Seeing 'HTGAWM' As a Space for Black Women's Healing and Solidarity

by Hazel Cherry

I am still reflecting on the themes of the recent episode of How to Get Away With Murder- “Mama’s Here Now.” The vivid imagery of motherhood, daughterhood, and black womanhood invited us to see ourselves, our struggles and our sisters. The images and storyline were relevant and necessary.

I posit this episode was life giving. Here's why.

She created a memory lane for black women. She reminded us of the sacredness of motherhood, vulnerability, and the existential tension-filled conditions of the black woman. As much as I enjoyed the quotes that made us laugh and perhaps cry. She gave us the opportunity to be open about what we often silence and to celebrate the complexity of black womanhood.

Shonda, over several weeks has displayed Viola Davis in her natural beauty. No makeup. No wig. Just her. It is a brave and bold statement in a television culture that is often embellished with Photoshop, waist clinchers and extensions. This episode however, rides us deeper into the wells of character, Annalise Keaton. Beyond the barriers of raw physical layers, she exposes her internal layers and invites us to self-reflect.

Most memorable was the tension between Annalise and her mother played by icon, Cicely Tyson. This relationship is thrust in our face. She went there. Reminding us of the generational struggles of sexual abuse, self-hate and shame experience by more women than we dare to express.

Black women in particular struggle with domestic abuse, sexual abuse, verbal violence and media objectification. On top of this we are constantly pulling ourselves out of the tri-dimensional oppressions of racism, classism and sexism. We are often forced to deal with these issues in silence. She made us come face to face with our diverse, yet similar struggles. Shonda, I believe wanted to fight for us for an hour. She let viewers have it. She reminded us of the urgency to, as my grandpa would say in church, "tell it! tell it!"

How many of us know the weight of suffering in silence? How many of us participate in endeavors that condone and perpetuate this silence?

This episode gave many women the space to vocalize their pain. It also gave our men a peak into the vulnerability and shame that we may not expose early on or at all.

As a seminarian, that night, I paid particular attention to 'black religious Twitter' and the varying responses. Responses ranged from good ol' fashion confession for the soul, laughter at how her mother mirrored our mother and/or grandmother, to pain and agony verbalized in 140 characters. More importantly, it exposed the continuous need to have these discussions in sacred spaces.

There are many scholars and preachers that are doing the work. They are creating safe spaces to have discourse, to heal, and offer training recognizing abuse, and combat the systemic oppressions that reinforces silence, but there is still a large section of leaders and scholars that need a push. She affirmed us. She challenged us.

The episode also invited us to recall the realities of mother daughter relationships. Layered with complex imagery, she did not hold back the anger and resentment that lurks within family dynamics wherein those hurt are not given the space to speak up. Issues silenced show up in other areas of our lives. For Annalise, and for many women, it shows up in other relationships and in our work.

The reality of broken relationships is relevant. Annalise and Cicely's dissension was fueled by years of rape and abuse. Many women share this story. And there are many who do not, but at some point in our lives we can all identify the tension of broken relationships. We all have also experienced the great beauty in the healing of those relationships.

In the end, it reminds us that relationships are more complex than "we aren't speaking right now." They sometimes look like I am changing my name to wipe away the dreadful memories. It may look like working through therapy. It may even look like being the bigger person and calling to say, “I need you.” Either way the complexities bring us to another awareness of ourselves. They are opportunities to learn, grow and heal.

Lastly, Shonda gave us something unique that night. Something special that we haven't seen since Color Purple. The ritual of getting ones hair combed by their mother. Therein lies a many “tender headed memories.” Our mother’s laps are sacred. Black women’s intimacy is rich. We can choose to work through our struggles, together. We do not have to mask ourselves with the Strong Black Woman Syndrome. Our solidarity is necessary because many of us do struggle. However, one may identify their struggle, there is a spiritual happening that occurs when you have the authentic support of your sister, friend, or mother. I remind us that we are not alone. And we don’t have to be.

That Thursday night, we wept together. We spoke up. We left shame behind. Some of us had our feelings hurt. Some of us were healed. Some of us were reminded how powerful phone call saying, "I need you", even with all of its baggage, really is.

I am here for this. The diverse representation of black womanhood. The display of natural black beauty. The stripping away of the strong black woman syndrome, the space to "bear witness" to our pain, for healing and solidarity.

Hazel Cherry is an M.Div. Candidate at Howard University School of Divinity. She finds her interests in the intersections of womanist theory, female hip-hop culture, and sexual ethics.

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