The Power of Black Women's Storytelling in Activist Work

by Briana Perry A few weeks ago, I attended Take Root 2015 in Norman, Oklahoma, a conference designed to address reproductive justice iss...


by Briana Perry


A few weeks ago, I attended Take Root 2015 in Norman, Oklahoma, a conference designed to address reproductive justice issues in Republican states. As part of the conference, attendees were able to attend a variety of workshops, some of which included “Reproductive Justice and Faith Communities,” “Native American Women Addressing Injustice,” “Pregnancy & Prison in Appalachia,” and “Trans* Health Matters.” A workshop that I found to be particularly interesting was one about storytelling and the importance of women sharing our stories. The women who organized and led the workshop had been working on a variety of projects that were all centered on transforming the culture of stigma around abortion and other stigmatized reproductive experiences through storytelling. They believed that if individuals shared their stories about their reproductive experiences, then this could not only help others who possess negative attitudes have a better sense of understanding, but also lead to societal change. This change would include an elimination of the extreme judgment surrounding a variety of reproductive experiences, especially abortion.

The workshop was quite intriguing and I left feeling empowered. I have always believed that the concept of storytelling was a powerful form of activism and the workshop affirmed why this work is necessary—especially for marginalized communities. Often times when people attempt to speak about our own lives, the media deems what is “worth” disseminating to the masses. And almost always, communities of color are left out—particularly Black women. This is due to a variety of factors, including the sexism and racism that are embedded in our society. Thus, historically, Black women were not encouraged to share their stories. However, I believe we could take advantage of the current political and social climate in America and use this opportunity to elevate Black women’s stories under conditions that will allow Black women to feel empowered.

In order for Black women to share their stories, they must have a platform to do so. Any barriers that would prevent us from securing a platform should be carefully evaluated. Though we live in a technological age, not all Black women have regular or unhindered access to certain tools, like the Internet. While this may be an obstacle, it should not deter any woman from the ability to share her story. We must redefine our ideas of what it means to have a “platform”: it can include a woman reflecting on her experiences at a reading group, in a women’s ministry meeting or community discussion, at a park, grocery store, beauty shop, or in her own home. The Internet may be the most popular forum for individuals to share experiences due to the array of blogging websites, but it should not be the sole platform.

When telling our stories, we should always be aware that some people have more privilege when it comes to their stories being heard. Therefore, our goal must be to make sure we have opportunities to share our experiences, without being silenced or ignored. Throughout history, men or White women have at times retold accounts of Black women’s stories. This is problematic. It is imperative that we are telling our OWN stories, since these are our lived experiences. If Black women do not feel that they have the autonomy to tell their own stories—that their stories will be sifted through the lenses of those who do not necessarily share their experiences— then it could discourage them from sharing. Despite the barriers we have faced throughout history, Black women deserve to their stories about being Black women. We do not need others speaking on our behalf. We simply need the space and support to discuss our unique experiences of living as Black women in America.

Our storytelling could not only transform dialogue, but also allow for healing. Black women, as a group, experience some of the most traumatic and oppressive conditions when it comes to our reproductive choices, ability to parent, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, education, and housing, among other things. But by sharing our experiences and how we deal with such issues, we can heal others and ourselves. From sharing the individual and collective letdowns, pains, and triumphs we face, we are able to see the power we hold, even in a society that has often discounted our narratives. Telling our stories is one strategy that can allow us to reclaim the humanity that has been stripped from us for too long.

With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and Black women being at the forefront of it, our efforts and commitment are becoming more visible. We know that Black women have always been leaders in movements for social justice—such as the Civil Rights Movement—but our work and experiences have often been overlooked. When discussing state-sanctioned violence committed against Black bodies, mainstream media ignores Black women’s narratives—even though we also inhabit Black bodies.

The power of storytelling lies in its potential to change the negative attitudes surrounding certain social issues. I believe that Black women sharing our own lived experiences could aid in this change, since we are affected by many of these social issues. For change to occur, we need more open community spaces available to Black women to discuss how we are repeatedly and intentionally overlooked by national initiatives designed to end social injustices.

Black women’s storytelling is a tool for mobilization. Telling and sharing Black women’s stories is critical in the intersectional movement that we are attempting to build and it gives us a chance to add personal perspectives in addressing the injustices that Black women have historically and presently experience.

So, are you telling your story?

Photo: Shutterstock

Briana Perry is a graduate of Vanderbilt University. Her interests include reproductive justice, sexual assault awareness, and storytelling. You can find her online at http://bperry09.wordpress.com.

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