I just reread Joan Morgan’s feminist manifesto, “When Chickenheads Come to Roost”. I read this book for the first time when I was 18, a freshman at Howard University, who only picked it up because she could not believe that a book containing the word “Chickenhead” in the title could be on sale in the University bookstore. I will admit, that I did not understand what I was reading then. So much so, that I probably did not finish the book and ultimately lost track of that original copy. Years later, as a graduate student, I would meet Ms. Morgan face to face as she was a panelist at my school with some other notable Black journalists and scholars. I adored her and her perspective then. I followed her (and became exposed to those who have been nurtured through her work) on social media from then on. Years after that, at the National Women’s Studies Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I managed to find a panel discussion in which Joan Morgan was given true honorary tribute for her contributions to feminist scholarship through the publication of her classic text.
After taking a picture with this beautiful woman, I returned home and told myself… it is time. It is time for you to put some energy and investment in reading this book (and many others… I find that I am in one of my cycles… and during this period, I read a lot…). Without question, this book is definitely an important read. And despite my graduate education, this book is one of those mighty gamechangers that all of Morgan’s followers allude to.
I came to this book wrestling with the term feminism. Since I entered graduate school and decided to add a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, I have been unable to take a up the badge of feminism because in my social and political eye it had been more than tarnished but abused and bastardized by white women. With my Pan-Africanist political leanings, the last thing I ever want to do is take up the badge of White women. Like I said, I have always wrestled with the term. Beyond its English language roots being linked to European colonial white women, I always felt that employing the term meant that I had more to explain about what I am not doing as opposed to what I am. If I am going to say feminist, I would have to outline a laundry list of qualifiers that would make the assertion remotely pallatable to the folks I was ready to engage. At some point, I took the liberty of resisting the label all together.
Openly saying, “I am not anti-feminist, but my social and political identity is not wrapped up in feminism because I do not know what it is and I am tired of explaining what it is not.”
Somewhere further along the line I Remember being in a ground of young women and the facilitator introduced me as a black feminist womanist educator… I wish you could have seen my face…. these are the exact titles that I would never rush out to assume, but here I am carrying them because 1) I am Black. 2) I am a woman. 3) I make it my business to call out patriarchy and sexism. So, to many… including my intellectual godmother bell hooks, I’m just running away from who I already am….
but why then do I have so much trouble embracing this term? It was only after this reading of “Chickenheads Come Home to Roost” that I was able to parallel this struggle with another intellectual label battle I have endured… that of the term Afrocentrist. While my educational training at Howard and my connection to ASCAC (Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations) gave me the tools for that battle, I have never felt fully equipped in the battle of feminist language. I cannot jump on the wagon of those who said I ain’t no feminist and then read Chickenheads and woke up and said Goddamn I am a feminist. While I am here for Joan Morgan (stanning a la Beyonce for her), I still think I have battles on the intellectual and sociopolitical sides of feminism that I have yet to fully understand my position and my journey. Chickenheads is laced with timely epithets and echoes of the late 80s early 90s hip hop generation. The coming of age story intertwined with her illustrious political analysis is rooted in a time period which is not my own. For Morgan’s crew, time and space defined a moment. Hip Hop. Bronx. the 90s. These are things that do not define my coming of age story… in fact, my coming of age may be antithetical to that… so I think, perhaps in the same fashion as Morgan with Chickenheads, I need to revisit my personal coming of age story in attempt to define and find my own way around or to feminism.
I am so curious about where my sisterscholarfriends find themselves on this too.