In a packed banquet room in the Afro-American Cultural Center, six women of color shared their unique experiences navigating the intersection between race and gender at a Black Feminist Open Mic Night Sunday evening.
In honor of Black History Month, the Women’s Center held its monthly open mic night in conjunction with the Yale Black Women’s Coalition to provide a platform for women of color to share poetry about being both a gender and racial minority. After the audience and performers conversed over cookies and hot chocolate, six women recited poems about issues ranging from identity to family to love. Organizers Ashia Ajani ’19 and Nicole Chavez ’19, who are both staffers at the Women’s Center, said the center began its open mic nights last October but that Sunday was the first time the narratives of racial minorities have been the focus. Ajani said the success of Sunday’s event will likely result in more collaborations with marginalized groups in the future.
“A lot of what the Women’s Center does is encourage feminist thought and feminist ideology,” said Ajani, who also performed at the event. “Another facet of that that doesn’t get recognized that much is black feminist ideology.”
Before the six poets performed, Ajani asked the roughly 50-person audience members whether they knew the definition of “black feminism.” Roughly three-quarters of audience members raised their hand in agreement. In an interview with the News, Ajani explained that black feminism is the realization that “blackness and womanness are not separate.” She said it is important for women of color to know that they have a complicated identity because this enables them to express that identity in a positive way.
The event organizers opened the evening with an explanation of how important spectator involvement is during open mic performances. Since such events are so crowd-orientated, they explained, snaps of approval as opposed to applause are preferred during performances.
Reading from cell phones or printed pages or reciting from memory, all six poets showcased their experiences of black womanhood in varying contexts.
Julianna Simms ’18 said her poetry revolved around the “politics of location.” According to American poet and feminist Adrienne Rich, placing feminism in the context of multiculturalism involves recognizing that women occupy positions in different locations and categories of difference, including ethnicity and social class. In her four poems, Simms questioned the impact her blackness has had on her identity and consequently her emotions and relationships with others.
“I am synthesis embodied, a patchwork quilt of history,” Simms said in her first poem. “My identity has always been grounded in dissonance.”
Alexis Payne’s ’19 poetry evoked various childhood memories, including time spent with her grandmother. She also explored a childhood memory of seeing a pair of white boys burning black Barbie dolls, as well as a trip to the Dominican Republic, where she connected eyes with another young black girl across the road and left the experience thinking more deeply about the diaspora.
Payne noted that many of her pieces reflected her experiences with people she knew or had seen. She said it was therefore important to her to recognize that black feminism lives in black women everywhere.
Ajani preceded her poem about self-love with a quotation from musician and actress Erykah Badu.
“Keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my s—,” she said.
Grace Alofe’s ’18 poetry centered on her family, a past relationship and her experience as a feminist.
In the third of her four poems, titled “Pobre,” Sarah Pearl Heard ’18 questioned why women are told to love themselves in order to be loved. Another of her poems reflected on her black mother’s experience raising a half-Latina daughter. She also explored her own relationship with her mother.
In her poem, “To My Unborn Daughter,” a response to the campaign “To My Unborn Son,” launched by the Yale Black Men’s Union in 2014, Daad Sharfi ’17 said, “When you find a boy who calls you beautiful ‘for a black girl,’ run.”
This line, like many others throughout the night, was met with rapturous snaps from the audience.
The six performers represented three of Yale’s performance poetry organizations: WORD, ¡Oye! and Teeth.