Explorations in Ethnic Studies

Explorations in Ethnic Studies


Sandra E. Bowen

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Explorations in Ethnic Studies





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In her discussion of Mattie Michael and Avey Johnson as mentors in Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place and Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow, Wells uses as a focal point Gwendolyn Brooks's poem "What Shall I Give My Children?" It is a socially and politically institutionalized assignment that becomes cosmic when experienced by African American women. Joanne M. Braxton expresses it: "As Black American women, we are born into a mystic sisterhood, and we live our lives within a magic circle, a realm of shared language, reference, and allusion within the veil of our blackness and our femaleness . . . . "[1] Wells quotes Toni Morrison regarding the black woman: "She has nothing to fall back on; not maleness, not whiteness, not ladyhood, not anything. And out of her reality, she may well have invented herself." And she invented a self that shaped her identity within the constrictions of a hostile network that wove a tapestry of bonding, the foundation of becoming a mentor, or providing "ancestral presence" to borrow phrases from Braxton, in the image of "the outraged mother." The roles of mentors and bonding are survival mechanisms, spiritually and physically.


Copyright, ​©EES, The National Association for Ethnic Studies, 1990