“The Power of Language: The Importance of Counterstory Telling for Black Women”

Written by on May 11th, 2013 // Filed under Journal

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by Kendall Williams

I have been categorized by society in a way that makes me an outlier to most mainstream communities and to the communities I frequented.  A multiracial upper middle class woman, I was raised in White suburbia, constantly aware that I was Black in any and every space.  In no way can it be mistaken that I am Black.  And yet, my Blackness was always questioned, most of all by other Black people.  My life has been filled with prodding questions “What are you mixed with?” “But you’re not just Black, what else?” “Where do you get your eyes from?” to outright statements that I wasn’t Black at all but yellow and sometimes even White based on my speech or dress. These frequent interactions isolated me, and I allowed them to shape my identity in various ways, internalizing judgments from strangers and often friends as fact without questioning their origin or intention.  I constantly found myself isolated from the identity I was trying to claim. I was too light and my family too well off to be down with the people but yet too conscious to live in a disillusioned post-race America without being enraged by the internalized racism, daily microagressions and inequalities facing people of color and low socioeconomic peoples across the country.

I grew up never having my story told. Expectedly or not, my racial identity was largely underdeveloped which affected my identity and self-confidence, overall having never found anyone who looked like me, let alone someone who looked like me and shared the same experiences to guide me through my adolescence.  Education became my salvation wherein my racial identity development was fostered in college.  In fact, it wasn’t until I went to college that I began to be able to understand my experiences through a socio-historical lens. Majoring in American Studies and Ethnicity and then pursuing a master’s degree in Higher Education helped me develop my double consciousness to the point that I consider myself a race scholar.

Interdisciplinary socio-historic and ethnic studies aided me in the navigation of the multiple worlds I inhabit as a woman of color.  Still, I couldn’t help but question “Why are only certain stories being told? Why aren’t they mine?” Only with age and education did I begin to recognize that my experiences, by the mere fact that I’ve had them, legitimize me and my Blackness.  I saw the power in the fact that my voice, in and of itself, is challenging a world that doesn’t acknowledge my reality.  I, as an individual, am to be taken seriously. My formal and informal education provided me the tools to analyze my world and experiences, recognizing that for all the diversity that exists within the Black community, we are mentally enslaved by regurgitated and reformatted language and messages dating back to American slavery on idealized skin tones, wealth and material gains.  Language, in all forms, can be enslaving and decomposing but it can also be used to deconstruct the prejudice previously learned by creating counterstories to our mental oppression – the same oppression that we have internalized through oral and written language – creating something new, liberating, something that is me and thus real.

I use my counterstory as a form of transformative resistance in which I infiltrate my reality into the dominant discourse, pushing back against the very mainstream communities I was ostracized from with the hopes of challenging my community and anyone I engage with to think critically about the perspectives, standards of beauty, social hierarchies and histories that have been fed to our communities both consciously and subconsciously.  In choosing to continue to think critically, question and find opportunities to speak my story and draw into the conversation what I think is missing, I and other race scholars engage transformative resistance and the perception of what it means to be Black expands to reach it’s reality.

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Originally from Chicago, Kendall Williams’ mother’s family migrated there from the heart of Mississippi while her father’s family immigrated from what is now Macedonia to Chicago by way of Minnesota. Kendall received a B.A. in American Studies and Ethnicity with a minor in International Relations from The University of Southern California and an M.A. in Higher and Postsecondary Education from the Teacher’s College at Columbia University.  She currently resides in Los Angeles, working within higher education. Her research interests include cross cultural interactions, race and ethnicity within America, student and identity development as well as higher education practices and policies.

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