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Cheryl Kirk-Duggan Ruminating on the Color Purple. Womanist Engagement in the Time of 46-1 in the Oval

The invitation to engage the topic “Cultivating Womanist, Feminist, and Queer Relationships in this Neoliberal-Authoritarian Age,” with an amazing plethora of distinguished scholars/activists/pedagogues, captured the attention of my poetic/musical self. In wondering about the meaning of the topic, I shifted between baroque counterpoint, symphonic aesthetics, jazz riffs, and hip-hop rap, to soulful R&B gospel readings, and blues lament of “clear and present dangers”; from global unrest and massive oppression, to the onslaught of intensified global environmental disruption, and more innocent black and brown bodies being persecuted by militarized police, and in between. The poet won out with alliteration as I anchor my thoughts amidst intrigue, interdisciplinarity, instigation, and improvisation. Engaging the ambiguity, breath, and depth of the topic, my remarks focus on listening to myself and others, and to raise questions, as we work for justice – pedagogues/professors/performers engaged in praxis, using a womanist lens.


A select few of us have opportunities to engage in ancient texts and apply modern twists. When facing new situations, one point of departure is intrigue – what is prominent? Where can I participate? Who speaks, and what power does the narrator have? How do we use these texts? Which texts remain hidden? In a world of global tension rife with white supremacist patriarchal misogyny, which affects everything from market economies to leadership in the academy and faith communities, how can women work together? Do we self-destruct from inside? Why do so many autoimmune diseases, cancers, and premature deaths occur in the academy? How do female scholars not scapegoat each other when it comes to accessing authority and having an “in” with the “good old boys”? Historically black studies problematized race; feminist studies dealt with sexism for middle-class white women. How can womanism lift the multivariate levels of oppression, including elitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and ageism, without being co-opted by other feminists, by each other? Even today, sometimes colleagues from different spaces do not get the depths of white supremacist patriarchal misogyny. Too often, female scholars embrace patriarchal misogynistic tendencies of their doctor fathers. Few white female scholars understand the profoundly ingrained attributes of white privilege and how they benefit, as relates to Robin DiAngelo’s notion of white fragility: the shame and guilt that arises because of seeing whiteness as normative. From a point of intrigue, how can students, other faculty, and the world not replicate the pathology of white privilege? How can our religious educational systems come to understand that mass incarceration, war on drugs, gentrification, etc., are advanced forms of lynching and denying life for black and brown bodies? How do white middle-class women scholars not ghettoize younger white female scholars and women of color scholars/activists/pedagogues?


The gifts of higher education provide us access to tools of creative thinking across disciplines, geographies, politics, and faith. Technology has escalated our capacities for collaboration and the use of a variety of media in our work. What difference does it make when we are using multiple voices as we wrestle with the ancient stories of women, and how we make our scholarship and teaching relevant today? How does personal piety, or lack thereof, our stories, fluid methodologies, and changing seasons of interest shape how we engage each other as professionals? How do we need to navigate the traditions and theories we embraced during doctoral studies as we move forward in creating our theories and methods? How do faith traditions and our demographics, including any unresolved personal and communal hurt and pain forge how we see, hear, think, and create?


When it comes to shopping my middle name is bargain; when it comes to higher education, research, teaching, collaborating, and mentoring future leaders, my point of departure is instigation. What new techniques and types of collaborations can we embrace? Why do people teach the way they teach and do research? How do we engage tradition without smothering in the realities of dead white men? How do we reclaim those traditions that perhaps have never seen the light of day in the academy? How do we unpack the various myths about strong black women, the Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire imageries, that of black women as whores and prostitutes, and those of black men as studs - remnants from the days of enslavement to work together with respect? Thus, if we recognize that Jesus never spoke English, had kinky hair, and may have hung out with sages from Africa and Asia in preparation for his ministry, how does that affect how we read and teach texts, and how does that affect how we embrace difference, injustice, and deal with our hidden fears of each other? Denial is not a river in Egypt.


Finally, improvisation allows for creativity and spontaneity, wherein we can explore old stories in new ways. We can see the irony and reversals, recognizing who was at the table, and who remains disrespected despite having the credentials, the publications, and academic street cred. Improvisation allows us to see all of our biases, our fear around particular types of embodiment, our jealousies, and the negation of others. Too frequently, we are in solidarity as long as it is popular and there is no conflict. The moment challenges arise, often, we will not stand up for justice, not if it costs us. Perhaps conversations like these can spark curiosity within us all that will allow true, organic change to occur. At the end of the day, we all bleed red; most of us have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and on some level want to love and be loved. What would such an academy of womanist, feminists, and queer scholar/practitioners who refuse to be oppressive, to be catty, and fear-based look like? That for almost three decades, Tina Pippin and I have engaged such liberationist energies, from co-editing a Semeia volume on biblical mothers and their children to mentoring a feminist/womanist biblical duo, at their invitation, states that love and integrity can come together in womanist/feminists realities.

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Cheryl Kirk-Duggan,

moves at various intersections, from professor and poet to preacher, performer, and polyhistor. Dr. Kirk-Duggan is Professor of Religion, Shaw University Divinity School, Shaw University, Raleigh, NC, USA.

© Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, 2020,, ISSN 1661-3317