Sunday, December 09, 2007

'Burn More Than My Failures': Temporalities of Terror, Trauma and Hope

"Prologue" Audre Lorde, 1973
"Blackstudies" Audre Lorde 1974
Time and the Other, Johannes Fabian, 1983
"Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?", Cathy Cohen, 1997
"Face Up to What's Killing You": Fear and the Prison Industrial Complex, Avery Gordon, 1998
"More on Positive and Negative Images: The Case of Kara Walker, Artist" Avery Gordon, 1998
"A Love Story" (on asha bandele), Avery Gordon, 1999
Global Feminisms Interviews with Cathy Cohen and Grace Lee Boggs , 2002
"Something More Powerful Than Skepticism" (on Toni Cade Bambara), Avery Gordon, 2002
Black Women, Identity and Cultural Theory: (Un)Becoming the Subject, Kevin Quashie, 2004
"Time Binds, or, Erotohistoriography", Elizabeth Freeman, 2005 (again)
Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Memory and the Sacred, M. Jaqui Alexander, 2005 (again)
Giving an Account of Oneself, Judith Butler, 2005 (again)
The Empire of Love: Towards a Theory of Intimacy, Genealogy and Carnality, Elizabeth Povinelli, 2006
in "Queer Temporalities" (an issue of Gay and Lesbian Quarterly 13:2-3), 2006
"Introduction" Elizabeth Freeman
"Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion" Carolyn Dinshaw, Lee Edelman, Roderick A. Ferguson, Carla Freccero, Elizabeth Freeman, Judith Halberstam, Annamarie Jagose, Christopher Nealon
"Cruising the Toilet: Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Radical Black Traditions and Queer Futurity", Jose Esteban Munoz
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, 2007
Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, Jasbir Puar, 2007
"After Sex? On Writing Since Queer Theory" a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, (Summer) 2007
And my own ish:
"But Some of Us Are Brazen: Lust for a Black Queer Community" (lex), 2007
"Chosen: A Review of Meshell Ndegeocello's 'The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams'"

Maybe I know what time it is. (No longer needing the help of Flava Flav.) Maybe you know what time it is. Maybe we know what time it is? At least I know today why superheroes synchronize their watches. Time is happening all the time, but we are living more times than we can once.

Puar provides a short lit review...time is not made up of identical moments that follow each other in sequence. Time is just made up. Not to be measured, stretching and condensing through structures of affect. And Elizabeth Povinelli says time is a social relation. And Fabian reminded us first. Time is the way one world calls itself developed and undevelops a contemporaneous world. Time is the way the powerful create difference across space. Devalue life in some other place, the third world or the inner city by placing them in a different time.

I am living the time of trauma. Where pain is never the first time. Is always right on beat. Is happening again and again. Four little girls blown up again. Black women subject to gang rape again. 11 year old kid allowed to die from a tooth infection again. Police officers shooting the kid. No law that will defend black lesbians, as usual. 7 year old black girl shot six times, defending her mother from an abusive attacker, because the police told the black woman who called for help, one block away, that no unit was available. If you are living with me in the time of trauma you know the drill. Domestic and international, anonymous deaths of people of all ages are routine, if they cant' afford antiretrovirals, if they live anywhere middle east. Palestinians from Brooklyn sent to detention camps with no warnings, no notice to the families, no rights. Citizens and resident interned again. Again.

And the state imposes the time of terror. Some how when Kennedy died it was the first time. It was stop the presses. Even though the four little girls blown up that same year were business as usual. Even through the Sept 11th 2001 was the second time in my own memory that the World Trade Center blew up, it was somehow the first time. But the black and brown people shipped into Iraq were on some "here we go again" time. Injury to the state is always new. Is always timestopping, is always an excuse to erace history and pronounce the innocence of the terrible state. Injury of the oppressed don't stop for nothin. Not on veteran's day or memorial day. The injuries of the oppressed are not monumental time. The injury of the oppressed is everyday.

So whence is the time of hope? Whence the time where generations touch without fulfilling old nightmares? What time is it when I read Audre Lorde's words aloud? What time is it when I touch black words by dead black women, paint old words on fabric stretched to my not-bulletproof chest. What is the time in the mouth of my sister when she's reading a poem about me? What is the time in the tip of my finger brushing tomorrow against my lover's chest? What time is it when I feel you reading this? What time was it when you became an audience worth being brave for?

Whence the time where the fear of the state stopping doesn't mark the legs of the black girl, the arms of the black boy, the eyelashes of the arab brother, the scarf of the muslim sister in some strange explosion of time, some infinite suspension of rights into the time of immediate brutality or infinite detention.

I want to know what time it is when the state reproduces itself branded into my body and what time it is when it shines a white memory erasing light and what time we get there, what time I touch you, what time we get home.

What time is it. Now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nobody: Mean more

Some Changes, June Jordan, 1967
"Nobody Mean More to Me Than You: The Future Life of Willie Jordan", June Jordan, 1984
"The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America or Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley" June Jordan, 1984
"A Litany for Survival", Audre Lorde, 1978
"A Black Author Speaks Out" James Baldwin (on CBS radio), 1979
Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist, Hazel Carby, 1987
"Policing the Black Woman's Body in an Urban Context", Hazel Carby, 1992
"Of Our Normative Strivings: African American Studies and the Histories of Sexuality", Roderick Ferguson, 2005
Talks at Reconstructing Womanhood: A Future Beyond Empire (aka the Hazel Carby Symposium) November 2007:
“Paranoid Empire and Imperial Déjà Vu: Specters from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib”
Anne McClintock, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"The Stranger’s Work: Desire, Intimacy, Violence, and (Black) Cultural Restoration”
Robert Reid-Pharr, CUNY- Graduate Center
"Reading and Reckoning Histories of Loss" Lisa Lowe, UC-San Diego/Yale University
"Reconstructing Manhood; or the Drag of Black Masculinity" Rinaldo Walcott, University of Toronto
Introduction of Keynote Speaker: Farah Griffin, Columbia University
Keynote Address: "Lost (and Found?) in Translation" Hazel V. Carby, Yale University

You may have noticed that I've been a little bit sparse in my posts over here. It's because the majority of my work has shifted from reading to writing my dissertation. Don't believe the hype by the way...writing a dissertation can be a beautiful thing. I steal every free moment into the freedom of expressing this big collaborative work...and I am grateful to have an interesting community of readers, reviser, co-conspirators to love this with.
The Hazel Carby symposium at Barnard College last weekend was like an intellectual family reunion in the least heteropatriarchal sense. It reminded me that maybe we really are creating a world together. It made me remember the consequences of our words.
Hazel Carby did more than just teach and inspire my favorite teachers, she did more than write an opening into black feminist criticism as a problem and not a solution, she did more than create an African American Studies Department at a school that one of those who would know best has described as a tyrannasaurus rex ("It will eat you and kill your babies.") That would have been enough, I think. But Hazel Carby has done more than that. I didn't know before this event that when Hazel Carby co-edited the critical and crucial anthology The Empire Strikes Back that she was (in every sense) blacklisted from the British academy. Like Claudia Jones in reverse Hazel Carby turned exile into institution building and African American studies is blessed for it. Hazel Carby has been teaching me for a while, directly and indirectly. But now she is teaching me what it means to put everything on the line. Everything on the written line of our marked bodies.
And I am not the only one learning this. And I am learning this not only from my elders. For the past too many days undergraduate students at Columbia University are on a hunger strike a brave move in a struggle to transform a dinosaur that I have been more intimate with into a liveable space of learning and critique. These students are boldly revealing and refusing the belly of a particular beast. This is what it means to put it on the line. This is an intergenerational process (what we make between the times we live is more than what we face, each other).
Hungrily writing a dissertation chapter about queer intergenerationality and black maternity it a different sort of putting it on the line. This essay will never be an equation. It will never be a formula. But it is a problem, because everything is at stake.
In Reconstructing Womanhood, Carby reminds us that rape is not a transhistorical process. While using late 18th and early 19th century black women writers and activists to develop a critique and transformation of late 20th century black feminism, Carby warns against the reproductive essentializing of abjection and oppression. This is even more complicated than it looks. And the social picture is more complicated than it looks too. The social forces of capital, inequity, racist legal discourse etc. act as invisible frames to pictures of what look like black bodies, feminine shapes. Twenty years ago Carby was saying what June Jordan said four years before that in her poetic essay for Phillis Wheately. "It was not natural." Simply put (ha!), the oppression that those of us called black women experience today IS related to the oppression that enslaved black women, segregated black women, experience. But not because we "are relatives". Not because it passes through our blood. Not because of how we keep being miraculous anyway. The relationship between our experiences is a reproduced unnatural relationship. Reproduced through the law, through narrative, through capitalist dehumanization.
And our bodies are open for a whole different thing.
But Pauline Hopkins (co-operative magazine founder, performer, writer, activist, speaker) wrote under he mother's name and her own. And when I write I use my mother's name ("Pauline"!) and my own as well. Non-essentialism doesn't mean not being related.
I love Roderick Ferguson's insistence on the precedent of women of color feminist theorists. I love him for that. And it is rare that I offer love to sociologist that I don't know personally, but I have mad love for Roderick Ferguson (and for Britt for letting me know about his recent article in social text). And like Carby, Ferguson insists on connecting to earlier moments of theory in a brilliantly non-reproductive way.

There is something to learn here about the infinitely dispersed field of relation called love. There is some way to face and share a struggle without branding our skin. There is something to put on the line here...
so back to writing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

To Be Re(a)d

Today, Wednesday October 31st 2007, women of color and allies around the country are wearing red as part of a collective healing and revealing process in response to sexual violence against women of color. This collective red is meant to be antidote to shame, a warning sign to those would continue to blame women of color for the outrageous abuses that our society condones against us. This collective red is meant to fill in the missing frame of the black and white of Jena. This red is an invocation of gendered wounds and demands that we remember what Ida B. Wells told us, which is that the lynching of black men and women and the rape of black women and men are twin tools of the same repression. And blood is red.

In 1973, when Toni Morrison published her second novel Sula, she changed black feminist literary criticism forever. In fact, I like to day that black feminists created black feminist literary criticism to deal with Sula, the character and the text. In partnership with her first novel The Bluest Eye, Morrison's Sula does more than insert black female characters into a literary scene that had ignored and caricaturized them. With these two novels Morrison insists that the very form of the novel must bend and bow and breathe and move to witness the experiences of black women and girls. The Bluest Eye could have been the first contemporary black female bildungsroman (coming of age story), except that Pecola, the main character (but not necessarily the protagonist) never grows up. Incestuous rape and violent racism shatter anything that would dare look like growth in that novel. Even the flowers. One could argue that in The Bluest Eye white supremacy (in the voice of the falling apart Dick and Jane reading primers) is the protagonist, and Pecola herself is the antagonist, criminalized for a small attempt at existence and vanguished by the pervasive triumph of racism, as patriarchalism, as capitalism and the death of a soul, the splitting of a mind. The Bluest Eye is Morrison's first major study of what it means to be re(a)d. What happens when we are excluded from the very language we learn to read in? What are the dreadful consequences of an agreed upon social reading of black girls that spells us "worthless"?

Sula could have been the first contemporary black female bildungsroman, except that whereas The Bluest Eye leaves the main character with a split mind, witnessed by the black girls who survive, Sula is an intersubjective novel with two protagonists that cannot exist without each other, Sula and Nel grow apart, but the love between girls is the miracle, hope and home of this novel (a theme Morrison will return to in her most recent novel Love).

Sula arrived well placed in time to become the catalyst that it was and is for black feminist literary criticism. The book was published right when the first black women's lit courses were being taught in newly formed Black Studies and Women's Studies programs in colleges in the NorthEast. The two foundational texts of black feminist literary studies, Mae Gwendolyn Henderson's "Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics and the Black Women Writer's Literary Tradition" and Barbara Smiths "Towards a Black Feminist Criticism" both read Sula as their primary text and as an instance through which to imagine what black feminist literary criticism could be. Even though Morrison wouldn't achieve national recognition until she "manned" up...or won the National Book of the Month Club selection for Song of Solomon (a radical and beautiful and rich book in it's own rite), Sula was the book black feminists clung to. Audre Lorde mentions in an interview that she doesn't care that it was Song of Solomon that Morrison won the award is Sula that "lit me up like a Christmas tree".

And indeed one of the topics we can discuss is why Morrison gained national recognition once she wrote a novel that centered around a black man. It might be helpful to realize that when Morrison won the National Book of the Month Club selection she became the first African-American writer since Richard Wright to do so.

The passages that cause black feminists to canonize Sula are the passages about mutual self invention that occur between Sula and Nel. The most cited passage is the one where the narrator explains the destined friendship of the two girls noting that "having long ago realized they were neither white nor male...they went about creating something else to be." This is a proposition as far reaching as to appear in Afro-Scottish Maud Sulter's description of a art exhibit she curated in England and as long lasting as to reappear as the "different sort of subject" that Hortense Spillers asks for in her 1987 essay "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe". The two other moments of the text that black feminists theorists drew in the sky are Sula's insistence when her grandmother suggests she should settle down and have some babies that "I don't want to make someone else. I want to make myself." This challenge to motherhood completes the critique of heteropatriarchy that allows Barbara Smith to claim Sula as a "lesbian" text alongside the books final revelation that the loss of a husband is nothing compared with the loss of a girl friend. And the book ends with the word that has framed all of my days. Girl, girl, girl, girl, girl.

Spiraling out into this moment, the desperation in that one word, girl speaks the prayer to the only thing that I believe can save us, and that is the love between women and girls of color that fills us with the bravery to make a new world language. When the Irish boys in the novel attempt to attack Nel and Sula, with designs on sexual abuse, Sula cuts of the tip of her finger...shifting the boys' reading of her from prey to predator. Re(a)d is the color of threat. Is the color of blood, of nothing to lose, of everything born to be remade.

So today as I dress myself in re(a)d on behalf of my sisters and my own survival take me as a sign.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Proto-Bloggers: Discursive Precedents and Alternative Democracies

(Generations of Chain by Dries Buytaert)

Poor Black Women, Patricia Robinson and “the Sisters”, 1968
“On the Issue of Roles”, Toni Cade Bambara, 1970
“Letters After the First Conference of the National Alliance of Black Feminists”, Beverly Morrow, (Ms. Magazine), 1974
“Small Change for Black Women”, Aileen Hernandez (Ms. Magazine), 1974
“Voices from the Third World: Review of Fragment from a Lost Diary”, Toni Cade Bambara (Ms. Magazine), 1974
“A Church Without Walls”, June Jordan, (Ms. Magazine) 1974
Jemima: From the Heart, 1977
“Voices of Black Feminism”, Brenda Eichelberger (Quest), 1977
“Mom de Plume”, Diane S. Bogus, (Lesbian Tide 7.3), 1977
“Scratching the Surface: Some Notes On Barriers to Women and Loving”, Audre Lorde (The Black Scholar), 1978
“Black Writers Illuminate Hidden Lives”, Barbara Smith (Sojourner 3.12), 1978
“The Varied Voices of Black Women”, Barbara and Beverly Smith, (Sojourner 4.2), 1978
“The Reality of the Black Lesbian”, Diane S. Bogus (Gay People’s Union News), 1978
“Racism (A Letter)” Barbara Smith, (Gay Community News 6.26), 1979
“Review of The Black Unicorn”, Lorraine Bethel, (Gay Community News (6.28), 1979
“An American Fantasy: Interview with Beverly Smith About Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman”, Jill Clark, (Gay Community News 6.44), 1979
“Anonymity and the Denial of Self’, Michelle Cliff (Sinister Wisdom 9), 1979
Top Ranking: A Collection of Articles on Racism and Classism in the Lesbian Community, compiled by Joan Gibbs and Sara Bennett, 1980
“Prodding the Wheels of Revolution”, Rosemary (Changes), 1980
“Frankie”, Joan Gibbs (Sinister Wisdom 14) 1980
“First Black Lesbian Conference”, Gabrielle Daniels (Off Our Backs 10), 1980
“Black Lesbians Gather in First Eastern Conference” Jill Clark (Gay Community News), 1981
“Notes for a Magazine” Michelle Cliff and Adrienne Rich, (Sinister Wisdom 17), 1981
All the Women Are White All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Balck Women’s Studies, Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith
“I Love My Mother”, Faith Ringold and Michelle Wallace (Heresies), 1982
“Object into Subject: Some Thoughts on the Work of Black Women Artists”, Michelle Cliff (Heresies 15), 1982
“The Convert”, Barbara Smith, (Sinister Wisdom 19)1982
“Making Soul, Creating Alchemy: Review of This Bridge Called My Back”, Michelle Cliff, (Sinister Wisdom 19)1982
“The Intimate Face of Universal Struggle” (review of June Jordan’s Civil Wars), Linda C. Powell (Sinister Wisdom 20), 1982
“Black Brave and Woman Too”: Review of Some of Us Are Brave, Cheryl Clarke, (Sinister Wisdom 20), 1982
“Response (on lesbian seperatism and race)” , Barbara Smith (Sinister Wisdom 20), 1982
African Women Rising Vol. 1 No. 2, International Council of African Women 1984
Double Stitch: Black Women Write About Mothers and Daughters, eds. Patricia Bell-Scott, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Jacqueline Jones Royster, Janet Sims-Wood, Miriam DeCosta-Willis, Lucie Fultz, 1990
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, Dorothy Roberts, 1997
“Passion(ate) Plays “Wherever We Found Space”: Lorde and Gomez Queer(y)ing Boundaries and Acting In”, Lynda Hall, (Callaloo 23.1) 2000
“The “Power” and “Squelelae” of Audre Lorde’s Syntactical Strategies”, Lexi Rudintsky (Callaloo 26.2), 2003
The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens, Seyla Benhabib, 2004
“All Aunt Hagar’s Children”, Edward P. Jones, 2007

At lunch sometime last week a fellow member of a women of color bloggers network and I joked about the efficacy of "blogger" as a "primary identity". "I come from a long line of bloggers," I said "seven generations to be exact." And we laughed, but then...while I was rereading All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies and carefully writing down the first "black women's studies" syllabuses I realized that one of the syllabi was refusing to keep it's place on paper and in history and was nudging into my life. In Fall 1976, Professor Margaret Wade taught a class at SUNY New Paltz called "The Black Woman" (and of the textbooks was Toni Cade Bambara's ground breaking anthology of the same name). My mother was a junior at SUNY New Paltz that Fall and a quick phone call confirmed that yes, my mother had indeed worked with Professor Wade.
So maybe I should be a little bit less flippant when I describe my "generations". Indeed last week I travelled to the middle of no where Florida (specifically Lakeland, FL home of a lake, some orange trees, high teen boredom rates and equally high teen pregnancy) to visit my maternal grandmother aka "Nana" for her birthday. There are a lot of things that Nana doesn't know about her "history". Her mother died before Nana ever knew her and her father was married to someone else all along. Nana has never seen her birth certificate and will probably never know whether she was born on Sept 21st (the day I arrived in Lakeland) or Sept 23rd (the day I left). Futhermore we don't know exactly how many years she has been around. But, as a long Friday night/Saturday morning conversation taught me, Nana knows more than enough to make up for these originary details. She knows love in the arms of her great grandmother who died when she was 7, she knows ferocity in the mouth of her grandma Rebecca who cursed people out inside, outside and near every public institution (especially church...and my Nana has carried on with this tradition of "cursing out" church folks), she knew herself in the face of my mother who until 5 days after her birth she thought was someone else's "chinese" baby, and she fulfilled a promise by witnessing my birth as her first grandchild her daughter's daughter and by far the craziest child she knew until my cousin Sean came along...who recently claimed quite nonchalantly to have seen Christ in a toothpick speared pig in a blanket at an all you can eat China Buffett.
But the point here is not to prove that my family is the inspiration for the complicated lineages of people in novels by Zadie Smith, Paul Beatty or Danielle Evans. The point is that I want to articulate a different relationship to the active verb "generate" in these generations that I'm claiming, holding, avoiding and always coming back to (remember how I always pretend that my dissertation is not the autobiography of my mother...well change my name to Jamaica Kincaid because the syllabus says otherwise). What if I take seriously that the story of how I came to have, fear, love, admire, cherish and misunderstand my own possession of a black mother is the only story that I can tell. No matter what else I try to write about...(i.e. read my review of Saidiya Hartman's Lose Your Mother in the upcoming issue of Obsidian).
Audre Lorde says this mysterious thing, and I am coming back to it again because it captures and pushes my questions about what production and reproduction might mean: "We can learn to mother ourselves." Learn. Mother. Ourselves. If I had three wishes, three lusts for three words to know, to open, to understand these would be the three. Is this practice of "mothering ourselves" the meaning of black feminist publishing in what I described to the shock of a middle aged man as "my period" out of context yesterday (he said "You were around in 1974? Got-damn, I want to take whatever you're taking!") Since even in 2007 I look like I'm about 16 years old. Anyway is this practice of black feminist publishing an example (an opportunity for me to dwell in) what it means to "generate"? Think about the dilegent public letter writing that Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde and June Jordan engaged in and the brave badass blogging women of color are doing right now in response to the attack on Megan name one example. Maybe instead of "co-production" the word that I want to use to reveal the dialogics in "production" and to challenge the inevitability of "reproduction" is actually the word "generate".
Thanks mom.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Without You Who Understand”

Two loved ones of mine have had their names added to the long list of victims of the New York Police Department’s everyday every night brutality. And every time this happens it is an assault against my people, whoever they are. People of color, queer people, young people, transgendered people, activists, sex workers, immigrants. Every time this happens is my people locked away.
But these two. These are really my people. This is who I have cried with after break-ups, eaten ice cream with when I should have been studying, this is who sat with me in limbo every semester, unregistered and undocumented because no one believed we’d be able to keep paying for school, least of all us. This is who brought me lemonade and sandwiches when couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t say why, and most importantly these are the people who stayed up all night with me too many times to count, like Pinky and the Brain in pumas with wild hair, plotting and believing in another world. Projecting and practicing freedom. These are the ones who said, yes, we can build that. And we should paint it purple, not blue. And if someone had been tracing our hands as we punctuated every detail about what playgrounds to make out of the rubble of prisons, what mosaics to glue to the empty US mint...if you had been tracing our hands you would have seen that we were spelling blood and water and water and blood. This is what I mean when I say, these are my people.
They are the ones I have trusted to hold my youth and to hand it back to me with a firm nudge if I ever consider selling out. These are the ones I have trusted to sell their vintage sneakers and stolen accessories to hire a lawyer when the state finally notices. We have agreed that this is a morally and strategically better than actually letting each other become lawyers. So these are the ones I trust to break me out of prison, to never forget where I am. To prove the lie of the state when it says no one loves you, you little black girl. You are nothing. No one cares where you are right now. And they have trusted me too, to pawn, to plead, to risk, to witness, to remember. I have agreed to the same.
But I didn’t think it would be today.
As I write this, my people are locked down for keeping their part of the agreement. After months of planning a fundraiser for the Sylvia Rivera Liberation Project my people were ready to celebrate. After gathering queer and trans people of color and allies from all over the tri-state area my people, these two, deserved the peace of bass and the release of rhythm. Late Wednesday night, like every night, my people were dancing. But late Wednesday night, like every night, the state was on the prowl. And right in front of the bright loud colors, right in front of the opening sounds (you see my people dress like confetti parades, my people move like new memories) the NYPD was doing the state, forcing the power of one black man into a space to small for dignity. And my people, though practicing the celebration, though air traffic hailing the future, this night, my people do not forget the moment. This is why my people wear sneakers and flat shoes. They remember what we agreed. So early Thursday morning they stopped the dancing to witness this arrest, one of millions of arrests, (these too my people). And they said with their eyes what we promised we would say. They said
We see you. We remember what you deserve. And when the lie come out that you are not human, that who you are does not matter, we will stand up that moment with the truth. We see you.

And the policemen could not tell who they addressed with their eyes, from the reasonable distance of the sidewalk. The policemen did not know if by “you” their brown eyes meant the person in the handcuffs or the one clanking them shut. So while their brightly clad feet and their hair awake with dancing did not get in anyone’s way, the policemen found their gazes too wide and too loud. So the policemen grabbed them. And closed their own eyes.
These two. My people. And shoved them in the car without warning.
And what I got then was a 2am text message indecipherable and cut short. And 12 hours later an email. They have not been charged. They have not been arraigned.
Because there is no such crime as love in excess. There is no such crime as too bright for 1984. There is no crime called smarter and braver than what day it is. There is no such crime as wanting more.
But they have not been released yet either. Because to place your soul firmly against the blunt edge of lawfulness is to share terror on measured and socialist terms. And police officers cannot afford to remember the neighborhoods they come from and who is now missing, lest their hearts beat and break against the tight armor of the state. And dreamers cannot afford fancy lawyers. So what I got then was a 2 am text message, and 12 hours later an email.
And what I have now is a promise to keep.

Jack Aponte (, 347-247-1526)
Naomi Clark (, 917-907-4870)

Police Brutality Strikes Fifth Anniversary of Sylvia Rivera Law Project

NEW YORK - On the night of Wednesday, September 26, officers from the
9th Precinct of the New York Police Department attacked without
provocation members of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and of its
community. Two of our community members were violently arrested, and
others were pepper sprayed in the face without warning or cause.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project ( ) is an organization that
works on behalf of low-income people of color who are transgender,
gender non-conforming, or intersex, providing free legal services and
advocacy among many other initiatives. On Wednesday night, the Sylvia
Rivera Law Project was celebrating its fifth anniversary with a
celebration and fundraising event at a bar in the East Village.

A group of our community members, consisting largely of queer and
transgender people of color, witnessed two officers attempting to
detain a young Black man outside of the bar. Several of our community
members asked the officers why they were making the arrest and using
excessive force. Despite the fact that our community was on the
sidewalk, gathered peacefully and not obstructing foot traffic, the
NYPD chose to forcefully grab two people and arrested them. Without
warning, an officer then sprayed pepper spray across the group in a
wide arc, temporarily blinding many and causing vomiting and intense

"This is the sort of all-too-common police violence and overreaction
towards people of color that happens all the time," said Dean Spade,
founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. "It's ironic that we were
celebrating the work of an organization that specifically opposes
state violence against marginalized communities, and we experienced a
police attack at our celebration."

"We are outraged, and demand that our community members be released
and the police be held accountable for unnecessary use of excessive
force and falsely arresting people," Spade continued.

Damaris Reyes is executive director of GOLES, an organization working
to preserve the Lower East Side. She commented, "I'm extremely
concerned and disappointed by the 9th Precinct's response to the
situation and how it escalated into violence. This kind of aggressive
behavior doesn't do them any good in community-police relations."

Supporters will be gathering at 100 Centre Street tomorrow, where the
two community members will be arraigned. The community calls for
charges to be dropped and to demand the immediate release of those

- END -

Monday, September 17, 2007

Black Hope: In Case You Still Want to Live Forever

“An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!”, Claudia Jones, 1949
The Principle of Hope, Ernst Bloch, 1959
A Bibliography of Works Written by American Black Women, Ora Williams, 1972
Mammy: A Third World Women’s Publication, 1972
"Prologue" Audre Lorde, 1974
Black Womans Voice: Publication of the National Council of Negro Women, 1979
Big Apple Dyke News Vol.1 No.1, 1981
Habari Harbari: Journal of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays 1981
Big Mama Rag (year?)
“All Shut Eyes Ain’t Closed, All Goodbyes Ain’t Gone”, Alexis De Veaux, 1982
“Sister Love”, Alexis De Veaux (Essence), 1983
“Black Women’s Anger”, Audre Lorde (Essence), 1983
“Say, Brother”, Essex Hemphill (Essence), 1983
“Nicaragua: Why I Had to Go There”, June Jordan (Essence), 1984
National Coalition Against Sexual Abuse News 1984-1985
Hera: A Philadelphia Feminist Publication, 1985
15th Anniversary Issue of Essence Magazine: A Celebration of Black Women (ed. Cheryll Greene)
“In Our Hands”, June Jordan (Essence), May1985
“Going South”, Alexis De Veaux (Essence), May 1985
“My Own Style”, Nikki Giovanni (Essence), May 1985
“Ntozake Shange talks with Marcia Ann Gillepsie” (Essence), May 1985
“We Are the Grapevine”, Lucille Clifton (Essence), May 1985
“Until Death Do Us Part”, Gloria Naylor (Essence), May 1985
“Sisterhood is Global”, Rose Adhiambo Arungo-Olende (Essence), May 1985
“Speak!: A Knowing So Deep”, Toni Morrison (Essence), May 1985
Vital Signs: News from the Black Women’s Health Project (ed Nikki Finney in ’85)1985-1989
Sisters:Newsletter (ed Shay Youngblood et. al)1985-1986
The Forum: Publication of the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, 1988
“Just Friends”, Renita Weems (Essence), 1989
“Free Winnie!”, Elaine Brown (Essence), 1989
“Black Russian”, Yelena Khanga (Essence), 1989
“Alice Walker: Rebel with A Cause”, Alexis De Veaux (Essence), 1989
“Oh Lorde”, Chi Hughes (BLK), 1989
“Barbara Smith: Her Weapon is the Written Word”, Alycee J. Lane (BLK), 1990
“Audre Lorde: On Everything from Black Germans to 2 Live Crew”, Alycee J. Lane (BLK), 1990
“Forty-Fine”, Alexis De Veaux (Essence), 1990
“Home is Where My Heart Is”, Elizabeth Nunez (Essence), 1990
20th Anniversary of Essence Magazine (edited by Cheryll Greene):
“Womantalk” Angela Davis and June Jordan (Essence) May 1990
“Graceful Passages” (Clifton, Giddings, Shange, Lorde, Naylor, Smith, Weems), May 1990
“Walking into Freedom”, Alexis De Veaux (Essence), 1990
“A Swimming Lesson”, Jewelle Gomez (Essence), 1990
“Is Your Hair Still Political?”, Audre Lorde (Essence), 1990
“Huey Newton on Gay Rights”, Alycee J. Lane (BLK), 1991
“Mandy Carter: She’s Bold. She Takes Risks.”, Franki Lennon (BLK) 1994
The White Boy Shuffle, Paul Beatty, 1996
The Nature of Blood, Caryl Phillips, 1997
Raising the Dead: Readings of Death of (Black) Subjectivity (title?), Sharon Holland, 2000
“The Devil Swims Across the Anacostia River”, Edward P. Jones, 2006
“Blindsided”, Edward P. Jones, 2006
“Queerness as Horizons: Utopian Hermenuetics in the Face of Gay Pragmatism”, Jose Munoz (in process)

Did I mention that my mom used to sell ad space for Essence Magazine? Yes. She quit to give birth to me and she never went back. I made possible a different form of publication. Or at least that's one way of telling the story. The question that I am asking myself with this weeks readings is about a comparative desire for immortality and how it is expressed differently through biological reproduction and/or the publication of words.

But to deal with immortality we have to deal with death. The title of this post "black hope" comes from a list of praises turned epithets that Audre Lorde invoked in 1979 when she wrote "Need: A Chorale for Black Woman Voices" in response to a wave of murders of black women...probably by men in their own communities. Along with "black mother" and "black queen", "black hope" was part of a series of misnamings of black women that Lorde presents like the beating of a drum. She demonstrates the way that these cultural nationalist framings of black women's reproductive capacity dehumanized black women into mere instruments of the immortality of black men. A move that ultimately made black women expendable after certain uses. It certainly made black lesbians and black women who demanded autonomy over their reproductive choices both dangerous and killable...frameable as deadly if not irrelevant to a "black nation".

Thus black cultural nationalism (black feminist critiques including Lorde's pointed out) was actually reproducing death...reproducing the deadliness of racist patriarchy with a black appropriation of the same tools...and more importantly the same mode of production. Maybe Claudia Jones would support me in the assertion that black men and white men agreed that the full expression of black women would change the world...a little bit too much.

But it's hard to stomach the cost of this reproduction of death for a black community that had been facing genocide from the boat ride on. As Holland argues, in the American imaginary black people ARE death. And indeed the more they're everyday lives look like death (i would call this the function of prison) the quieter it is to just keep killing us off. Poisoning us slow. I am not surprised that Caryl Phillips chose to write about the holocaust and to historicize in a way that both points out the continuing murders against Jewish people and invokes a more American language of lynching. And still, The Nature of Blood is not a Zionist book. "Black hope"...what does it mean to write a bootylicious music video tattoo of Zion into the flesh of black women today?

But black feminists refused to accept this reproduction of death. Black lesbian feminists refused this. And not through a same-gendred reproduction of self. Not through a grapevine of interchangeable femininity (though I don't think Clifton is advocating interchangeablility) but through an intergenerational confrontation of death. This is what it means to ask "why did they die?" when a series of black women who the police suspect to be sex workers (what black woman in public is not a suspect in this way?)die the mass media, and state response feels no need to ask such a question. When police officers kill 10 year black kids. The answer is prepaid and agreed upon. These women were never human, these women were never alive, these women were vectors of death and if they acted like maybe they were alive, if they dared that audacity...then like the Palestinian children they deserved to be put back into their place. Which is death. Which is a place. Which is their place. Private and prepaid. Otherwise, they terrify us.

The Combahee River collective dared to make death a public space. This was not a safe decision. This was not a decision without cost. What does it cost to be a black woman in public. Publicly alive. What does it cost to "be ready to kill/ yourself/instead of your children." To be ready to kill yourself. Instead. It means removing the burden of your own immortality from genetic reproduction and placing it somewhere else. That somewhere else is often language. That somewhere else is outlined in black print...and the burden is not deferred but internalized. Does the engine of burning words to print, does the bravery of raising a voice in public hollow out the cells of the speaker. Is the truth carcinogenic? To be ready to kill yourself. Barbara Smith never dreamed of being a publisher. She didn't dream of being on state council. She grew up dreaming that she would write novels and she consciously sacrificed that dream for me. She is letting those words burn her chest up right now. To be ready. To kill.

That kind of bravery is pushing my heart off beat now. My heart pushes out towards it like a skipping record. This is what I mean by a queer black intergenerationality. To be ready. To kill. Yourself. Instead. Not in the ironic way that Paul Beatty offers, not to exert some sort of ownership over death. Audre Lorde said in the Essence 20th anniversary issue that once she could confront her mortality without embracing it she could never be made afraid again. And indeed you have to be pretty bad-ass (Cheryll Greene, Alexis De Veaux) to decide to make some sort of lesbian diasporic critique in the play-boy, all men owned pages of soft consumerist porn called Essence. You have to be pretty brave to demand life instead of the tau(gh)t drumskin, instead of the black barbie.

That is a rewriting of hope. A thing that could live. (Forever?)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

BookFare: Notes on the Sale of Words and Bodies

Mob Rule in New Orleans: Robert Charles and His Fight to the Death, Ida B. Wells, 1900
"Ms. Magazine and Accountabilty", Mecca Reliance (Off Our Backs), 1974
"Lord! What Kind of Child is this? (Interview with Pat Parker", Jessie Jane (Gay Community News) 1975
"Black Lesbian Feminists, Where Are you?", Mickie (Lesbian Connetion), 1975
"Am I the Only One?" Linda Stroud (Her-self), 1975
"Doing Research on Black American Women", Barbara Smith, 1976
Salsa Soul Sisters/Third World Women's Gay-zette, 1976-1985
Azalea: A Magazine by Third World Lesbians, 1977-1983
Dinah: A Monthly Publication of the Lesbian Activist Bureau, 1977
Matrices: A Lesbian Feminist Research Newsletter, 1977-1982
"Rewriting Afro-American Literature: A case for Black Women Writers, Gloria T. Hull, 1977
"Sexism and Racism at Gay Community News?" Nancy Walker 1978
"To the Sisters of the Azalea Collective and Lesbians Rising-A Thank You Note for the Second Annual Third World Lesbian Writers Conference", Anita Cornwell, 1980
"Dark Horse: A View of Writing and Publishing by Dark Lesbians", Linda J. Brown, 1980
"Notes on Speechlessness", Michelle Cliff (Sinister Wisdom), 1980
"Review of Between a Rock and A Hard Place (Joan Gibbs)" Michelle Cliff (Sinister Wisdom), 1980
"Black Women: An Historical Perpective (conference coverage in Off Our Backs), Terri Clark, 1980
Ambrosia: Newsletter in Celebration of Black Women, 1980 (Inaugural Issue)
Connections (the publication of Black Women's Network), 1982
African Ancestral Lesbian Files at the Lesbian Herstory Archives
Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Archive Files on publishing and reading lists (Duke Archives)
"Black South Africa: One Day Soon", Alexis De Veaux, (Essence), 1983
Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, (inaugural issue), 1984
The Brown Papers: Publication of the National Institute for Women of Color "Moving Mountains Past, Present and Future: The Role of Women of Color in the American Political System", inaugural issue, 1984
Makeda: Celebrating Black Womyn, 1988
"Where are the Women: 10 Years of Staffrider", Boitumelo Mofokeng, 1989
Blank Words on a Page, Sobhna Poona, (Seriti sa Sechaba) 1990
Ache: A(Free)Publication for Black Lesbians 1989-1993
Black Lace, 1991 (inaugural issue)
ZaatarDiva, Suheir Hammad, 2005
SOARS (Story of a Rape Survivor), A Long Walk Home Press Packet (, 2007

So I've been reading. I've been reading obscure and not so obscure newsletters, magazines and journals created by black women.I've been reading flyers for black lesbian performances, dance parties and book releases. I've been reading "special" third world women's/black women's issues of feminist periodicals. I've been reading lone articles by black women in feminist, educational and lesbian publications. I've been reading articles by Black South African women writers protesting the way their work has been made invisible by "black consciousness"publications and poetry books published by a black feminist "not-for-gain" enterprise in South Africa. That's what I've been reading this week...but as anyone who knows me knows...I have been reading everything I can get my hands on...for quite some time.

That's why "if you're lookin for me you can find me in the stacks disobeying the law" to paraphrase Akon. But research libraries have not been enough, because Universities don't often collect what I need to read. And independent archives are not enough because when they prioritize the type of stuff I'm talking one will fund them so (i.e. Feminist Library in London) they are locked out of their buildings...their treasures held captive because they can't pay the rent or (i.e. Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn) they are open for 2 hours a month because of a volunteer only staff of women who must have other jobs. OR they have folded alltogehter (like the African Ancestral Lesbian Archives) and are filed away somewhere in the Lesbian Herstory Archives which is sadly only able to be open for enough hours for the volunteer on call to not be able to find something like the Jemima Literary Magazine (there is no staff archivist to update the computer).

And when the library is not enough I transform from researcher to consumer/collecter I search and alibris for books that it seems nobody wants but me. Sometimes it works (I have original copies of most of Kitchen Table Presses Feminist Organizing Pamphlets with pins still attached), but I know that most often these things are lost in the basement or the people who have them are like me...they would never put these treasures back on the market. They realize that their worth can't be counted. They realize that there are some things we cannot afford to trade.

I have realized one of the central tenents of my developing religion. Printed words are alive. This is why I touched every signature on June Jordan's letters. Printed words are not just vain reaches towards immortality, they are alive. So when black feminist talk about birth in their work over and over again...about how SAGE: Scholarly Journal on Black Women was born about how creating Sturdy Black Bridges was a "birthing process" it is not just a metaphorical statement.

It took me a while to figure out why being at the "rare and antique booksellers" section at the Decatur Book Festival felt like a slave auction. It felt that way not just because postcards that joke about black people,chicken and watermelon are for sale next to first editions of Faulkner's everything. But because a first edition of Toni Morrison's Sula (SULA...the book that black feminists created black feminist literary criticism in order to explain) is $475 unsigned. Who is going to buy that book? Jurina and I were the only black people I saw there all day. Who is going to buy that book and why?

The point is that there is no way to place a value on a book like that. Black feminist criticism exists. Priceless. There is no way to place a value on the work that we do to put words together, to reach towards an audience that we are accountable to, these works are acts of love, we are putting lives into the world, we are creating lives that we can live together. How much does it cost? There is no way to put a value on these books, but we do. The books were created through an industry that priced them. Toni Morrison herself wrote a letter once to June Jordan explaining "good capitalism" as the reason that Random House wouldn't publish her poems and essays until she could write a novel. (June Jordan was not a fact the novel was inadequate to every black feminist I focus on). There is no way to count how much these books mean, but then as Morrison's letter begs me to ask, is there anyway to get them out to the people without submitting to the market, agreeing on a price?

The point is that books are alive and we sell them and buy them. The impossible seems necessary because we have been through this before. Because human life itself has been for sale here (Decatur Town Square), the impossible has precedent. And Hortense Spillers (that essay...Mama's Baby, Papa's's alive if we love it...if we listen to it newly and are transformed by's alive if we love a live as you...and me) reminds us that something hadto be said about black women as mothers, about black motherhood (not the same as mothering) about what it meant for black women to produce make slavery profitable and legible. Something had to be said to transform life into flesh.

Is this not the same hollow magic that makes words into commodities?

My question about the black feminist author...lesbians, and not...reclaiming motherING as a radical practice is a question about value and life. If I can answer this question maybe our words will be able to live their own lives without being sold away from us. So many black women insisted, through collectively-run journals, through, autonomous publishing, through self-publishing, through fundraisers, through refusing to run ads... that our words could be collective, that when we made life it would not be commodity but rather process, rather infinite, rather hope. If I can find a way to answer, or at least keep asking this quesiton, maybe I will find a way to graduate with a PhD without "going on the market". Maybe reproductive justice, our self-determination of what we create (which is community) will exist. Maybe capitalism will end. A question about what black women make is a question inviting freedom.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Born Palestinian Born Black: Notes from a Born Again Black Feminist

"Blackstudies", from New York Head Shop and Museum, Audre Lorde, 1974
Between Ourselves, Audre Lorde, 1976
"From the House of Yemanja", from The Black Unicorn, Audre Lorde, 1978
Heresies 8: Third World Women: The Politics of Being Other, 1979
Black Lesbians: A Bilbliography, compiled by JR Roberts, Foreword by Barbara Smith, 1981
"Need: A Chorale for Black Women's Voices" from Chosen Poems: Old and New, Audre Lorde, 1982
"Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred and Anger" from Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde, 1983
"Moving Towards Home" from Living Room, June Jordan 1985
"A Question of ESSENCE" and "Diaspora" from Our Dead Behind Us, Audre Lorde 1986
Born Palestinian, Born Black , Suheir Hammad, 1996
Drops of This Story, Suheir Hammad, 1996
White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education, Noliwe Rooks, 2006

I was supposed to be somewhere this morning. But alas, today is the day that I had to return Suheir Hammad's Drops of This Story and Born Palestinian-Born Black to the library (and unfortunately Harlem River Press only printed a few copies...and I can't afford to pay 55 bucks for each...though if someone would like to gift them to me....). Anyway the point is...I blew off everything and spent the morning in bed reading.

This may not have been the right thing to do (or at least i could have handled it actually rescheduling my appointment at special collections before i missed it) this was definitely not the wrong thing to do. Suheir Hammad (who I first heard read at the "Poetry is Not a Luxury" symposium in honor of Audre Lorde at CUNY and who then graced my Durham grown, boredom-bred Choosing Sides students with her Brooklyn broiled confrontationality and style) is writing about Diaspora.

Drops of This Story, exemplifies what it means to move across water, to thirst for home. It is a song for the landless, it is Oya landing. Drops of this story shook me with the bravery of its revelation (this is a story by a survivor about survival) and the boldness of it's form. The story itself is a water passage, maybe rain, maybe tears, maybe sweat, maybe departing the red sea. Maybe blood then. Diaspora is a thing. To be. Survived.

But when blood runs in the street (in Beruit, in Brooklyn) it don't follow no patriarchal line. Hammad builds a lineage, not DNA bound, but broken out of poetic influence and shared survivals. Hammad's songs are not national anthems, but rather rallying cries for the solidarity that we are already building, unacknowledged through our suffering. This Audre Lorde Poetry Prize recipient, makes love to concrete, citing Ntozake Shange and offering a book-length answer to June Jordan's statement that she was "Born a Black woman but now am become Palestinian. Hammad born Palestinian (...a revolutionary statement in itself since the world accepts gag money...denying that such a place as Palestine exists) was articulating what it meant to be a poet outloud, an oppressed person, an immigrant, a brown person, someone declared dead and not mourned but rather betrayed again and again and now. I mean to say she was articulating this at places like the Nuyorican in 1996...the golden age of spoken-word a diverse audience of color that was saying what it meant to be here in a language stolen away from english by black poets. So acknowledging her african heritage, acknowledging the way that it was black people and puerto ricans sometimes who made a creole that could describe brooklyn life and death is the major victory of this collection.

The point is that the use of poetry (my students are reading Sylvia Wynter's Ethno or Socio Poetics this week) is heretical, is dangerous and produces the language that might save breaking down the language of enslavement. So if we are creating a language why not acknowledge, why not intend that that language move across as far as we have moved across. We can only learn how to say what it means to be Palestinian (to be landless, bereft, criminalized, terrifying) if we can say what it means to be black (to be landless, bereft, criminalized, terrifying)...and it seems that the women (Hammad, Jordan, Shange, Lorde etc.) that have been boldened enough by their love to say it with a critique in mind.

So it was not wrong to do this on a morning when I was supposed to be "theorizing blackness" (i have to go write this proposal right now), when i was supposed to be gluing together my "little girl parts" zine. It was not wrong to be doing this any morning, because this is what we need.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Strategy of Opening

The Black Woman, Toni Cade Bambara (1970)
Maru, Bessie Head (1971)
Keeping the Faith (1974)
Black Eyed Susans, Mary Helen Washington
Midnight Birds, Mary Helen Washington
Sturdy Black Bridges, Beverly Guy-Sheftall et al (1979)
This Bridge Called My Back, Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (1981)
Home Girls, Barbara Smith (1984)
Conjuring, Hortense Spillers and Marjorie Pryse (1985)
Invented Lives, Mary Helen Washington (1987)
"Defining Children" by Sandra Burman in South African Keywords: The Use and Abuse of Political Concepts (1988)
Reading Black, Reading Feminist, Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1990)
Wild Women in the Whirlwind, Joanne Braxton and Andree Nicola McLaughlin (1990)
The Letters of the Republic, Micheal Warner (1990)
A Gesture of Belonging: Letters from Bessie Head 1965-1979, ed Randolph Vigne (1991)
Showing Our Colors, atharina Oguntoye, May Opitz, and Dagmar Schultz with a preface to the English Language edition by Audre Lorde, (1992)
Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing (1995)
The Cardinals and Short Stories, Bessie Head (written in the late 1960's...finally published in 1995)
Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought, Beverly Guy-Sheftall et al. (1995)

Maybe the anthology is the place to live and the poem is a place to dream. Maybe I have been so drawn to anthologies and poetics recently because these are the things I need...livable space and hope to create in. Or maybe it's because I've been hangin around Aisha intentionally.

A few weeks ago in a passionate conversation overhead by many and interrupted by a few in a local coffeeshop, Aisha and I decided that black feminism was/is a strategy of opening, a practice of possibility a challege most of all, the making of a bravery...but never a canon or product. Never something for sale. So we define "black feminist anthology" accordingly...excluding most of the books that I cite above. Through a review of anthologies published in the US that might have been black feminist (but that definitely collected writing by or about black and third world women) we actually were able to see a certain history...through which black feminism, a challenge, a practice, a spatial experiment was commodified into a product"black women's writing" messaged by Mary Helen Washington and colonized accordingly by Skip Gates. Despite our voracious reading...I think Aisha and I agree that black feminism is not something to is something to do. (As Toni Cade Bambara states explicitly in her preface to This Bridge Called my back. "No. The best way to do it is to do it."

Indeed. And maybe this is the same thing that happened to hip-hop...a challenge was colonized by capitalism and became a commodity, a thing to be used to conquer a market. And Chandra Mohanty and M. Jaqui Alexander say that this is what has happened to "democracy" it has been colonized by capitalism and sold out of its possible justice. And maybe this will happen to what we make as well. Maybe we will have to let everything go...if we are to keep going.

But it is important to me rail against this inevitability. Maybe every attractive process is flanked by deceptive co-opted product versions when it confronts capital. Maybe things that are alive become dead bodies..and the spirit leaves at some point. But if energy cannot be destroyed..then than it is only transfered, and we must not forget that the transfer of our creative energy...the energy of challenge and experiment is not well placed in the circuit of consumerism.

I do not want to be a career consumer of black women writers. At all.

And so if the thing that makes a black feminist a black feminist is not a skin thing, or a belief or the ownership of a certain t-shirt, but rather the practice of making a democratic space when everyone says that who you are should mean death, that who you are is for sale, when everyone is saying spells meant to stiffen your skin and transform your space into energy they can feminism is the experimental (in kritispeak) the poetic (in my language) act of creating a livable is democratic experiment and it is what we need now.

Violence has changed over the past 25 years, but it has moved with us into ever new space, outerspace, innerspace and the blogosphere. So if the there are tons of hackers and haters threatening to shut down feminist blogs, threatening to rape those who speak loudly, what we need is something that was once invoked through the name black feminism. Some way to create the space that makes us brave regardless, even if that space is a book that we open to clench...or a link that we click on to clinch us with home.

Maybe this is why I'm attracted to you. Or vice versa.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Save Us Both

June Jordan, Archival Papers, Radcliffe Institute 1960-2001
Essence: The Magazine for Today’s Black Woman, 1970-1984
Aegis: Magazine on Ending Violence Against Women, Feminist Alliance Against Rape, 1974-1980
Black Renaissance: Papers from the Black Renaissance Convention (South Africa), 1974
Sojourner: A Magazine of Women’s Writing and Visual Art, 1974 (No. 1 Double Issue)
Feminary, 1976-1985
Chrysalis: A Magazine of Women’s Culture 1977-1980
Break De Chains of Legalized U$ Slavery, North Carolina Hard Times Prison Project, 1978
The Winner Names the Age: Collected Writings of Lillian Smith, ed Michelle Cliff, 1978
Off Our Backs Jan-Sept 1979
Frontiers: Journal of the National Women’s Studies Association, 1979-1980
Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, 1979-1981
“Paule Marshall: In Celebration of Our Triumph”, Alexis DeVeaux, Essence ,1979
“Racism and Women’s Studies”, Barbara Smith, Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies Spring 1980
“Piece Work in the University 1970’s Style”, Sharon Josephs Alexander, Frontiers, Spring 1980
“The NWSA (National Women’s Studies Association) Constituency: Evaluation of 1979 Conference Participation, Patricia A. Frech and Barbara Hillyer Davis, Frontiers Spring, 1980.
“Diversity, Fragmentation, Integration: The NWSA Balancing Act, Patricia Frech, Barbara Hillyer Davis, Frontiers, Spring-Summer 1981.
“Finding Our Collective Identity: The 1980 NWSA Conferernce Evaluation”, Patricia Frech and Barbara Hillyer Davis, Frontiers, Spring Summer 1981
Sunbury: An Annual Literary Review 9 & 10, 1980-1981
Mailbongwe ANC Women: Poetry is Also Their Weapon, ed Sono Molefe, 1980.
Staffrider (South Africa), 1980-1992
“Bernice Reagon: B’lieve I’ll Run On...” interview by Alexis DeVeaux, Essence, 1981
“Creating Soul Food: June Jordan”, interview by Alexis DeVeaux, Essence, 1981
“A Song for Billie’, Alexis DeVeaux, Essence 1981
“Zimbabwe Free At Last/Womanfire”, Alexis DeVeaux, Essence 1981
“Southern Africa: Listening for the News”, Alexis DeVeaux, Essence 1982
“Loving the Dark in Me”, Alexis DeVeaux, Essence 1982
Third Woman: Looking East Vol. 1 No. 2, 1982
“Blood Ties” by Alexis DeVeaux, Esssence 1983
“Why Women Rebel: A Comparative Study of South African Women’s Resistance in Bloemfontien and Johannesburg, Journal of Southern African Studies, 1984 (v.10 issue 1)
Many Voices, One Chant: Black Feminist Perspectives (Feminist Review 17), 1984
“Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde”, Essence 1984
Blue Heat: A Collection of Poems and Drawings, Alexis De Veaux, 1985
Gaptooth Girlfriends: The Third Act, (from a Workshop by Alexis De Veaux), The Third Act Press, 1985.
“Transforming Socialist Feminism: The Challenge of Racism”, Kum-Kum Bhavani; Margaret Coulson Feminist Review 23, Summer 1986
Evolution of a Race Riot, Zine ed Mimi Nguyen, 1998?
Sojourner: The Women’s Forum: The Lady is Butch, 1999
Ocho y Media, zine no date
Self Defense, zine by Marissa, (after 1999)
How to Stage a Coup: An Insurrection of the Underground Liberation Army, (comp date)
Rage Against #2, zine
I am Intimate with Anger #2, zine by Ann
I’d Sell My Soul to Survive (Discharge #5), zine by Mary,
I am Not a Sell-Out/I am Not a Nigger, Zine by Kerith, no date
Message to the Black Movement, Steering Committee of the Black Liberation Army (no date)
“Rites of Passage: Preparing Youth for Social Change”, Susan Wilcox, Khary Lazarre-White, and Jason Warwin (Brotherhood/SisterSol), Afterschool Matters, Spring 2004.
Ladies Pages: African American Women’s Magazines and the Culture that Made Them, Noliwe Rooks, 2004.
Dancing in the Dark, Caryl Phillips, 2005
Hermana Resist #5 (Under the Yellow Lights) and #6 (In My Defense: On Being), Noemi Martinez, circa 2005-2007
Sisu #3 and #4, Johanna Eeva, circa 2005-2007
Oh So Intense: Online Publication of the Poetry by the People Community Writing Intensive, ed. Ebony Golden, 2007.
Oh So Intense: Online Publication of the Poetry by the People Community Writing Intensive, ed. Ebony Golden, 2007 (

June Jordan was a badass. Even her dad said she had "thuglike tendencies". Reading through her letters at the Radcliffe Institute this past week I noticed that time and time again Jordan wrote angry letters to lazy, racist or badminded publications about their misuse of her work and dared them "just publish this letter, and save us both the trouble." Damn.

And June never pretended that she wasn't a fighter. So while the (wonderful attentive) archivist notes that some people complain that June Jordan was "difficult". I say...June Jordan was a tough loving teacher, insisting that everything she wrote...especially a letter to the editors...was a teaching moment. And a dare. None of the recipients of her angriest letters ever printed her missives about their shortcomings in their pages...because her words were too strong, too true to brave to close. June Jordan teaches us that every letter (now i mean it in the sense of the characters that make up words) must be a threat to the status quo. Maybe this is outcast publication at its best. Jordan's poems and essays themselves literally tell readers to "be afraid" because "i must become a menace to my enemies", but these unpublishable letters do something else...engender an unease, a privatized shame, a twist that says...this is what you own, your cowardice.

So it makes sense (to me) that Jordan only sent letters like this to white folks and white-run publications. In one hundred letters to Essence not one rips someone a new subscriptions (and we all know that Essence has pun intended), but somehow (though Jordan rewrote her contracts with them to ensure that she, not the magazine, had control over whether or not her words would be "reproduced"(that's the contract language)...Jordan had a different investment in that black male owned, black woman edited black woman audience geared space. I suspect that her inside knowledge of the tireless work executive editor Cheryll Greene and poetry/contributing editor Alexis DeVeaux did to counter the consumerist, tourist producing beauty sell of the magazine with a broad-based, sincere and radical diasporic consciousness based on the power of black women and words...might have had something to do with it. So in some cases a letter is a love thing, a way to remind yourself who you love...not a threat but a thread to follow towards hope.

So left for me to learn is how do I temper my temper and choose my words (as I embark on six months of letter writing today with the primary act of stealing fancy envelopes today)? Who do I remind not to touch me and who do I embrace despite their glaring contradictions? (Because I am seriously considering forcing every person at my university to fear me so much that they'll never get close enough to assault me and be rewarded for it. Because I am a very very angry black girl when I think about how my school pays rapists more than teachers...) Are either of these things (papercuts and hugs) sustainable? Do they cancel each other out? Remember June Jordan was a small bodied youthful spirit who stayed young died love, suffered illness all her life and finally died of breast cancer. June Jordan is someone who should be here now. And though she is here now (and I don't resent the work it takes to conjure her) I'm heavier for mourning her loss. Where does all the badass energy go? Does it build up fences,draw sharp lines in sand? Does it fortify a safe space for us to stand? Does it remind those who slight us what they already know...that we are smarter than them and they're scared? Or is it an act of justifed theft, energy and righteousness stolen back to be shuttled into our own growing dreams. June Jordan was part of a group called the Sisterhood (along with Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange etc. etc.) that dreamed about making something called Kizzy Enterprises...Ntozake Shange was going to put it in her house, and they were going to publish autonomously and they were going to be funded completely by committed black allies and they were going to republish lost black classics and they were going to write for and as the oppressed black masses and they were going to meet up with the Flamboyant Ladies theatre group and end nuclear war over brunch in Alexis DeVeaux's sunroom and they were going to.... save us all.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Home is a Trip: Out of this World

The Keys: The Official Organ of the League of Colored People (edited by Una Marson), 1933
Spare Rib, 1979-1984
For Ourselves: From Women's Point of View: Our Bodies and Sexuality, Anja Muelenbelt, 1981.
Conditions ("Feminist Literary Journal with an Emphasis on Writing by Lesbians") 1982-1988
Girls are Powerful: Young Women's Writings from Spare Rib, 1982
FAN (Feminist Art News) 1983-1985
Gen: An Anti-Racist, Anti-Sexist Education Journal, 1983-1988
I Is a Long Memoried Woman, Grace Nichols, 1983
A Dangerous Knowing: Four Black Women Poets Barbara Buford, Gabriela Pearse, Grace Nichols, Jackie Kay, 1984.
Echo: Works by Women Artists 1850-1940, Maud Sulter, 1991.
Syrcas, Maud Sulter, 1994.
Jeanne Duval, A Melodrama, Maud Sulter, 2003.
The Known World, Edward P. Jones, 2003.
Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray: Feminist Visions for A Just World, M. Jacqui Alexander, Lisa Albrecht, Sharon Day and Mab Segrest (eds), 2003.
Soul Power: Culture, Radicalism and the Making of A U.S. Third World Left, Cynthia A. Young, 2006.
The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, Vijay Prashad, 2007.
The Allied Media Conference in Detroit Michigan
and the United States Social Forum in Atlanta Georgia (as supplemental and inassimilable texts)

What I really learned this week was never to return from a powerful, overwhelming and sleep depriving event in Detroit with only a few hours before you need to drive to a powerful, overwhelming and sleep depriving event in Atlanta. Especially if (thanks to a rare mistake by your loving and usually perfect partner) you are actually accidentally homeless...during those not even 20 hours at "home". (My girlfriend locked all of our keys in the house...our landlord was out of town...the locksmith was closed...where was Una Marson when I needed her so!)

Luckily, (in addition to the surplus inspiration I received from the badass women of color bloggers and young hip hop activists I met in the big D) I had a good reason to stay awake during the drive to Atlanta (lengthened by rain, rubbernecking and rush hour): Mama Nayo. I had the honor of driving from present home to former home with native ATLien, black arts south heroine, and loving elder friend Nayo Watkins. Our conversation which ranged from the meaning of "community research" to the difference between growing up in Atlanta during periods of racial and class-based segregation framed my entire trip home (oh that word again).

For updates on the poems and polemics I shared at the Allied Media Conference and the United States Social Forum click the appropriate links on the BrokenBeautiful Press mainpage, and let me know what you think. This is the place where I start (again) figuring out my relationship to the texts above in terms of my life here (below).

My question, subliminally pre-invoked by these readings and reiterated by my overdose on conference attendance is this: How many world are there? Especially in regards to the work that Young and Prashad do (often in contradiction...and certainly with different scopes) to define the 3rd World, I wonder how many worlds exist at once.

Many worlds are small ones. This past week I have travelled through one small world that is the US based people of color led movement for radical social change. We all know each other. I hope that makes us a movement. I hope that makes us accountable. I hope that helps us succeed. And I have visited another small world where black lesbians in their fifties talk about how they used to go dancing with Marlon Riggs, and how Pat Parker helped them move, and how Audre Lorde noticed they were the only ones nodding in agreement at her public speeches and how I should know their daughters since we all went to school together and never ever spoke. And there is the smaller and marginalized world of our healing, holding it's space as its relevance moves towards need. And there is the small network of radical women of color bloggers who directed more people to my website than I even imagined. And there is the small world of my community of survivors in healing, making smaller worlds still as we embrace each other. And then there is the you that might be reading this blog. Small, small, world in which to dance.

And if these are just some of the small worlds where my soul has stretched by, then how many worlds must there be. And what do these worlds have to do with mapping (after the official launchings of activist networks MyBloc ( and Future 5000 ( and that other map launched by sistersong and of course google maps making it easy for someone to be looking at my roof right now. What do all of the small worlds that matter to me have to do with the earth or the planet and with knowing and with fear. At the Building a Queer Left meeting that Southerners on New Ground and Queers for Economic Justice put on someone suggested that it would be great to make an accessible map of all the progressive or radical queer organizations or people (or cells?) in the United States. And everyone agreed it would be wonderful to have that kind of GPS and no one said that was scary. No one reminded the group that lots of people still want to kill us, and that many of us, especially immigrants right now need to remain unfound. No one mentioned the TV series heroes and the tragedies caused when the map of the supernaturally gifted got into the wrong kindred hands. No one said that. And that no one was supposed to have been me.

The contradiction is: I want to know. I benefit from knowing people working on radical projects all over the world, and I don't begrudge anyone the luxury of what I have learned through accident and lust, but when the world becomes a globe, infinitely knowable and programmed it's the small one, it is us who can be hurt first, fastest and in the quietest ways. Our small worlds are not by any means safe, if only because they are none of them only, none of them self-contained, none of them disconnected, none of them whole or home completely. So while I find myself making a map through time and space of black feminist publishing, of people who purposely left treasure maps, of people who wanted to be found (by me) even after they suffered deportation, and exile, imprisonment, and death sentences, I think I am also making a small paperlined world, lining it with words and hoping that maybe I can hide here and sleep. Just for now.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Changed Waters Evaporating or Breathing is Believing

“Coalition Politics: Turning the Century”, Bernice Johnson Reagon, West Coast Women’s Music Festival, 1981.
“Mr. Close-friend-of-the-family pays a visit whilst everyone else is out”, charcoal by Sonia Boyce, circa 1983
As A Black Woman, Maud Sulter, 1985 (Akira Press)
Black Women Talk Poetry, BlackWomantalk Collective (Da Chong, Olivette Cole Wilson, Bernadine Evaristo, Gabriela Pearse), 1987,
“Calliope”, (a gilt framed self-portait photograph by and of Maud Sulter shown above), 1991
Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics Joy James, 1999.
Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics Memory and the Sacred, M. Jaqui Alexander, 2005.
“Southerners on New Ground: Our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community”, Mandy Carter in What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race and the State of the Nation, 2007.
“Political Literacy and Voice” Joy James in What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race and the State of the Nation, 2007.
“Radical Social Change: Searching for a New Foundation”, Adjoa Florencia Jones de Ameida in The Revolution Will Not be Funded (an INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence Anthology), South End Press, 2007.
“Are the Cops in Our Heads and Hearts?”, Paula X. Rojas, in The Revolution Will Not be Funded (an INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence Anthology), South End Press, 2007.
“Non-Profits and the Autonomous Grassroots”, Eric Tang in The Revolution Will Not be Funded (an INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence Anthology), South End Press, 2007.
“On Our Own Terms: Ten Years of Radical Community Building With Sista II Sista”, Nicole Burrowes, Morgan Cousins, Paula X. Rojas, and Ije Ude in The Revolution Will Not be Funded (an INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence Anthology), South End Press, 2007.

“Welcome”, Loretta Ross at SisterSong 10th Anniversary Celebration “Let’s Talk About Sex” May 31-June 3rd 2007.
“Your Human Rights are My Human Rights: Building a Reproductive Justice Movement Together”, Byllye Avery
“Reproductive Oppression and Reproductive Justice for Women of Color”, Dorothy Roberts
“Self-Help: Speak Truth With Power”, Dazan Dixon Diallo
“Integrating HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Justice Movements Globally”, Dazan Dixon Diallo (SisterLove Inc)
“The Future of Sex and Reproductive Technologies”, Sujatha Jesudason (Center for Genetics and Society)
“Intersex Human Rights Issues”, Emi Koyama
“Myth of Overpopulation and Dangerous Contraceptives”, Cara Page (Deeper Waters Productions and Committee on Women, Population and the Environment)
“Organizing Youth at the Domincan Women’s Development Center, Claudia De la Cruz
“Valuing Young Motherhood”, Benita Miller (Brooklyn Young Mother’s Collective)
“If Another World is Possible, Another U.S. is Necessary—Moving Forward to the U.S. Social Forum”, Jerome Scott (Project South)
“Sex Work and Economic Justice”, Juhu Thukral (Sex Workers Project @ Urban Justice Center), Erika Derkas and Gennifer Hirano (Sex Workers Outreach Project Los Angeles)
“Undivided Rights: Women Of Color and Reproductive Justice”, Jael Silliman, Marelene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, Elena Gutierrez
“The Power of Stories: Depo Provera and Women of Color” Committee on Women and Population and Luz Rodriquez
“From the Birth Room to the Bedroom: Decolonizing Women from the Imprint of Violence (The Butterfly Approach)”
“The Erotics of Childbirth”, Luz Lesero
all at SisterSong 10th Anniversary Celebration “Let’s Talk About Sex” May 31-June 3rd 2007.

In Guyana they believe that ancestors move in wind, take us over quick like that, fill us with the power of the universe and more (the multiverse perhaps). And when M. Jacqui Alexander explains that we don't walk alone, that we walk accompanied in a way that makes our bodies sites of memory, talking books, that spoils our souls from ever being bought, that opens our mouth to possession that is already communal, I hear that. We hear that. We know. Last night while I finished reading M. Jaqui Alexander's Pedagogies of Crossing, Oya took me over (took me again?) into sounds of recognition that probably made Jurina (sitting next to me calculating statistics at the time) wonder since when had Duke library been lending out 350 page hardcover erotica. But I mean it. When Alexander shared that her teacher described Oya as being able to "kiss you with a light breeze" I recognized a possession that has had me all along.
Last week I wondered about superpowers and living forever and as if in response (as if being in the presence of almost a thousand brilliant, fierce, committed beautiful women including my very own mother at the SisterSong Conference in Chicago were not enough!) this huge book by Jacqui Alexander that against good advice I lugged along the journey holds a name for this act of transgenerational remembering, of an archive in the body not coded in genomes, of an intellectual act of faith, theorizing as an existential act of (simply put) superpowers and living forever. What a model for sharing, as Cara Page spoke completely habituated by Audre Lorde about how we risk our lives to love to transform the world with the ample erotic us, and how capitalism names that if it were the millions and not the few wasting 80% of the resources. As Luz Lesero spoke rebirth into this same Audre in her workshop on erotic childbirthing. As the midwives of the Tewa Birthing Center spoke of the Butterfly approach that splits open worlds that remain connected into thousand year histories in which we are small and growing. As heroes in the reproductive justice movement are mourned as 14 year old urban butterflies make group poems...the dead are born and born and born.
And we thought coalition in the present was hard. And we thought relating across organizational affiliations, callings and practices was difficult, was humbling, was taking too long! But we are relating across planes, across centuries, across death, across oceans even now. Even right now June, Audre, Claudia, Olive, Ida, and Ella crowd into my fingers, rush forward to fill this next breath when it opens. And we thought resources were scarce! I feel like my face has smacked into the wall of infinity and moved through because it was was air all along. I am learning the meaning of a map without conquest, I am swallowing the depth of what I almost bartered cheap. Revolutions cannot be funded...just as much as Gil Scott Heron cannot die alone. Revolutions cannot be funded and we would sell our souls, chain our freedoms to money made to weigh the flight of our porous bodies down? I cried during many moments of the SisterSong conference, but clarity stung most when I learned that the same funders who pay for this beautiful conference in this bad-ass hotel...who paid for my mother and I to attend towards our futures...were paying for our knowing with residuals that they made off of testing birth control at 20 times the stregnth, of inserting depo provera prototypes without consent, of sterlizing and sterlizing until the elementary schools had to start closing, simply put for raping women in Puerto Rico and Jamaica of all the generations they might have been holding to pass on. Birth control drug sales are big business...big enough to fund the Reproductive Justice movement off the crumbs leftover.

So when I say we are connected that means everything. That means as much as I am open to joy I am open to pain 100 generations worth using me to change the water. That means if we are divine, if we are forever, we are also complicit, we are trading in soul. As the Sista said "Capital is not only all around us in the society we live in. It is also in what we what we believe is possible." Who knew that Oya had been sitting here all along (Maud Sulter knew through the name Calliope)? Who knew that Oya had been circulating through me all this time...hoping I would continue to give her away, to open to faith, hoping I would sell off no more of our power than necessary. Hoping that sacrifice wouldn't scar me passed passing on all that she is pushing through.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Span: How to Live (forever)

Salt of the Earth (film-1953)
Black Voice: Popular Paper of Black Unity and Freedom Party (1972-1985)
Anti-Apartheid Movement Women’s Committee Newsletter (1981-1985)
Common Differences: Conflicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives by Gloria Joseph and Jill Lewis, 1981
Black and Immigrant Women Speak Out II: Women Count, Count Women’s Work (June 16-17, 1984)
As A Black Woman, Maud Sulter, 1985
Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britian, Beverly Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe
Watchers and Seekers: Creative Writing by Black Women, ed Rhonda Cobham and Merle Collins, (London 1987, New York 1988)
Motherlands: Black Women’s Writing from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia, ed Susheila Nasta, 1991 London , 1992 US
The Atlantic Sound, Caryl Phillps, 2000
A Distant Shore, Caryl Phillips, 2003
Transnational America, Inderpal Grewal , 2005
Heroes, NBC (2006-)

I've always been drawn to superheroes. Maybe I identify with the need to create a secret identity, so the real superpowers can be safe. Maybe I know what it feels like to protect your loved ones from a realness that's as much a burden as it is a miracle. Maybe it's the tights. Either way my, since my sister and I watched a whole season of the NBC TV show heroes (derivative from X-Men, with the sexy-science scare validity of the human genome project) I have been thinking about superheroes. I don't think that I am a more evolved version of my ancestors (if anything the opposite), but (inspired by the cheerleader whose body recovers from everything, and whose mind recovers from an attempted rape murder that her classmate inflicts on her) there is something that I have to change.
Maybe Barbara Smith was speaking on an evolutionary scale when she said that she wanted to see if was possible to be a black lesbian and live to tell about it. If so, I am speaking on an evolutionary scale now, when I say, I want to use my one life to prove that there is such a thing as a black girl braced against the word a real superwoman (despite Michele Wallace) who lives this way (to be elaborated shortly) and keeps on living. For Olive Morris, bad-ass flat-squatting bookshop-opening back-upping superwoman who faced sexual violence for resisting other people's arrests, dead from cancer at 27 but alive now because we travel through time. For Claudia Jones internationalist booklist-giving, carnival-founding, young socialist party newsletter-editing Mcarthy-flouting superhero who made walls fall and built gardens with three magic words "black. people. everywhere." dead at 49 from a heart-busting stroke, but alive now because we travel through time (and because Carole Boyce Davies insists). For June, for Audre, for Nellie, for Barbara, for every blackwoman genuis fighting or sending remittances to cancer and heart disease as we speak, there must be some way to save the day.
What kind of magic is required, what is the spell, where is the secret switch that does both things (on heroes we have the mother who splits herself into two to defend herself from sexual abuse...evidently watching NBC fiction is better than watching NBC "news" for those of us who would say NO to sexual violence..but I digress). Where is the magic book and when we find it which parts should we say outloud? Which parts should we write over? What is the time travel tool that I (maker and taker of books) can weild? My real question is what is the relationship between the anthology...used and reused tool of black women in struggle to imagine that they might live forever, to reach backwards into existence...and the archive...attempted and denied and opening in 2007...and the letter to be found. And what can my relationship to all of these things be such that Olive Morris never dies AND such that it doesn't cost me cancer to break open this hostile protal in a deadly institution and hold her?
In other words: WHAT WILL OUR (S)HERO(ES) DO NEXT?
Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

for gil

for gil
(an almost gigan created at the Poetry by the People Community Writing Intensive)

we cannot write a eulogy for you
period becomes ellipsis

like battered prophecy in vien
tomorrow claws our collective back
money knocks teeth forward holes

soul on shiver smack on cage
choke hold every stolen page

rage to proof that lines do make us bleed
and you were in our heartbeats all along

slice the forearm skin right off the news
we cannot write this eulogy for you

soul on shiver smack on cage
you steal the present into final stage
we memorize your face a fading blue

and we would quit, breathe water, heal for you
but you remain to make us beg the task


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Translating "Black": From English to England

Finding a Voice: Asian Women in Britian, Amrit Wilson, 1978
Black Women:Bringing it All Back Home, Margaret Prescod-Roberts and Norma Steele, 1980
The Fat Black Woman Poems, Grace Nichols(pictured above), 1984
The Final Passage, Caryl Phillips, 1985
Strangers and Sisters: Women, Race and Immigration, ed Selma James, 1985
Watchers and Seekers, eds Rhonda Cobham and Merle Collins, 1988
Let it Be Told: Black Women Writers in Britian, ed Lauretta Ngcobo, 1988
"The Future of Reproductive Choice for Poor Women and Women of Color", Dorothy E. Roberts, 1990
Passion: Discourses on Blackwomen's Creativity, ed Maud Sulter, 1990
Don't Ask Me Why: An Anthology of Short Stories by Black Women eds. Blackwomantalk Collective, 1991
Kindness to Children, Joan Riley, 1992 (first book published by a women's press in the UK)
Young, Female and Black, Heidi Safia Mizra, 1992
Black Women's Writing, ed Gina Wisker, 1993
From Homebreakers to Jailbreakers: Southall Black Sisters, ed Rahila Gupta, 2003
The Aesthetics of Superfluity, Achille Mbembe, 2004
Katrina, Black Women and the Deadly Discourse on Black Poverty in America, Barbara Ransby, 2006
"Say it Loud: Perspectives on the Black Left", Left Turn Magazine, 2007

Isn't it wonderful when you finally actually see the area of inquiry that your work has been implying all along. Rather like being struck on the forehead by the heel of your own hand. Maybe my first clue should have been my choice to get a PhD in English. Maybe it should have been the "anglophone Caribbean" elements of my work. Maybe it should have been the way I kept buying novels by black british women writers and gifting them to the women in my family. Maybe it should have been the fact that as we all know by now this project is about my mother and grandmother (alongside the wider possibility of women coming before in a way that produces this me) and my mother was born and raised IN bloody England. You get the point. I should have known that my work had something to do with black women in England. But I didn't notice. In fact I had already booked a ticket to London before I realized that the development of "black feminisms" in Britian was a crucial site of my research. So there, to those of you who think quick and smart mean the same.
So my slow dance with destiny had led me to this set of weeks. At the end of the semester, ostensibly done with my qualifyng exams, deep in the production of a national event to end sexual violence, enjoying a visit from my mother...and reading frantically twenty books about black feminist activism and literary production in Britain from the New Cross Massacre to the new and violent terrifying anti-terrorist now. And despite this prelude and the radical inbetweeness of it, this reading turned out to be right on time. Not only does the interesting work of English Collective of Prostitutes, Housewives in Dialogue, Wages Due Lesbians and the other members of the Wages for Housework campaign push and cushion my thoughts about the domestic as an analytic through which to critique diaspora and nation-formation (and cultural nationalism), not only does almost every anthologized black woman writer have a critique of the publishing industry..and indeed what it means to be anthologized at all, and not only does Maud Sulter have the ill afro and small build that makes me think I could impersonate her blissfully, BUT this set of readings has ALSO helped my clarify why exactly it is that with a theoretical archive that does not come close to staying within the English language and an obsession with reading in every language I can find, my literary--primary archive which I thought was just about blackness, or black people or so persistantly Anglophone.
As usual, Brent Edwards is helpful here. While at first I worried that a project like mine, so influenced by Edwards work in the Practice of Diaspora of developing a print archive and a concept of translation or articulation in which diaspora and relationship more generally has to be something in translation that my mono-linguistic sources...just weren't diasporic enough. But this week of reading makes it clear that although articulations of black feminism and solidarity IN ENGLISH are circualating between the United States, Canada, the UK, the Anglophone Caribbean, and South Africa the term "Black" does not describe the same thing at all when one moves from one of these places to the other. So alongside, (African-American, West Indian, East Indian, Afro-Caribbean, Coloured, Indian, Asian) in all of these locations is an investment in the term BLACK. Not just by women who were speaking across different regional definitions of blackness...but who were also MOVING between these different regions and taking on Black as a mode of relationship strategically...and in black ink over and over again. If I am interested in what it means to be black then one place to look is the untranslatability, incommensurability of this term in what would want to be a black diaspora, but is not long as black and african are not quite synonymous.
So here I go into the world with this. First to Black Lily a film and music festival in Philadelphia for "unsung" musicians and filmakers (black?) and then across the pawned to visit my sister and to track down these publications, periodicals, pamphlets. To (w)it.