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 better...by 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 poetry...to 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 us...by 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 read...it 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 steal....black feminism is the experimental (in kritispeak) the poetic (in my language) act of creating a livable space...it 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.