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The poem above illustrates three themes: the mother-bond, education
as a climate for the growth experience, and God-reliance that
encapsulate the study as the women story their success development.
It also points out the self-behaviors that emerged during the
The findings of each portrait are studied through the lenses of the other two portraits, bringing contextual detail and emotion to the fore as salient themes emerge. "[Like] the overlaying of one transparency on another, this method highlights both the uniqueness and the commonality of the participants' experiences" (West & Oldfather, 1995, p. 453).
Eisner (1997a, p. 262) brought a cogent concept to my attention regarding the value of making comparisons. "It is by virtue of contrast, contrast that is more ideational than universal, that one notices and understands the other."
In the text to follow, the tables, the free verse poems, and the playlet display the specific exemplar quotes which reflect each of the five dimensions under review: mother support, education, God-reliance, identity development, and the distillation of success.
The Awesome Mother
Most of the stories discussed here are told in a positive light. The negative side, though implicitly extant, is rarely verbalized. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in this section. Almost any discussion about their mothers unveils a dichotomy, the witch/goddess. The witch/goddess domain is marked by vivid understatements. At the first interview Eboni used well-crafted cover stories to emphasize an idealized picture of her mother. Jade gilds her mother-goddess by omission. Silver uses conciliatory explanations. Eboni's representative reminder, that it is difficult to speak about one's mother without respect (June 97), contextualizes this analysis as we consider the mothers' roles in Table 1. Miles and Huberman (1984) made a strong case for creating data displays to help analyze the data. These displays shown here "allow for a more refined analysis and can lead to new displays and analyses" as we "eyeball" the data (p. 82).
The five storied roles of the mother are listed in Table I as the women-as-daughters described them. Jade, who storied the almost-perfect mother guided us through this display.
Jade and Silver are unequivocal in their description of the positive effect of nurturing mothers. They story a nurturing climate in which they learn and thrive. Jade
stories an intense mother-daughter bond, exclusive to the outside world. "We had our
|Mother as nurturer||When I was small, it was just the two of us. We did everything together (89)||After the beatings, my face tear-stained, she packed my breakfast and we took the bus (97).||I always came back to the solid touch of her upstretched palms (89)|
|Mother to the rescue||I didn't want to live in the residence hall in college. She moved house to the university town (89)||You're better off going to the school at church. There are other Black children going there (89)||All of a sudden there was a knock on the door. My mother was there. She had my gym clothes (89)|
|Mother as teacher||She is an example to me that I could do whatever I set my mind to do (97)||She teaches me to cook-the West Indian dishes (89)||Always remember, it's not just you that people are seeing; it's everybody that is Black (97)|
|Mother as motivator||She's always pushing me to do good in school. Get A's (89)||Look in the mirror, see how ugly you are (97)||I don't want you to ever work hard like I did (97)|
|Mother as therapist||Wen yuh han' in de tiga mout', rub he head (97).||He won't be marching down the aisle. You will (97).|
|Mother as mirror image||I am my mother's daughter (97)||Becoming like my mother is my greatest fear (97)||We're becoming just like them (97)|
|Gilding the pink hibiscus||[By omission or implicit comparison]||I covered up what she really was like. My mother has a hard time controlling her awful temper (97)||In my family, when you do something, you pay the consequences to the fullest. You don't get any special treatment (97)|
own little world," she recalls. Shades of matrophobia undergird Silver's story that she shares with Eboni and me. Neither Silver nor Jade mention a separation theme. Both Jade and Silver refer to the unschooled brilliance of their mothers. They story the motivating power of mothers who wanted more for their daughters than they had for themselves. While maternal motivation had little to do with the practix of education, it did much to facilitate the achievement of their educational goals. Both families changed locations to attain the college education the mothers insisted upon. The women voice instances of affirmation and adulation, which shaped the development of their will and moved them toward positive self-esteem.
Eboni, in contrast, found that the need for more basic physiological needssafety and securitytriggered her move away from her mother's clutches. She actively sought and found womenothermotherswho fit her description of the archetypical Good mother'. Despite it all, Eboni is resigned to the duty-centered reality of caring for her biological mother when she gets older. "I know I'll have to take care of her. My brothers aren't gonna do it."
School: The Watershed for Success
In the attempt to discover regularities in their life histories,
the young women's school stories are analyzed chronologically,
from elementary school through high school to collegeas
mediated through school stories. Teasing out the storied threads
of the narratives, I noticed that two paradoxical themes, enlightenment
and betrayal, were enmeshed in the narratives.
These storied threads, however, are almost invisible in their high-school accounts. For these women, the focus is on developing a personal support network, and a repertoire of success illuminates the high-school stories. In their college stories, a third themethe will to succeedemerges as it is mediated through resilience and self-regulation core constructs.
Elementary School Stories: Refuge or Battlefield?
Unlike what is written about in the literature of majority
identity awareness (Phinney, 1989), ethnic identity development
is a palpable piece of all their elementary school accountsfrom
the moment of awareness of a visible difference to their strategies
for dealing with the public's understanding of this difference.
For all three women, elementary school was the place of their
first encounter with themselves as other. Spending their formative
pre-school years among members of their primary reference groupin
family and church settingsthe women all recall that they
had no need to identity themselves as different until they enrolled
in school and encountered an initially hostile environment.
The women story three childhood affects of the school experience: excitement, hostility, betrayal. For Silver school began as a place of excitement. Her response to her peers' reaction to her difference led to anger, which she expressed in an aggressively volatile fashion, much to her mother's and brother's dismay. Jade encountered both enlightenment and betrayal in her early school experience. In the Caribbean elementary school, which she described as "kinda like of refuge," she delighted in the peace and order. Moving to Canada, she encountered derogatory name calling in response to her ethnic difference. She learned rather quickly how to retaliate. In her story, the school authorities betrayed her, "They put [me] back a grade," she recalls, a process fairly typical of the immigration experience (Anderson, 1993).
Both Silver and Eboni story a sense of pride in their academic promise during their elementary school years. Silver was chosen to make her grade 8 graduation speech. Eboni, who was supposed to be valedictorian, had that position affirmed only by the youth given that commendation. Betrayed by her teacher's miscalculations, she learned another lessonself-reliance. "What was I to do? No one else was going to defend me? What was I supposed to do? I didn't want to embarrass my mother. I didn't want to embarrass myself."
There is no indication that any of the three felt the need to withdraw from school. The reason for this may be embedded in Silver's comment: "If I said I was quitting, that would be the fight of the century right there."
Their High School Stories: Promise
Moving to a boarding high school was, from Eboni's viewpoint,
the beginning of her success. She found the environment as warm,
nurturing, and wonderfully therapeutic as the greenhouse in which
she was employed one summer.
Silver came into her own as a student leader from that point, with "accolades and affirmation falling on her like water from the sky." Her stories recount a development of the promise of public speaking which began in elementary school. They also show that the sense of responsibility developed at her mother's knee was heightened during that time.
Though she mentions two special trips that highlighted her high-school career, Jade did not find her secondary school experience quite as comfortable. She stories her recollections as being imbued with the need to survive the hormonal angst of her teenage years. The seeds for working with women and children in developing countriesher present ambitionwere sown on a high-school choir trip. She indicates that this was a critical moment in her adolescent experience.
College Stories: Passion and Privilege
All college stories are also told in a positive light. Silver,
who is the only one who references a struggle with finances in
that milieu, stories further development of her leadership skills
and sense of responsibility in her college years. Her memories
of college now bring her delight.
Jade stories the fulfillment of a dream through her college experience abroad. "Going to school in Europe. The only thing I really did want to do." Eboni's college stories also indicate the fulfillment of a dreamto become a legal assistant. A dream that would not be constrained despite two pregnanciesone following the other almost immediatelyas she tried to complete the requirements for her diploma. She has fond memories of how accommodating the school system was when they discovered that she was one credit shy of the graduation requirements, allowing her to march at the graduation ceremony and mailing out her diploma some time later.
Evidence of connectedness between teachers and students echoes in their discourse, illuminating the picture of the nurturing climate. Often the student-teacher or student-supervisor relationship moved into the deeper bonds of mentoring. Silver stories a teacher who still calls her to make sure that her law school applications are on track. Jade recalls a work supervisor who continues to be an integral part of her support network long after she graduated from college. Eboni uncovers the story of a woman who, answering her unspoken child-like need to be mothered, tucked the high-school student into her dormitory bed each night she was on duty.
Rarely, or so their stories record it, were they exposed to a hostile environment with tracks intent on marginalization; nor were they forced onto limiting career tracks. In the school stories these women shared and the follow-up communication they transmitted, it appears clear that school was not essential because of the stated curriculum. What was essentially important to each woman was the climate of affirmation, nurturing, and opportunity from which their separate passions developed.
In one of her later E-mail messages in this study, Eboni gives a retrospective evaluation of her school experience, having graduated from college almost 5 years earlier. Her words reflect an appreciation for a learning climate where empowering freedom of choice pervaded the scene.
I learned that I was created to be an individual not a clone. I am free to do whatever I want and make whatever choices I want. I will have to answer for each of these choices. I am loved by many. I am loved by God. I am loved by ME.
Table 2 highlights the growth these women made in appreciative learning cultures where attendant personnel focused on accentuating successes, creating a spirit of inquiry, and developing the competencies in which each woman displayed some skill.
Silver, whose academic success is the most storied, guides us through the display with core constructs embedded in the title of her graduation address: "Passion, Peace and Providence." Promise is analyzed in the place of Providence.
Establishing a history of successes
|Graduation speeches in grade 8, 12, and college president, year- book editor, graduating with honors in college||
I had the freedom to make my own choices
Legal assistant diploma during two pregnancies
|Mr P. in Physics class, She's right. She's exactly right. The one time I got something right in physics class!|
Vistas of possibility
The greenhouse. I just loved being there. So relaxed. So therapeutic!
I watched them and learned from them.
|Travel taught me things no book, teacher, or course could ever teach me.|
Vistas for travel or finding a place
My destination in life is to be a lawyer
|Choir tours||The thing that catapulted my first learning experience was a trip I took with the choir to Mexico City.|
There is also a representation of intentional opportunities to broaden the vistas of possibilities as was often done with the choir and band tours in high school and field trips in college. These opportunities for travel also broadened their worldview and heightened their sense of responsibility and service.
God-reliance is a critical element in the women's stories.
Silver's mantra, "Everything happens for a reason,"
epitomizes the mind-set from which they process the vicissitudes
of life. This attitude of mind is the pivot from which they operate
their world and may supercede Bateson's (1989) model of practicing
improvisations. Jade's belief that a closed door is her God's
signal that a better plan is available sheds light on their frame
Prayer and their mothers' modeling strengthen their God-reliance. All three women make explicit reference to their prayer relationship with their God. They see prayer as the link between themselves and God. It is, it appears, the active ingredient for building their close relationship with their Creator. Their prayers, as they describe them, are not formal. Silver's prayers are uniquely conversational. "What's up, God? Give me a little hint." Jade illustrates her prayer with a poem. "Use me, Master, in your vineyard."
Eboni makes reference to her prayer life but omits any reference to the content of her actual prayers. When she stories a conversation she had with a woman in her community who begged her to pray daily, she reveals: "She didn't know it, but I pray every day." The modern liturgy below is shaped from a composite of their own words.
The support of their God and their family and friends is reflected
in the women's mind-set as they encounter obstacles. The dominant
motif in these stories as the women explicate on their measure
of success is what Borysenko (1996) labels the feminine triad:
love, serenity, and service. As the women portray it, serenity
is more than a sense of calm, it is an internalized peace of mind
and acceptance of self.
The data displayed in Table 3 are guided by Eboni's conscious reliance on the intentionality of her Heavenly Father.
|Biblical texts to live by||Proverbs 31 is my wish list||"But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh 24:5).|
|God-support & comfort||
He's given me His love so that no matter what happens I will never be alone.
I know I say this all the time. But the way things have happened is nothing short of God's blessing.
I am a creation of God made uniquely in His image
|Everything happens for a reason.|
|Prayers: The God interaction||She doesn't know it, but I pray every day||What's going on? Give me a little hint. I'm not asking for the whole plan. Just a week or a day would be good.||I prayed that God would protect me especially since I was traveling by myself. (I must be honest, I thought it was quite a presumptuous prayer since I was the one who decided to travel on my own.)|
Ethnic Identity Development
Ethnic identity awareness is a thread which runs through all
the women's stories.
Themes of ethnic identity development emerged as early in the interview process as it did in their lifestories. Silver and Jade spoke of it within the first 10 minutes of the 1989 interview. Eboni never spoke about her Blackness in 1989 though she did acknowledge her visible difference and its potential for hindering her dreams. In 1997, she appears to have come to terms with it. In her litany of talents we hear bicultural ism in her style of cooking and in the plants she chooses for her garden. In her horticultural style there is the flavor of quintessential differences. For her fantasy garden, which she hopes to realize in the next 10 years, she plans oats for the hoped-for horses, corn for the new-fangled heating system, and a greenhouse with mangoes for her tropical self.
Of the three women, Silver is the only one who speaks openly, and proudly, of her Blackness. She discusses it in terms of responsibility and of maturity. Jade has accessorized her color to an exotic descriptiona café au lait woman of color. Eboni, who never spoke about it during the original 1989 interview, now casually weaves it into much of her conversation. All three were made aware of their visible difference in elementary school settings.
Table 4 displays quite graphically that all three women are at different stages of identity development. It is Silver's voice that shaped the analysis. The two factors they
have in common, however, are the painful encounters experienced in elementary school; and a growing appreciation for, ultimate acceptance of, and delight in their visible
|They probably never saw a Black girl before I went to school there. ('89)||I knew then that things were going to be different. ('89)|
|He called me a Blackie. I was like grinding his face into the pavement. ('89)||Too bad, loser. ('89)||They called me a Paki. I called them Honkies. ('89)|
|I washed a lot of it out so they wouldn't feel uncomfortable. ('89)||I bake pies. West Indians don't. ('97)|
|How many visibly different people really make it? ('97)||I am not dry. I have a spice for life. ('89)|
|I was wrapped in the mantle of my ethnicity. ('97)||I am woman. I am incredible. I am Black. ('97)||Reaching back to anchor myself in my heritage. Everyone keeps a bit of the motherland inside. ('97)|
|I cannot let fear of my difference stop me from righting a wrong when I see it. ('97)||My ranch style dream house is on 10 acres of land. It has an enclosed greenhouse with a mango tree . We'll plant grain. ('97)||
I am café au lait; a woman of color; an ethnic rainbow.
What you think makes a difference. (97)
Internalization & application
|The rest of the world sees me as Black. I have to act in a certain way to represent the culture that I am. ('97)||I am woman. I am incredible. I am Black. ('97)||
I will not forget where I came from.
I don't think being a woman of color brings me down a notch. ('97)
difference which their college stories reveal. Acceptance of
their differences has buoyed up their sense of self.
Jade as a saleswoman flaunted her ethnic identity. Silver, with her history of representing her people, is beholden to it. The exemplar quotes signify a commonality with the stage considered. This framework illuminates a pattern for these women who act on the self-definition as members of a minority group. This table is vital to the study of success development especially since Herring (1995) insists that the integration of cultural identity and a positive self-concept leads to a sense of competence.
Jade and Silver story an acceptance of their ethnic selves. Their inner security developed at the internalization stage and flowered into a bi-dialectic delight in their plurality, evidenced by their self-description, self-expression, and attachment to their ancestral ties. Eboni, who may not yet have fully attained what Cross (1971, 1991) posits as internal commitment to one's sense of Blackness as she negotiates her identity, needed the help of her husband to become comfortable with it.
Becoming the Golden Hibiscus
As the women narrate it, their own success unfolds like a blossoming
hibiscus in a slow-motion Polaroid picture. However, this is not
so much an evolution as it is an active, intentional phenomenon.
Their metaphorsbuild to a pinnacle, polishing the diamond,
carrying a big stickimply active agency.
Eboni's E-mail message is emotive:
I am not plastic which can be melted down, nor am I a piece of clay that can be shaped. I am an individual who has finally opened her heart to herself. I am proud of what God has made me which is a beautiful woman with a mahogany complexion. He also made me with a strong will and determination to strive for better, should I want it.
While analyzing the themes inherent in this segment, I suddenly
understood that the women were describing a distinct parallel
to Maslow's (1954, 1962) growth needs towards self-actualization.
The majority of Frank Goble's (1970) schema of Maslow's 16 meta-needs
are represented in the women's words as they describe their definition
of, and progress to, success.
Jade talks about her success, beginning at her birth and building on each additional success. "It's not the big success at the end. It's the little success along the way." Her revised poem reflects that unfolding. Silver's success developed on the cusp of family support, academic prowess, peer affirmation, and forethoughther metaphor "anointed yet dry" suggests an ordinationthe beginning of a special journey in service. One of the critical findings of this study lies in Silver's words. "I've spent some time actualizing both sides of myself." In Maslow's (1954, 1962) schema of growth needs leading to self-actualization, we find a new mirror for the inner signifiers to success.
For the purpose of this study, however, some revisions must be made clear. Their search for truth is not so much scientific truth, whatever that might entail, as it is Truth or God-of-the-bigger-plan truth. Success, as the women story it, comes from their God-purposed inside. Similarly, beauty is defined here as the enjoyment of the natural beauty that physical space affords. Playfulness is viewed as the humor that pervades their discourse. Goodness is mediated through their service storiesstories, which may have derived, perhaps not coincidentally, from their high-school's motto: Service not fame.
Each woman has attained varying degrees of the dimensions of success. It must be remembered, however, that Eboni at 24 is the youngest of the trio. Her success is still very much in the public domaina family, a house with a garden, a car, and a career if she chooses to use it. Jade, who is already at the fourth segment of her life at 29, according to Borysenko (1996), has maturity on her side and guides the display.
What Table 5 cannot show is that there are several other themes that converge as the women share their accounts. The first, and most important, is their constant need for reflection and evaluation of their progress. They frequently recount moments when they sought ways to improve their life patterns. Silver's story of the "li'l stretch of road" is indicative of this need for intentional deliberation.
What also is not displayed is the development of success is a series of social competencies, several of which are leadership-based. Again, Silver exemplifies this theme, but Eboni's and Silver's church-related service roles also reflect this mode. Many of these competencies involve communication. The graduation speech that Jade gave to a group of high-school students she had worked with, and the various speeches Silver gave, all contribute to the competencies in which they take pride.
In Table 5, Jade, the most senior of the three, guides the display in her own voice. The others follow with exemplar quotes.
|Self-sufficiency||A successful woman is self-sufficient. She can stand up for herself. Knowing she can take care of herself.||
Eventually [successful people] can be by themselves and accept themselves, and be fine with that.
This is me marching down that aisle. I have to find a way to make this happen.
You have to be able to understand yourself and grow from yourself out before you can do anything else.
|Success is when a person achieves what she's set out to do.|
|Goodness in service||
The trip that I took with the choir to Mexico. What a lesson in sharing.
The trip to Rwanda. How could I fit back in a world when I measured the cost of an item by how many pairs of children's shoes it could buy?
Eventually we will live overseas, working with other women, encouraging them, teaching them... .
|I don't see myself being actualized in some Fortune 500 company. I want to actually touch somebody's life and make an actual difference.||She had no dress for graduation. I made [a cream lace] one|
|Beauty of space||I remember watching the sunrise, the sunset, the lights of the fishing boats way out on the sea.||This park across from my home is a haven for me. A solace. It's a place where I feel open and safe.||
I would just sit and watch the sunset. I could lose myself in it. The colors are like paint splashed against the sky.
It was our house. But it was my space!
I may be selfish but I need my space.
Success is being content with who I am.
I will not melt into marriage and lose my identity.
|The truest definition of success that you can have is to belong inside yourself.|
|Perfection||A wise person doesn't say much, but what he says is good.||
I remember very specifically when I graduated from high school, I was obsessed with graduating with honors. I missed it by 3%.
I think when I do something, I always think I could do it better.
When I graduated from college, I graduated cum laude. But I could have graduated magna cum laude with a 3.8 if I had remembered to S/U the class.
There were a lot of mad mistakes in the yearbook. I was proud of it, but it could have been better in a lot of ways.
My speech at graduation. It was really that good!
|It's not just blue. It's Wedgewood blue.|
Just say what you need to and get out!
Action speak louda dan voice.
|I cannot let fear of my difference, of people looking at me as different stop me from righting an injustice when I see it.||The way things have happened for us is nothing short of God's blessings.|
|Simplicity and serenity||
Simple but elegant.
Like tulips. They don't have ruffly things going on.
Success is when I'm at peace inside.
|I'm just me. Just Sil.|
God knows me better than I know myself.
Use me Master, in your vineyard. Keep me humble. Make me pure.
Everybody has highs and lows in their life. The way you really know you've learned from the highs is how you react to the lows.
Everything happens for a reason. In the fullness of time you will see it.
|God sacrificed His only son. My price tag was paid with His blood.|
|Humor and playfulness||
Giraffes have lovely long eyelashes!
If there was a spider, I'd jump out of the jar!
|Her sense of humor is woven through the dialogue, and I could not refrain from laughing even if my degree depended on it.||I wasn't going to school with the beached whale syndrome!|
The Playlet: A Synthesis of the Study's Findings
To create this playlet, the interview data were further categorized
into the study's three major themes of mother-daughter support,
God-reliance, education as a growth experience, and the minor
theme of ethnic identity developmentfour units of meaning
in success development. Since the data were originally collected
in a "conversation with a purpose" context, using the
voices of the participants was a simple process. Performance texts,
such as the one below, have narrators, action, and shifting perspectives.
Except for minor syntactical changes, the script is identical to the verbatim transcripts of the original interviews. As one voice was juxtaposed onto another, one theme overlaid on the other, the dialogue which resulted flowed almost naturally into a playlet script (West & Oldfather, 1995). It became a performance text (Denzin, 1997) which creates spaces for the merging on multiple voices and experiences (Conquergood, 1992). This work is, in short, a response to Richardson's challenge: "If you wish to experiment with evocative writing, a good place to begin is by transforming your field notes into drama" (1994, p. 526).
This is a text which enters a world opened by the standpoint epistemologies that seek to evoke experience, not explain it (Denzin, 1997). The voice of an interviewer provides structure to the play. His questions, while not identical to those asked in the original interviews (Appendixes A & B), highlight the categories, and oftenif the women's voices do notprovide the transitions essential to the flow of the dialogue in this discourse. This performance text is both an interpretive and emotive recount of events and tellings from the field. The host's questions reflect my ruminations as I struggled to develop a clearer understanding of success development and its correlates.
Meet the Press: The Interview in Playlet PolylogueSetting:
The set of a talk show
Cast: Talk show host, Eboni, Silver, and Jade
HOST: Good afternoon, Toronto. I'm your host, Phil Baxter.
Welcome to our show. Today's segment is "And they call themselves
ordinary people." Our guests are three women who have been
selected as modern models of success. Their friends sent in their
names and their storiesunknown to them, of course. When
our staff read their stories, the decision was unanimous. They
had to appear on the show. Now here they are, ladies and gentlemenEboni
Powers, Silver Braxton, and Jade Delainey!
HOST: Tell me, Eboni. Why do you think your friends sent your story in to us?
EBONI: I don't know. I was thinking about that on my way down here. I don't know that I am the person for your show. I really don't see myself as successful. Yes, my friends remind me that I am only 24. I have a house with a garden, a brand-new stick-shift car which I can drive, a husband, and two cute little sons, but am I really successful? (Shrugs) If I am successful, I'll be able to fly myself and my entire family to Jamaica for a week next year!
(Audience applauds whole-heartedly)
HOST: How about you, Silver? Why do you think your friends nominated you for this show?
SILVER: When I speak, I sound like I know what I'm talking about. I don't always, but it sounds like it. Or maybe it is because of my college experiencepresident of my class, yearbook editor (slapping thigh to count off achievements), departmental honors, I graduated cum laude. But I'm really just your regular Joelean.
JADE: I think because I got my university educationmy bachelor's and my master's too. And travelling to Europe, going to school in France. And something else I wanted to dogo somewhere as a missionary. I got the chance to do this in Africa.
HOST: You just mentioned schooling, Jade. How important was education to becoming successful?
JADE: Education was important to my mom. When we lived in Guyana, where I was born, she wanted me to go to a Catholic school. It was a very good school. A very good place for kids to go. But because we are not Catholic, she had to enroll me in that school when I was born so I would get a place there. My momshe wants the best for her daughter.
SILVER: Educations are good. (Slapping her thigh). Educations are necessary. I believe educations are amazing, but it's not all. If that's all you have, that's all you cling to, it's only a piece of paper, really.
EBONI: It was important to me. My success began when I moved to boarding school. No, it started with thinking about moving to school. I met wonderful people there. Role models. And there I learned that people around me did not have the freedom to force me into a mold they had created. I had the freedom to do whatever I wantedmake whatever choices I wanted. I would have to pay the consequences, of course. But I had the freedom. I worked in a greenhouse at school one summer. I just loved being there. It was so relaxed. So therapeutic. The smells, I loved it!
HOST: Are you saying, Eboni, that your school had a greenhouse effect on you?
JADE: My elementary school was sorta like that. It had beautiful gardens. It was so quiet. It was a wonderful place, kinda like a refuge.
EBONI: Greenhouse? (pause) High school and college perhaps, but not my first years at elementary school! When I was in grade 3, we had to choose teams in softball. And everyone was chosen and they left me for the last. And then they said, "We don't need any more." And I was just always, you know, left out in the cold.
JADE & SILVER (Unison) Ouch!
JADE: You know . . . Something like that happened to me when I first went to school here, too. At first the teachers watched out for me. But when I was in grade 4 or 5, a kid punched me in the stomach. They treated me differently because I was (pause). Because I came from somewhere else. I just stood there and cried. But as I got older, I started fighting back. Became just as aggressive. When they called me the N word or the P word, I called them the H word!
SILVER: Go girl! They tried to call me names too. This one guy, I can't even remember his name now, called me Blackie or something like that. And I beat him. I was so mad at him, I beat him. I was like grinding his face into the pavement. My brother had to come over from another playground to tell me to stop.
HOST: Is that how you survived elementary school?
SILVER: Oh, no. After that, the kids accepted me as I was. At least that is what I thought then. But now I realize that they didn't truly accept me because I washed a lot of it out so that they wouldn't feel uncomfortable, and I wouldn't feel uncomfortable.
HOST: You think the kids felt uncomfortable because of their prejudice?
SILVER: When I went to elementary school, I was the only Black girl in my school. My mother used to tell me, "People are always going to call you Black. You should say to them, Yes, I am, and I'm proud of it'." Then she would add, "Always remember that it wasn't just you that they were seeing. It is everybody who is Black that they would ever see."
HOST: Wasn't that a rather weighty responsibility for a little girl?
SILVER: (Laughing) Perhaps that's why I never listened to her. Or actually, I listened but just did it my way. It was only in grade 12 that I began to think. Hey, I'm Black. I shouldn't be hiding it or pretending that I'm not so that people don't feel uncomfortable. Why should I have to explain what it means to put extensions in my hair. You don't know what it means when I perm my hair. I know what it's like when people have to wash and condition and all of that. I see it everyday. But you don't know what I do. When I open up Seventeen, there's nobody there that's me. And then I got tired. I chose to pretend my Blackness wasn't there instead of having to explain it all the time.
HOST: Did you all go through that process?
EBONI: I saw a t-shirt last summer that I wish I had bought. It said something like: "I am a woman. I am incredible. I am Black. I am tired." That sums up my experience now. But when I told my mom about the softball game incident back then, she put me in a private school. She said, "Being Black always has its problems. You're better off going to the school at church. That way if there are any problems, you won't get it as hard because there are other Black children going there. You'll find a place with your friends, and you'll feel comfortable."
EBONI: Yes, and though I didn't know it at the time, she was on social assistance!
HOST: A private elementary school!
JADE: Perhaps because I call myself café au laitI'm mixed, you see, my mother is Asian Indianmy experience was a bit different. But eventually, I came to realize that it's how I feel inside, what I think, that makes the difference. If I feel that because I am a woman of color, people aren't gonna listen to what I have to say, it will come across that way. But if I come across as someone who has something important to say, then people interact with you naturally. I don't think being a woman of color brings you down a notch. On my honeymoon in Puerto Rico last year when I felt the warmth, I realized that I still keep a little bit of my homeland inside and I felt free.
HOST: Perhaps that brought you up a notch. All through this interview, I keep hearing references to your mothers. What role did she play in your progress to success?
JADE: She played a big part. She has been an example to me. Her perseverance. Her struggles.
SILVER: My mother always said to me, "I want you to have every opportunity. I don't want you to have to ever work hard like I did."
JADE: My mother said that too! She'd say, "You can go a long way if you have an education. I never got a lot of things because I don't have a degree. You can get a better job. The people you meet will have important things to say."
SILVER: When I went to college in the States, my parents moved there. They moved so that it would be easier for the entire family to have my brother and me right there in college.
JADE: Wow! So did my parents. They moved because I didn't want to live in residence any more.
SILVER: My mother taught me a lot too. When I was going through some teenage angst if, for some reason, this guy didn't like me, I was ready to dash away all my homework. My mother would say, "You know what? He's not going to be there with you when you march down the aisle at graduation. You will. And all that stuff won't matter anymore."
JADE: My mother taught me a similar lesson. Once when I was working through the typical teenage hormonal angst . . . No, when I was having problems at work, she told me what her mother had told her a long time ago. "W'en yuh han' in de tiga mout', rub he head."
SILVER & EBONI: (laugh delightedly)
HOST (bewildered): What does that mean?
JADE: Translating exactly, it means, "When your hand is in the tiger's mouth, stroke his head." It's a metaphorical Guyanese lesson on interpersonal relations. What my mom was teaching me was how to deal with difficult but powerful people.
What she also taught me was how important it was to have God. She showed me how God has led her from past to present. One memory that I will always have is of my mom praying. Sometimes I'd walk by her bedroom in the mornings and she'd be kneeling, praying.
HOST: Jade, you just made a reference to your God. What does spirituality have to do with success.
EBONI: The way things have happened for usmy husband, my sons, and meis nothing short of God's blessing. I read Proverbs 31 every morning. You know, the passage that reads, "Who can find a virtuous woman?" It's like a wish listdone that; gotta do this. I'm hoping that someday I can say that I've done everything on that list. People say, I've done a lot already. Bought house and land, planted a garden, clothed my sons. But it's God who takes care. He really does. And I know He has a purpose for me.
JADE: So do I. I always remind myself that God knows me better than I know myself. That thought keeps me focused on God's will. With constant prayer and careful listening, I slowly see where He is leading.
SILVER: You know, there was a li'l stretch of road between campus and home that I would walk. Mostly at night. I would sit down and think. And I prayed. I'm like, "God, what is going on? Could you kinda let me in on the next plan. I know there's a plan bigger than what I do." I believe that everything happens for a reason.
HOST: Is that knowledge, that belief . . . Is that what keeps you grounded?
SILVER: That and a park across from my home. This park saved my life when I moved back after college. It is a haven for me. A solace, actually.
EBONI When I lived with my mother in an apartment building, I had a park like that too. I needed that space. It may sound selfish, but I need my space.
JADE: When I was young, I remember watching the sunrise, the sunset, the lights of the fishing boats way out on the sea. Beautiful nature. Now whenever I go somewhere tropical, I feel warm inside. As if I'm halfway home.
HOST: Jade, you just alluded to your tropical roots. Do you all think being visibly different made you strive for success more actively?
SILVER: It's more than just that. It's sociopolitical as well. I probably symbolize the amalgamation of the civil rights movement, the women's movements. I'm generation X. I'm educated and I'm a minority. The rest of the world sees me as Black. Sometimes I have to act in a certain way to represent the culture that I am. When I was growing up, I tried to be very different, consciously different from other females. I was the ultimate tomboy. I've spent more time actualizing both sides of myself than I think many people do.
HOST: As we bring this hour to a close, would you share with our audience your definition of success?
JADE: I can tell you what it's not. It's not being abrasive. It's not, you know, having a big voice and just bulldozing people.
SILVER: I think the truest definition of success that you can have is to belong inside yourself. I think to be successful (slapping her thigh), you have to be able to belong wherever you are. Because you're in here (pointing to heart). You have to be able to (slapping her thigh) understand yourself and grow (slapping her thigh) from yourself out before you can do anything else.
JADE: Success is being happy where I am at the time. Being at peace inside.
EBONI: Success for me is when a person achieves (slapping her thigh) what they set out to do. When they've reached (slapping her thigh) their goals.
JADE: I saw a poster in my office that sums it up exactly. Success is not a destination; it's a journey.
SILVER: Uhhmmn. A long journey with a lot of highs and lows. Somebody once said, and I can't remember who said it, but it's, "Everybody has highs and lows in their life and the way that you really know you've learned from the high is how you react to the lows in your life." You have to be able to understand (slapping her thigh) yourself and to grow from yourself out before you can do anything.
JADE: You're right. Success is be-ing. Success is living a simple, good life. It's like peace of mind, being content with who I am.
HOST: What was one thing that moved you or kept you on your path to success?
SILVER: One thing? Just one thing? Being in the spotlight (grins). OK, well, for me it was that my destination in life is to be a lawyer.
EBONI: I'm determined and tenacious. When I set my mind to something, I don't let go.
JADE: The thought: I'm my mother's daughter. I'm gonna persevere.
HOST: What advice would you give to those coming after you?
SILVER: Don't stagnate. Keep moving. Get (slapping her thigh) to another level. Start something new. There's a plan bigger than who you are.
EBONI: Be determined and tenacious. When you set your mind to something, don't let go. Take a break, if you have to, but go back and finish.
JADE: You can be whatever you can be as long as you're free inside. Being self-sufficient.
(In a miked whisper to Silver) Why do you slap your thigh all the time?
SILVER: Oh, I don't know. A jump start for my brain, I guess!
HOST: And that, ladies and gentlemen, was what this show was about today!
A jump start for your brain!
At the Swings: The Controlling Metaphor
"Metaphor is the backbone of social science writing, and like a true spine, it bears weight, permits movement, links parts together into a functional coherent wholeand is not immediately visible " (Richardson, 1990, p. 18).
The study's controlling metaphor is indeed a potent way of seeing ordinary things differentlyin different forms and from different perspectives, thus "deepening meaning, expanding awareness, and enlarging understanding" (Eisner, 1997b, p. 5). Figure 1, which I commissioned for this study, reflects the metaphoric themes discussed below that informs this study.
The hands in the picture, however, bring a new perspective to the foreground of the inquiry and enlarge my understanding. The hands, unmistakably feminine, are both
Figure 1. At the swings.
Original crayon drawing by Arnold Jimenez
Commissioned by Glenda-mae Greene, March 1998
supportive and instrumental. They soothe and they motivate.
At first glance, they are accepted as the mother's hands. On further
reflection, a link not immediately visible
becomes clear. They can just as easily symbolize the school teacher's hands. They represent the link between familial and school settings.
Silver's precious mother-memory evolved to become the controlling metaphor for this study because it signaled a plethora of possible meanings. The underlying assumption of the scene is that role modeling on the swingsrealistic or vicariousoccurred here and
the rewards were pleasurable. Young Silver had most likely seen others enjoying themselves at the swings and was eager to follow suit.
The repetition, which is a requisite for the act of swinging brings to mind much of what is required in learning. This, however, is not rote learning; it is active and ultimately self-regulatory as the child learns to pump and control her own soaring. The notion of soaring reminds one that expectations are predicated on few boundaries. The
tacit assumption here is that the child is given the freedom to soar, explore a new space, unbridled by limiting institutional restraints.
This story also illustrates the close and reciprocal relationship inherent in the mother-daughter bond Silver shared with her mother. Inherent in the tale is the implicit and safety-producing knowledge that her mother "got her back," a phrase that implies safety. Someone whom she trusts is watching out for her. The tacit assumption here is that the child is given the freedom to soar, explore a new space, unbridled by limiting institutional restraints.
The context, open spaces and warm sun, is rife with symbolism
of freedom, nurturance, and optimism. References to space abound
in the interview transcripts. Space, as the women story it, has
a myriad meanings. First, it reflects the possibility of personal
freedom. It "refers to the self-dependence and self-determination;
it has little to do with connectedness or being together in community"
(Greene, 1988, p. 1). It illuminates the freedom that each woman
has to choose her own way, unfettered by obligation and relations,
as Eboni discovers.
Space also describes the inner space which empowered the women to develop a new way of thinking. Silver describes in physical terms that li'l stretch of road' as the site for her private reflective space.
Allusions to space in the context of a respite "unconceal" (Heidegger, 1971,
p. 54), an open public place where each woman sought solace and renewal. Eboni and Silver describe nearby parks as an antidote for cramped apartment living. This space is a self-selected site for temporary isolation from the clutter of communal living. It is also an antidote for Jade's boxed-in feeling'.
Finally, space is the site for creativity. Silver stories it as the forum for an embryonic novel. Eboni uses the hours in her country garden to spend time alone with her thoughts while supplementing the vegetables for the family table. Jade uses it as the site for remembering her roots if she is in the tropics. In essence, the notion of space privileges the power of choice, independence, creativity, and possibility.
The poem which follows is predicated on the swing metaphor. It illuminates the nurturing and motivating themes which the women storied. Working with the developmental motif which undergirds this study, I sought to "touch the impalpable" and guide readers to "see with the eyes of the heart" (Paz, cited in Glesne, 1997, p. 213).
Image/Text Synthesis: The Pastiche
The research questions are answered, for the most part, in
the image/text balance of this chapter as it was with the poetic
transcription with which this chapter began. Figure 2 illuminates
the meaning of the journey and shares another perspective on this
As Radnofsky noted (1996, p. 386), a qualitative model such as this one is "a 'sign complex,' a set of visual signifiers intent on representing data analyses that are usually communicated in narrative form." Pointing out our need to grasp abstractions concretely in order to begin to comprehend them, Miles and Huberman (1994) insist that metaphoric thinking is essential to understanding social phenomenon. "Metaphors will not let you simply describe or denote a phenomenon, you have to move up a notch to a more inferential or analytical level" (p. 252).
Eisner's renowned interest in arts-based research (1997b) coupled with my need for visuals as a spur to both creative and critical thinking triggered the development of a metaphoric model. It aims to encourage the viewer to realize that visually representing
data is an interactive activity. It draws upon the viewer's
deep reflection of the data and my interpretation of them.
Each symbol used is a mental tool for experimenting with ways of telling and understanding. The multi-dimensionality is lost in this formstatic textbut the essence of the multiple realities survives. The story is interpreted in two layers. The first layer charts the expedition towards success as their stories described it. We see the vertical staircase
which Silver and Eboni craft; we also see the continuum that Jade makes of her success
graphic. We observe the common benchmarkshigh-school and college graduations. We note the shoes of their role models. We detect directional signs indicating past success and future goals. We find rest stops for introspection and reflection along the way, and the Holy Book which dominates the last segment of the illustration. We pause as the
continuum ends, knowing that it is only a temporary end (Bakhtin, 1981) and we have not yet explored the depths of possible meaning as the iceberg portrays.
The second layer illustrates the patina of optimism that arcs their accounts with themes of hope and promise. It depicts the rainbow of ethnicities which these women claim as their ethnic heritage. It reflects the God-themes that pervade the stories they
The pastiche brings us up a notch in connoisseurship (Eisner, 1991). It reminds us of the direct relationship between signifier and meaning, and that "connotation allows for the creation of new and virtually unlimited symbols" (Radnofsky, 1996, p. 386).
Representing the complexities of the data, and my representation of them, it strives to portray coexisting multiple realities and how we make sense of this study.
A pastiche designed by
Glenda-mae Greene, February 1998
In the end, however, "once the privileged veil of truth is lifted . . . and other disparaged discourses rise to the same epistemological status as the dominant discourse" (Richardson, 1991, p. 173), we see the world as new. This newly created text articulates resilient, emancipatory perspectives on the lived experience of three Caribbean Canadian women, revealing new findings and asking new questions.