Saturday, July 19, 2008

Because When and Where We Enter...

...the entire human race enters with us.

Posted at elle who got it from Nora who got it in circulation because Kendra Tappin, a Firewalker/Afrofuturist/Womanist/artist/activist/comrade put it out there.

Hell yes.

Give it another push please, as Kendra requested. Forward to at least ONE other person you know.

(X-posted @ Waiting 2 Speak)

Dear Friends,

On Wednesday, June 25 a 20-year-old black woman was raped and robbed in her apartment in Philadelphia. A man forced himself into her apartment and once he was inside he called up two of his friends. After four hours the three men left. The victim was left to walk a mile alone to the closest police station where she reported the crime. The woman’s next-door neighbor has said that she saw the initial intrusion and heard the screaming but that she went to bed and did nothing. Other neighbors reported that they also heard the woman’s screams but that they did nothing.

Twenty-four hours before this incident a 48 year-old woman was raped just a few blocks away. She was lying in her bed when an unknown man intruded into her home. He raped her and he stabbed her in her neck. Police say that they do not believe the two crimes are related or that any of the same men are involved.

I have been silent on this issue, but this morning I woke to a note from a friend who reminded me of the powerful ways in which our silence condemns us.

I am writing you this letter because I know we must do the telling even if we feel afraid, anxious or alone. I am writing this letter to urge you to take up this issue as though you or your family member were the victim, and because I am troubled.

I am troubled because there seems to be an epidemic of violence, sexual violence, against black women. I am troubled because this country’s history is replete with instances of violence against black women, denigration of black women, sexual violation of black women and then turning a blind eye those crimes. Presently I am reminded of:

• The acquittal of R. Kelley

• Megan Williams, a 20 year old black woman in West Virginia who was kidnapped and gang raped by 6 other people, three of whom were women, forced to eat animal feces and insulted with racial slurs.

• A 35 year old black woman in Miami, Florida living in the Dunbar Village Housing Projects who was gang raped by up to 10 men. For three hours the men beat and raped her. They also forced her to perform oral sex on her 12 year-old son whom they also beat and doused with household chemicals. Several months after the crime 4 teenagers, aged14-18, were arrested and charged in relation to the crime.

• The New Jersey 4, black lesbians ages 19, 20, 20 and 24 who were sentenced to prison terms ranging between 3 to 11 years because they defended themselves against a physical and sexual assault from a man who held them down, choked them, spat on them, pulled out their hair from their scalps all because these women are lesbians.

• A conversation with a friend who was distressed because she had heard signs of domestic violence in her neighbor’s apartment but did not know what to do. She was anxious about calling the a hotline because she didn’t think they would offer real alternatives, and she was anxious about calling the police because she thought they’re presence would exacerbate the situation.

• My interaction with a visibly pregnant woman in East Palo Alto with whom l sat and spoke on the street corner after seeing her walking and sobbing, hearing her engaged in a public shouting match with her boyfriend, and noticing black and blue bruises on her arms.

I am troubled by these cases because they reflect, I think, what seems to be an epidemic of violence against black women, little action on the part of our communities and the police/judicial system to protect them, and few strategies for how we might respond.

I am troubled because of the rate at which crimes of sexual and physical violence against black women seem to be occurring. Thinking about it I wonder:

• Why are these crimes happening?

• Is it that black women are being sexually assaulted with more frequency or is it that more cases are being reported?

• Why is it that crimes of sexual violence against black women, particularly as they are happening in such high instances, do not spark movements in our communities like the one to free the Jena 6? See for instance see the case of the New Jersey 4.

• Do these cases just serve as flash and puff for the media but nothing else?

• Is it that black women are quite simply expendable?

• What are we to do?

• For instance, I am for abolishing the prison industry, but how do we hold our communities and these men accountable in the interim when we do not as yet have the means set in place to do so?

I am deeply frustrated, traumatized and pained by the continued disregard for black women’s lives. But a sister-friend has reminded me that it is imperative that we transform our rage and frustration into a vision for action and that it is the power of all of us together that makes us brave.

I am asking you all to be courageous.

I am asking you to read Audre Lorde’s essay “Need,”* a trenchant call to end violence against black women, and her poem ”A Litany for Survival,” a reminder that our silence will not save us. I have attached both pieces. Audre Lorde wrote “Need” in 1979 when 12 black women in Boston were killed in the space of 4 months, but the police and the media ignored the killings claiming that these women were mostly prostitutes. Audre Lorde’s essay and poem are tools for our liberation and creation of a space for community action and healing to protect black women. Her powerful essay provides creative ways that we can respond to gendered violence.

Please read these pieces and share them with at least one other person.

Please sit and talk with people in your community to strategize and brainstorm ways that you could respond to sexual violence or any other kind of violence in our communities.

Please create ways to end gendered and sexual violence against women.

With love, love and more love,


Kendra Tappin, Stanford University

"Only the black woman can say 'when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole...race enters with me.'"

Anna Julia Cooper

Thursday, July 03, 2008

What We NEED or Too Important: Transforming Silence and Violence into Action and Power

"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),

p.s. and please draw on me personally or firewalkers generally as a space to discuss and process this transformation

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Andrea Hairston's Mindscape

X-Posted @ Waiting 2 Speak--but I'm wondering if the women walking here might have read it, might have ideas on it, are as fascinated by the story she told as I am. I'm still digesting it...

"We still yearn for a Metatheory, a God who never lies, whose simple, absolute truth will guide us from nothing to everything without once falling down. Unfortunately truths are false and lies are true. Anything we are absolutely certain of doesn't matter and everything that truly matters is uncertain."
~~Vera Xa Lalafia

Finished. Really, really liked it. And since I am still stuck in the Lull and am apparently incapable of constructing a coherent paragraph much less a review essay, here are the bullet points. (Never fear--no spoilers ahead). Mindscape:
  • Confirms for me that the best hard sci-fi is the kind that openly lusts for magical realism and leaps of fantasy.

  • Confirms that science fiction looks very different when it takes takes seriously 1) that a hero can be female and still sexy, violent, flawed, vulnerable and triumphant 2) a female hero of color can be all of these without being junglefied or mammied 3) people of color can play roles that aren't just witty, "ethnic throwback" sidekicks or helplessly tormented victims.

  • POC humanity can be fundamental parts of the plot without the story collapsing into racial polemics, masochistic Afrocentricity, ambiguous mestizaje, or a melting pot of Latinidad. Translation? The history, culture, politics, and, hell, the people-dom of people of African, Latina/o and Native American descent should not only be a part of the story that is told but that people-dom should be critiqued and created with the same rigor as majority (Anglo or European) societies. That means asking what is it that poc nickname God? Was it the color of their skin only? Was the rhythm of the drums/beat/scratch? Was it the distribution of political and social power between men and women, elders and age-grades? Was it the lyric and spiritual? The curve of clay forms? Was it a kind of prayer or a way of speaking? And where do you then place histories of slavery and genocide, how do your characters feel that as spectre even as they walk in worlds three, four or five thousand years ahead of today?

  • You don't have to say your characters are any color for them to be that color. (Proof again that putting the humanity of people of color into sci-fi is more than just taking a brown crayon to your cookie-cutter hero or heroine)

  • Just because you don't give your characters a color doesn't make them "everyman" or "everywoman" (Proof again....)

  • Gender is as much a myth as race and should be interrogated and respected just as is explained above. Sexuality is the same deal. And the absolute best sci-fi out right now is flipping both of those way on their head and them thrusting them into another dimension before bringing them back and commiting them to paper.

  • Ooooooh on the way that really, really good sci-fi can take things that are absolutely normal today, magnify them, and make them absolutely otherworldly and yet frighteningly prescient. (I can't say more without spoiling...but ooooohhhhhh!)

  • Ooooooh on the way that afrofuturism deplores the happy ending. After all: "Anything we are absolutely certain of doesn't matter and everything that truly matters is uncertain."

That is all, at least until I am a real writer again. If you have free time, read the book. If I had free time I would start a TechnoAfroCats Book Collective or distro (yay, I just learned what that is!) or something.

Hmm. Actually, interesting thought. I might have to consider that....