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 (email@example.com, 347-247-1526)
Naomi Clark ( firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 ( www.srlp.org ) 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
“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
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 (alongwalkhom.org), 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 about...no 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 half.com 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 novelist...in 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 Maybe...it's alive if we love it...if we listen to it newly and are transformed by it...it's alive if we love it...as 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 life...to 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.