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  • Nicole (Johnson) Williams

29. without having recourse to overwhelming, ornate purple prose

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Oppression

I want to talk about oppression. What it’s made of, what it stems from, and how racism is at the crux of it all. Maybe, if one can understand race-based oppression specifically in this country and through its history, then they can begin to unfold the many layers of oppression that terrorize us in our present day living. I want to explore through personal narrative and storytelling how we begin to dig into those layers from both sides — what was and what is. Understanding the past helps us navigate and make sense of the present.

What are the systems of oppression in which I operate?

What power do I hold in those systems?

In what ways do/can I challenge them?

At the school where I work, we engage in racial affinity groups as a faculty. I am also a faculty advisor for the student affinity group for women of color on campus. There is also a Black Student Union group, for which I am not the advising faculty member. Historically, these groups have been a place where students can come together, vent about their week and the men and/or white people who make it difficult to live here. We eat snacks. We laugh. We enjoy the company of one another. Since I have begun my work here, however, I have seen an overwhelming need for more. The disconnect between the Black men and women in the community is glaring and has finally come to a head among the students. The women feel unseen, unheard, and unwelcome in their interactions with Black men in the community. We spend a great amount of energy and so many resources trying to teach white people to be anti-racist… but where is the energy and where are the resources to help Black people to do the same. Where is the curriculum that helps us recognize and address our own internalized oppression. We cannot hope to decolonize the system by only addressing one side of the relationship. So where do we begin?

I believe we go back.

Ancestors

“The past is infinite, and in that sense, there’s so much back there to mine from… The Ancestor fulfils a place that no parent can. It’s a benevolent, teaching, protecting (but not spoiling, not coddling) Presence that is always accessible” (Maya Cade, 2020).


Maya Cade. (2020, February 18). Toni Morrison: Profile of a Writer [Video]. YouTube.

The piece that I am working on has a lot to do with this same idea of a wounding disconnect within a bonded entity. The complete work is about a woman’s journey into Self. While analyzing and expanding upon the movement, I’ve also been listening closely for the voice of ancestors who know the way. There are a few Aunties that I typically call on to help me to decipher my path (Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Katherine Dunham, Macy Grandberry, Florence Johnson, Hildra Harris, and a host of others whose names I do not know). We talk often. This week, we’ve been in community through a 1987 interview with Toni Morrison where she talks about her great literary work, Beloved. The book recalls a story of three women, born through the same lineage into different generations, and reckoning with the dual affliction of being Black and being woman on American soil after the Civil War.

The piece I’m working on is not really about my life. It’s about how the deeply seeded necessity for a power strong enough to pacify the Ego shows up, and how it seasons narratives that are familiar across many lifetimes. This is my reckoning with it all. Being Black. Being woman. Being American. As both an act of resistance and self-actualization, there’s a necessity for it. Toni Morrison says in the same interview, “There’s so much more to be remembered and to describe. For purposes of exorcism, and purposes of celebratory rites of passage, things must be made. Some fixing ceremony. Some memorial. Some Thing. Some alter somewhere where these things can be released, thought, and felt,” (Maya Cade, 2020).

Movement

In analyzing the movement I’m working on for this Artistic Experience, I’ve been reflecting on the way in which Toni Morrison chose to illustrate the weighty circumstances that have afflicted the oppressed throughout time: “You’re trying to understate in order to let the fire glow, so to speak. You can’t use fiery language to describe a fire. You have to use quiet language so that the fire can be seen,” (Maya Cade, 2020).




I was experimenting with movement quality in this video. Not so much phrasing. Trying to keep my movement quiet and not so sweeping or flowing. The text over the music and the slowness and steadiness of the movement are what I’m really interested in here.

In my improvisations this week, I experimented with the thought of the solitary hunting cheetah, from Audre Lorde’s poem, Sequelae, merged with this idea of understating to let the fire glow. In continuing to follow the physiological connections through my back, I’ve reflected a great deal on my left side and its energetic distinction as the receiving side or the feminine side. I did a very short free write based on the word “feminine” after the improv session. In preparing to teach my Honors Ballet class this week, I also reflected on a passage from the reading assigned to my students that described a “weak” part of the body as actually being a place of great strength that we use to exhaustion or injury. This connects directly with my astrological study and identification as a triple Cancer, which basically means that my distinctive style and drive (sun), my unconscious self (moon), and my outward demeanor (rising/ascending) were all aligned in the sign at the time and place of my birth. Cancer is a sign of the moon, which harnesses divine femininity, softness, nurturing, fluidity, and intuitiveness. These are great strengths that have, over the years and throughout the journey, been abused, violated, weakened, injured. Sometimes by those I have loved most deeply. Sometimes by myself. But I didn’t even know I was burning until I looked around and everything was ablaze. Now, the Artistic Experience explores how I deliberately choose to uncover that story.

“You can arrive at a rich effect without having recourse to overwhelming, ornate, purple prose. So that I would translate these huge emotionally problematic and intellectually problematic things into smaller but more precise images,” (Maya Cade, 2020). In choosing which movements will articulate the story, I will keep these ingredients in mind.




There’s a storytelling aspect to much of this phrasing that I’m interested in. Again, I appreciate the subtlety of the music that informs the movement in a glowing and unassuming way. I’m also interested in the points of hunting, cat-like stillness

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