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?)


lex said...

Oh and I forgot to transmit my swoon over Toni Morrison's "A Knowing So Deep". It might be my favorite thing that she's ever written (and that's saying a DAMN lot by the way). In this pre-beloved missive dedicated to a mother a sister a daughter and to the women who "never landed still swimming open-eyed in the sea", Morrison tells us we were "naming before we were named" that "Hell's twins slavery and silence came later." Before Moten, before Saul Williams she proclaims "we are before that!" And the she reminds us that based on what WE say "change itself changes." As my New Horizons student Randy would say: "WHAT!?!!!" Beyond amazing.
Toni Morrison you annoint my soul to growth. Cheryll make sure I have one.
All thanks.

Anonymous said...

My name is Fallon and I’m organizing with other women of color around the Dunbar Gang Rapes and West Virginia Torture/Rape case. Well, I was wondering if you have time to participate in a phone conference on Friday, September 28, 2007 at 9pm/central about organizing to end silences surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida as well as stories that go unheard because it involves a woman of color such as the Newark imprisonment of the four lesbians for protecting themselves from a male aggressor.

Well, I’ve been circulating a 2 minute movie entitled, “How do you keep a Social Movement Alive.”

This movie documents the silence surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida. The purpose of this movie is to document the silences within our relationships, within our homes, within our families, within our communities, within our jobs, within our schools, within our churches, temples, and synagogues, within our governments, and within our world.
We have a blog, but given the organizing we are trying to do, I need to reorganize the blog and use wordpress instead of blogger. This is the current blog,
If you can’t do the phone conference would you interested in being apart of the Women of Color Bloggers Breaking the Silences Contingency on the Web which would mean inundating the web with information about Wearing Red Campaign on October 31, 2007 as well as circulating clips and other media trying to inundate the web with stories of violence committed against women of color?
I look forward to connecting with you,
You can email me at