For Colored Girls

cover of the 1980 Bantam edition

Image via Wikipedia

Dear Ntozake Shange,

I invite you to take a bow and then even before you’ve even fully stood upright I invite you to bow again for your work has my full attention and my deepest respect.

This is what I know about Women of Color: we are strong long after the strength has left our body, we are uplifting others when we can barely lift ourselves out of bed to march down the street each day. We are loud when we should be silent and we are silent when we should be screaming from the depth of our pain, holding onto broken promises and memories that have left us broken, barely even glimpsing at the shards that pierce their way deeper into our hearts, clutching our pain like the knife that has dug deeply into our backs, unable to let go and unable to pull it out.

Women of color are the breadth of life that goes unnoticed, we are the ones that have borne children, carried them in our wombs only to not have a way to feed them when they arrive, not have a way to protect, not have a way to provide for them the tools of life they will need in order to survive so instead we give them our portion, going unfed ourselves. We stand before them as a source of protection leaving ourselves fully unprotected and in our determination to give them every tool they will need for the survival of life we arm them with ours, endangering our own survival. All of this we carry on our backs even as we go unnoticed, even as we work so hard knowing there will not be a handout for us and even if we are somehow able to catch a scrap we will have to make that scrap become the epitome of who we are not only for ourselves but also for our children, for our men who fight the war of society everyday and for all the voices that have been silenced in the fight.

I know many are afraid of women of color but not as afraid as we are of our own selves. Not as afraid as we are to take the six blocks that have become our universe and turn them into six continents by which we might rule and take dominion over. Not as afraid as we are that we might rise to the top, that we might see our hopes and dreams come true, that we might defy every expectation that has ever been placed upon us because you see, as women of color we are powerful. We are mighty and we are fierce and we are so many of us swirling in sea of independence, in the depths of our own mind believing we are the only ones who can endure the pain and the suffering that is being inflicted upon us on a daily basis.  As women of color we often stand alone using every ounce of strength we have left to make it through the day with backs unbroken and heads held high but when each of those individual knots is loosed to make a powerful thread bound by the many of us we become women of color and together there is nothing that can stop us, no road block strong enough to stand in our way. Together we find our strength.

This movie is not about Tyler Perry just as the play wasn’t about Ntozake Shange and knowing the journey of her choreopoem having traveled from a solo endeavor to a a play of seven women, physically representing the imaginary rainbow, to a movie with award-winning actresses I am proud of the journey Shange’s words have taken because as women of color we often need a voice and as I have lived a lifetime of watching women defy the odds stacked against them. I truly appreciate that this is no longer hidden in a small theater in Harlem but has come to a place where 3.9 million people can have an opportunity to be moved by the words of a woman who just wanted to perform poetry in order that “the personal story of a woman could become every woman, the solo voice could become many”.

This play is full of issues that are difficult to confront and often go unaddressed. They are just as difficult now in 2010 as they were then in 1975 and yet For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf addresses them and confronts them head on. This play and movie unabashadly addresses suicide, murder, abortion, woman-beating, religion, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases and rape and although many are tough lessons to learn the one thing that we are left with in the end is: I know who I am.

Loretta Divine/ Green: Juanita confronts loneliness

somebody almost run off with all my stuff/& i was standin there/looking at myself/the whole time & it waznt a spirit took my stuff/waz a man whose ego walked round like Rodan’s shadow/waz a man faster n my innocence/waz a lover/i made too much room for/almost run off wit alla my stuff/& i didnt know i’d give it up so quik/ & the one running wit it/ dont know he got it/ & i’m shoutin this is mine/ & he dont know he got it/ my stuff is the anonymous ripped off treasure of the year/ did you know somebody almost got away with me/ me in a plastic bag under their arm/ me danglin on a sting of personal carelessness

Thandie Newton/Orange: Tangie confronts promiscuity

orange butterflies & aqua sequins/ ensconsed tween slight bosoms/ silk roses dartin from behind her ears/ the passion flower of southwest los angeles/ meandered down hoover street/ past dark shuttered houses where/ women from louisiana shelled peas/ round 3:00 & sent their sons/ whistilin to the store for fatback & black-eyed peas/ she glittered in heat/ & seemed to be lookin for rids/ when she waznt & absolutely/ eyed every man who waznt lame white or noddin out/ she let her thigh slip from her skirt/ crossin the street/ she slowed to be examined

Kimberly Elise/Brown: Crystal confronts murder and abuse

i wanted to marry you & give ya things/ what you gonna give/ a broken jaw/ niggah get outta here/ he ignored crystal’s outburst & sat down motioning for naomi to come to him/ she smiled back at her daddy/ crystal felt naomi givin in & held her tighter/ naomi/ pushed away & ran to her daddy/ cryin/ daddy, daddy come back daddy/ come back/ but be nice to mommy/ cause mommy loves you/ and you gotta be nice/ he sat her on his knee/ & played with her ribbons & they counted fingers & toes/ every so often he looked/ over to crystal holdin kwame/ like a statue/ & he’d say/ see crystal/ i can be a good father

Anika Noni Rose/Yellow: Yasmine confronts date rape

cuz it turns out the nature of rape has changed/we can now meet them in circles we frequent for companionship/we see them at the coffehouse/wit someone else we know/we cd even have em over for dinner & get raped in our own houses/by invitation/a friend

Tessa Thompson/Purple: Nyla confronts abortion

i cdnt have people/lookin at me/pregnant/i cdnt have my friends see this/dyin danglin tween my leggs/&i didnt say a thing/not a sigh/or a fast scream/to get/those eyes offa ma/get them steel rods outa me/this hurts/this hurts me/ & nobody came/ cuz nobody knew/ once i waz pregnant & shamed of myself.

Janet Jackson/Red: Jo confronts contracting HIV from her Down Low Husband

one thing i dont need/ is any more apologies/ i got sorry greetin me at my front door/ you can keep yrs/ i dont know what to do wit em/ they dont open doors/ or bring the sun back/ they dont make me happy/ or get a mornin paper/ didnt stop usin my tears to wash cars/ cuz a sorry/ i am simply tired/ of collectin

i loved you on purpose/ i was open on purpose/ i still crave vulnerability & close talk/ & i’m not even sorry bout you be sorry

Whoopi Goldberg/White: Alice confronts religion

sechita/egyptian/goddess of creativity/ 2nd millennium/threw her heavy hair in a coil over her neck/ sechita/ goddess/ the recordin of history/ spread crimson oil on her cheeks/ waxed her eyebrows/ n unconsciously slugged the last hard whisky in the glass/ the broken mirror she used to decorate her face/ made her forehead tilt backwards/ her cheeks appear sunken/ her sassy chin only large enuf/ to keep her full lower lip/ from growin into her neck/ sechita

Kerry Washington/Blue: Kelly confronts betrayal

three of us like a pyramid/ three friends/ one laugh/ one music/ one flowered shawl/ knotted on each neck/ we all saw him at the same time/ & he saw us/ i felt a quick thmep in each one of us/ didnt know what to do/ we all wanted what waz comin our way/ so we split/ but he found one/ & she loved him

Phylicia Rashad: Gilda helps each Colored Girl confront suicide when the rainbow is enuf

dark phrases of womanhood/ of never havin been a girl/ half-notes scattered/without rhythm/ no tune/ distraught laughter fallin/ over a black girl’s shoulder/ it’s funny/ it’s hysterical/ the melody-less-ness of her dance/ don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul/ she’s dancin on beer cans and shingle/ this must be the spook house/ another song with no singers/ lyrics/ no voices/ & interrupted solos/ unseen performances

& this is for colored girls who have considered suicide/ but moved to the ends of their own rainbows.


2 Responses to “For Colored Girls”
  1. Shange’s work unsettles us in meaningful and positive ways in the Black community because it has us to confront the harsh realities of Black life that we don’t really want to discuss. At a time when those things that her work engages with are growing more complex and more problematic, I’m glad to see Tyler Perry’s film highlight those issues to a larger audience than Shange could have ever thought possible. Tyler Perry receives so much negative criticism, but I am thankful that he musters the courage to show us the things we would rather bury and evade, Nice piece!

    • Sunny Dee says:

      Thank you! I am also so glad that he doesn’t listen to the grumbling and continues to build his craft. This was an eye-opening experience that many people may never have been exposed to had he not taken on the project.

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