Archive for the ‘silence’ category

WOC and The Great American Novel

February 24, 2009

Today I was browsing news sources when I came across this article on the main page of

Why can’t a woman write the Great American Novel? This is a book review by Laura Miller. Interestingly, my bf had shown me an article in The Economist about it too. The book is a book by Elaine Showalter which is “the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000.”

It’s a great topic. It seeks to question why women are rarely respected authors, why men outnumber them 2:1 on NYT Book Reviews, why they aren’t writing “the great American novel.” Its basically a modern A Room Of One’s Own–a book I love. To be sure, there are barriers that women find difficult to break through in writing. The concept of a room of one’s own persists today, where men are granted this privilege, something that women have to fight for. Then there’s the idea that housework is a woman’s domain– which leaves no time for writing, and has for centuries .  The book seems to interestingly compare women’s writing in the UK to women’s writing in America– concluding that back in the day, the class system in the UK provided greater opportunities for wealthy women to have time to write.

The review of the book itself drifts off while Laura Miller begins considering the subject on her own. When I reach the end of the first page, I see this:


They had to go there, didn’t they. At this point I am not optimistic for the second half of the article. When I reach the part about WOC it turns out to be just a paragraph:

The great exception to this rule [of being left out of the mainstream-my edit] is women of color — most notably Toni Morrison, but Prose also singles out the Native-American novelist Leslie Marmon Silko — whose work became mainstream in the 1980s. Apart from their own considerable talent, these writers have been politically liberated to claim a big swath of territory that white male novelists could not make a feasible bid for anyway; Don DeLillo knows better than to attempt the Great American Novel about slavery.

Okay. That’s all very well, but just because WOC have different perspectives that whites cannot know, doesn’t mean they somehow have it easier as far as writing novels and being recognized. Morrison and Walker and such are standalones in a great dearth of mainstream-media popularly recognized female authors of color. Surely Beloved and The Bluest Eye come from a place that white people cannot write from, (and are brilliant books), but there’s also the simple fact that for a lot of people, these books DO represent niches. We read Morrison in the “cultural” or “African-American Lit” sections of our high school lesson plans. And are we ignoring all the more numerous black males who write on race issues? (Hughes, Du Bois, Ellison,  Mosley, Jones etc), or white men like Faulkner who write on them as well?

The framing of the issue in a tagline that says: “Is it easier for women of color..?” is always problematic with me. I believe that for all women, recognition in writing, film directing, music, etc is much harder to achieve and sometimes comes at a higher price, than for their male counterparts. Let us not dismiss the problems of WOC simply because we see women like Morrison succeed. Just as this article started pointing out, books about “female subjects” or things largely considered female domains (domestic novels, etc)  just don’t have the legitimacy in mainstream America. The same then goes for writing about  things largely considered niche/ for the African-American communities, not for the mainstream. How can people fail to realize that?


‘Cause I’ve already ripped off my mask’

February 19, 2009



Mike Check is probably my second favorite…after “First Writing Since” which I already posted before

Oh and here’s some Sista Queen cause she’s the shit and I’m on a Def Poetry kick.

‘Try being a lady’ Oh, you mean you want me to act catty and shady,
play with me like a doll, degrade me then trade me.
Use me as your trophy so that you can parade me, Use my vagina to only birth babies.
Be your damsel in distress so a brother can save me, hmmm, HOW BOUT NOT!
Cause if my tongue was a trigger you would have been shot,
Get real i’ma stay inappropriate till I fucking rot. I don’t talk about love, i don’t talk about sex
I don’t talk about things that’ll put your dick on erect. I won’t pour you some tea,
I won’t bake you some cookies, I won’t be your next Ciara singing about my goodies.
I won’t speak when I’m spoken to, how about I speak when I choose,
I don’t care if you the press I’m gonna speak my views.
I won’t be what you want, I won’t be what you ask,
how about some of you LADIES show your real face cuz I’ve already ripped off my mask

WOC Blog Carnival Plug

February 15, 2009

Today, everyone should head over to, where Renee, of Womanist Musings has a WOC Blog Carnival:

Tell It Women Of Color Speak, is dedicated to giving voice to women of color. Historically we have been marginalized, exploited and silenced. Throughout our difficult history we have struggled to maintain our dignity and self-worth. It is in the name of our fore mothers who struggled so that we could be here today that I call this carnival.
Submissions can range from gender, history, politics, sexuality, personal stories etc. I will place no limits as we have been limited enough. Please feel free to share, as we are all on similar journeys. It is my hope that we will devise survival strategies together. For those that seek to ‘other’ us, read and learn, there is so much we have to teach

Everyone should check it out.

Black History Month

February 10, 2009

I saw this article on The Root this morning.

Apparently there are a good number of people who believe that, since America put an African-American in the White House, we can stop pretending to care about Black History Month.

Now, to be fair, I don’t think our country’s use of Black History Month is enough at all. I don’t think many people remember that it is Black History month, and if they do, don’t particularly care or know anything about Black History. And the idea of separating one group out, and only for a month, seems pretty lacking. And it seems that the only thing that its really used for is HBO specials or teaching an extra unit in elementary school. Not that those things aren’t important.

Yes, Black History is American History too. But people in America don’t have the same experiences, and people living in privilege have a pretty good history of silencing and ignoring those who don’t. Yes, we elected Barack Obama. But NO, we are NOT living in a post-racial society. Racism is still alive and well, even when its subtleties are harder to detect. Obama’s presidency doesn’t diminish the importance of Rosa Parks or Malcolm X or Sojourner Truth or Frederick Douglas. I believe that we must know our past in all its complications. We cannot forget their struggles or the ongoing struggles today.

If anything, maybe Black History Month should be reconsidered and more out in the open, more in focus, more in the dialogue. It should be connected with what’s going on today. What has changed? What hasn’t? How can our understanding of Black History help us answer these questions?

As Afi-Odelia Scruggs writes, ”

[T]he importance of Black History Month transcends its emphasis on race. It’s one of the few times in the year when the nation—the nation—is encouraged to plumb its past. Americans are an ahistorical society. We’re always searching for the new thing. Thus the observance benefits us all by sharing the stories of folks who overcame the odds against them.

Having a month designed “Black History Month” isnt going to magically solve any problems. But the fact of the matter is, a lot of Americans don’t think of race on a daily basis, and certainly not of history. POC are routinely silenced and made to feel like their stories and struggles and contributions aren’t important. And even more, for WOC. Even WITHIN progressive or feminist communities. And if Black History Month sheds a little more light on them, or gives white people a little pause, its more than worth keeping around. If it helps in not allowing white people to selectively forget racist or privileged aspects of their own lives, it is a success.

Take the time to read up on, or write about, or reflect on important events in our history and in black history. Maybe take a look at it from a legal context. A social or political one. A feminist angle. Maybe read some bell hooks. Or musical! Listen to some Mingus or Armstrong, Hendrix or Pac. Any angle that interests you! Just Listen. And Share.

A random assortment of links:

U of Washington African-American History Library

Black Facts

Angry Black Bitch (blog)

Afronerd (blog)

The Root

The Black Snob (blog)

Birth Control IS Stimulating

February 4, 2009

All the debate about Obama’s Economic Stimulus bill and Family Planning is really stirring things up for me.

For one, I’m 100% for allowing ALL women the greatest possible access to practice their reproductive rights and obtain birth control.

For a second reason, because I work with people on Medicaid.

Now, I’m not sure if people realize how extremely indigent you have to be in order to qualify for Medicaid benefits. The poverty line is set at $10,400 for an individual. And may I just add that to even afford housing in Washington, DC you have to make  much more than that. In addition, people generally only qualify for Medicaid if they are disabled or have children to provide for.

And boy, does that leave a lot of people out.

People who are struggling every day to pay their bills– most financially disadvantaged people can’t qualify for Medicaid and certainly can’t afford to pay for their own private insurance.  

Now take a low-SES woman. Not only does she have general health issues to worry about, she has to worry about paying for her own sexual health. Furthermore, she is generally less educated, and has WAY less access to knowledge about birth control and contraception. Which gives her a MUCH greater chance of getting pregnant unintentionally. Which can lead to her raising that child alone in many cases. Which she cannot afford.  

Including contraception in this bill would allow a huge amount of low income women to access information and birth control. They will have control over their bodies and their futures. They can PLAN to not have children, to start getting on a track to economic stability and be more  in charge of their destinies.

Let alone the fact that birth control frequently has incredibly positive health effects (i.e. condoms reduce STIs, the pill reduces cysts & cervical/ovarian problems).

Let alone the fact that not just these women will save money, the country will too- fewer unplanned pregnancies to people who can’t afford to pay for them. More people getting out of poverty because they will have fewer costs.

The bottom line? Republicans don’t see women’s health/economic situations as important. Scratch that, people don’t see women’s health/economic situations as important. Forget that they’re half the country. Or the world. Or that there is already enough discrimination and barriers to their advancement  in the first place. Or that they will be caring, often times alone, for this country’s next generation. No, that’s right. Their needs aren’t as important. (And yes, sexual health is a need).

check this Nation column out for more info

Choice & Fair Pay- A glance into the Obama future

January 31, 2009

I wrote a bit about choice in my other blog,, for NARAL’s “Blog For Choice” day– asking all bloggers in the blogosphere to dedicate 1 blog to writing about Choice, and what they want from President Obama.

Barack Obama has been President for 12 days. In less than 2 weeks, he has shown a strong commitment to women’s reproductive rights. Since the majority of my intellectually mature life was spent under Bush,  I had almost entirely given up on a US that actually fit beliefs– on a US that would fight for women, fight for reproductive justice for women not just here, but all around the globe.
Obama has realized that ideal in the 12 days that he has been in office. He has reversed the Mexico City gag order, a move that will greatly improve the lives of women abroad.

The first bill President Obama has signed is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The bill is a HUGE step for women’s equal pay in the workplace, and something that I have closely followed since Lilly brought her case to the Supreme Court (pause here to breathe a sigh of relief that we have Obama in the office to hopefully appoint Justices to the Court– since Bush appointees were the ones that turned this vote to 5-4 against Lilly). Opponents of this bill wanted women silenced. They wanted Lilly’s courageous fight to look like an uppity, nagging, whining woman who should sit down and shut up. But she never did. And now because of her, other women won’t have to.

But in addition I think there is an important symbolic significance about this bill being the first Obama signs as President. As he states himeself:

“It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act – we are upholding one of this nation’s first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.”

Throughout the campaign, the battle between Clinton and Obama seemed to endlessly pit us against each other in the media– the older white feminists against younger, civil rights-oriented Obama supporters. But the thing is, Obama is on our side. Obama is on feminism’s side. He always has been. And I look forward to 4 or 8 years more.

Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Act

Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Act

(i encourage you to read his full statement…its quite powerful)

“One and one and one is three”

June 17, 2008

Today on TheRoot, I saw what appeared to be an in-community tiff between Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Jimi Izrael. Both are columnists on the website, intellectuals: one a professor, one a journalist. Both represent intelligent and creative facets of culture and political critique, always with the black community’s interests at heart. Differences of opinion are to be expected, but one of the qualities of The Root is that these are always incredibly respectful discussions between colleagues, untouched by the name-calling and anger that is found on many other internet sites.  So I was surprised when I found phrases hurled back and forth such as “unrelenting misogyny,” “faux sense of independence”, “[not] intellectually honest.” What’s all the fuss about?


Mr. Izrael wrote a column, insinuating that a young, 13 year old girl on myspace was a criminally aggressive black Lolita. Ms. Harris-Lacewell, fed up with recent events like Michelle Obama being called “baby mama” and R. Kelly getting off, fired at him accusations that he was an unrelenting misogynist. Mr. Izrael caught word and posted his response on her column.

Jimi Izrael has a history of writing things I consider distasteful to feminism. He is a VERY outspoken advocate of black men, but when it comes to women, of all colors, I find him tossing them blame instead of sticking by them. Mr. Izrael has fountains of deep intellectual thought, but it seems to be used to illuminate only on the historical and everyday processes that affect black men, not women.

It’s about time someone said something. And who better to say it than Melissa.

The way I see it, both the African-American movement and the women’s movement haven’t had a great history of inclusion. Power play, even in civil rights and equality movements, has always been at work. Those in power have neglected the differences, similarities, and NEEDS of those left behind. Black men have had a history of leaving black women behind. White women have had a history of leaving black women behind. Notice a pattern here?

The 2008 Democratic primaries have brought to the surface a lot of the brewing tension between feminists, particularly between white and black women. White women have cried sexism during Hillary’s campaign, and rightfully so. But they failed to step it up during Michelle Obama’s recent trials, and more importantly, failed to reject Hillary’s questionably racially charged comments. They have let their sisters down.

Similarly, Jimi’s column brings to light some of the inequalities within the black community. Citing that black men are seen as “dangerous, inferior animals” and the issues of incarceration, he calls himself –not anti female— but “pro male.” He says its a stance we don’t see often enough. Excuse me while I burst out laughing.

He says:  “the feminist among us can’t embrace a faux sense of independence on one hand and cower as victims on the other.” Sounds suspiciously like the media’s outcry at Hillary Clinton’s tears. “A self-proclaimed feminist!” they cried. “A powerful woman, showing emotion???” These two things were completely contradictory in their eyes. But why should this be so? The point of feminism is not to be devoid of emotion, to be non-human, and pointing out hypocrisies and sexist speech is NOT “playing the victim card.” Shame on you, Jimi, for buying into that.

Yes, there is suffering in the black male population, and yes, yes there is suffering for white women. But not only is there ALSO suffering for black women, there is SILENCE. When black women are denied their voices, their agency, their complaints, they are betrayed and pushed into silence. Jimi’s quick dismissal of Melissa’s complaints is patronizing and silencing and completely out of touch with the underlying processes and truths at work here. For someone who seems to do a good job of illustrating the subtle inequalities and truths for black men, he is nothing but a hypocrite in the end.

Feminist Linda Hirshman is guilty of silencing women of color too. Her blaming tactics for black women not stopping Clarence Thomas’ ascent to the Supreme Court is similar to Jimi Izrael’s shaming of black women in sexual deviance.  Her recent article in the Washington Post basically asserts that the only way feminism can succeed as a movement is by focusing on “normal,” white women’s issues, and not bringing women of color into the forefront.

People, none of this makes sense to me. We are all strongest against oppression when we are TOGETHER, NOT APART. Do not allow yourselves to be caught up in your own issues while denying the agency of your friends. I don’t see how either movement can gain ground without including key populations of the affected parties.

If we can’t all move together, we’re all standing still.



Read the article at: