Desire and Danger
Thispaper will expand upon the argument introduced in papers 1 and 2while situating it in the historical context of the African Diaspora.In the first section a focus on Lorde’s interventions into thediscussion of feminist practice of debate. Interactions between blackmen and women and between black women become a major theme In Lorde’swriting. This is seen through work such as To Toni Instead of aLetter of Congratulation on your book….which will be referred to inthis paper as Dear Toni, Hard Rock Love III and Conclusions. Thispaper will analyze the themes, background and implication of thesepoems on feminist discussions, as well as the art of expressing one’sgrievances.
Inthe second section, an explanation of the necessity of focusing oncommunities in the African Diaspora will highlight the blackimmigrant experience. As Lorde articulates through Zami SisterOutsider and her Collected Works, the complexities of ethnic identityand belonging are a reoccurring theme for black feminists, and mustbe engaged when seeking to understand the identifications of blackwomen and girls. The third section will offer alternative tools foractivism through ethnographic and literary work. Feminist praxis isdiscussed in direct relation to the lives, experiences and trials ofwomen and girls of color. Taking the productive space of the eroticand anger into practical use, while offering points of furtherresearch.
Brothersand Sisters? Naming the uncomfortable.
Lordewrote Dear Toni in 1971. The conversation is both loving andconfrontational. Lorde intervenes into the discourse concerning theways in which black women communicate their grievances. Anger as wellas a sense of sisterhood, shared passion and intellectual curiosityare all involved in the process of naming our hurt (Lorde, 66).. Theability to name the hurt of black women is the basis on which thisanger can be used productively so as to help black women findliberation. According to Lorde, the analogy of the angry black womanhas wrongly been used to profile back women as a bunch of angrypeople with no cause.
Blackpeople are often seen as a threat to society even without any actualaggression. In addition to this, black women are seen as sex objectsand this invites disrespect from society. Black women are either seenas a threat or as sex objects. This disrespect invites anger, whichis a form of self- defense (Lorde et al. 91). According to society,women are in general are supposed to be passive and back down fromthreatening situation. However, this has always been a way of forcingwomen to accept their positions without any resistance so that maledomination is not threatened. However, the method of backing down isineffective and only attracts more disrespect. For this reason, womenhave learned to fight back in self- defense and as a way of earningrespect.
‘Ican see your daughter walking down streets of love in revelation
Butraising her up to be a correct little sister
Isdoing your mama’s job all over again” (Lorde et al. 27)
Thefirst three lines of the poem both provide encouragement and stateplainly what Lorde views as problematic about comments Morrison madeconcerning her daughter’ s upbringing. The poem spoke about therole of a mother in bringing up women who had a strong identity andwho tackled society with courage and strength. Lorde believed thatthe only way to change society was through a proper upbringing ofgirls so as to teach them how to take up their positions in society.She believed that it was the role of mothers to bring up strong blackwomen who were not afraid to take up their positions in society.
“Idig your going and becoming
Thelessons you teach your daughter
ForI am your sister corrected and
Alreadyraised up” (Lorde et al. 16)
Theword correct becomes code for the larger problem of homophobia in theblack community. As seen in the lines below Lorde identifies herselfas having been corrected, and raised up. These phrases conjurorimages of molding, or reprimanding meant to quite literallystraighten out one’s sexual identification. The society definedwomen and did not give them room for self- identity. The correctionused on women was a way of modeling women according to societalexpectations and not according to their personal desires (Lorde etal. 72). The society has always had definitions of being a woman andthis has always been used as a means of limiting women as thedefinitions do not allow women to be self- expressive. It suppress’their desire to be whom they desire (Waldron 57).
“Themost detestable shape/ you can become/ friend of your image/withinme/I am you” and “you learn to honor me by imitation as I alter”(Lorde et al. 22)
Ifound this concept particularly interesting, specifically whencompared to the current sociopolitical climate that makes visible themurder and violence being enacted upon black bodies. Governmentcontrol of reproductive rights, the murder of Trayvon Martin, andimprisonment of Marrisa Johnson are comparable to the injusticesLorde observed in 1970’s. On the other hand, cultural appropriationof black culture through hip hop and pop culture is at its peak.Black women’s sexuality is seen as exploitive, vulgar and ‘trashy,’while white women’s sexuality is seen as edgy, trendy and sexy(Walsh et al. 27). This is evident by the difference in reactions toMiley Cyrus twerking on stage at an award show and increasing herpopularity, where as a young black girl is ridiculed on social mediafor her twerking video.
Mosthip hop videos have black women dancing in various ways and exposingtheir bodies. This has attracted the wrath of sociopolitical forces,which oppose the videos as being trashy and going against the socialnorms. The videos are frowned upon especially if the women involvedare black. However, when white women are involved, the backlash fromsociety is less vocal. This was a major concern in Lorde’s work,where she argued that anything white was considered classy, but thesame thing was not tolerated by society if the person involved wasblack. Lorde was a critic of early feminism as she argued that theearly feminist movement was centered on white women, a factor that isstill visible in modern society.
“Ihave a daughter also
Whodoesn’t remind me of you
Butshe too has deep aquatic eyes that are burning and curious.
Asshe moves through taboos
Whirlingmyths like gay hoops over her head
Iknow beyond fear and history
Thatour teaching means keeping trust
Withless and less correctness” (Lorde et al. 38)
Inthese lines Lorde again connects to Morrison on the level of sister,while also providing her own interpretation of a solution to theproblem she previously stated. Lorde states that she raised Morrisonas a less correct woman in society. She let her find her own identityinstead of raising her to be a correct woman (Thomas 42). The idea ofthe correct woman was the problem in society as it limited women andmade them become invisible members of society.
Thesociety has always had strict definitions of what it takes to be alady. The society uses these definitions to keep control over women.The development of behaviors that are considered lady like was ameans of asserting patriarchal authority over women. One of theearliest definitions of lady like behavior was submission to maleauthority without question. Women who questioned male authority wereconsidered aggressive and this was tied to the institution ofmarriage, which was the ticket to social and economic rights forwomen. The society, which was patriarchal, defined behaviors of awoman, who was fit for marriage (Thomas 46). Modern society still hasdefinitions of what it means to be a woman and this is a limitingfactor to the liberation of women in modern society. The definitionslimit the extent to which women can go in their quest to overcomeoppression.
“Ibelieve in love as I believe in our children
ButI was born Black and without illusions
Yournights are wintery long and very young
Fullof symbols of purity and forgiveness
ButI wear my nights as I wear my life
Andwhen I dream
Imove through a Black land
Glowseternal and green
Butwhere the symbols for now are bloody and unrelenting” (Lorde et al.20)
Inthese lines Lorde expressed the troubles of young, black women. Blackwomen had the trouble of fitting in within society as they wereviewed as undesirable members of society. Nuance is of paramountimportance when discussing a feminist view of objectification. Justas third wave feminism lead to a checks and balances of westernfeminist perspectives on the global south, we must now check againour stance on the body as an object. Specifically in the realm ofpopular culture, feminism is reduced to simplistic ideals of women’sempowerment that seeks to ‘trade places’ with males in a questfor power, economic security and sexual dominance (Lorde et al. 32).However, the trope of the ‘liberated woman’ is problematic inthat it this depiction regularly calls upon abstract masculinecharacteristics when defining ‘liberation.’ However, thedepictions of the liberated woman rarely include expressions ofanger.
HardLove Rock #III
“Listenbrother love you
Loveyou love you love you dig me
Adifferent coloured grave
Weare both lying
Sideby side in the same place
Letsdo it again
Atthe same time from on top
Aswell as from my side” ( Lorde 126)
Thispoem spoke about sexuality. The poem spoke of sexuality as a way ofsubduing women. In sexual relationships, just like in socialengagements, women were below women and they chose when and how tohave sex. This was Lorde’s argument in her analogy that the femalebody was used as an object of pleasure for men. Sexuality wasconsidered a male territory of control and men have always beenallowed to publicly express their sexuality (Lorde, 66). Thepatriarchal society according to Lorde used sex as a means ofcontrolling women and showing superiority over women. The modernsociety has given women more control over their sexuality and this iswhy rape is the new mode of subduing women. Rape is used as a meansof showing dominance over women, especially black women.
Searchingfor a productive space for sexual sensation, Lorde engages the eroticfrom a period in feminism that struggled to reclaim women’s bodyfrom its objectified status under the male gaze. This made it crucialto explicitly state the conditions of the female body as an object.Using the pornography industry, feminist scholars theorized thisobjectification as the removal of emotion from physical contact toits sellable parts. Penetration and male ejaculation are the mainattributes of pornography that perpetuate women’s bodies as objects(Rivas- Drake 99). Additionally, women in the pornographic industryare featured for their body parts rather than the emotionalengagement of sex. The women are presented as commercial objects ofmale satisfaction through penetration and ejaculation (Walsh et al.15).
Inlate December 2013, Twitter erupted with a new hashtag#fasttailedgirls started by a black feminist. The discussion raisedserious and much needed dialogue on the social, physical andemotional means of control placed on black girls. The conditionsplaced on her body, the blaming for sexual abuse, and the slutshaming of girls, yet some of the girls have barely attained puberty,are all still functioning as a method of control. The conditionsplaced on black girls placed on her body with regard to her body aremeant to subdue her as a society uses sexuality as a means ofcontrolling women. The social and emotional control systems arecommonly uses for control as women society often places control overhow women use their bodies, which is much stricter than men (Pugh-Lilly 69).
Itis not only that the experiences of peoples of color areundocumented. It is that peoples of color, and the ways of thinkingthat shape those experiences fail to be captured through traditionalethnographic practices. Uncovering the role that western hegemonyplays in the production of knowledge and the measure of intellectualsuccess is a part of the project of African and African DiasporaStudies. Through an epistemological imperative to address the ‘crisisin representation’, scholars began to think more deeply aboutmethods and their political and social implications (Pugh- Lilly 69).The issue of ethics raised by Harrison is taken up through anexploration of alternative methods of ethnography.
Gilroy’sBlack Atlantic, Saffron’s Jewish model of Diaspora and Hintzen andRahiers conceptualization of racial identity as subjective andperformative are at the basis of my current conceptualization ofDiaspora. To understand how these theoretical positions becameimportant to the discourse of Diaspora Studies I will analyze theinterjections of scholars presented through this course. From the endof my first African Diaspora course AFA 5005, I began to think moredeeply about how power relations are embedded in certain politicalprocesses. Laguerre reinforced the importance of situatingtransnational practices, and diaspora as they are used in particularpolitical and social contexts. Using an analysis of Haitian politicalmovements and the influence of the Haitian Diaspora, Laguerre helpsto add needed nuance to my original hypothesis of the possibility ofdiasporic participation.
Chavillon`spiece is also a needed rebuttal to the trend of positioning diasporaas a network capable of building economic and social capital acrossboundaries. The idea of diaspora as network is easy to embrace beforea deeper investigation of the geographic imagination. The diasporamovement needs to go beyond geographical positions and look at theroles of women across different societies. It is important tounderstand the role of women in different cultures and society so asto understand how women are conceptualized across the world.
Distinctionsin the African Diasporic Experience
Whenfirst introduced to Safran’s classic conception of Diaspora, Irejected this as the continued erasure of perspectives of blackpeoples in favor of white hegemony in the form of the Jewish Diasporamodel. However, in deeper analysis, the transition for Jewish peoplefrom ‘others’ to white was one that happened centuries aftertheir departure from homeland. In comparing the conditions of JewishDiaspora, with that of Gilroy’s black Atlantic as the location ofblack modernity, I find the major difference to be, that althoughJewish peoples experienced persecution, extermination and oppression,they still existed inside a linear model of progress and eventuallywere granted full citizenship (assimilation into Anglo society). Incontrast, black peoples are seen as living outside of modernity, andcontinue to be denied full citizenship.
Thismeans that for black subjects, location, space and the geographicimagination remain crucial to self-identification. This remains so,because invisibility, misrecognition and misrepresentation of blackpeople’s experiences remains prevalent. Gordon and Anderson pick uphere to add to a discourse of diasporic identity. By interrogatingthe concept of the African Diaspora as community, the authorsemphasize the ways in which black peoples are marginalized, and howthis marginalization is reproduced, even by peoples of AfricanDescent who assume unity, based on a simplistic notion of blackness.
Themyth of African Diaspora as monolith is one that permeates from theacademy making the kinds of ethnography that is conscious of theresearchers own gaze crucial. Black intellectuals also participatedin the creation of the conceptualization of African Diaspora as astand in for blackness with direct lines to Africa. This left out animportant segment of society, the Caucasians. Caucasians are oftennot considered white and neither are they considered black. However,they experience similar problems as those experienced by black insociety. Geographical descent ought to be disregarded as a criterionfor blackness.
Gordonand Anderson present creolization as an alternative the Afrocentricunderstanding of the Diaspora. Creolization becomes a key term whendefining diasporic identity. Specifically in the performative sense,creolization provides for the constant remaking and manipulation ofidentifications that Diaspora makes possible. The condition ofmarginalization across several axes, has led to the formation ofalternative economics, politics, social enclaves and culturalpractices that characterize Caribbean and other diasporic spaces.Through these course readings and other previous courses, I now seethe complexity as well as the stakes placed on identification withinthe African Diaspora and the discourses of social and politicalequity. Hybridity, more accurately situates the diversity andcontinued shifts in identification that emerge from the diasporiccondition.
Afterengaging with the various definitions of diaspora, this week’sreadings delve into an overview of recent trends and critiques ofethnographic research from a counter-hegemonic perspective. Icouldn’t help but think back to Africanizing Anthropology as I readClifford’s Introduction. What Clifford describes as the crisis ofrepresentation is a paradigm shift in ethnographic research from theperpetuation of ethnography as strictly structured and methodical.Human experience is often lost in the shuffle of the scientificmethod, which is ambiguously applied in humanities.
Cliffordargues that the transformations occurring in anthropology at the timeof this article are necessary for its existence. Taking into accountwhen this piece was written, it is likely that Clifford is describingan era in social science that still suffered from an inferioritycomplex due to the prestige of physical science as more substantial.The eventual response in social science was a reformation andincorporation of methodologies that allowed for flexibility andcreativity to be included in analysis and representation of cultures.
Blakeyquestions the common dichotomies of nature versus man, and whiteversus other by situating these constructs within their historicalcontext and tracing their development. The notion of the savage isembedded in the perceived oneness with nature that African peoplesare stereotyped in. By reducing modernity to the opposition ofnatural, women, and peoples of color are relegated to the natural andto be conquered category. However, this simplistic understanding alsonegates the destructive patterns of land use in many placesconsidered to be on the side of nature.
Methodsand Politics in Ethnography
GinaUlysse’s text DownTown Ladies adds to a long standing tradition ofblack feminist intervention into historical, anthropological andliterary discourses. By including her own experience and developmentas a scholar she engages with the concept of ethnography as activism.I found many similarities between her introduction into the field andmy own. I am constantly negotiating the need to ground myself in theexperiences and human interactions that inspired my anthropologicalcuriosity. Ulysse frames this negotiation as a component of thefieldwork process.
Wehave learned through previous readings that the discipline ofanthropology has been historically dominated by white males. Thisgaze from above, as Haraway concluded, is limiting, and linier in itsconceptualization of social structure. By decentering the white malegaze, and incorporating the epistemologies of those often relegatedto the subject of research, a fuller picture of human experiencedevelops. The domination by white males means that the history ofblack and particularly black women is left out in anthropologicalstudies.
Ulysse’sexperience as a light skinned black woman in Jamaica becomes a pieceof the historical background of her study. Race making in Jamaica andits complexities are revealed through her daily encounters andinterpretations of those she interviewed. I found this fascinating.As social scientists, we have long debated the validity ofobjectivity in research. What are its boundaries, how is itidentified and who measures this bias? The tendency was to eraseone’s self from the research in hopes of eliminating any bias,however, in avoiding one’s own interactions in the field, a vitalpiece of the research is lost. Furthermore, by thinking through one’sown personal stake in the project at hand, bias is teased out, andcan become a productive place to discuss issues of racial, class andgender identification.
Reversingthe dichotomy of uptown ladies and downtown women, Ulysseparticipates in the creation of a counter narrative, by introducingthe value of ICI’s in the context women black women’s resistanceto epidemic violence. The ted talk discussed in class is one that isextremely personal to me. I found myself emotional at theintroduction of Uylsse’s book. Her description of the double lifeshe had to live while in graduate school as an activist and academic.My own experience also mimics the uncomfortable and contradictoryspace of engaging in community organizing and theorizing similarexperiences in the classroom. It often seems that the pursuit ofskills necessary to impact change through social science research,undermines the passion, sensitivity and epistemologies needed totruly impact social inequality.
Ihave never shaken by the daunting “so what are you going to do withthat” question. My confidence in anthropology as a necessary toolfor change grew strong from age 12 when I met my firstanthropologist, an older sister of a friend. I have always disagreedwith Audre Lorde’s assessment, that we cannot dismantle themaster’s house with his tools. I opted to ‘know thy enemy” Themachine of the academy was something to infiltrate. However, assecond year graduate student I have learned that most who enteracademia, do so for the exact same reasons. To take what they learnand apply it to the problems and causes that pushed them to advanceto the graduate level. Why then do we not have an army of sociallyconsciously theory equipped scientists ready to snuff out injusticeeverywhere? I think the answer is partly in the thesis of the Tedtalk.
Isee in the writing of Ulysse and other similar scholars a way ofbalancing our need for human interaction, engagement with thenecessity of sound research, publication and even success. Weinterject ourselves into the process, we make it impossible toquantify our experiences and vital to explore and document them.Rahier’s introduction to Interrogating Blackness and Trouillot’stext both engage with the concept of blackness as performed identity.As bodies, information, customs cross between borders, identity isperformed in reference to the political and social environments. Justas blackness has been redefined, recreated and renamed over time, sohave peoples identified as black redefined their identity. However,the myth of cultural or racial purity is one that continues todistort the reality of human variation. To understand blackness inopposition to whiteness is to generalize peoples of color as separatefrom the histories of the modern world.
Thede-centering of a binary opposition, which seeks to make finitedistinctions that by their very nature exclude black subjectivity, isan important task of the African Atlantic writer. The discourse ofmodernity, globalization and the historical record have all beendictated by terms such as ‘civilization’, where as black subjectsare regulated to ‘fractured’ identity. Quilted discourse seek toaddress this simplistic interpretation of multiplicity to to redefineAfrican Atlantic subjectivity through epistemologically relevantideas. Heather Russell makes important interventions on the use ofquilted discourse. “The use of abstraction, fragmentation, andimprovisation in narrative form emerges from a radically differentepistemological base when analyzed through the rubric of the quilt.Thus, the fabric of the so-called fragmented text, is rather, astrategically constructed aesthetic form emerging from a specificallyWest African tenet, which is literally threatened by linearity,chronology, and teleology” (Russell, 212).
HaydenWhite in his essay “The Content of Form: Narrative Discourse andHistorical Representation” outlines a contemporary push in thediscipline of history to present itself in a more ‘scientific’light. However, White (105) argues that such a push denies the truenature of history in that it presents the historians interpretationof historical events as the one true account when in reality everyhistorian adds to their retelling a poetics based upon their ownbias. An association with linear interpretations of time, history andmorality compounds this bias. This ‘moral imperative’ isproblematic especially when history is presented as devoid of suchbias.
SaidiyaHartman’s “Venus in Two Acts” helps to conceptualize theproject of black women writers in an attempt to carve a space for thevoices of those who have been silenced, striped and objectifiedthrough slavery, sexism and dispossession. This space is oftensaturated with violence. Hartman addresses the role of violence inthe lived experience of black Atlantic women as a necessary componentto the interjection of black subjects into the historical record. Theexperiences of black women display the historical context of theiroppression.
Violenceand trauma represent spaces of silence that must be opened if healingis to occur. However, on whose terms are these topics revealed, andwho has the authority to reveal them? Hartman makes importantinterventions into the questions of representation of subjects whocannot represent themselves (Hartman, 11).. The following passageembodies many of the motivations of black Atlantic women writers, whomust negotiate and struggle with their own needs in story telling aswell as the larger imperative to break silence and create productivespaces for black women.
“Isit possible to exceed or negotiate the constitutive limits of thearchive? By advancing a series of speculative arguments andexploiting the capacities of the subjunctive (a grammatical mood thatexpresses doubts, wishes, and possibilities), in fashioning anarrative, which is based upon archival research, and by that I meana critical reading of the archive that mimes the figurativedimensions of history, I intended both to tell an impossible storyand to amplify the impossibility of its telling.”
Thisoften uneasy space can be difficult to navigate through a perspectiveof ‘grave robbing.’ Toni Morrison in her prolific novel, Belovedalso does similar work on the discourse of history, form andnarrative. In Morrison’s construction of a quilted discourse, shestrategically weaves back and forth through time. In herinterventions into the erasure of African Atlantic subjects fromhistory, she interjects the experiences of black women during thetime of enslavement. Morrison’s interventions into thenarrative-historical record are an attempt at the project Hartmandescribes in “Venus in two Acts”.
Inproviding space to explore the lives of black women in the UnitedStates during slavery, Morrison engages with a counter-discourse ofAfrican Atlantic subjectivity, which seeks to erase the illusion offixed History, and moral imperative. Through the provocative story ofa woman who kills one child in an attempt to kill all of her childreninstead of having them sold back into slavery, we see a break fromthe traditional ideology of right and wrong, self-interest versusself sacrifice. The control over life and death, so often given tothe white patricidal figure, both in narrative and in history, ischallenged through this act. Morrison constructs the narrativethrough many fluxes in time, which eventually opens a space for theentrance of the spirit of the dead child.
Difficultyin readability accentuates an epistemological break from strictconstructs of the narrative structure associated with westernepistemology. This counter narrative structure engages the readerwith the lived experience of the African Diaspora. The difficultyexperienced while reading a text such as Beloved can act as apedagogical tool for re-teaching the purpose of narrative. Discomfortacts as a bridge between readers who associate with dominateepistemologies and African Diasporic writers.
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