Friday, October 27, 2006

Little Girl Parts or I May Not Get There With You: Gendered Costs

Hamlet Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare (Whenever and Ever Amen)
The Black Jacobins, C.L.R. James, 1938, 1968
Pan-Africanism or Communism, George Padmore, 1971
The Production of Space, Henri Lefevbre, 1974
Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Mestissage, Francoise Verges, 1999
Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, Paul Gliroy, 2000
The Karma of Brown Folk, Vijay Prashad, 2000
Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment, David Scott, 2004
Race, Rape and Third Wave Feminism, Toni Irving, 2004
Uncovering Stories; Politicizing Sexual Histories in Third Wave Caribbean Women’s Literature, Donette A. Francis, 2004
“Black is Country”: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy, Nikhil Pal Singh, 2005

(yeah it's been a long time...i shouldnta left ya)
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison, 1977
Betsey Brown, Ntozake Shange, 1985
Louisiana, Erna Brodber, 1994
Daughter, Asha Bandele, 2003
Pink Icing, Pamela Mordecai 2006
Inventory, Dionne Brand, 2006

I've been wondering (since back when the term actually applied): What does it mean to sacrifice a virgin? Why does that make enough sense to even be said often enough that you recognize it. I suspect it holds a place in the language of the familiar/l because it is actually going on. Now.
I have to think about this because I just realized something that scares me and that might scare you. In two(many) parts:
1. The rage, the anger that I carry around, that I try to still in classroom on buses and everywhere looks to me like an inevitable explosion, starting in my body and moving through the buildings to the structure of the planning and the breaking of the planetary orbit. I see it. Splinters of everything flying away from the sound that I cannot make.
2. I just realized that the referential image for this visualization of my rage, my terror(ism) is that formative image that my dad passed on (driving to birmingham without warning when i fell asleep in the car one day) it's the 16th Street Baptist Church blowing up, It's my little girl parts that I can't afford, can't hold, can't save. That's the image. My anger can't be contained.
So this is me. Trying not to become a suicide bomber. Or this is the study for a poem that I have to write. In Song of Solomon, the book that made me feel like I was falling into the ocean the first time I read it. The book that made me refuse to straighten my hair the second time I read it. This book that I am reading for the third time because of a random phone call that I shouldn't have taken... In Song of Solomon, Guitar, the quiet terrorist, the reverse nationalist, the unspoken sound, is charged with avenging the murders of these same four little girls, blown up in the 16th Street Baptist Church. I don't trust him to do it right though, because he says that even though the black woman is a pathological life draining mess, he has to avenge her "Because she is mine." I am nervous to conversations of property. Especially since Guitar is ready to rob three people who he qualifies as "women" when his friend misnames them as people to get the money to buy the bombs. Especially since he craves "legal tender" which he says "sounds like a virgin bride" to fund this project. Especially since Morisson equates committing murder to losing your virginity in this text, in reference to this man, Guitar, who is the second smartest character (Pilate is first) who a part of me wants to love...but I can't afford...these little girl parts. What does it mean to sacrifice. A virgin.
Especially since Morrison allows Corinthians to elaborate on the meaning of being owned, displayed like property and then splayed like whores in Babylon as the meaning of being a black daughter of a man who owns things (and people). Especially since I know this is the same act. I guess I should be explicit. Especially since I was sexually assaulted (sacrificed as a virgin) by someone who would have then and would probably now describe me as a similar sick way. So what is the use of these little girl parts, of the sacrifice of virgins to the sense of a black liberatory narrative? Why do they need it?
In The Black Jacobins, that romance that tragedy of choosing between impossible choices, that tragedy (validated through Hamlet who finds the world too pregnant and hates women because they make men tragic through seduction and reproduction--according to David Scott) of "colonial enlightenment" that produced Caribbean intellectuals as conscripts of impossible desires and inevitable failures...little girl parts, the possibility that a girl can keep her body together is completely foreclosed. C.L.R. James, just finished arguing for West Indian Self-Government on strange and racist terms, tells this story beautifully. With an exception. Rape, when it shows up in the narrative, has to be part of a list of abuses suffered by the androcentric slave community all at once. Sex that is forced upon black and mulatto women is at best "seduction" by amoral slave owners and whites. One man insults another "man" by seducing his wife. By making her willing. By choosing the word seduction James is making her willing. And in a further move, unforgivable, he suggests that slave women were really fighting for (poisoning each other for) the chance to be "seduced" by the master. Sacrificed like versions of what? for the sake of lasting narrative of revolutionary struggle, of the rise of a man who was "master of himself" only because some things (it will seem) can always be owned, always be bought. Like those little girl parts...that body that I can't afford to keep. I want to ask the qustion that David Scott asks of this text in a different way. If Scott usefully, brilliantly asks that we use the mode of tragedy to realize the impossibility of vanquishing contingency, in the impossibility of predicting what we will really want, if we really are still alive, how do we make our desires loud? How do we resist the seduction of the predictable narrative that holds together partly because I'm not human enough to be included. This explains Toni Irving's article on the fact that black women are trained to know that when we speak about the violence that we have experienced we wil not be believed, we disrupt the narrative. Little girls are sposed to hush...
I mean literally. These little girl parts explode the narrative. Remember this. The civil rights movement led up to the brilliant and beautiful March on Washington, featuring the King who could see the mountaintop. And they blew up the church on Sunday during Sunday school, they sent the little girl parts flying into my my breaking faith AFTER that. AFTER that. I heard James Baldwin's voice break at the specificity "In a christian nation. On Sunday morning. IN A CHURCH. They do this..." Nothing is sacred, but somethings are set apart, like the sacrifice of virgins, making sense. An advisor of mine, Karla Holloway, asked me to be suspicious of the term coherence, of whose term that was. She reminded me that it really was not mine (add this to the list of things that I cannot afford). So now I have to name my own as the position that coherence excludes.
"Black is a Country", Nikhil Singh's readable and useful and wonderful account of the "unfinished struggle for democracy" points out the collaborations of the narrative of liberal economics and nationalist universalism in a way that I need. He does it in a way that I thank him for. But there is a growing list of things that I cannot afford (that he can afford?) and his book is only possible when I am amputated. I should have known when I noticed that the title quote is from my least favorite book of essays by Amiri Baraka..'Home"...the book that I literally wrote my senior thesis against...the violent domestication of black women (in the sanctified place that is going to blow up) that I cannot afford. I should have known but as usual I underestimated context (i can be a bad reader in the service of hope and Gilroy does it too...i'll come back to that). So the seamless slick narrative of black freedom discourse passed from man to man, and (as he explained) the way that this place tried to fool us into thinking that race was parenthetical he literally made gender parenthetical at at least two points in the text and then actually says that gender became an issue in the last chapter with the Panthers, despite Ella Baker...somehow. His students tell me he is thinking about that. They tell me that he repents. But the problem is that he had to do make a book. He had to, to make a narrative that could hold. That couldn't hold the problematic little girl parts.
Franciose Verges admits that it will always have to happen in the next book. Her book on the family narrative of colonialism and the trajectory of emancipation struggles in Reunion could not include the experiences of colonized will have to be another book she says. It will have be contained somewhere else. What does it mean to be set apart (into the sacred space that will be sacrificed first) , set apart onto the front lines. Dr. Verges and I once had a very strange and very short conversation about Condoleeza Rice and she said "It's something about the black woman destroying the black man. It goes back to slavery." I couldn't keep listening, for fear I would see Moynihan channelled, for fear I would lose the insights she had given about the relationship between rape and war. Really because I started to see those splinters in my head when I blinked. And I didn't want to explode the house of whichever kind faculty member's home I was in. And further..beacuse I can't be social under the specter of Conde. Conde is the epitome of what it means to sacrifice those little girl parts (that invevitability of power) and at the same time the even scarier violence of their recuperation. Carol Boyce Davies gave a talk last week in Toronto in which she pointed out the deadly irony of Conde (growing up IN Birmingham when girl parts were scattered right there right there everywhere) uses her proximity to say that she knows something about terror, she makes an exchange that I cannot afford, using her proximity to this explosion to turn black girls into soldiers, sending them into explosion demanding the form some form of themselves without little girlness, sending them to kill all the little girls in the world. A war on terror. God. I can't afford this. See how it explodes out?
So where is the hope (if not in the church). Gilroy (my fellow bad reader in the service of hope) sees it in technological innovation (which is where everyone sees it right?) arguing in Against Race that the move from blood and bones as the low tech house of rape into genetic penetrability makes a difference that affirms the exceptionality and the universal ethics that emanates from the killing of not quite racialized racialized people or something. But to do that he has to say that blood and bones and the place were race is marked and reproduced, which is difference from the genetic in a fundamenal way. He also has to say that through time we have moved from relative inpenetrability to technovisual penetrability. So he has to in other words, cut out the girl parts that were penetrable from the beginning (he actually says that somehow Micheal Jordan is more penetrable than Sartje Baartman was, she who was sacrificed exactly for and as the penetrability of stolen girl parts) AND say that the organs through which race is produced are neutral bones and blood and not the womb, the mark of the mother which reproduces race and social condition as one (in the time of slavery) and which is linked (even in his analysis) to the cellular reproduction of cervical cancer patient Henrietta Lacks towards genetic narratives that perpetuate social conditions by claiming to explain them genetically.
So I cannot afford to hope that race is finally over, or some such thing. I have to with Lefebvre say that a new social condition requires a new space (thus the explosion in my head again and again). That space is made and pointed to and furnished by Asha and Erna and Ntozake and Pamela and Dionne who insist on and insist on little black girl subjectivities, little black grils in pieces who deserve to be loved, who deserve the whole world. Little black girls whose experiences animate a critique of the police state that is black women held in place, and forced and sacrificed while virgins. Little black girls whose minds explode past death into the stories and desires of other black women. Little black girls who find new vantage points fr viewing a world that we thought was used up. Little black girls who suffer the trials of eight year old vulnerability for the simple joy of unjustified unownable pleasure. Little girls who count every single loss and happiness like it is theirs to hold. So really maybe the battle is in that exploding church, splintering my brain again and again. In the embattled belief that I am actually here even if no one admits this. In the inexcusable need to hold books while knowing that they may never be able to hold me....

1 comment:

Beth said...

Alexis - as always wow. i read this yesterday and woke up well before dawn with words & images & dreams churning in my mind - so i'm trying to share them before they dissipate - how your very brokenness makes you more than whole. wanting I/i to always (have) protect(ed) you/You (with gratitude to Trinh T. Minh-Ha - who I want to read with you/y'all/us). and mixing your words about the 16th street baptist church and little girl parts with Toni's words at the end of Beloved, "Disremembered and unaccounted for..." - dis(re)membered, since you teach me to look at language. And. "Although she has claim, she is not claimed. In the place where long grass opens, the girl who waited to be loved and cry shame erupts into her separate parts , to make it easy for the chewing laughter to swallow her all away." so, while i am not your amazing mother, i send a maternal kiss across the waters to you, with my love, a benediction for your protection. I have the ease of knowing that your writings hold us all - even you. -beth