Women of Color and Native Spirituality

Women of Color and Native Spirituality 

For women of color, the hardship of navigating through society was doubled as they suffered from oppressive systems that rejected their identities as women and people of color. As traditional religions like Roman Catholicism and Christianity were used to colonize many countries, feminists who were women of color came to the realization that praising these religions meant praising the very same systems that continue to oppress them. Understanding religion and spirituality and being able to express it as a woman of color resulted in the reversion to many Native forms of religiosity and spirituality. Many indigenous and African religious traditions were revived as women found comfort in the female goddesses that many of these religions praised. 

Jayne Cortez was an Afro-Latina poet and musician who expressed her stance on racism and misogyny through her poetry, music and contributions to the women’s movement through her experiences as a woman of color. In her poem, “Do You Think?” Cortez talks about different issues that affect women of color through different literary techniques like imagery and repetition. She addresses how racism, colonialism, and misogyny affect the way that women of color navigate their identities within society. She establishes the importance of her Latinx identity by using words like “chorizo” and

The poem, Do You Think?, by Jayne Cortez. This poem discusses the hardships of women of color as a result of racism, misogyny and colonialism.

“cuchifritos.” In the poem, Cortez asserts “And my chorizo face a holiday for knives/and my arching lips a savannah for cuchifritos/ and my spit curls a symbol for you to/ overcharge overbill oversell me” (Cortez 57).  By evidently depicting a woman of color with distinct physical features, Cortez alludes to the fact that being a woman of color is not justification for her to have to submit to the oppressive systems that neglect her identities. Later in the poem Cortez says, “you think i accept this pentecostal church in exchange for the lands you stole” (Cortez 57). Pentecostalism is a common religion among Latinx religions even though it was forcefully imposed on indigenous and African slave communities to erase their native beliefs. Eventually, Pentecostalism was used to subordinate people of color and subjected women to the control of men for centuries. Cortez’s rejection of Pentecostalism is significant because it displays to the reader that because of her identity, practicing institutionalized religion is difficult because of its misogynistic and racist roots. 

The poem, “From the House of Yemanjá,” by Audre Lorde also does not shy away from accepting native religion. This poem was released in 1978 in The Black Unicorn along with other poems that explored the themes of womanhood, family life and spirituality. The name Yemanjá refers to the “Yoruban deity celebrated as the giver of life and as the metaphysical mother of all orishas (deities) within the Yoruba spiritual pantheon” (Canson).  This specific poem examines the relationship that the narrator has to their mother. The first stanza describes the narrator’s mother to have two faces. The narrator says, 

“My mother had two faces and a frying pot

where she cooked up her daughters

into girls

before she fixed out dinner.

My mother had two faces and a broken pot

where she hid out a perfect daughter

who was not me” (Lorde). 

The poem, “From the House of Yemanjá,” by Audre Lorde as it appears in The Black Unicorn.

This stanza establishes the poem as the narrator’s yearning for a motherly figure who accepted them as who they were. The second stanza describes the narrator having two women on their back “one dark and rich and hidden/ in the ivory hungers of the other” (Lorde). The duality of the two women introduced depict the two faces of the mother. They depict the two sides of the narrator’s mother as these women taunt and take care of the narrator. The poem ends with the repetition of “Mother I need” signifying the narrator begging their mother for their comforting touch and presence. As Yemanjá is the mother of all, this poem could be interpreted to be the narrator asking for a form of Yemanjá to appear before them and offer support and acceptance. 





Canson, Patricia. “Yemonja.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 August 2014, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yemonja

Cortez, Jayne. “Do You Think?” Heresies, vol. 1, no. 1, 1977, p. 125.

Lorde, Audre. The Black Unicorn. 1st ed., Norton, 1978.