. We remind you to look up.

by disconnecting from our devices we reconnect with:

each other
our communities
and the world around us

…becoming more present, authentic, compassionate and understanding.

Given the space to unplug from the noisy world, we are able to reevaluate our path, take stock in life, strengthen our relationships, and move forward with a sense of purpose and belonging.



Naturally, I explored the remainder of the site and read more about what the retreat entails. While doing so, one facet caught my attention in particular. The Analog Art & Writing section described that component as follows:

Without the ability to “Command Z” undo, analog art gives participants the ability to create spontaneously; what we do can not be deleted or erased. We explore how writing or creating can impact your life (and your mind), and simply enjoy the nostalgia of hands-on-crafts as interesting way to bring out the child in you. Our Workshops are a fun and exciting way to make something that you can bring home to family and friends; from watercolor to print making, solar carving to sun art, or simple Modge Podge and personal friendship bracelets. Existential discussions about “undo” are sure to arise.

Consequently, my own internal discussion about “undo” arose. I began to ponder the importance of this word in my life. Did it have any? Was I inadvertently deterring my own self awareness and inner peace by being too risk adverse? I immediately thought of how long I withheld my photography from the world because, once released, such an act of sharing could not be erased. In fact, I have hidden other variations of my artistry at different stages in my life because I feared public reception, and ultimately the unpredictability of what that reception would be. It is that insidious notion of control, something we all seek in one way or another but can never attain in full. Luckily, my impulsive nature always bleeds through and I end up taking the risk because I begin exhausting myself with my own overthinking. But, most importantly, even when the outcome is not what I expect, I am happy that I have levitated my personal sense of freedom- if only incrementally.

When I hit a difficult patch a couple of months ago, my first instinct was to critically analyze my decision to move to New York City. But then I remembered how much planning, thinking, and dreaming went into this move. I thought back to my six months living and studying in Amsterdam. Sure, when I encountered trauma there it was instinctive for me to curse my decision and wish for an “undo” so I could have picked somewhere warmer, nicer, better. Yet, it is that same period of my life from which I continue to draw incredible amounts of inspiration and resilience. Even if I had studied abroad elsewhere, the great perhaps of life would still have remained so- a perhaps, an unknown terrain upon which my steps could not be erased but instead redirected. Contrary to what social media would lead us to believe, there is truly beauty in the notion of an inerasable existence. Our choices, our decisions, our actions are all the creation of a living archive, one commemorating our individual steps towards self-actualization.


How many facets of our life do we hit pause on because we are scared that our control will immediately dissipate once an outcome happens that cannot be undone? How often do we hold our tongues, shift our perspectives, ignore opportunities for growth due to an inexplainable fear of a “permanent” unknown?

This fear of the unknown, this reliance on a fabricated sense of safety - one that propagates from the onslaught of delete and cancellation avenues in our virtual realties- is a hinderance.

Art pauses when creation stalls.

Charge yourself to create. Tell yourself to leap forward.

remain intentional in what you choose to manifest.

You will be surprised by how little you wish to erase.


the power of she

a steady drum

beat upon beat

hit, yet alive

pushing to thrive


be alive

we are oprah, , we are michelle obama, we are beyonce, we are shonda rhymes, we are lupita nyong’o

we are her excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, we are Winnie Mandela, we are Buchi Emecheta, we are Ama Ata Aidoo

We are the revolutionaries of our time

We, black women,





support and steady

breaking yet standing

building and growing 

transcending time space and power

to be

we are the futures we sew so faithfully into

vested in us, worlds of hope

imaginings to be


photography by Justin Ragolia

Cancel Culture: How It's Hurting Society

Cancel culture.

You should google it.

Sounds kind of scary right?

Imagine living in a world where paths to redemption and forgiveness were thwarted by one single hashtag. Cancel culture is the somewhat recent phenomenon that is said to have originated on Black Twitter. It is the act of "cancelling" or no longer morally, financially, and/or digitally supporting people—usually celebrities—events, art works such as songs, films or TV shows, or things that many have deemed unacceptable or problematic.

What does this mean and why does it matter?

Well, with the influx of social media and the information age,it is increasingly easier to disengage with people and ideas that we think are not worthy of our time. Tired of hearing about deportations along the border? Just unfollow that one friend who tweets too many political article links. Drained by your high school friend’s obsession with Kanye West? Nothing a quick unfriend can’t fix. Right?

Society has catapulted into a new, and somewhat insidious realm, in which people can passively avoid much needed discussions with pretty much everyone. The effects of this method of communication, or lack thereof, manifest in deeply rooted behavioral trends that warp general mentalities of trust, control, and respect in various types of relationships (i.e professional, personal). Cancel culture is just a more grandiose and public excuse used to ignore the core causes of our discomfort. And the worst part is that, despite its popularity, it has proven to be ineffective!

Taylor Swift, Kanye West, The Grammys, R. Kelly. Afropunk.

These are just a few examples of celebrities and high-profile events that have been “cancelled” but still maintain stable, if not increased, dominance in pop-culture as a result of their public shamings. When you publicly cancel a person and hold an internet party celebrating their dismissal from all things good, you inadvertently give attention to that individual instead of the underlying cause of their ‘unacceptable’ behavior. Cancellations of Taylor Swift for problematic music videos overshadowed the opportunity to have discourse on cultural appropriation and white femininity in the music industry. The public shaming of Kanye West after his slavery comment blunder deterred fruitful discussions on mental illness in the Black community and the psychological effects of racist legacies in America. furthermore, it overshadowed his subsequent explanations and apologies. now, Raise your hand if you watched the Grammys.


I rest my case. It is nearly impossible to just go ghost on issues that permeate societal functions on a daily basis.

Essentially, cancel culture is myth of active moral authority that many latch onto to feel a sense of control and “rightness” in varying situations without seeking true accountability. When we cancel celebrities, it can seem like something entirely different from invalidating our friends and loved ones who have made mistakes. But soon, these virtual illusions of cancellation and dismissal transcend into the real world and inhibit healthy communication with those who have caused offense or hurt in our lives. This can manifest in quickly dissolved connections, an inability to converse with people who do not agree with you, and a decrease in empathy and other permutations of emotional intelligence.

This is not a call to lovingly accept abusive behavior, racists, and all the evils of the world. You still have to protect your energy. But that protection of your vibes and thoughts also means directly working towards solutions and interrogating the “why” of the matters you care about. Imagine how much positive change we could bring to our ever-evolving world if we invested our energy in dismantling the systems and rewriting the beliefs that have stagnated our collective progress instead of casting stones on people who are just as human, and prone to mistakes, as we all are.

Worried cancel culture may be impacting your interpersonal communication? Don’t be! That just means that you have taken this opportunity to self-reflect and interrogate your behaviors, beliefs, and actions.

And that is absolutely beautiful.


Life is about growth and taking active steps to be the best possible version of yourself. We are all worthy of learning new ways to do that.

Here are some practices you can incorporate into your daily communication to forge healthier relationships and have more meaningful conversations about the issues that matter most to you.

1. trust intent, name/own impact

Trust that people mean well, but still communicate the negative impact of their words or actions if they have affected you. This means you are letting go of preemptive conclusions you may have  conjured in your head after an incident. Instead, you are trusting that, when you bring up your hurt feelings in a healthy way and say what you mean, the other person is doing so as well. On the other side of the coin, if you have caused hurt or offense with your words and/or actions, you have a responsibility as well. It is your responsibility to listen to the effects you have had on others, express your intentions if they were different from the outcome, own the negative impact you had (no gaslighting allowed), and map out ways to better in the future. You have to trust that the people holding you accountable in your life are doing so because they love you and are active supporters of your growth & development into the best version of yourself :)

2. listen to learn, not just to respond

Listening to learn means practicing active listening. That means you are engaged and concentrated on what the other person is saying. Active listening is the opposite of passively hearing someone. It means that you are present and involved in the conversation, not internally focused on  crafting your response in your head. You will actually be better equipped to process what the other person is saying and, thus, have an informed response in the end.

3. make your criticism constructive not personal

I look at this as tackling the idea, the ideology, not the person. Before you offer a critique in any situation, pause. Then ask yourself, am I saying this because I want to solve a problem or because I want to tear someone/something down? Be intentional & mindful  in your critiques so that you can encourage progress not stagnation.

• • •

If this topic sparked your interest, check out The Vanguard’s cancel culture episode. The Vanguard is a podcast in which my co-host, Chukwudi Nwamba, and I explore topics within the realm of culture, education, entrepreneurship, and policy as they pertain to Black communities around the world. You can follow The Vanguard on instagram to stay up to date on new episodes and upcoming projects!

Intersectional Literary Resistance: Exploring the Contemporary Prose of Afro-Lusophone Female Writers • pt 3

Part 3


I focus on the literary production of Afro-Lusophone women because they to often exist in an abject reality, excluded from the benefits allotted to men under the patriarchal institutions propagated by many post-independence movements. Gender inequality is one of the many pervasive legacies of colonialism. European colonial projects operated in accordance with their own patriarchal ideologies, sourly disrupting the matriarchal frameworks of the African communities they conquered and transferring this violent erasure to the Afro-diasporic communities they forcefully created. Consequently, Black women writers in postcolonial societies must reconcile these abject existences with their own formations of home, belonging, identity, and freedom. Carole Boyce Davies, a Caribbean-American author, scholar, and current Professor of Africana Studies and English at Cornell University, points to the manner with which Black women address these issues in their writing:

The autobiographical subjectivity of Black women is one of the ways in which speech is articulated and geography redefined. Home is often portrayed as a place of alienation and displacement in autobiographical writing…Thus, the complicated notion of home mirrors the problematizing of community/ nation/ identity that one finds in Black women’s writing from a variety of communities… home is often a place of exile for the woman, as are, sometimes community and nation.

bearing in mind the limitations of attempting to assess the entire Afro-Lusophone postcolonial polity in its geographical reaches from the African continent to South America, I focus on the literary resistance employed by Afro-Brazilian women. Furthermore, I use the terms Afro-Lusophone, of African descent, Black, and Afro-Brazilian as interchangeable qualifiers. I highlight the prose of Afro-Lusophone women in Brazil  because there is much to learn from reading and studying the works of Latin American women writers of African descent. Faced with the legacies of slavery, racism, and sexism in their countries, they must also deal with specific cultural and historical factors that include the socioeconomic effects of dictatorship, modernization, and the legacies of forced population whitening, a phenomena apparent in Brazil’s praise of exceptionalized miscegenation. Brazil presents a uniquely complex postcolonial predicament from which its Black women may utilize literature as a forum for addressing their sociopolitical concerns, positionality, and leverage in society. It can be, at times, challenging to draw a comprehensive understanding of the role Black women play within Brazil’s Black movement and feminist movement because the social subalternity of the Black woman is deeper than that of her male counterparts and Brazilian society relegates Black women to a lower social and economic position. Inadvertently mirroring the patriarchal oppression embodied by European colonial projects, the sexist character of Black movements in Brazil has frequently ostracized women’s political leadership.


Facing racism and elitism from white feminists, Afro-Brazilian women are tasked with creating a movement that encompasses an intersectional vantage point from which they can construct a Black female identity rooted in the interrelations of race, class and gender. This construction and reconstruction of space and identity works to dispel Brazilian society’s disadvantaged profile and stereotype of the Black woman as “illiterate or semi-literate [, performing] unspecialized jobs…subservient and obedient, a sexual object, and ‘good in bed,’ no less than a prostitute. According to the thesis of Carolyn Richardson Durham in her study of the history of feminine literature in the eighties, “this generation of Black [female] writers is characterized by three important goals: 1- the explanation of social inequalities of race, gender, and class; 2- the constant preoccupation with identity in order to subvert the traditional image of the passive Afro-Brazilian woman; and 3- the formation of alternatives to oppression. In “Race, Gender and Class: The Poetry of Carolina Maria de Jesus and Miriam Alves,” Lesley Feracho, Associate Director of the Institute of African-American Studies at University of Georgia, explains:

In a country where the myth of racial democracy “conceals more than it reveals, especially when it comes to the symbolic violence against the Afro-Brazilian woman… it is due to a connection with the symbolic system that the place of the Black woman in our society, as one of inferiority and poverty, is codifies into a racial and ethnical perspective. In order to combat symbolic, racial, and social oppression these writers have used their written voice as both an individual and collective tool of exploration and empowerment.


Afro-Brazilian writers like Carolina Maria de Jesus, Miriam Alves and Esmeralda Ribeiro “use poetry to articulate, redefine and consciously reposition themselves across literary, national, racial, class, and gendered boundaries. In a transgressive crossing of representations of the female subject, they subversively thwart prescribed limitations established in discourses of their time.” Their prose takes on revolutionary ventures by bestowing a singularly female angle upon their musings, interpretations, and critiques of black politics in the literary realm. A gendered and racialized perspective exists within their poetry that challenges dominant discursive practices (such as the whitening ideology and machismo and established social structures, in an attempt to redefine black women’s role in society. Machismo is a Portuguese term referring to the sense of being ‘manly’ and self-reliant; associated with a strong sense of masculine pride or an exaggerated masculinity. It is also associated with a man’s responsibility to provide for, protect, and defend his family. The radicalism of theses women’s poetry as a means of dissent and resistance is beautifully multifaceted in the manner with which it gives room to aesthetic, metaphoric reasoning, and symbol while integrating sociopolitical commentary. The prose of these Afro-Brazilian women, with its illustrative syntax and vivid imagery, presents an imitation of life from the perspective of the authors’ own experiences; one that is, at times, more accessible and effective at generating awareness to certain issues than the intellectualized jargon of dissertations and political speeches. It allows for an exploration of juxtaposed realities, allowing the personal to be simultaneously painful and beautiful, introducing readers to a modernity situated in an ever-present past, but embracing a budding future. These Afro-Brazilian writers delve into the complexities of what it means to physically, politically, and ideologically navigate the Afro-Lusophone postcolonial polity as a Black women. Prodigiously emphasizing the intersections of race, class, and gender issues in their writing, they highlight the troubled identity of women while imagining mechanisms for shattering the constraints of low political representation, pervasive stereotypes, and the presence of Brazil’s mulatto ideal. By way of literary assertions, these women create an immortalized place for themselves within the present and the future. However, one must not assume that the writings of Afro-Brazilian women exist isolated from other Black women who inhabit the remainder of the Afro-Lusophone postcolonial polity. Boyce Davies notes an important consideration in understanding the diasporic writing of Black women, one that is vital to understanding the interconnectedness of Black women’s writing across the Afro-Lusophone postcolonial polity:

It is the convergence of multiple places and cultures that renegotiates the terms of Black women’s experience that in turn negotiates and renegotiates their identities…Black women’s writing, I am proposing, should be read as a series of boundary crossings and not as a fixed, geographical, ethnically or nationally bound category of writing.

Furthermore, in what she defines as the “politics of place,” Boyce takes into consideration the different factors that intersect in space, marginalization and separation, and the matter of political inequality. This politic:

…brings forward a whole host of identifications and associations around concepts of place, placement, displacement; location, dislocation…citizenship, alienness; boundaries, barriers…It is about positionality in society based on class, gender, sexuality, age, income. It is about relationality and the ways in which one is able to access, mediate or reposition oneself…


Critical investigations of the concept of space have noted the multiplicity of its meanings, revealing that space is in fact an intersection of economic, social, and historical factors: “…a fragmentary field of action, a jurisdiction scattered and deranged, which appears to be negotiable or continuous but is actually peppered with chasms of economic and cultural disjunctions.” Carolina Maria de Jesus exemplifies the manner with which Afro-Brazilian women’s prose transgresses place and time, while creating a space for their own imaginaries. I momentarily focus her employment of metaphor and symbol as her literary tools of resistance and drafting Afro-futuristic imaginaries. De Jesus not only uses writing as an escape from the limited future that awaited her, but is also able to combat patriarchal constructions of Black female subjectivity in order to show dissidence. I examine her publication of Child of the Dark, in which she declares through the Portuguese title (the diary of a favelada) that her identity is intimately linked to the space she occupies. While fighting for survival in the slums of Caninde, São Palo with her three children, de Jesus recognized the material and symbolic importance of writing. Written from an autobiographical standpoint, the diary manifests from her 1955 decision to concentrate her efforts on writing a diary of her life in the favela. A favela is  Portuguese term meaning slum; or a Brazilian shack,shantytown. The act of drafting literary imaginings of her own livelihood, and that of those also living in favelas, is revolutionary in how it frames her womanhood and self worth as an Afro-Brazilian woman in context of Brazil’s seemingly immutable class disparities. In the following excerpt, de Jesus uses two contrasting spaces as metaphors for her historically and culturally determined identity and the future identity she wishes to have:

When I am in the city I have the impression that I am in a living room with crystal chandeliers, rigs of velvet, and satin cushions. And when I’m in the favela I have the impression that I’m a useless object, destined to be forever in a garbage dump…That includes me too, because I’m also a favelado. I’m one of the discarded. I’m in the garbage dump and those in the garbage dump either burn themselves or throw themselves into ruin.

Within her literary imaginary, the favela is manipulated to become more than a physical entity; it becomes a mental and emotional space that she uses to participate in acts of resistance. Utilizing the favela, juxtaposed by the glamour and luxury of more protected and valued spaces, de Jesus is able to explain the ways in which her identity has been shaped in relation to the poverty and hopelessness that surrounds her. Simultaneously, her words are used to depict a longing for a self-determined future, while critiquing the social conditions that aim to define her future for her. The spatial differences she incorporates highlight the relationship between her geographic and psychological orientation. Her prose showcases the ability of Afro-Brazilian woman writers to propel forth self-determined identities and dreams of futures in which their existences are liberated and no longer laden with the limitations of  gendered, racial, and class-based oppressions. Even in its posthumous existence, her words act as a residing critique of the inequality ingrained within Brazilian postcolonial society and as a framework from which other contemporary Afro-Lusophone female writers, in Brazil and the remainder of the Afro-Lusophone postcolonial polity, can draw inspiration as they create their own imaginaries. The state of existence that de Jesus speaks to extends itself as a common reality for an overwhelming amount of Afro-Brazilian women. Entrenched in discrimination, survival for the average Black woman in Brazil is not an easy feat. In the following excerpt, de Jesus voices her discontent at the exploitation she suffered as a poor Afro-Brazilian woman and the institutionalized inability to find stability and economic autonomy within Brazil’s unequal societal framework. She writes these reflections after briefly relocating to a farm and realizing the pervasiveness of economic inequality in Brazil:

That’s why I say that the suppliers of residents for the slums are the rich and the farmers…when harvest-time [approaches], the farmer kicks the farmhand off the land and keeps the crops and doesn’t pay the farmhand anything…In my opinion, slavery had merely diminished a little bit…Those who should have revolted and who should revolt are we, who are the poor, who work without improving our quality of life, we only earn amounts that don’t cover our needs. We have to stay semi-literate because higher education is only with the reach of the powerful.

In this excerpt, de Jesus reveals an understanding of the foundation of an agricultural system that is based on the institutional oppression of a group, resulting in an economic dependence and instability. She position herself in that group of poor Brazilians, further asserting the intersectionality between race, class, and gender in her existence within the Brazilian postcolonial state. Ultimately de Jesus voices a longing for a Brazil that is for all Brazilians, regardless of any qualifier. These hopes birth an Afro-futuristic imaginary free of marginalization, but rooted in equality.


In Daphne Patai’s Brazilian Women Speak, she presents an ontological compilation of varying experiences for women living in Brazil. Having received her PhD in contemporary Brazilian literature and a current professor emeritus in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Patai offers a synthesized view of the multiplicity of life histories for twenty Brazilian women of different races, social classes, and lifestyles. The publication ventures spatially from the traditionally agrarian and patriarchal Northeast to the more industrialized and modernized city of Rio de Janeiro. Although the life histories included in her book do not exclusively follow those of Black women, Patai describes her book as being about “ordinary Brazilian women- domestic servants, secretaries, factory workers, nuns, hairdressers, prostitutes, seamstresses, students, business women, homemakers; single, married, divorced, and widowed Black and white and many in between; prepubescent and postmenopausal; rich and poor.” In 1981, Patai began her work of highlighting the stories of women much like de Jesus, who are rendered abject and invisible to Brazilian society. Though she uses the word ordinary to describe the women she interviewed, Patai reminds readers that ordinary is not synonymous with insignificant, further asserting that “there are no pointless lives, and there are no pointless life stories…[just those that] we have not (yet) bothered to consider and whose revelations (including at times, those of staggering ordinariness) therefore remain hidden from our view.” Patai’s interviews point to the importance of oral storytelling as a tool for marginalized women, who may not have the privilege of literacy or the outlet of a pen and paper, to also speak to their lived truths of survival and resistance. In writing down their stories- emotive, critical, and reflective- Patai integrates them into the collective movement of literary resistance. Patai posits that for women like Teresa, one of her interviewees who worked as a washerwoman and inhabited a favela in Recife, the interview represented a grasp at agency and a “momentary escape from the usual confines of her life, a link with the larger world, a symbolic rise in status.” There is something revolutionary and powerful about thoughts written down, immortalized and disseminated for all to read. They transcend time and place, but unify shared experiences under a collective resistance to Brazil’s “official” histories that erase narratives that clash with the Lusotropicalist empire of thought.

Imprisoned by social demands, women strive to escape through the power of artistic creation. The resistance and strength echoed within the prose of Afro-Brazilian women writers, and other female writers in the Afro-Lusophone postcolonial polity situates the struggle of the Black women at the forefront of developing a more egalitarian Brazilian society, a liberated postcolonial existence, and securing Afro-futuristic realities across the entire Afro-Lusophone postcolonial polity. Within their words, these women weaponize their thoughts as a means for combatting the racism, sexism, and classism they encounter in their daily lives. Their literary resistance speaks to the strength in their struggle and the impact of their stories in deconstructing colonial legacies, while positioning Black women as the breeders and nurturers of a better future.


Cardão, Marcos. "Allegories of Exceptionalism: Lusotropicalism in Mass Culture (1960-74)." Portuguese Journal of Social Science, vol. 14, no. 3, Sept. 2015, pp. 257-273.

Chambers, Claire (ed. and introd.) and Susan (ed. and introd.) Watkins. "Postcolonial Feminism? [Special Issue]." Journal of Commonwealth Literature, vol. 47, no. 3, 2012, pp. 297-446.

Davies, Carole Boyce. Black Women, Writing and Identity: Migrations of the Subject. London: Routledge, 1994. 1-36.

De Jesus, Carolina Maria. Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus. Transl. David St. Clair. London: Penguin Books, 1963.

Feracho, Lesley. “Metaphor of Home in the Diaries of Carolina Maria De Jesus.” The Afro-Brazilian Mind: Contemporary Afro-Brazilian Literary and Cultural Criticism, by Niyi Afolabi et al., Africa World Press, 2007, pp. 121–133.

Feracho, Lesley. “Race, Gender and Class: The Poetry of Carolina Maria De Jesus and Miriam Alves.” The Afro-Brazilian Mind: Contemporary Afro-Brazilian Literary and Cultural Criticism, by Niyi Afolabi et al., Africa World Press, 2007, pp. 143–155.

Gonzalez, Leila. “The Black Woman in Brazil.” African Presence in the Americas. Ed. Dr. Carlos Moore. Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc., 1995. 320-321.

Oliveira, Emanuelle K. F. “Black Women's Poetry in Brazil: The Politics of Race and Gender.” The Afro-Brazilian Mind: Contemporary Afro-Brazilian Literary and Cultural Criticism, by Niyi Afolabi et al., Africa World Press, 2007, pp. 157–166.

Oliveira, Fátima, Matilde Ribeiro, and Nilza Iraci Silva. “A mulher negra na década: a busca da autonomia.” Cadernos Geledés 5. São Paulo: Geledés, 1985.

Patai, Daphne. Brazilian Women Speak : Contemporary Life Stories. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988.

Sáenz-Tejada, Cristina. “Yo también soy brasileña: Historia y sociedad en la obra de Carolina María de Jesus.” Confluencia: Revista Hispánica de Cultura y Literatura. 13:2 (1998): 114.

Silva, Jacira Castro da. A mulher negra e o Geledés: uma experiência de construção coletiva de cidadania. Master’s Thesis. PUC-SP, 1993.

Vermeulen Pieter. “Community and Literary Experience in (Between) Benedict Anderson and Jean-Luc Nancy.” Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal, vol. 42, no. 4, 2009, pp. 95–111. 

Yaegar, Patricia. Geographies of Identity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

Odemi PessuComment
The Afro- Synergy Manifesto

by Odemi Pessu • Chukwudi Nwamba


At present, American society stands at a precarious state. The prevalence of racial insensitivity, in conjunction with a toxic capitalist mentality, has manifested in a society that is not only lost, but disillusioned. Even still, we are on the cusp of a revolution in multiple facets of our livelihood. In order to effectively deconstruct the systems of oppression that result in the cyclical glorification of elitism, racism, and other avenues of widespread inequality, we must collectively pursue the future we hope to become our present. As we aim to depart from subservient mindsets imposed on the Afro-Diasporic community in America and beyond, we work towards holistic liberation and independence in thought, livelihood, and expression. To enable this, we must invoke a pursuit of knowledge, not only of our history, but of the future that awaits.

America, for some, still remains the undisputed land of the free and home of the brave. However, are we making best use of the human capital and economic resources which exist today? Are we actively working towards inclusive frameworks, cultural agency, and diverse representation in forums of policy development and governing institutions?

The purpose of the aforementioned inquiries is to disrupt the social media trance and expose the manipulative tactics of modern technologists in the private sector. It is imperative to encourage critical analysis of the present human state through an afrocentric lens; upon honest examination you will find the facts point to illustrations of modern slavery. However, this modern slavery is not of the physical nature. Allow the note: Black people are still arrested and imprisoned at higher rates. This is a result of privatized prison systems designed to strip black people of their civil rights and agency; further reinforced by the proliferation of modern day lynchings. Modern slavery is defined by the micro- and macro-aggressions and conscious bias that run rampant in educational and financial institutions. We are witnessing a brain drain of minority talent under the guise of “corporate benefits”, “retirement plans”, “job security”, and a plethora of other ideals and propaganda that cultivate continuous subservient mindsets. The resulting enslavement of talent and thought further deters the development of oppressed peoples living in lands that are not native to them.

As strategic designers and Afro-synergists, it is our life’s work to critically interrogate the validity of modern social constructs and usage of the resources at hand --- both human and capital.

The recurring opportunity of improvement in the Black community --- discriminatory practices, financial oppression, public education funding gaps, etc --- bear fruit from the vestige of white supremacy. With this narrative, it is imperative to critically examine the construct of whiteness and its egregious history. Racial bias pervades digital media usage and the development of artificial intelligence. A recent Nielsen report revealed that Black Americans purchase smartphones at the highest rates of all minority groups. Even still, the harsh reality is that most Black Americans face steep barriers to accessing investment opportunities, leadership positions and subsequent wealth through these same companies.

Bearing this in mind, we are emboldened to empower the global Black community through the strategic design of impact-oriented initiatives to foster activism, education, creativity, and progress. Sourcing inspiration from our academic expertise, creative pursuits, and professional experiences, we wholeheartedly take on the task of invoking a new age of thought leadership. We root this pursuit in the embodiment of Afro-Synergy, a term we have coined to bridge the current gaps that disparage the global Black polity. Afro-Synergy represents the establishment of connectivity for the sake of development, creation, and liberation. We derive our term from cultural synergy, a notion described in the work of Nancy Adler of McGill University. Cultural synergy is an attempt to bring two or more cultures together to form an organization or environment that is based on combined strengths, concepts and skills. Through Afro-Synergy, we concentrate our efforts on bringing to fruition Afro-futuristic imaginaries in America, the African continent, and everywhere the global Black polity extends. We are working to strengthen our community through the dissemination of knowledge, disruption of defeatist social narratives, reorientation of socioeconomic frameworks, and development of sustainable infrastructures.

This work will take time and can only occur through the power of “WE”. We must move past the intentional distractions prevalent within greater society. We must seek out the truths needed to unleash modern thought leadership. Today, we take up the mantle to change this narrative. This manifesto is a declaration of our dedication to spearheading recruitment of and collaboration with the world’s most innovative and culturally aware minds, investors, doers, alchemists and social impact executives. WE together, considering the robust outline that will follow this declaration, will manifest the true essence of what liberation is in the context of the postcolonial, information age.  

Thus, this not a call out, but an invitation to those who believe that change is possible and within reach. This manifesto is a declaration to conceive the Afro-futurist imaginaries that, for so long, have appeared out of reach. This is an invitation to those who believe that through cross-cultural cooperation, strategic policy, and organization design we can manifest the social impact we hope to see. If you hunger for a better world, one we can proudly pass onto future generations, join us in the camaraderie of the revolution.

Specifically--- join us through monetary donation, purchase of services or direct outreach. This is our life’s work. The manifestation of this venture and your contributions as agents of change will equip us to create a new, more conscious and more liberated, reality for us and the thought leaders to come.


publish digital manifestos and written works with accompanying action plans designed to ignite collaboration and 360 investment in Afro-diasporic communities.


  • immersive cultural event experiences fostering authentic diversity and inclusion through fellowship and network synergies.

  • a tangible archive of Afro-diasporic progress

  • ethnographic research in the Afro-Diasporic polity

  • grants to fund projects aimed at inspiring development, creativity, and empowerment across the African Diaspora (in America and beyond).

  • designing sustainable measures to redirect Afro-centric music industry revenue into underserved community development

Intersectional Literary Resistance: Exploring the Contemporary Prose of Afro-Lusophone Female Writers • pt 2



In conceptualizing Afro-futuristic imaginaries and the manner with which postcolonial writers bring them to life, I draw upon the ideological formation of communities in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. afro-futurism is the reimagining of African society that projects techno-futuristic possibilities. Anderson’s book explores the imaginary nature of national belonging and affirms the important role that literary and cultural objects and practices play in the construction and consolidation of collective identities. The term “imagined communities” situates literature in its social and historical contexts, removing it from the previous isolation and constraints of former research paradigms.

Thus, imagined communities are inseparable from the cultural and historical contexts from which they manifest, and are inherently intertwined in the reflections, musings, and resistance of postcolonial literary development as a whole. the writings of Afro-Lusophone women, both on the continent and in the diaspora, positions them as migratory subjects. their words traverse historical context, place, and time while channeling those experiences into Afro-futurist imaginings.

Their revolutionary writings inspire liberated spaces and futures for themselves and their communities. the literary art created by Afro-Lusophone women is useful in drafting liberated identities and materializing Afro-futuristic realities, namely existences free of the ideological and sociopolitical constraints enacted by the Portuguese colonial empire.


It is particularly interesting to assess these female writers’ reflections of postcolonial feminist ideology in context of lusotropicalism, Portugal’s longstanding social myth. Gilberto Freyre, a brazilian sociologist, coined the term in the early 1950s when he traveled throughout the Portuguese colonies by invitation of Portugal’s overseas minister, Sacramento Rodrigues. the concept perpetuates a mythologized image of the Portuguese.

The notion of Lusotropicalism proposes that the Portuguese possess greater adaptability to the tropics because of their alleged plasticity, rooted in their perceived adaptation to different climates, mobility, and ability to miscegenate. Miscegenation is the interbreeding of people from different racial groups. lusotropicalism bears weight in modern times as a catalyst for the reconstruction of identity. one in which, across the Afro-Lusophone polity, writers are tasked with creating a social conscious independent of Portugal’s claims of oneness with its former colonial subjects.

The imperialism-oriented pervasiveness of Lusotropicalist ideology is rooted in beliefs about European manliness, racial membership, sexual morality and domination, and the management of empire. thus, Afro-Lusophone female writers do not neglect the processes by which gender and sexuality are embedded in Portugal’s colonial legacies. The writing of Afro-Lusophone women rejects the notion of exceptional miscegenation and ultimately invokes a discussion of the relationship between feminism and the postcolonial state.

Intersectional Literary Resistance: Exploring the Contemporary Prose of Afro-Lusophone Female Writers • pt 1


Creative prose provides a means of resistance to reappropriate and repurpose the language of the oppressor and draft Afro-futuristic imaginaries of liberation, resistance, and self-determination. Inspired by my time spent in Portugal and my continuous study of emancipatory literature in the global black community, this series will highlight female writers in the Afro-Lusophone polity who root their interpretations of race, gender, and identity in context of Portugal’s ever looming colonial legacy. I will include excerpts of literature from different female writers in the Afro-Lusophone world and ultimately present discourse on the resistance mechanisms employed in their writing.


By intertwining discussions of political history and identity I will explore the ways postcolonial feminism inspires black liberation in global societies. these female writers use their words to foster a nuanced view of what true independence can look like globally if we work to deconstruct the tangible and intangible ramifications of colonial legacies. As they write about topics tied to their lived realities and share revolutionary views of self-determination in the face of racism, sexism, and classism, a new type of liberation ensues. It is one that positions women as viable disseminators of truth, creators of art, and gatekeepers to intersectional manifestations of Afro-futuristic visions.


In creating this site, my intention is to revolutionize the way we disseminate knowledge and create discourse around the issues that plague society and clog our minds on a daily basis. My collegiate experience has prompted an enlightened and comprehensive approach to redefining what it means to be an academic. We are on the cusp of the 4th industrial revolution and the globalized world has created an open classroom in which the internet presents an avenue of learning and creating.

had it not been for my early educational experiences awarded through duke tip, a gifted summer studies program for middle- and high-schoolers, my inquisitive outlook on the world may have never been sparked. if organizations like questbridge and the ron brown scholar program had not invested in my dreams of attaining an ivy league education, I would not be in the position i am today. my journey to brown university was a result of my dedication and perseverance coupled with the genuine altruism of people who aimed to pay their own successes forward.

The pay-it-forward feedback loop catalyzed by these programs has afforded me the, often elusive, support networks needed to engage and learn from the thought leadership of some of the most impactful Black leaders- past and present.

they encouraged us to also pay it forward. as such, through this digital compilation of modern essays I am creating a space, an open class room, in which people of all backgrounds can gain and learn from the interdisciplinary education I’ve had the privilege of receiving.

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required
— Luke 12:48

pay it forward — scholarship and creativity


I know that I have been blessed and highly favored in this life of mine. i am continuing my education with an extremely minimal debt gain — undergrad entirely for free and 82% of my grad school expenses fulfilled through scholarships. i also know that to whom much is given, much is required. i believe it is god’s purpose for my life to bring hope to the hopeless and inspire people to engage with the beautiful world he has created; to make it a more harmonious and equal place in his name.

Many people that follow me on different social media networks have experienced varying walks of life and seek easy and accessible ways to engage with imminent social topics relevant to their journey.

my aim is to facilitate an open framework to educate and inspire. I am passionate and dedicated to radical activism in the name of equity. My writing is free to share and disseminate to anyone interested in learning new, inspiring narratives. my hope is that You even find yourself propelled to take action in your own way. I aim to inspire a movement of young thought leaders hailing from the diverse global Black community- my writing and multifaceted works as my muse to express and stimulate action.

The content shared through this medium is meant to bridge the chasm between scholarship and creativity.

to Bridge the education gap across class lines, race lines, and differences in background and unite us in an appreciation of all the knowledge the world has to offer. I am paying it forward in the best way I know how, through my art.

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