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Places of Expression

sara.gladwin's picture

“Colored Amazons” really reminded me of was an essay I reading a while ago called “In Search of Our Mother’s Garden” by Alice Walker. I kept hearing Walker in the back of my mind, writing about the ways in which her mother created a home, a domestic space that could flourish and grow. The garden was her mothers pride and joy; it was neatly cared for and tended to every day with a passionate hand. What Alice Walker eventually comes to say is that by choosing to see only what African American women in history did not have, often we forget to see what was created in place of what did not exist. Those voids were filled in many different ways, generally through art. She talks about other forms of expression, such as song and tapestry weaving, many things that are overlooked in historical retellings. Her mother’s garden stood as means of expression as well. It represented her mothers desire to create a home that had always been denied to her.  I was especially reminded of this when reading Gross, who says, “Adhering to the tenets of domesticity was not important to blacks solely as a way of contesting white racism, but on a more personal level it also affirmed them as men and women” (Gross 88). This “home-making” seemed to dominate the desires of African American women that were described in the book. Often, Gross would describe the effects of being unable to recreate a home in the traditional sense and the physically and psychologically violent effects it had on black women during that time. We tend only to imagine African American history has one of repression, without bothering to look forms of expression emerged from that repression. While reading “Colored Amazons” I sometimes felt that the expression Alice Walker descriptions was missing, obscured by discussion of the repercussions of violence and abuse. However, in chapter two, Gross does discuss the culture created by the atmosphere of the time, expressed through “fashion trends, underground urban dancehalls, and raucous revelry” (58). Underground dance halls would give African Americans both a community space and a way to express themselves through their body. It was a place of ownership, of taking back the control that so often was denied from them. She also described communities that formed around churches and places of worship, where people were allowed to be the center of a space. Often African Americans would be marginalized to a few select pews of a white church. Instead of confining themselves to that space, they constructed a new space where they could be the center of their experience. They could experience church through their relationships with one another and themselves, not through their relationship to a white congregation. They took control of their worship experience. I was drawen to these examples because I find them extremely powerful; despite how limited the control is to particular spaces and times. It is powerful because it existed; because despite various modes of repression and control that had been exerted upon their bodies, African American women and men still were found ways of expression they could own. Expression served as an outlet, as a measure of survival of daily repressions and abuse.