Post Author: Dwalunda Y. Alexander
Understanding your own identity is an ongoing process. Family ideals and traditions typically shape much of your childhood identity. As you grow into young adulthood, there are defining moments that continue to form you, and you begin to become more of who you desire to be. The stages of life redefine us, until we settle into a comfortable core identity that we will hold fast to and defend at all cost. For me, my identity was first defined as a young, Black girl growing up in Houston, Texas. It was many years later that I discovered the vocabulary to understand and explain the core components of who I was, who I am, and who I will continue to be as an adult.
Any young Black girl who has ever dared to talk back to an elder, or question a directive she was given, has probably been told she was “acting womanish.” Acting womanish means having the bold audacity to speak up in the face of injustice. It means daring to have her own opinions and thoughts, and rejecting the “go-along-to-get-along” expected mentality. Acting womanish means trying to “be grown” before your time. I remember my mother telling me to “stay in a child’s place” and “you actin’ womanish” in response to my speaking up too much and too often about things with which I disagreed. I also remember being told to save my arguments and disagreements for conversations with my friends; it was not the place of a child to correct their elders. It was a rather strange and delicate dance to navigate: be smart, be great, be the best you that you desire to be, but do it from within certain constraints. Don’t act womanish.
As children do when given such constraints, I learned to be quiet and contemplative. I learned to take mental notes of my disagreements with parental directives, and save my well-developed arguments for the privacy of journals and diaries. Rather than face possible consequences for “acting womanish,” I would wait until I became a woman to speak my piece, and speak it I did.
August, 2005, was the beginning of my true development and understanding of myself as a grown woman. It was then I started my first year at Brite Divinity School on the campus of Texas Christian University. Concentrating on Black Church Studies, I had the honor and pleasure of taking classes with a Womanist Christian social ethicist who helped me discover my Womanist voice: Dr. Stacey Floyd-Thomas. Most pivotal were her words to me in that first year: “Dwalunda, you are Womanist to your core.” It was later engagement with settings where white and male privilege were persistently present, as systems of oppression waiting to be dismantled by those who dared to challenge them, that I fully grasped Dr. Floyd-Thomas’ prophetic words of identity for me. Choosing to work towards the dismantling of oppressive systems is not only about my personal gain, but also about freeing my community, and it is who I am.
Being the only Black person, woman, or Black woman in the room is nothing new to me. I have learned to find the voice that I had to put on hold as a child. Gone are the days of private journaling to avoid confrontation: As a grown woman, whenever a man interrupts me while I am speaking, I raise my voice. Whenever a white person feels the need to explain my feelings or existence to me, as if I am unaware of my own agency, I raise my voice. I realize that being “Womanist to my core” means that, while I love and respect everyone, I will not exchange my self-worth and self-love for anyone else’s personal comfort.
I have had something of a reawakening as I have gotten older. While I never forget the core aspects of my identity, situations and circumstances have made me revisit the texts that shaped and continue to shape who I am. Recently, I have been re-reading books by Dr. Floyd-Thomas, Katie G. Cannon, Delores Williams, Emilie Townes, and a number of other Womanist scholars whose writings have left an indelible mark on my identity. Their words remind me that knowing who I am is vital to my livelihood and survival, but living into that identity is vital to the livelihood of every person I love, every person I support, and every person with whom I fight injustice.
Living Womanism means taking a proactive stance against racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism. Living Womanism means not being concerned with the feelings, fragility, or fears of privileged oppressors, but rather forcing the hard conversations and doing the work of changing mindsets and systems with all the vulnerability that entails. Living Womanism means realizing that there is a God-force at work in me that some people in the world may find problematic. But, I will unapologetically act womanish, be Womanist, and live my Womanism. I will speak. I will challenge. I will love into wholeness those most difficult to love, and I will do it while loving myself wholly as a Black woman, because that is who I am.
Dwalunda Y. Alexander is an itinerant preacher whose ministry focuses on dismantling oppressive systems of racism and sexism by working to create spaces for women in church leadership. She enjoys reading, binge-watching Netflix, and figuring out new ways to positively impact every life with which she comes into contact.
Image by: Dwalunda Alexander
Used with permission