I Am Reading Black Women
Unable to organize consistent thoughts, find useful words, or move to effective action, I am reading
I am ashamed. I am failing to rise to the challenges of this pivotal moment. Witnessing the urgent insistence for racial justice, I am rendered useless by paralyzing waves of rage, terror, and grief. Unable to organize consistent thoughts, find useful words, or move to effective action, I am reading Black women.
Needing tools to survive the isolation of quarantine, the horror of America’s racist violence, and the brokenness of surviving rape, I am reading Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
He assures people that he has been to the south, and seen slavery for himself; that it is a beautiful “patriciachal institution” that the slaves don’t want their freedom; that they have hallelujah meetings and other religious privileges. What does he know of the half-starved wretches toiling from dawn till dark on the plantations? of mothers shrieking for their children, torn from their arms by slave traders? of young girls dragged down into moral filth? of pools of blood around the whipping post? of hounds trained to tear human flesh?
“What I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid?” — Audre Lorde
Searching for the courage I’ve lost beneath the rubble of trauma, I am reading Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.
In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid?
In the course of these campaigns, Baker employed the whole range of protest tactics she had taught others to utilize: sending public letters of protest, leading noisy street demonstrations, confronting the mayor in front of the news media, even running for public office.
Distraught by public discourse erasing or marginalizing state violence against Black women, I am reading Andrea Ritchie’s Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color.
The end of chattel slavery did not bring an end to violations of Black women. In fact, “emancipation” was characterized by violence and rape of Black women, including those snatched up, robbed, and jailed by Union troops during the 1865 occupation of Richmond, Virginia.
“Resisting and rising above has for generations been many Black women’s contribution of faith, love, and hope … to the Black community.” — Delores Williams
Seeking to understand the struggle to transform pain into power, I am reading Sybrina Fulton’s Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin.
Our first shock was the seating arrangement. We were seated near the front, but between us we only had one row for me, Tracy, our attorneys, Tracy’s family and my family. I counted the seats: six. On some days we could squeeze in seven. But that was it. There was no room for family or friends — Meanwhile, the media always had at least twenty people in the courtroom and were given several rows of seats.
Trying to navigate my anger with God and mend the gaping hole in my faith, I am reading Delores Williams’ Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk.
Ordinary Black women doing what they always do: holding the family and church together; working for the white folks or teaching school; enduring whatever they must so their children can reach for the stars; keeping hope alive in the family and community when money is scarce and white folks get mean and ugly. I discovered that this miraculous ‘resisting and rising above’ has for generations been many Black women’s contribution of faith, love, and hope to the Black family, to the church, and to the Black community in North America.
When the most vulnerable communities become isolated from public discourse, especially from voting, their ills might appear to be contained as well. But like any dangerous contagion, the symptom of voter suppression serves as a warning for a more virulent and deadly disorder. When democracy is broken the effects are national, even international.
Alarmed by the viciousness with which I have turned my rage against my own self by drinking too much, eating too much, and sleeping too little, I am reading Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love.
Radical self-love is deeper, wider, and more expansive than anything we would call self-confidence and self-esteem.
“Out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up.” — Toni Morrison
Needing to connect to all the ways Black lives matter, I am reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver — love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.
I don’t know if I will prove equal to this moment or if I will ever find a way to speak, to write, or be of value. But I must try because I do not want to fail these women or the legacy they have written.