Conversation With A Womanist

WOMANIST. From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.

—Alice Walker, from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)

She has already forgotten his name before the bell rings. He can feel it and is eager to move to the next table, the next woman, a white woman with straight blonde hair who doesn’t ask a lot of questions. She looks to be in her mid-thirties, possibly divorced, without a man for a year. That is why he came to speed dating. To find a desperate woman, not one who speaks to confuse him.

The bell rings.

“It was nice talking to you,” she says with a smile.

“Yea, you too,” he mumbles. He jumps from his seat, nearly toppling over the chair. He rushes to the next table, pushes the man in front of him from his chair, and snatches the white woman’s hand to kiss it. She grins from ear to ear. Jackpot.

The next man sits down. He is dark skin. His hair is cut short. He has a chiseled face and a slight five o’ clock shadow. “Hello, beautiful,” he says with a smile. “And what’s your name?”

“Africa,” she says.

“Beautiful. I don’t even have to ask where it comes from.”

“I was named after my mother,” she says.

“Your mom’s name is Africa?”

“My mom’s name is Renee. My mother’s name is Africa,” she says plainly.

He frowns. “I’m sorry I don’t—”

“Do you like my hair?” she asks. She fluffs her afro and shakes her head. It spreads the width of the Mona Lisa replica painting on the wall behind her.

“Uh,” he hesitates. “Yes, I do.”

“You like natural hair?”

“I love natural hair . . . as long as it’s neat,” he says.

She pauses from fluffing her hair. “Neat?” she asks.

“Yea, you know . . .” He tries to hint at something unknown to her.

“No I don’t know. What constitutes neat natural hair?”

“Like yours. You know, it’s not all over the place. It looks soft. It’s not nappy.” He coughs to clear his throat.

She takes a sip from the glass of white wine in front of her. She returns the glass to the table and cocks her head to the side. “No natural hair is nappy. We comb our hair.”

“Well, some females with natural—”

Females?” She raises her eyebrows.

“Yes?” He draws out the word, unsure of where the conversation is headed.

“You speak of us as if you’re a scientist observing us in a lab. ‘The female with natural hair.’ Interesting.”

“Well what do you prefer?” He is getting frustrated.

“I am a human being. I am a woman. And my name is Africa.”

“Alright human woman named Africa,” he jokes.

She doesn’t smile. “Do you listen to music?” she asks.

“Yes,” he says, relieved for the subject change.

“What kind?”

“Mostly rap.”

“Hip-hop? So you support their objectification of women?”

“I, uh—”

“The panning of the camera over their large breasts and derriere. Encouraging them to rupture the temple of their bodies so that the rapper can get a ‘quick nut.’ Forcing them to entertain him by stripping completely naked. It alludes back to slave auctions, don’t you think?”

The bell rings. He jumps from his seat, knocking over the chair.

“It was nice talking to you,” she says with a smile.

“Hello, beautiful. And what’s your name?” he asks the white woman at the next table.


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