January 15, 2011

Why should you give a shit about what queer black women have to say?

This is my first conscious effort and establishing a queer Black womanist liberation poesis (as I've described here). Like I mentioned before, this is probably a lifelong work, and one that will probably change over time, so don't hold me to dissertation-level consistency and rigor because it probably won't be there.

Naturally, when it comes to creating a queer Black womanist liberation poesis, the first thing that comes to mind is: Why?

It's a legitimate question. Why should anyone give a shit what queer Black women have to say? At the moment, queer Black women can offer neither the promise of prosperity nor the threat of destruction. If I can't kill you or make you rich, what difference does listening to me make?

I admit that this line of inquiry can veer existentialist. I may as well be asking what the value of human life is outside of what people can do to or for each other. However, I believe that the question itself deserves better than for us to render it pointless through abstraction. So let's not do that, OK?

While the answer I'm probably supposed to give will say something along the lines of "diversity is good for you" ("Read stuff by Black women and eat your spinach!"), that feels more like regurgitating a slogan than an actual engagement with the question of why our voices are not just beneficial, but critical, to our plays, films, TV shows, and so on?

I think Toni Morrison says it best (emphasis mine).

Almost all of the African-American writers that I know were very much uninterested in one particular area of the world, which is white men. That frees up a lot. It frees up the imagination, because you don't have that gaze. And when I say white men, I don't mean just the character, I mean the establishment, the reviewers, the publishers, the people who are in control. So once you erase that from your canvas, you can really play.

As a creator, that ability to play is vital. I mean that quite literally. We've all come across various works that have been watered down for popular consumption, and in catering to our assumed ignorance and egocentricity, it has sacrificed no small part of its vitality. Now, instead of being a doorway into new ways of expressing and knowing and being, we are constantly faced with mirrors of the same old bullshit. The same old values, the same old ways of interacting, the same old ways of understanding. This makes our collective understanding of our art and audience stagnant, inert, decaying, dead.

When "you can really play," you can imagine - and therefore create - new possibilities. But all those possibilities cannot come from only one source of experience. Seriously, how many ways can you talk about how unique, special, and wonderful straight White dudes are (and how fortunate we are that they rule the world)? Even when there is not a single straight White man present in a particular work, that is overwhelmingly the perspective through which people must experience and interpret it. Without that pressure, without that weight, our plays, films, TV shows, and so on are able to exist with greater breadth, depth, and richness.

But as I mentioned earlier, we cannot express the value of our voices solely in terms of what we, the marginalized and oppressed, can do for everyone else. It must first and foremost have value for us. We've already had the experience where our worth as human beings rested upon our ability to play the roles the dominant classes prescribe for us. Yet rare is the case where we are affirmed as we are in our fullest humanity - pure, rough, messy, and beautiful.

For those of us who are silenced every day because the world we live in devalues and dehumanizes us for our gender, our color, and/or sexuality, to speak for ourselves as ourselves is an act of reclaiming what is often taken from us. Asserting our truth is radical. It is a transformative act and therefore a revolutionary act. This is not the way society tells us we're supposed to be like. We're supposed to be silent and invisible, content in our silence and invisibility, and/or afraid of what would happen were we to see or be seen as we are. Putting ourselves at the center of our lives threatens the status quo because it exposes it for the lie that it is. That there is only one truth worth knowing, one beauty worth having, one goodness worth becoming.

It's incredibly liberating to realize that our goodness, truth, and beauty comes because of who we are rather than despite it.

What about you? Questions? Reflections?


  1. I like this. I know it's about me shutting up and whatnot, kind of, but that Toni Morrison quote is helpful to me.

    I guess the reason I think it matters to hear other diverse voices, and to try to minimize my own filter on their experiences (not possible to achieve, but certainly possible to attempt), is that it helps me discover their humanity. This is a decent end in itself. But what sets it apart from "eating spinach" is that in celebrating and affirming the humanity of someone not like me, I rediscover my own. Even if that's just for five minutes at a time, those are five powerful minutes.

  2. But what sets it apart from "eating spinach" is that in celebrating and affirming the humanity of someone not like me, I rediscover my own. Even if that's just for five minutes at a time, those are five powerful minutes.

    That's a very good way of putting it.