September 29, 2015


Black Lives Matter, Black Bodies, Women’s Bodies

Lately, I’ve been reading and admiring the young Black voice and profound insights of Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Black Lives Matter Movement.  Just yesterday it was announced that he won a MacArthur Genius Award ($500,000 given over 5 years).
Ta-Nehisi writes about the embodiment of racism.  How racism was and is FELT very primally in one's body, in his body.  Ta-Nehisi’s book: Between the World and Me, written as a letter to his 15 year old son, talks about his abject fear growing up as a Black young man in Baltimore.  A fear which he felt viscerally, deep in his body.
He writes:
“Racism dislodges brains, blocks airways, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.  You must NEVER look away from this.”  And: “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.” 

Mr. Coates also rightly notes that whites “presume” their “whiteness”.  How easily white society forgets that we are ALL AFRICAN.  We ALL originated from one Black people.
We are ALL multi-colored skin.  “Whiteness” is a myth, as is the concept of “race.”  But it has, and repeatedly continues to use the “just-ice” system to destroy lives with skin which happens to be darker.  Racism IS America’s heritage.

The Black Lives Movement’s representatives Daunasia Yancy and Julius Jones tussled with Hillary Clinton this summer, asking her to account for her role in the mass incarceration of young Black men.
  She and Bill advocated harsh penalties for non-violent crimes.  Hillary pushed back, asking the Black Lives Matter spokespeople what specific legislative changes are they asking for. 
Legislation is an engine to change minds and entrenched attitudes, but I believe Black Lives Matter is asking globally for whites to change their hearts, to change their centuries of stereotypes about Blacks.  To stop seeing Blacks as “the other.” They are asking not to be murdered willy-nilly by the State’s Police Authority which operates in a near terrorist mode against Blacks.

Of course, I could not read Ta-Nehisi’s work, nor could I hear interviews with the Black Lives Matter representatives without thinking: “Yes.  Of course.  Everything that they are saying is exactly how it feels to inhabit a woman’s body.”   And Black women  experience BOTH racism and sexism.  Thank you to my dear friend Demita Frazier, and to Barbara and Beverly Smith and the other pioneering Black women of the Combahee River Collective.  You can google their Collective’s manifesto which clearly identified the multi-layered forces of oppression they experience as Black women: race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.  Today, the term for this multi-layered consciousness of oppression is: “intersections” which I don’t think truly conveys the intensity, sometimes horror, of what it means to live in a Black and “non-white” female body. 

Society would not consider me Black, despite my being of African origin (as we ALL are), but I am female and have experienced firsthand how Sexism primally, viscerally is felt in my body.  How often did I experience abject fear, cold visceral fear while walking home as a young girl, young woman on the streets of New York City.  My near rape in the hallway of our Manhattan apartment building when I was 8 years old created a firm knowledge that I was not safe.  After this near rape, I carried a small pocket knife for “protection”.  Of course it wouldn’t have protected me from another assault, but my body felt safer.  The men sitting opposite me in the subway jerking off (yes, in public).  The cat calls and lewd remarks made while minding my own business just walking on the street.  The calculations I made when entering my apartment building:  if I enter via the basement and quickly run up the stairs to wait for the elevator on the first floor, I’ll be able to hear if someone is following me.  Always afraid, always looking over my shoulder, my young being,  ready to avert the next attacker.

We are well into the TWENTY-FIRST century and society’s attitudes towards women have not  budged since my youth.  The assaults and rapes (on our streets, in our schools, workplaces, and our military) to our bodies, our dignity, our right to exist that we still experience must stop. Even worse, the lack of consciousness amongst young women seems to also not have budged.  This summer, the 15 year old young woman raped at New Hampshire’s St. Paul, elite prep school kept repeating that SHE was sorry, that SHE didn’t want her rapist to “feel bad”, that SHE didn’t want him to “think less of her.”  Sandra Bland was threatened, pulled from her car, handcuffed, head banged to the ground by police agents of the State.  The unequal pay; no reproductive rights; menstrual protection deemed not “essential” thus taxed; the daily double standards we encounter doing simple chores and work.  Hell, the U.S. Congress didn’t have a women’s bathroom until  2011.

Yes, fear, bone crushing fear inhabits women’s bodies and minds, just as it does the bodies and minds of Black and multi-colored people.  This is America’s heritage.  Sadly, the WORLD’s heritage.    My 67 year old mind and body are tired of BOTH the racist and sexist stereotypes, the violence against Blacks, against women, the sexist and racist HERITAGE which destroys us. Enough already.

eldermuse.net September 29, 2015