Sistahood in the Media: Where We Are Now

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I’ve been thinking about a lot about sisterhood, fam. Or maybe Sistahood, that bond that Black women form beyond blood relation. It can include friendship, but sometimes not. I know I’ve given that strong sister love and attention to a woman I didn’t but barely like, because she needed it that minute. I’ve received a moment of Sistahood from strangers on public transit. Sistahood is #YouOKSis as much as it is girl weekend get-aways. Sistahood is the way we believe and believe in each other before everyone else does, and after everyone else has moved on. I’ve been thinking about how we express Sistahood, how we experience it, and how we (and others) represent it in media. Thinking about how it is a concept we love but how the work of it…well sometimes that’s a lot.

Maybe I started this train of thought after I watched Step, which is mostly about Black girlhood coming into Black womanhood in the shade of poverty and institutional neglect, but it is also about how a group of Black women — teacher, coach, principal, counselor, mom — teach Black girls about Sistahood, how to be sisters to each other, and how that can lead to success. Believing in themselves isn’t a magic remedy in Step, but it is part and parcel of each of the girls comes to support the others. This happened, is happening right now with each of us in different ways.

But Step wasn’t the first movie this year that centered the special Sistahood relationship. I remember speaking to an Asian American friend about how much she and her friends liked Girls Trip and how inspired she felt, how it called her to identify even more closely with her “sisters”, none of whom are Black. A comedy of our sisterhood can demonstrate to non-Black women how it is done. Which takes me back further this year to Hidden Figures and how in so many of the reviews of a uniquely Black women’s story, the moral was made to be about “all women.”

Black women are certainly women, but is Hidden Figures about all women equally? I encourage all women to feel inspired by the movie, but the inspirational theme succeeds in part because they are Black women who believe in each other, not *in spite* of the fact that they are Black. There’s more thoughts down this track. My mind wanders back farther, to the video that makes the internet rounds regularly in which a white guy is singing about how when he’s feeling down, he thinks of Black women hugging. You’ve seen it:

It is all some kind of trap, isn’t it? That when we are funny and successful we are a universal example, but when we are serious and angry and not at all respectable we are a singular icon of dysfunction. Beyonce when she is dancing alone on stage is sexy, but Beyonce when she is wearing black surrounded by her sisters setting shit on fire, the mainstream has a problem. How hard is it for people, sometimes yes even us, to see that both have a place in Sistahood.

There’s more, so much more.

Books too. We’ve always featured in our own fiction of course, but it all feels like it is bold outline to me right now. I just finished reading Who Fears Death by N. Okorafor and I’m sucked in by Onyesonwu’s relationship with her 3 class/age mates, Luyu, Diti, and Binta. What starts out so reluctantly results in the kind of secret sharing that friendships are built on, up until they all agree to travel together into the unknown. It is a trip of faith, of believing that Onyesonwu can do what she says she can do, and that the other girls can help.

It is the most poignant kind of story, one of diversity within the group that leads to unity. Is that universal? Isn’t that every friend novel ever? But the specific details of that friendship (details omitted for those of you who haven’t read it) are uniquely Black and African and to ignore that is to erase what makes that story soar. The 4 of them are a Sistahood and that carries with it some hard conversations, some serious truth, and each of them believing in the others in times of pain.

In the last year, Marvel Comics, perhaps in spite of itself, has delivered new presentations of specifically Black Sistahood — all written by Black people. While romantic love played a significant role in Coates’ and Gay’s World of Wakanda mini-series , Sistahood is there too in the way that Ayo and Aneka lead their fellow Dora Milaje to raise their voices and determine their own destinies. Breaking out of a mold that may be privileged but that is none the less restrictive is serious work and in World of Wakanda, a group of Black women break that mold together.

The risks the Dora Milaje take for each other, turning away from Black Panther only to help save Wakanda itself — that took serious belief in their cause, and in each other. Their relationships are built on confidence, and it makes them almost unstoppable. Then there’s the growing friendship between Ororo and Misty in Black Panther and The Crew, the fruits of which we can only imagine (the series has already been cancelled). Or write fanfiction about, depending on your talent. (Yo, if you’re writing Ororo & Misty fanfic … I AM HERE FOR THAT.)

Looking at the media representation swirling around us right now, I’m not the only one with Sistahood on her mind. This list of pop culture references that feature Sistahood as a key component in the past year only touches the surface. I haven’t gotten to Queen Sugar or Bitch Planet or Alice Isn’t Dead. Black women and our love of each other has always been everywhere and overlooked but now we can’t be ignored. We won’t go away.

I know why all of this is on my mind.

Image from The Seattle Globalist, June 2015
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Image from The Seattle Globalist, June 2015

 

We’ve always been under siege, but in this historical moment, believing in Black women feels more necessary AND we’re reaching a point in representation, both as creators and consumers, where we can put that concern, that need, into our media. Now connection isn’t Sistahood, and our representation in pop culture still lags, but steps are being made. Accurate and empowering representation shows us our own diversity at the same time that it demonstrates that diversity to non-Black people.

Looking back over the media of the recent past, our Sistahood is getting the stage it has always deserved. It is up to us to keep pushing our representation forward and of course, to keep believing in Black Women.

Opening image courtesy of #WOCinTech/#WOCinTech Chat.

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  • L.E.H. Light

    Editor/Reviewer

    Editor, Writer, Critic, Baker. Outspoken Mother. Lifelong fan of sci fi/fantasy books in all their variety. Knows a lot about very few things. She/Her/They.

  • Show Comments

  • Voltorocks

    please, do yourself a favor and “get to” bitch planet as soon as you can. Penny Rolle’s origin issue (#3 if I remember) is flat-out no-contest my favorite issue of any comic ever, and the only *other* issues even close to being in the running are… well, other issues of Bitch Planet. OK OK, you probably already know this, ima stop myself from going on and on right now….

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