Maryam Afaq’s ‘Race, Feminism, and Creative Spaces’ and Dawn Lundy Martin’s ‘Who’s Watching Anymore Anyway?’ in Claudia Rankine’s anthology The Racial Imaginary speak to each other across the collection around the notion of the (im)proper female—specifically, Black female—subject. In her song, “Forever,” from her 2016 mixtape, “Telefone,” Black female poet and rapper Noname wrestles with similar ideas.
Afaq’s essay addresses the way in which her MFA program—and by extension, the Western academy—upholds institutional whiteness. In a discussion about the roles of women in the US in the mid-20th century, Afaq notes, the instructor and other students in the program fail to recognize all non-white, non middle-class, non-Western members of that category. Afaq is keenly aware in this moment of how this discussion demonstrates that Feminism is often used in the context of the academy is a project convenient to and sustaining of Western empire. A South Asian poet, Afaq sees this project as one that systemically delegitimizes her identity. “How many ways and to how many people do I have to prove that I exist,” she asks (51). Through it’s invocation of Lucille Clifton’s poem, “won’t you celebrate with me,” however, Afaq is able to end on a hopeful note of resilience and immortality despite attempts of erasure. As Clifton does in her poem, Afaq celebrates “…that everyday/ something has tried to kill me/ and has failed.”
Martin’s essay explores the way in which her investment in the academy, despite the promises of racial liberalism and US ‘meritocracy,’ has failed to protect her from prejudice and oppression. Martin resists how, because of her identity, she is forced to comply to reductive notions of Black authenticity by both the Black Arts community and by encounters with violence and trauma in our “fucked-up, racist country” (268). If Afaq feels herself unable to conform to “traditional” notions of what a woman is, Martin feels herself unable to conform to equally damaging notions of what Blackness is. Resisting this “lasso around the raced identity within the constraint of what has already been perceived” is an investment in her agency & testament to her resilience. Complicating rather than reducing her narrative, in other words, is a way for Martin to live forever.
Noname’s song, “Forever,” also engages with these notions of complexity and resilience. She begins her song placing herself in lineage with other groundbreaking Black female artists, singing, “Miss Nina Simone, Jimmy Jones/ Missy Elliot musically were my relatives,” and continues to break ground, stating she is “…trying to re-imagine abracadabra for poverty.” Noname is as complex as her own imagination and in the second verse claims that to most people she is a “mystery” because “nobody understands [her] songs.” Her identity avoids being pinned down and reduced, therefore resisting erasure and violence. This becomes even more clear in the hook, when she states that despite those that “ain’t tryna’ see [her] shine”—in other words, enacting the violence of “a bullet on [her] time,” she is resilient: “Fuck it, I’ll live forever now,” she says. She resists violent subject categorizations through her art, establishing her timelessness—indeed, living “forever”.