i see you, sis analyzes everyday Black women’s sacred space-making practices and argues that they are sites of spiritual healing. I assert that in the wake of urban displacement, unhoused and housing-insecure Black women in Oakland, California, perform rituals of care within curated interiors of bodies and homes. I trace a collective praxis of ancestral memory and spirit reclamation that undergirds each space. Everyday art-making becomes a ceremonial act, and I illustrate how mundane moments of hair braiding and home-making, within the confines of a tent or a stoop, hold ancestral and spiritual resonance. I argue that these women’s sense of their own interior divinity stakes claims to humanity amidst the dehumanization of urban placelessness.
This project is based on five years of ethnographic research with sixty-five participants. My sites of study range from living rooms to sister-circles and include a variety of spaces where Black women in Oakland find healing. Methodologically, I engage performance ritual as praxis. I develop decolonial methods that expand traditional approaches to anthropology by merging performance ethnography with poetics and creative arts to more fully encapsulate the nuances of Black women’s spiritual lives. I posit “Black feminist space making as methodology,” and I curate healing circles where participants produce art which becomes data for my research, with participant consent. These artworks, and the encounters they engender, contribute to an expansive ethnographic dataset. I link chapters with virtual curations that articulate my research findings through prose, poetry, and multimedia art. I offer multisensory experiences of my work, which enables liberatory theories to be legible for academic and nonacademic viewers, including communities that inform my project. My website, blackwomxnhealing.com/iseeyousis, serves as a home for these multimedia texts.
My project builds upon a genealogy of Black feminist anthropology to expand the ways we think about reading, writing, and theorizing Black women’s intimate lives. I argue that, by excavating richly nuanced detail from the sacred lives of everyday Black women and “ordinary Black girls,” we expand our conception of feminist anthropology when conducted at the margins of the margins. By centering care practices of the uncared-for, and by illuminating the life-making praxis of women marked for social death, I work to reframe limiting notions of urban anthropology to shift the ethnographic gaze from a pathologized Black femme subject to a complexly curated and artfully autonomous one.