Monday, November 10, 2008

Mere Relative: Audre Lorde, Grenada and the Ethics of Diasporic Solidarity

Greetings loved ones!

This is a paper that I presented (next to my beloved sister Zachari Curtis!) on a panel called "Radical Black Feminist Literatures" at North Carolina Central University's conference on "New Approaches to African Diaspora Studies." It is important for me to note that there were a WIDE range of definitions of diaspora in room...some more nostalgic, narrow and patriarchal than others. This is the seed of an upcoming chapter called "Diasporic Reports" so feedback is much appreciated!

Mere Relative: Audre Lorde, Grenada and the Ethics of Diasporic Solidarity

“Grenada is their country. I am only a relative.”

“To the average Grenadian, the United States is a large but dim presence
where some dear relative now lives.”

-Audre Lorde “Grenada: an Interim Report”

What kind of intimacy do I want to create here? Who do I imagine you to be anyway? Who would you have to be to understand what I am compelled to say here? Maybe you are black, because we are convened at an historically black institution. Maybe you know something about dispossession, and segregation and how the spaces you think you own are really part of something big and uncaring, like the state. Or an economy where black already means something that we didn’t consent to. Maybe you will understand, because you came here to talk about the African diaspora. Maybe you consider me your people. I pray to the Lorde of my choosing (Audre Lorde), that I am your people somehow, that my presence grows a space in your heart beyond understanding for love. But there is no one you can be that will guarantee that I make sense to you today. What kind of intimacy do we need? What kind of distance are we afraid of?
Can I be honest with you? I came here today seeking home. Six months ago I went Grenada seeking the same thing. And I found it in a way. The generous attention in your faces. The small island plants, smell of sea wind of embrace that felt familiar for a girl grown and summered on a different small island with a different economy. Does that make me sentimental? Audre Lorde, a black feminist lesbian warrior mother poet teacher born in Harlem says:
“The first time I came to Grenada I came seeking “home,” for this was my mother’s birthplace and she had always defined it so for me.” I will always believe that Audre Lorde was and is a woman and a spirit of rare brilliance, bravery, eloquence and insight. But this is a typical statement for a US born black person with Caribbean parents. Home for an Afro-Caribbean family, is not the United States of America. The harder lesson to embrace is that no where else is home either. This is about the double diaspora. Afro-diasporic people dispersed again by the market, out of the Caribbean and into the United States, or Canada, or Europe. Carrying the traces of colonialism and neocolonialism in over stuffed bags. And that’s not the heaviest baggage. Audre Lorde went to Grenada seeking home. But she could not find it. First, because of the cruelty of space and time, the stories her parents raised her with about Grenada were inevitably dated and referred to a place that no longer existed, and that place, overwritten with longing, may have never existed except in their memories. And on her second visit Grenada could not be home, could not be properly claimed by any black person because of the 1983 United States invasion into what was the first black socialist republic. Home, a place controlled by black people that refuses capitalism (or maybe that’s only MY definition of home) is a dream place, to dangerous to exist. As Lorde says: “What a bad example, a dangerous precedent, an independent Grenada would be for the peoples of Color in the caribbean, in Central America, for those of us here in the United States.” But that doesn’t mean what Audre Lorde found in Grenada, what I found years later was not familiar.
Grenada though not home, was familiar, because the US invasion of Grenada was justified by a logic that black people living in the US knew all too well. Lorde explains that racism is the primary export from the United States to the world. Here is her inventory: “The lynching of Black youth and shooting down of Black women, 60 percent of Black teenagers unemployed and rapidly becoming unemployable, the presidential dismantling of the Civil Rights Commission, and more Black families below the poverty line than twenty years ago—if these facts of American life can be passed over as unremarkable, then why not the rape and annexation of tiny Black Grenada?” Familiar, but not home.
Diaspora is not what I wish it was. Home in every black face and every majority black space on the planet. A fabulous circle of homegirls holding hands across continents, a way for me to look at you and know you know what I mean. Diaspora is not what I wish it was a strain that lets me trace my presence backwards across centuries like a fated journey an inevitable victory. Diaspora is not what I wish it was, but I am connected to you somehow. We are, despite it all, related.
And let me pause here before and inside of your affirmation to tell you what I do not mean. I do not consent to the definition of diaspora that says the African diaspora is sperm trailing across time from a far away mother land to a group of linked children. It’s not what you wish it was. Diaspora is not some true race legacy for us to hold on to. A story for the fatherless that tells us who and where and what and why our fathers are. Diaspora is not that. Diaspora is what makes that impossible. I do not consent to a fairy tale that leaves me in chains and then pretends those chains are not there. Diaspora is not Marcus Garvery reborn 50 times out of the womb of any black woman as long as she is black enough. You mean it well, but I’m not with that. As Brent Edwards reminds us, there is a difference between pan-africanism and diaspora. Who do you have to be to understand what I am trying to say here? Maybe you are black. Which could mean your mother was black, your children are gonna be black, which could have led you to believe, understandably that race is something we reproduce with our bodies. You know, over time, diaspora.
I am here to tell you (in the name of the Lorde no less), no. We do not reproduce race with our bodies. The only thing our bodies make is love. The only thing that rightfully lives in our skin is life’s longing for itself. The only thing that our bodies know how to make untaught is love and more love and more love. Because love is the only thing we need. If there was a contents label on my body it would say this person is made of some certain amount of water, which is another name for love, and a certain amount of cells remaking themselves, love. Love is the only thing I have, the only thing I have the RIGHT to make. And that’s what I’m doing here. And because I love you, I am going to be as honest as I can be.
Race is not something we make with our bodies. Race is merely something we survive. Only racism can make and remake race over time. And racism is a story about who can be killed. But that story, does connect us. So black people in the United States, Audre Lorde argues, in an urgent interim report that she stopped the presses on her own book to people in the United States are related to black people in Grenada. But not because of our melanin or the blood in our veins, but because of racism, our killability, we are related by the blood that spills out. Black people in the United States are related to black people in Grenada because the United States is using the story of racism to steal power from all of us. Black people everywhere are related. Kind of like family. You know a group of people you are stuck with for better or for worse, tied to by law and survival, and that doesn’t mean there is love there, but there could be.
Audre Lorde models the practice of how we can relate to our dear relative, our mere relatives, our not very near relatives with love. And the first requirement is that we are honest about the fact that we are not all the same. Black people in the United States paid taxes that funded a military invasion into Grenada, and it was of course, disproportionately black people in that army through which the US invaded Grenada killing the young revolutionaries and imposing an economic situation that among other things caused people living in an island full of trees that produced cocoa beans to IMPORT chocolate. My uncle, who was in the Army at that time wanted so bad to go to Grenada, years and many books later he is glad he didn’t get his wish. But directly or indirectly the same imperialist racism that makes black people in the United States related to black people everywhere, consistenly puts us on opposite sides, of a very dirty coin. As blacks in the US we consent over and over again to violence against other black people done in our name, and usually without our knowledge. Not a very brotherly situation at all.
Audre Lorde is saying, as a mere relative, that it doesn’t have to be that way. We are related through racist systems that we do not control, but we can only look each other in the eye, with love, if we acknowledge our different relationships of power. Who does it benefit when my own oppression here overshadows my privilege in relationship to the people living in places that this country has invaded through the racist ideology of the war on terror. Does diaspora now mean that I am related to Iraqis to everyone in Guantanamo through systems of racism. And if so, how can I be related to those who racism oppresses through intentional solidarity, the practice of love? What kind of intimacy am I trying to create here? I think as we innovate in our study and practice of black diaspora our key concern needs to be the terms under which we are related and the ways the and privileges that our different relationships to power and access make us accountable. Diaspora, I would argue must compel us towards what Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Mohanty would call a democratic transnationalism, where not only our skinfolks become our kinfolks, but where we are accountable to everyone oppressed by racism with a strategic solidarity that acknowledges the systems through which we meet each other. Familiar, and struggling, mere relatives, until we can meet, at home.

Monday, November 03, 2008

For My People: Freedom in Durham

Hey loved ones,
So because I live in Durham I get to be inspired all the time by the brilliance and creativity of people. Not all the brilliant and creative people in the United States live in Durham, it just feels that way sometimes. Like today when a black woman who is a doctor and a mother of 6 came to speak to the Durham School Board and the Durham Public School administration about why students should be able to choose educational alternatives. Or like right now when Durham's Youth Noise Network is broadcasting a voice recording of June Jordan's "On the Night of November 3rd 1992" about the end of the (first) Bush era and speaking about their views on electoral politics.

So I write about often as possible...because people act like they don't know about the resilient, resourceful miraculous people living, working and loving here. I wanted to share two examples with you all that are in cyber and book form right now.
First..check out an article I wrote called "The Life of A Poem: Audre Lorde's 'A Litany for Survival' in Post-Lacrosse Durham" for an online journal called Reflections: A Journal of Writing, Service Learning and Community Literacy. It's in blog format so you can post comments..I hope you do!!!!
And THEN....(I am even more excited about this one) get/find/borrow a copy of Abolition Now!: 10 Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex just out from AK Press!!! This is a book collaboratively edited by the awesome publications committee of Critical Resistance and it features a chapter I wrote called "Freedom Seeds: Growing Abolition in Durham, North Carolina."

I'm so lucky that I get to live here and be inspired by you!!!!!!