Workin' it Out Podcast

Black Women Authors You Need to Know

February 18, 2022 Vanessa J. Weaver, PhD Season 3 Episode 3
Workin' it Out Podcast
Black Women Authors You Need to Know
Show Notes Transcript

In this Episode

·      A brief introduction to Black Market Reads, a podcast created and hosted by Lissa that amplifies the voices of Black authors and storytellers and allows them to share their experiences and show up as the most authentic forms of themselves

·      How Lissa uses the works of bell hooks to help Black women unpack the harmful archetypes about them, including the “strong Black woman” trope, helps examine the tropes and the way that they are implanted into cultural DNA, and why these tropes cause extreme psychological harm to Black women, mainly in the workplace

·      The way that the works of Toni Morrison encourage Lissa and other Black female readers and listeners to contextualize themselves in the world based upon their own experiences and to refuse to be forced into the archetypes that the world has created of them

·      The level of inclusivity in Audre Lorde’s works of Black and LGBTQ+ women, and how she encouraged these groups of women be assertive and call for equal treatment throughout all of society, including in the workplace in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests and racial reckoning in the United States

·      How to encourage and support Black women in sharing their own stories and experiences from their own perspective, while rejecting the expectations of non-Black people for Black women to dilute their stories or experiences to make them more palatable


·      Lissa Jones-Lofgren

·      Urban Agenda

·      Dr. Vanessa Weaver

·      Alignment Strategies

·      Black Market Reads

Follow Us on Social Media

Workin’ It Out

·      LinkedIn

·      Facebook 

·      Instagram

·      Twitter

Alignment Strategies

·      LinkedIn

·      Facebook

·      Twitter

Diversity and Inclusion Television

·      LinkedIn

·      Facebook 

- [Narrator] "Workin' It Out", a podcast show about diversity, equity and inclusion in our workplaces, our communities, and our lives. A show where we put diversity and inclusion to work. ♪ Got problems on the job ♪ ♪ We're working it out ♪ ♪ Workplace got you stressing ♪ ♪ We're working it out ♪ ♪ Yeah we're working it out ♪ ♪ Working it out working it out ♪ ♪ With Doctor V ♪

- Hi, I'm Dr. Vanessa Weaver, your host of "Workin' It Out". On this episode of "Workin' It Out", I am so delighted to bring back one of my favorite guests, Lissa Jones. And if you recall, Lissa was in one of our first seasons of audio podcasts, and we are so thrilled that she came back, our audience loved her. And so we're having her back today. And Lissa is a podcast host, she's a radio producer, she's a culture coach, and guess where she's located? In Minneapolis, Minnesota. And when I spoke to Lissa earlier on our audio podcast, where it was after the unfortunate death of George Floyd, and she just has such perspective on the role of Black media and Black culture and Black authors and entertainers, on how we express and work that. So I just want to welcome Lissa back to our show today.

- Dr. Weaver, I am so delighted to be here. Thank you for inviting me. It's always a treat to talk with you.

- And in fact, you've been on "Black Market", You've hosted "Black Market Reads" on one of the oldest Black radio stations in Minneapolis for what, 14 years now?

- Oh, Dr. Weaver, thank you for your grace. Yes, it's been 14 long years. I'm looking for my replacement.

- Oh, really?

- But she has to be a Black woman.

- Oh, okay.

- That's my requirement.

- Okay, so tell us a little bit about, what is "Black Market Reads"?

- Thank you, it's a podcast that's designed to amplify the voices of Black authors, to have Black people tell our own stories in our own words, through our own cultural expressions. To really display for the world that Black is not a color, it's a culture. It's a way of being in the world that shows up in all kinds of ways, and authors and poets help to give testimony in written word to those experiences.

- Well, can you give us an example of how it shows up in?

- Yes, I can. I'm thinking about my interview with Claudia Rankin. She wrote a book called "Justice", and at the beginning of her book she quotes Richard Pryor. "I went to the courthouse to see justice, and that's what I saw, just us." It's the way that Claudia Rankin shows up in the world, bringing Richard Pryor forward to talk about the way comedians, even in the Black community, influence the way we think and influence our politics. That Claudia Rankin in the present is bringing forward an ancestor to inform people about what was past and what is also present, our Spirit of Sankofa, looking back to get what we need and bring it forward.

- Now Sankofa is that bird?

- It is, it's the bird that exists in the past. It looks back and takes with it what it needs, but it's always looking forward to the future, recognizing and honoring that the future has everything to do with what's rooted in the past.

- Oh my, I'm fascinated that your show has been on the air for 14 years, and it is one of the most listened to podcasts nationally, not just in Minneapolis, but people love you. What is it about your show that attracts and builds such an audience? 'Cause people often think that that African Americans, Blacks, and even Whites aren't that interested in reading and in our culture. So what is it, I mean, how has your show refuted that?

- You are so kind, I think you already know the answer with your popular shows. I mean, and you keep growing and growing. So I will defer to you, but I will give you respectfully my perspective. I guess it is really thinking about the authenticity. That's what people say to me. "Lissa, I feel like when I'm talking to you, you're really interested in what I have to say, that you are very curious about it, that you, when you explain your feelings or you display feelings, they're authentic. And I feel like my stuff matters, and I feel like maybe you centered on me today." And that's what I think I've gotten back from the show most often is that people value my authenticity. I love Black people, I mean, I love Black people. I love Black culture and I'm acutely aware that I only have a little bit of a slice of it as a 53-year-old Black woman. So I want to know all about it. I want them to tell me everything they want to tell me, and I want to celebrate it all. And so I think that that's what it is.

- Well, given that you are just so well-versed in just all facets of Black culture, we thought we would narrow our focus of the show today to explore Black women authors. And one of the reasons we wanted to do that is because for the last, what couple of years, since the election, people have talked about the he power of the Black woman in politics, the year of the Black woman, the fact that Black women are speaking up more in their corporate roles. They are pushing for opportunities, assignments, roles, jobs, promotions, that they felt like they've earned. So we wanted to talk a little bit about Black women authors with you today.

- I am thrilled to talk with you about Black women authors. Let's go to Dr. Weaver.

- Well, we're going to start this off with just a little, a little fun, which I'm sure I won't be the winner of, but I wanted to start off by asking you to name your favorite Black female author.

- Oh my gosh.

- And then you can ask me mine.

- Okay it's a deal, it's a deal. I'm going to give one caveat. It will be my favorite one for today, 'cause I have a new one every day. Is that fair?

- Yes, yes.

- Okay, since she just left the world, bell hooks. "Sisters of the Yam" has informed me in so many ways. It has changed and shaped me over decades. Learning about how Black women can heal, how we can center on our experience, how we can interrogate the ways that we're socialized, how we can take power over our own lives and curate our own experience. I build much of my coaching practice with Black women around bell hooks' work, because she's so clear about what's wrong in the world. It doesn't center on what's wrong with Black women. It centers on how Black women can disinvest ourselves of what's wrong, and so-

- What do you mean? What do you mean by disinvest ourselves? What does that mean?

- That we can recognize that, in the words of Shirley Chisholm, "The minute they say it's a girl, it's on." That there are ways that the world socializes Black women particularly. The superwoman Black myth, stand tall, take any tragedy. Do anything you possibly can do to a Black woman, she will still stand bold, she will shine, and she will continue forward. That kills Black women every day. Then bell hooks said, "Why did somebody tell you about that? Why did they give you that idea, and what is it doing to you?" And most of us can't stop long enough to even interrogate, "Who told me that, and where did I pick that up? And do I need to take that with me?" So it's bell for me. And how about you, Dr. Weaver?

- Well, I'm going to tell you in a minute, but let me tell you how powerful, the statement that you just made. In my firm Alignment Strategies, and we're working with corporations and in particular, looking at the experiences of multicultural women, often Black women, and we reviewed this week, we explored this concept called cultural archetypes. And they talk about what are those lessons that have been, that have become part of our cultural DNA, that, you know, gets transferred generational, generation after generation, and in many ways influence our behaviors and our choices. And we're not really conscious of those. And we explore what we call those cultural archetypes, our cultural DNA for women of color in the workplaces, because many of them come into the workplace feeling like they have to be superwoman. They come into the workplace believing that really they don't matter, that people don't see them and don't care about them. So therefore they don't have the expectation of being sponsored. Don't ask for sponsorship, and many times don't get it. And so I just, when you shared that example, it just like ding, ding, you know up in my mind, because it is such a powerful work that we do, and the message that bell hooks talks about is so powerful. And we need to talk more about, what are some of those messages, some of those archetypes that have been transferred generational to us that are shaping and influencing sometimes, behaviors that don't work for us. So thank you for sharing that example.

- You are brilliant.

- No, you're brilliant.

- I think Alignment Strategies, I thank heaven for it.

- Well thank you.

- It's just brilliant. The Jezebel, the Mammy, the Sapphire. We got all kinds of archetypes, I get it.

- Well, thank you, thank you for that. I appreciate it, but it's, it's really serious work, and it's so freeing when you can start identifying what those are and make some choices around, who's going to control those? You, in terms of being intentional, making conscious choices, or letting those cultural archetypes control you. So thank you for that example. So my favorite author is Maya Angelou, and I got hooked on her when I read, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings". And as you know, I'm a clinical psychologist. And I think early on, I was fascinated by the impact of her being raped and, at a young age, and incest. And the fact that she became an elective mute and just her whole journey towards, you know, overcoming that and finding her own voice and her own strengths. So she's mine, she's my favorite author. And I had an opportunity to meet her personally, and we were part of what we call A Black Family Coalition, and we brought together Black leaders, Black entertainers, Black politicians, Black business people, Black folks in corporate America, and I was there as part of being from P&G, Procter and Gamble. And she was there and she taught us so much. And you know, one of the popular things that people often quote from her is, you know, "If people show you who you are, believe them." Well she started telling us that in the late '80s and the '90s. And so when it became very popular I said, "Yep, she did say that and she meant that." So that's, she's my favorite, my favorite author, Black female author. And so this notion about Black female authors, why do you think, or what is it about their storytelling that is so impactful and influences how the world sees us?

- You know I, those are excellent set of questions. I think that first of all, the world ought to center on Black women. We ought to invest in Black women, we ought to believe Black women, we ought to follow the Black women. Most people know very little about Black women. Unfortunately, sometimes Black women don't know a lot about Black women. And so I think it's very necessary for Black women to write down our experiences, to tell our stories, to find the communal ways that showing up as a Black woman sort of replicates and shows itself in the world, these archetypes and the myths we fight and the angry Black woman, and just sort of the burdens we carry. That Black women ought to be able to write about our own experience, to categorize our own experience, to relate our own experience, using our own words and cultural context. It's critical if the world's ever going to understand anything about Black women, it has to come from Black women. But what the world doesn't recognize is Black women magic is not a new invention. Black women have been magic since the beginning of time. If you go to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minnesota, they will show you-

- Minnesota.

- Minnesota. They will show you that all life began in Africa. That is not a joke, that is not a joke. It's a scientific fact, which means it was a Black woman that first gave birth to the universe. And people really can't dig that because we've created the social construct of race, which has threatened to take the Black woman's light out. But consistent with Maya and her story, it's almost impossible to take the Black woman out, even in the most horrible circumstances. She came out of incest, elective mute and rose to become Maya Angelou.

- Angelou, it's phenomenal, phenomenal. You know, you talked about the fact that many times, I use the term weaponized, but you know, when you think of this critical race theory and the fact that Toni Morrison, they wanted to bar her book, can you imagine that, from school? And it was all part of this critical race theory. What is it about understanding a Black woman's experience that makes it important to be part of what we teach our children in school?

- Our children need to understand themselves, and to understand themselves better, they need to understand their mothers and their grandmothers and their aunties and their sister friends. We need to be able to contextualize ourselves in the world. I tell people often that every day I fight between Toni Morrison on my shoulder and the white gaze that threatens to tell me who I am. The one that wants to keep me in the box, that wants to put me in the archetype, the one that wants me never to tell my story. That wants me to be quiet, that wants me to let other people speak for me. And then I have Toni Morrison saying, "Girl, if you want to read a book you haven't read, it's up to you to write it. They told me I wouldn't win a Pulitzer because I centered on Black life. I did it anyway, and I'm a Pulitzer Prize winner." That's what I think about, that's the need. For the world to understand itself, it has to contextualize black women. That's part of the reason I think the world's half crazy today because they don't center on Black women's leadership. If Black women were ultimately in charge, we wouldn't have all this nonsense and war and drama and climate change and famine and terrible things, because Black women don't get down like that. We feed people, we take care of people. We love people. That is a beautiful part of Black women's culture, and we know how to do that really well when someone's not threatening every day in the words of Lucille Clifton, "To take our light out."

- Mm-hmm, it's definitely, that's an interesting point that you made because there's a lot of discussion about this generational divide in Black women. You know, that say Black women maybe in my generation and slightly younger in your generation, thinks about the world and projects themselves differently than the young Black female millennial. And if, number one, do you agree with that? And then number two, from your perspective, is that influenced in what they are, the writing of this current generation versus a generation that's in their 40s, 50s, 60s?

- Excellent questions, always. I think that two things can be true at one time. I think that there's a universality to being a Black woman in this lived experience, particularly Black women in the United States. We are socialized similarly, and we are acculturated similarly, and we're educated similarly in the primary school system. And so there is that universality of experience. And then people are products of their time and context. I was having a conversation with a coaching client today, who is, I bet she's about 40. And she was speaking about a woman who was older. She said 60, in her context 60 is older. And she said, "I don't understand. I told the woman that I was going on a trip by myself. And she keeps saying, 'I can't imagine you'd go on a trip by yourself. Aren't you meeting someone there? Aren't you meeting someone there?'" And I said, "Well wait a minute, step back and unpack. If she's 60 years old, she's old enough to know that there was a time when it would be very dangerous, even in a group, for Black people to travel across the United States. It might be a very foreign concept 60 years ago for a Black woman to have enough agency to be able to go someplace on her own and feel safe and taken care of, and feel as though she belongs. So it might be a different time and context that makes her respond in that way. So help her to see the way that her generation helped you figure out a way that you actually can develop that kind of agency." That would also be indicative of how I see their books coming out. That what Maya wrote years ago, what Toni laid down and left, there are still young authors picking it up. And then they're moving it around a little bit, doing what we always do, Black people improvising, and changing it, so that the young people can understand in their language, in their time and context. But if you look at it, it's sort of like the Chinese say. "It's nothing new under the sun," Dr. Weaver.

- So who are some of the prominent, younger Black female, or Black woman authors that you resonate with?

- Oh, thank you. Okay, Jayne Allen, she's writing a trilogy. Her new one's called "Black Girl Magic". Her first one was "Black Girls Must Die Exhausted", and it was fantastic. She's coming out-

- [Vanessa] "Black Girls Must Die Exhausted", okay.

- "Black Girls Must Die Exhausted", and she's got a phenomenal cover too. These women, by the way Dr. Weaver, they are killing it with their covers. Their book is almost like a contest with book covers now. It's what album covers used to be, or maybe still are. But it's like everybody's competing for a fabulous book cover. Wanda M Morris, "All Her Little "Secrets" just came out in November. That book was the bomb. She is writing all kinds of things about what happens when women keep secrets, and what happens to us when others keep secrets from us. And then this one is one I'm about to read. Her name is Wahala, or excuse me, the name of the book is "Wahala". her name is Nikki May, she's a Nigerian English author who's writing about, yes I'm fascinated. Who's writing about intersections about bi-raciality, about bi-culturalism, through the lens of Black women who are making different choices in their lives. And as you can see, I mean her marketing, they're just fabulous.

- Work it, yeah.

- I mean, this is like works of art all over my office. It's wonderful.

- All with color.

- Yes, and just like Black women, we never show up without color. Today I'm wearing my Angela Davis shirt. "I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I'm changing the things I can't accept."

- Say that again. I'm no longer.

- I'm no longer accepting the things I cannot change.

- I'm changing the-

- I'm now changing the things I cannot accept.

- I love it, I love it, I love it. So you know, thinking about changing the things you cannot accept, it's been, particularly with the unfortunate murder of George Floyd in your home city there in Minneapolis. It really started the second wave of racial reckoning, and many workplaces started struggling with that in terms of, you know, how are they dealing with diversity and inclusion, or diversity and exclusion in their workplaces, and how can it become more inclusive? And black women started saying, "Well look, see me, experience me, hear me." Because oftentimes in organizations, when they focused on women's initiatives, they often didn't include women of color, and particularly didn't include Black women. And so as you think about these new Black women authors, how can we use that information and material in workplaces too, to build a greater understanding?

- That's a fantastic question, you know-

- I love the fact that you say my questions are so fantastic, thank you.

- Thank you, you know what? I just think they are fantastic and it comes out. Thank you, Dr. Weaver.

- Thank you.

- I think when George Floyd called for his mother, every mother, every Black mother, we stopped. We stopped and we recognized that we can't trade it off, that he was calling for us. He literally called-

- His mother.

- For us. And I think it said to black women, you know, what do we have to lose? Look what we lost. So a closed mouth doesn't get fed is an old Black understanding. And I think Black women just said, "You know what? I'm done. I'm done taking shorts, I'm done not getting paid properly. I'm done not being seen, I'm done." And you can see with the great resignation, how many Black women are actually establishing their own gigs. I'm not, I don't have time to change corporate America. I don't have any interest in it. That could be 100,000 years. But I can still build community, I can still work for inclusion. I just don't have to do it under the shackle of big P little p policies that are not meant to support me, but are meant to shrink me.

- Mm-hmm, well it's interesting that you make that point because one group, one of the largest groups that are starting their own businesses are Black women. And we know as a result of COVID that we lost like 60% of Black-owned businesses, did not make it through. I mean, they just, they faltered. And yet even with that COVID experience, and still we rise. And so coming out of that, we have Black women and people of color, but particularly Black women who are choosing, to your point, to say, "You know what? I survived. At least that's this phase of COVID, or this stage of COVID. And so I'm going to invest in those things that matter to me, I'm starting my own business." And so the data supports exactly what you're saying, exactly what you're saying. And I will tell you what we're hearing in my firm, Alignment Strategies, as we're working with with Black women is a demand for equity, it's a demand to be seen. It's a demand to have relationships with their supervisors and with their peers, and even with Black men that honor and recognize the contributions that they're making and have made to those organizations. And so you're right. It's like, "I'm going to focus on those things that are important to me, and I am going to take the risk to engage in conversations and transformations with the organization that benefit not only myself, but the organization, but they must benefit me." So I'm going to go back Lissa, and I'm going to ask you a question and then you can ask me one. So as you think about Black women authors, who has been most influential author from your perspective in impacting the civil rights movement, or women's movement, or the LGBT movement? What Black female author do you feel has been most influential?

- You know, when I thought about that question, I was like, "Okay, am I going to have to come up with more than one name?" But I don't, 'cause I call her Sister Outsider, Audrey Lorde, Audrey Lorde spoke for all of those movements. She carved out a place for Black women. She carved out a place for LGBTQIA plus women. She carved out a space for civil rights. She carved out a space for human rights, and she did it all by her writing and then died at a very young age. And she left us all of this material to say, "Center on Black women, love Black women, invest in Black women, follow Black women. Black women are genius, and we have things to say." She said, "When I use my voice in service of my vision, I find that I'm no longer afraid." And I think that's what George Floyd did. He said, "Black women, take your place. You don't have to be afraid, take your place." He called for his mother. I will never in my natural life forget that. And I don't know a Black woman that I've ever come in contact with who didn't say to me that very same thing.

- Yeah, I boo-hooed like a baby. I mean, the whole experience was traumatizing, but you know, to hear him call for his mother. You know, I have a daughter, and even if you don't have a child, you know, you have a mother, all of us had a mother. And so you can relate to that. So you can ask me who is mine, who do I feel?

- Who do you, Dr. Weaver, call on?

- Thank you, fascinating question. Well, it's kind of interesting. One female Black woman author that was most influential, I felt was very influential, was Bebe Moore Campbell. And I felt she was most influential because she brought out the whole topic of mental illness, in our children, in our families. And I was living in LA and had a chance to connect with Bebe Moore. We were neighbors, and we belonged to this Black couples group. And so we were trying to look at how ways that couples could stay connected and grow in their relationships, and Bebe and I were the younger. And it was interesting to me because she's had issues in her family around mental illness, and she wanted to be authentic in her writing and be able to share, to make it okay for that conversation. Number one, to admit that it's happening in our families and with people that we care about, and to legitimize that conversation. And so I thought she did a phenomenal job at introducing it in a way that was informative yet, and in a way I hate to use the term entertaining, 'cause I'm struggling for the right word for that. But she delivered it in a way that you could relate to it and see it happening in your relationships and with people, and within your families. And I thought that was an incredible contribution that she made. And she was so brave about, you know she died of a brain tumor. And I just felt, what a contribution she made to us. You know you and I never have enough time, right?

- Never.

- Time just like, goes so quickly. But as we think about, like the Amanda Gormans of the world, you know all of us know her with that incredible poem she did at Biden's inauguration. What do you think are the important, because you study this. I mean, you read it and you study these authors and you interact with them, you have them on your show. And I mean, you're just so deeply versed in this. In fact, I told my producer, "I don't know if I could talk about Black female authors with Lissa because I have yet to discipline myself to read, and I know the list of must read at least 10 books a week." But as you think about Black female authors, what would you say, or what advice would you give them around telling their own story and how to put it out there?

- Be deliberative, pause, and think about how you want to represent, or what they call brand yourself. Be careful not to be scattershot all over everything and don't be messy, because then that stuff stays in the universe forever. You don't have to be on social media every day to be credible or to be famous. In fact, probably if you're on there just once in a while or not always on there, you might be more famous and more credible. Trust your own story and tell it from your own perspective, without the shackles of everything everybody tries to tell you about who you are. Just speak your truth and we will read it.

- Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Tell your own story, be authentic. And I liked when you said, "Don't be messy." You know that's, I can hear my grandmother say, "Don't be messy," right? So thank you for that. Well, on behalf of our listeners and me and my team, we just want to thank you again for coming on the show and sharing with us so candidly your experiences and who we need to be reading and your perspective on this important topic of Black women authors, I really appreciate it. And I'm going to sign off and I want to say to my listeners, thank you for being a part of this experience with Lissa and myself, and I wish you a safe, productive, and what we call be happy week, goodbye.

- [Narrator] "Workin' It Out" is brought to you by Alignment Strategies, a management consultancy with more than three decades of experience in diversity, equity and inclusion, and organizational development. To learn more, visit ♪ Got problems on the job ♪ ♪ We're working it out ♪ ♪ Workplace got you stressing ♪ ♪ We're working it out ♪ ♪ Yeah we're working it out ♪ ♪ Working it out working it out ♪ ♪ With Doctor V ♪