The Salt Eaters, Toni Cade Bambara, 1980
Apartheid USA, Audre Lorde, 1985
Our Common Enemy Our Common Cause: Freedom Organizing in the Eighties, Merle Woo, 1985
Violence Against Women and the Ongoing Challenge to Racism, Angela Y. Davis, 1985
LionHeart Gal, Sistren Theater Collective, 1986
At the Bottom of the River, Jamaica Kincaid, 1992
Drown, Junot Diaz, 1996
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri, 1999
Juneteenth, Ralph Ellison, 1999
Some of Us Did Not Die, June Jordan, 2002
Revisiting Richard Wright in Ghana: Black Radicalism and the Dialectics of Diaspora, Kevin Gaines, 2001
The Subtle Art of Breathing: New Poems, Asha Bandele, 2004
"Out of Control: AIDS in Black America, ABC News, 2006
“This society is not likely to become free of racism, thus it is necessary for Negroes to free themselves by becoming their idea of what a free people should be.” -Ralph Ellison
Word? After word, after word after word image after death denying image. What hope can we find for represention here? What hope when ABC news manages to solicit the help of the Black AIDS Institute in the creation of a program that mocks our death and kills us live into commercial breaks. Breaking news indeed. ABC, I refuse to reproduce you here. Everyone else...suffice it to say that Ralph Ellison was right to be cynical. Black freedom in the United States is a celebration of the illusion that we are alive. But even survival is stolen.
June Jordan insists that black poetry in the United States is a difficult miracle framed by the impossible existence, impossible and corrupted self-expression of the first, Phillis Wheatley. June Jordan insists beyond the grave that those of us who did not die (yet) have a moral responsibility to act like we know. That we are alive. That life is not, cannot be, any more the practice of complete and incomplete murder on the bodies of women, on the bodies of the feminized non-white, on ourselves through the repetitive denial of love. June Jordan, rightly named because I was born into her...June Jordan, whose every essay, every poem, every recorded word outloud makes me forget that I'm going to cry again until I do. June jordan did not die because she spoke to me today, saying the body is honest, saying the body is hated, saying the body is the place where we have to live, even though lately my "death is always, always blurring (my) vision with tears." So yes. This week my Uncle asked me again to design headstones for my grandparents, because this is what it means to be an artist in my family. Yes. This week my mother named me beneficiary on her IRA laughing, saying "So, if I die, you get the money...though it's not much," because this is what it means to be loved in capitalism. And damn you doublespeaking ABC News for using my unlikelihood to sell car parts, for disrupting my mourning with a lie that we are "out of control" when anyone looking can see (if we cannot admit) that it is your particular brand of control that insists we are dead already.
Ralph Ellison tried to write a novel set in memory framed by a death bed and died without finishing it. So what hope do I have of saying this? Ralph Ellison (I am repeating the names of my ancestors because I need them, because I don't have enough words, because as Ellison wrote "we need a whole new dictionary to describe the truth...") it seems, gave up, or stopped waiting. For us. To be. Able to understand. And he was right. Nobody reads Juneteenth. Those who do disparage it for the same things they celebrate in Invisible Man. Ralph Ellison is laughing. "I died, you got the manuscript. It isn't much. You rootless bastards." Seriously. This book can only be a lost inheritance. It is dedicated to the fact that we haven't gotten it together. Ellison names us "The American Negroes" the "Vanished Tribe into which I was born" and dedicates this satire sermon on the nonsense of nationalism to us. Saying give up. My speech on accepting the National Book Award was a joke. This nation, nation as such will only kill you every time. Saying get out. Turn invisible to vanished build yourselves a bricolage surreal hotrod, violate property laws and patents, and ride the space/time contradiction that you are for even being alive. Can't you see how crazy this is? You are all drowning on dry land. Build a vehicle that takes you someway else. That's really his advice. And Fanny Ellison owns the copyright.
If white people can turn boats into coffins then who knows that I'm not underwater right now. Which of us died? How long does it take to drown? Something of water is retained in this idea of diaspora. Junot Diaz's stories tell me that water stains, oppression leaks in and rises into air through nappy hair. Jamaica Kincaid says that this language we live in will haunt us forever unless we scare white people to death with our brilliance...and even then the tide doesn't stop. Jhumpa Lahirii says that being here is being alone, is enough reason to cry towards swimming. Ellison told us "it hurts here and especially here" this place once named is a site of pain. And something of water remains in this thing that we call diaspora, meaning despite Wright as represented by Gaines, this thing diaspora is feminine and feminized. Meaning the action of making people fall apart over and over again depends on the assertion that these people are pussies. It is really that vulgar. I've said this before...this violence is rape again and again (and Angela says it and June say it so there). Despite Gaines, who would distinguish between the girly trauma of being enslaved and the masculine modernity of being a soldier, a modern subject, a radical in exile, a scholarship boy, I assert that there is something feminist (unacknowledged by Ellison even) in the transformation of drowning into baptism.
Yes Asha. Breathing is a subtle art. And an unnatrual choice in the wor(l)d that would kill us. Toni Cade agrees. Our healing (us women of color embattled since when) occurs in every world, in every word, on every plane, at every time, at once, when we choose it. And June Jordan told me when we choose to breathe like dancers, like singers, like wind, it is because we choose each other. It is not who we are (because that is lie we were told upon landing). It is not our common enemy. It is the need we find in each other and what we make. Knowing.