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Black Women and Narratives of Resilience, Revised Edition


Robin Boylorn

Sweetwater: Black Women and Narratives of Resilience is a multi-generational story of growing up black and female in the rural south. At times heartbreaking, at times humorous, Sweetwater captures the artistry, strength, language and creativity shared by first-hand accounts of black women in small-town North Carolina during the twentieth century. The book uncovers the versatility and universality of black women’s experiences and their exceptional capacity to love in the face of adversity, and hope in the midst of calamity. Sweetwater is about the black female experience as it relates to friendship, family, spirituality, poverty, education, addiction, mental illness, romantic relationships, and everyday survival. The merging themes show the resilience and resistance that black women exhibit while negotiating the intersecting oppressions of racism, classism, and sexism.

Written from field notes and memory, the author reveals the complexities of black women’s lived experiences by exposing the communicative and interpersonal choices black women make through storytelling. Narrative inquiry and black feminism are offered as creative educational tools for discussing how and why black women’s singular and interior lives are culturally and globally significant.

This revised edition preserves the original narratives but features new content including re-views, re-visions and re-considerations for re-writing autoethnography.

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Chapter 9


Holding my breath was rehearsed rebellion. I was younger than ten when I started breathing in without breathing out. I would sit on the steps of our trailer, my face resting in my hands, watching women and waiting to see what words would be spoken. The weather and whether or not so-and-so was doing right at home, and whether or not white people were acting a fool on the job, and whether or not their children had good sense, and whether or not there was enough money for bills and groceries, and whether or not they had made good love the night before, or ever at all, and whether or not the preacher preached a good word on Sunday, and whether or not they felt like grinning over crying—all this usually dictated their moods and their words.

Ornery moods meant Cali and I would be sent outside to play bare-footed and in our underclothes until our underarms were wet with sweat, and we could smell the musk rising off our bodies. Instructions to go and take a bath would come to us in the irritated voices of grown women who were too tired to be bothered with dirty children. They would look disgusted at our filthiness and tell us we smelled like dogs.

Cheerful moods meant if I was quiet and still, my presence in the house was tolerated. I could watch soap operas with them. Pick beans with them. Sit close enough...

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