An Inside Thing to Live by: Refusal, Conjure, and Black Feminist Imaginaries among Granny Midwives


Granny midwives often based their authority to practice midwifery on the spiritual traditions of rootwork or conjure passed down by the foremothers who trained them. However, granny midwives were compelled to give up their conjure-infused methods of birthing if they wanted to become licensed (that is, to get a permit) or be authorized by the state to continue their practice of midwifery. In response, some granny midwives refused to recognize the authority of the state in the birthing realm, willfully retaining rootwork in their birthing practices. In this article, I contrast the response of granny midwives, a politics of refusal, with another major tradition in African American thought, a politics of recognition, such as gaining citizenship and rights, permits, and licenses from the state. Due to the political stakes of the granny midwife's conflict with the state, I argue that black feminists often endow the figure of the granny midwife (or more broadly, the conjure woman) with the political significance of refusal in our emancipatory imaginaries. To demonstrate this, I will analyze the interventions in black liberation politics that two black feminist writers make through their invocation of granny midwives: Zora Neale Hurston's essay, High John de Conquer, and Toni Morrison's novel, Paradise.

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