Friday, September 18, 2009
Reading For Colored Girls
One of the few candid pictures I have of my sister as a teenager is probably from 1989. I like it because it's goofy. She's wearing an oversized yellow t-shirt with her arms crossed, her head tilted to the side and she's sticking out her tongue at whoever's taking the picture. Behind her on the wall is a poster for Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls.
When I was really little, I was drawn to the bright colors that contrasted with the sad look on the mysterious Black woman's face. As I got older, the title's invocation of death drew me in more, made me realize that in a haunting kind of way, all of us are carrying around the baggage of losing someone too soon.
I always thought it was fitting. Long before I knew of the play's significance for Black girls across the country, I knew it would always make me think of my sister.
For some reason, I appreciated the tragic irony of it all: Black girls naive (or strong) enough to smile before they died, and Black girls like me, ten years later, searching their faces for clues about our own futures. I liked the nuance of it, the thought that my sister wasn't just a statistic or a sad story or even a martyr, but a girl who, at 14 or 15, already knew she had to be her own hero.
Despite the everyday evidence I saw around me, the picture showed me that there as something tremendously powerful about being Black and female and that even if it had tragic endings, it was never tragic in and of itself; hell, people wanted to make art out of it.
More than anything, it made me realize that my family's greatest tragedy was also our greatest strength, and that we weren't alone.
Maybe it's that visceral connection that's kept me away from the actual book for so long. To date, I've never actually read Ntozake Shange's work. I've seen and held copies and at times borrowed versions have collected dust on my bookshelf. I've had friends perform it on stage and, like everyone else, rolled my eyes when I heard Tyler Perry was trying to bring it to the big screen.
To be real, I'm afraid to read it. Afraid to be disappointed, maybe. Afraid that I won't see what my sister saw. Afraid that in the hoopla over it being required reading for Black girls many moons over, I won't be in the mental or emotional space to take it in. Afraid that I won't "get it." And, in a lot of ways, afraid because I know it'll never bring me any closer, physically, to my sister.
So, here I go. I'm headed to the library this evening to pick up a copy. My first time actually reading it. Have others read it? What's been your experience?