While many believe in and reproduce the narrative of the great black hope, and mourn the losses of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as the fallen kings who possessed the vision for a new black world, there have always been those who have challenged this. In Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership, Erica R. Edwards traces an archive of literary contestations to charisma. Edwards’s notion of masculine authority is anchored in a cisgender male body. Here I examine what takes place in the charismatic scenario when its protagonist is a cisgender woman, a black female charismatic leader, Reverend Myrtle Black, from Ann Allen Shockley’s 1982 novel, Say Jesus and Come to Me. Shockley is a black feminist theorist, novelist, and librarian who has been relegated to the margins of the margins of American literature. Although there have been attempts to explore Shockley’s extensive contributions to black literature in general and black queer literature and politics more specifically, she and her work remain “seen but not seen because of what the eyes did not wish to behold.” What Shockley is referring to as undesirable here is a charismatic black leader who is a woman, a lesbian, and a self-proclaimed feminist but also a self-serving, womanizing alcoholic. A close examination of Shockley’s novel and the discourse surrounding it illuminates how social movements must have a clear grasp of the workings of race, class, gender, and sexuality as they structure our material world, while also being careful to not rely on the identities we embody to secure a certain kind of politics.
Research Article|April 01 2013
Kai M. Green; “What the Eyes Did Not Wish to Behold”: Lessons from Ann Allen Shockley’s Say Jesus and Come to Me. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 April 2013; 112 (2): 285–302. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2020208
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