Thursday, July 03, 2008

Too Important or What We NEED: Transformation in the Face of Violence and Silence

"I wrote it because I wanted to talk abut blackwomanslaughter in a way that could not be unfelt or ignored by anyone who heard it with a hope perhaps of each one of us doing something within our immediate living to change to change this destruction."

"We are too important to each other to waste ourselves in silence."
- Audre Lorde in a prefatory essay to Need: A Chorale for Black Woman Voices

In 1979 Barbara Smith sent Audre Lorde a news clipping via snail mail. Yet another black woman in her community in Roxbury had been found dead. Over these four months, during which 12 black women were killed in the black nieghborhods of Boston, black feminists, led by black lesbian feminists built a coalitional movement to respond, using public art, poetry, self-defense, publishing and political education. Barbara Smith and Lorraine Bethel were editing what would become the foundation black feminist collection, Conditions 5: The Black Women's Issue. Audre Lorde wrote Need: A Chorale for Black Woman Voices in response to this wave of murders. The energy and analysis forged in the words and promises exchanged between black feminists at that moment grew into a broad movement that lives, waiting and growing in those of us hungry for the words that were never meant to survive.

This past Monday, not yet 30 years after Barbara Smith's letter to Audre Lorde, Moya sent an email with a link to a news story:

This woman is black
so her blood is shed into silence.

A building full of neighbors heard the screams of this survivor while she was being sexual assaulted in her home, but were at a loss to actually act against this violence in their community. They didn't know how to respond, they didn't want to believe what was happening. So they kept their doors closed. They went to sleep.

This story is important for a number of reasons. As Moya points out it is yet another instance of silence within the black community about violence against a black woman coming on the heels of Megan Williams, Dunbar Village, R. Kelley's Acquittal and more. This is what breaks our backs.

I also think this story, literal silence in the moment of violence, is important for what it demonstrates more generally. Our silence, as oppressed communities about the gendered violence that disproportionately impacts our communities is glaring, harmful, devastating. We generally really feel that in a racist police state, and individualist capitalist state, a fear-filled falling apart place we don't have the resources to respond to violence even when we hear it happening, on the news and in our buildings every night.

But if we have each other, we do have what we need to take care of each other, hold each other accountable, keep each other safe and whole. If we have each other we do.

And I say, thank the Lorde, we have in Need a resource for transformation and a means to open us these impossible conversations about the real costs of gendered violence in our communities. The task of the poet is to say the unsayable, and Audre Lorde, may she never be forgotten, literally gives us the tools to open our mouths.

The UBUNTU Artistic Respons committee which convened in Durham, North Carolina in the midst of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, used Need (in addition to other poems and the documentary NO! by Aishah Simmons) to break open rooms of people and to instigate real discussions about the impact of gendered violence against black women WITHIN black communities, at the hands of other black people.

When my father, a person professionally trained and personally prone to debate and argument read Need he had no arguments to make. He told me that reading the piece was simply a moment in his education. He compared it to a moment in high school when he watched a film that documented all the shaven hair, all the bodily ashes, all the teeth and bones of the victims of the Nazi holocaust. He said that a mass of violence, an unimaginable horror had become visible and real to him in Audre Lorde's words. He said there was no question about whether this was true, whether it was relevant, whether it impacted him. He said now I know. The only question is what we do.

This is the Summer of Our Lorde, when we transform silence into action and power. I want to ask us to read and share Need available for download via:

with everyone we can share it with. Let us read it with other women in our communities, let us print our copies and give them to our families. Let us build a fire of healing that can ignite our communities into the conversations we need in order to build the trust, connection and analysis that we need to work together for survival, safety and love in our communities.

love always (in the hands of Audre),

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