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To Be Game September 18, 2007

Posted by alexis in Uncategorized.

Hey again everyone,

   Enjoying and looking forward to more of your feedback and energy as we adjust to the rhythm of these weekly posts.   (By the way…feel free to check out my other blog www.thatlittleblackbook.blogspot.com to see what ELSE I’m reading and thinking about at any given time.)

    We started with DuBois and Wynter because I see their work as foundational to the conversations that we’ll be having in this class.  I think that their work and our inspiration by/disagreement with/contemplation of their work creates a theoretical framework for thinking about what it means to be a problem. 

     If last week was about the foundation, this week is about what is at stake in the work that we are doing together in this class.  Last week we discovered that the “other” or the “problem can be a radical place to speak from.   As problems we challenge the norms, change the game, etc. etc.  And while all of that is very sexy (and true) I think it’s important to remember how the boundaries of normalcy are enforced.  In fact, to paraphrase Sylvia’s post last week…while the position of the “other” may be a way to create power, domination is operating through FORCE.   Being “a problem” can very literally mean expendability.  It can, for example, put you in a position where state and individual violence against your person is legally acceptable (and yes…I am thinking of the examples of the Newark 4 and the Jena 6…and yes I am also thinking about the countless instances of sexual violence that are silenced in our communities everyday).  In other words when i say “To Be Game” in the title of the post I mean simultaneously “to be hunted” and “to be ready.”

     So this week we’ll be reading an Ida B. Wells pamphlet published in 1900 in response to racist mob violence in New Orleans (more than one hundred years before Kathleen Blanco’s post-Katrina “shoot on sight” national guard order).  Please think about what the examples of police brutality and mob violence Ida B. Wells spoke out against offer us in our current moment of legalized racist violence.  Pay close attention to Wells’s portrayal of the local meda in New Orleans.   If you are going to watch the new series K-Ville that premiers sometime this week, do it with Wells in mind.  

 You may notice that Ida B. Wells (like Sylvia Wynter) makes much of the way that the access to guns changes interracial interpersonal encounters.  Remember that Wells was famous for advocating that every black person should have a rifle on the mantle.  She believed that racist violence would only stop through a militant practice of self-defense.  As the cases of the Newark 4 and the Jena 6 remind us black people still do not have the legal right to self defense in the United States. 

Most importantly,  remember that Ida B. Wells’s first pamphlet “Southern Horrors” (which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND) was published as the result of an amazing effort.  The event to fund the publication of Southern Horrors was the biggest convening of Negro Club Women in the whole era of such clubs.   Ida B. Wells dedicates the book to the black women of Brooklyn who organized the funding event.  Is there a contemporary version of this?  How can we support each other in presenting alternative views that respond to racist violence?

  People often forget that while Wells is memorialized as the international leader of the anti-lynching movement (which she certainly was), she was just as strongly vocal about the twin phenomenon of unpunished rape and sexual assault experienced by black women.  

        Three quarters of a century later the black lesbian feminists in and around the Boston-based Combahee River Collective (we’ll be reading their founding document later in the course) were responding to 12 murders of black women during 3 months in the blac neighborhoods of Roxbury and Dorchester in Boston.   In (what I think of as a) Wellsian spirit, the collective published a pamphlet about the murders after the 6 victim was discovered.  They had to keep changing the title as more and more black women were found dead.  In fact, on April 28th, the morning of a march that they had planned to protest the killings of what were then 8 black women,  a 9th victims body was found.   I imagine that the easiest part was changing the signs at the last minute. I imagine that the hardest part was continuing the struggle in the face of a violence that seemed only to grow. (This is what is at stake in this class.  Those of us in Durham-having experienced our own more recent April 28th march may have an easier time imagining what that felt like.)

     In response to these murders Audre Lorde wrote “Need: A Chorale for Black Woman Voices” which is also available for you in the google-files. The only question that I leave you with after reading Need is the question that Lorde herself leaves us with: “How much of this truth can I see and still live unblinded?  How much of this pain can I use?”

         Along with Wells and Lorde we will be looking at the work of A Long Walk Home (alongwalkhome.org).  Please take a look at their site  their press packet and take a look at it.    I was first introduced to the work of A Long Walk Home while I was working in the rape crisis center at my college (at the time I was also in denial about a sexual assault that I had experienced at school).  The creative approach that A Long Walk Home took, in addition to the powerful fact that black survivors of sexual assault were speaking out about it together meant a lot for me then.  It still does.   What does this work, pioneered by Scherezade  Tillet and taken on by a beautiful collective of survivors and co-survivors teach us?  Is there something that the stories of survivors makes available that can be available no other way?  How do we connect to this approach to healing from and ending sexual assault?

    Finally, we’ll also be looking at Mendi Obadike’s web-installation entitled “My Hands/Wishful Thinking” (http://obadike.tripod.com/Adiallo2.html).  I challenge you to respond to these readings in a form that is in conversation with the form that Mendi used here.   Who would you create a list of wishes for? What would those wishes be?

Know that all week long, I am wishing for your brilliance:(which is) the answer to my need.


    Prof. Lex



1. kameelah r. - September 23, 2007

And again, I am late. Find my post here: http://kameelahwrites.blogspot.com/2007/09/to-be-game.html

Please also look at the photo I took that gave me some direction for this response:
(it is a girl and her mother at the big public sector strikes of south africa this past june. she is 5 years old and came with her mom to the big protest in pretoria to demand better wages. there was something her eyes that was both sad and determined.)

Read it below, or find it in the comments on the main tobeaproblem page.


Here is my response which will later turn into a web-installation that will be updated weekly as new thoughts arrive:

i don’t really like the idea of “wishful thinking”–it seems passive, quiet and non-disruptive. maybe, it is just a narcissistic and self-aggrandizing game of semantics that i play alone when cynicism reaches the highest levels and anger rides this cynicism into undetermined direction during the last third of the night. but i believe–no i know that we need to disturb the peace. and by the peace i mean the status quo, the illusion that we have a “peace” that must be disturbed…when what we have is clever sedation. and by disturb, i mean to awaken, to resurrect, to startle the sleeping (all of us) to tear down the ugly so that we can build the beautiful. wishes only penetrate the first layer of our heart, wishes that become real goals, penetrate deeper, but goals that are buttressed by the strong arms of tireless actions are those that penetrate the heart so deeply that they become ingrained. we deserve more than beautiful dreams and well constructed epigrammatics. we need the action to make a dream reality. wishes are often kept to ourselves, shared with a close friend, whispered on a birthday or when looking at a shooting star. what if i never have that close friend, or another birthday or ever see a shooting star?–when can i pronounce my wishes? will by wishes be lost? i want people to know–public, accessible, never whispered and always screamed. when we are “game” we cannot wish, but we must demand and do so loudly for they will argue that they never heard our screams and cries as they have argued that they never heard the cries, or felt the kicks of the young woman they raped as they muffled her screams and pinned down her legs. they will always claim they did not hear us. if they refuse to hear us, we must at least make sure that we can hear each other, so the survivors can deliver these messages to the future, so we can deliver these messages to tomorrow–a temporal space we are not guaranteed.

the only touch you fear is the touch of the doctor who is giving you your yearly shots.

we will all have a home. you live in a spacious house with your family. there is running water, electricity and enough food. the only people sleeping on the floor or two to a bed are the ones who want to, not because they have to.

when you say your cousin is hanging on the corner, he is hanging on the corner not selling poison; he is hanging on the corner with his daughter who is selling ginger green tea lemonade and ‘zines to fund her youth community production of ‘a raisin in the sun.’

no police roam the streets, because they don’t need to. WE have decided that officers with guns, and billy clubs that act as an extension of the phallic are less capable of protecting US, then WE are of protecting each other. and really, all we are protecting each other from are the slightly hurt feelings of the young ones who are just beginning to understanding that aisha did not steal bilal’s tree spot, because we all share this earth space.

when your partner gets angry, they know the best use of their hands is around a pen to “write it out” or a warm embrace as a welcome to “talk it out”–but never a fist to “hit it out.”

your mama dies of old age and happiness, not of heart disease, stress, poverty and a broken heart due to the early deaths of her children.

the youth sit with their elders talking about what they learned at school–schools where they learned that there is more to literacy than sounding out words. they talk to baba and umi about the teacher who shared the story of the flying igbo, the revolution of 2015 and the importance of otis redding’s remake of ‘a change is gonna come.’

cornrows, afro puffs, fros are rocked on the daily and young kids playfully compete for the crown of nappiest hair. perm box kits found in the “ethnic hair” aisle of walmart are remade into massive collages that cover plain walls. the chemicals are not dumped in an unnamed “third world” country because we know better, have created the technology to deal with such waste and besides the “third world” is a term of the past–we are now “one world.”

young boys and girls talk shit in hallways and health food corner stores about the ludacris’, 50cents and luke’s of the past, in praise of the hip hop of their day.

we can write a dissertation and spit a spoken word piece that same night with no difficulty and no accusations of racial apostasy.

you got 99 problems, but justice and equality aint one.

no one wants to kill you or hurt you because we are valuable–none of us is expendable.

we are not spectacles, sideshows, exhibitions. we are people. no one receives pleasure from our pain. no one inflicts pain on you, because they do not want to.

we wont need huey’s (from boondocks) black power fist, an inexpensive device “that delivers thousands of volts of imperialism stopping electricity without the need of super powers or secret alien technology” because the work of this external device will be our internal disposition.

our spirits are vibrant. we are not zombies. we are so alive we exude light and walk with a healthy and confident swagger that calls everyones attention. really it “doesn’t take a who day to recognize sunshine” and “umi said shine your light on the world.” when we speak, others listen for what is said and what is not said. when we write, our words make love to the words of others and give birth to new worlds.

we eat spaghetti, greens and pap with chopsticks because we want to.

we only cry from joy.

and no one ever has to wish or hope.

2. alexis - September 24, 2007

Peace Kameelah,
I love your wishes and I see them as what they should be…demands and calls to action.
I also love the photograph that inspired you…and it leaves me with a question about your final statement of no one having to wish or to hope anymore. I completely desire (lust for) with you the type of justice that your list of wishes imagines AND I am definitely down with the way that being forced to wish for what could and should be our reality is a violent situation. But I may not be as radically “presentist” as you are here.
What if I have to hope and wish for a particular future…not because I’m being denied it in the present…but because my love for people exceeds this moment? Would the older woman in the photo have wishes for the girl even if they already had the just wages that they are here demanding?
I love the images that you come up with here about what literacy becomes, about what stories get told about what sleeping feels like, what eating looks like. I think that these delicious images are produced by your ability to have a space where you generate alternative visions…where you do MORE than respond to the inadequacies of the present.
In the world that I wish for (in the world that we are creating) the future remains unpredictable…remains in process and demands attention, and intentionality…lovingly directed energy. In the world that I envision we all remain alive and unfinished….we still have desire.
But I really value your meditation on what is politically at stake in what we call “wishing” or “hoping”.
“Wish List” and “manifesto” (for example) have different connotations…though one of my experiences writing my own “wish list” was that I actually felt my vision manifesting itself in me. I was able to see how what I was expressing my desire for was not only a critique…it was also becoming true in my speaking.
Maybe part of the reason that I want to complicate the passivity you suggest is that I read this list (gleaned from my wishful thinking) in a loud but measured voice shaking back tears off the back of a pick-up truck to hundreds of people gathered in front of the scene of a gang-rape in my community. I think that there is something profoundly transformative (transformation=disruption+the creation of something new to replace the violence?—i’m working on a definition)…there is something profoundly transformative about the meeting of the most sacred and quieted of my desires with the scene of my rage and the witnesses to my hope.
I think of it as prayer.
I thank you for this. And for your bold badass everyday self.

3. kameelah r. - September 25, 2007

this here is really beautiful:

…there is something profoundly transformative about the meeting of the most sacred and quieted of my desires with the scene of my rage and the witnesses to my hope.
I think of it as prayer.

this makes a lot of sense and i feel blessed that you shared this with me/us. i think you are right–there is a certain indescribable beauty in making public that which we are told should be private–with the recognition that there are certain things we are told not to speak about. there is also beauty in spirituality as not something we keep to ourselves and horde, but share, embrace and experience it with others. public prayer, the marriage of sacred desires with public rage–that is something.

about my demands, i def. intended for these to be future oriented. and i am hesitant about demanding because in all of idealism, i hope that we’d live in a world where we don’t have to demand that which should be a given–that we don’t have to demand because people act this way because they want to.

and as i read what you wrote, i wonder if what i wanted to articulate was not so much that you did not have to wish or hope, but that having wishes and hopes doesn’t have to be marked with difficulty and struggle–that we can wish and hope but not feel that we will constantly have to fight to get there. i have been feeling like all i do is fight, and i assume that last note was a desire to be still, to finally not have to struggle.

and i like this

What if I have to hope and wish for a particular future…not because I’m being denied it in the present…but because my love for people exceeds this moment?

this is very real because i would hope that people continue to dream and never grow complacent because we can always do better and we can always love more.

as i read audre lorde’s ‘need’ and the ida b. wells ‘mob violence’ i was struck by the ritual and spectacle of killing and violence. i wondered what it would look like if we had rituals of love and community–if we invested just as much energy in loving and justice making? as to the ritual and spectacle, i thought about violence against black bodies as a form of entertainment–lynchings, boxing, the virginia rape+torture survivor, etc.

4. lyndsey - September 27, 2007

both of y’alls writing inspires me.

5. lyndsey - September 27, 2007

i feel a little embarrassed to post this now that i just read these brilliant, full-of-light responses. but, i also feel compelled to write as best i can on these readings, so as not to let my silence = complacency/consent/approval/acceptance.
here’s my attempt:

i can’t pretend to understand what it means to be black.
i can’t pretend to comprehend the depths of my white privilege.

i am not making excuses
i am searching

was it for hate?
was it for lust?
was it for revenge?
was it for envy?
was it for entertainment?

did it slice off your fear?
did it burn off your accent?
did it cut out your pain?
did it secure your family’s position?
did it tie down your job?
did it set fire to your inadequacies?
did it stake down your belonging?
did it beat back your vulnerability?
did it display your power?
did cooking tongues silence?

will you realize what you’ve done?
will you turn yourself in?
will you confess your horrors?

would you plead not-guilty?
would you do it again?

was it for love?
was it for need?
was it for survival?
was it for liberation?
was it for destruction?
was it for redemption?

did it help?
did it burn off your oppression?
did it beat back your vulnerability?
did it cut out your pain?
did it kick off your fear?
did it awaken your anger?
did it move like manhood?
did it feel like need?
did it die out?
did slitting tongues silence?

will you realize what you’ve done?
will you remember?
will you listen?

would you name the enemy?
would you dismantle the enemy?

6. Mendi O - November 20, 2007

Hi all, Just wanted to write in to say it is wonderful to follow your threads here. Keep it going.

7. Kinohi Nishikawa - November 29, 2007

The language of this poem is extraordinary. It raises the voices of the dead, so to speak (thank you, Sharon Holland), to create an impression of mourning that’s at once singularly personal yet all-too-familiar to victims of sexual violence. I can understand why Lorde might have revised this poem upon hearing it performed: this impression of mourning is as much aural as it is visual, and it’s important to try reading parts of “Need” out loud to dwell in its beautiful sadness.

I was particularly affected by Pat’s words on p. 11:

What terror embroidered my face
onto your hatred
what ancient unchallenged enemy
took on my sweet brown flesh
within your eyes
came armed against you
with only my laugther my hopeful art
my hair catching the late sunlight
my small son eager to see his mama work?

I need you. For what?
Was there no better place
to dig for your manhood except in my woman’s bone?

On the same page Bobbie says: “We have a grave need for each other / but your eyes are thirsty / for vengeance / dressed in the easiest blood / and I am closest.”

These verses speak back to those perpetrators of sexual violence who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Men must be confronted with the bruised, battered, bloodied flesh that is the outcome of their sexual aggression. In a sense, they must “own” that aggression by bearing witness to its horrible consequences.

At the same time, Pat and Bobbie acknowledge the psychic wounds that fuel the illogic of sexual violence against black women. The idea of “misplaced hatred” (12) resonates throughout Lorde’s poem. An “ancient…enemy” is projected onto the black woman’s body, and violence is done to that body out of fear, anxiety, self-loathing, and “terror.”

Who or what is that ancient enemy? It’s not just racism Lorde is speaking of here: it’s a radical dehumanization, through racism but also through heteronormative patriarchy and capitalism (which breeds male insecurity and compensatory measures to escape “lack”), of the social and psychic life of black people. This is a problem of black people’s oppression tout court as it’s tragically played out in the sexual dehumanization of the black female body.

There’s a “grave,” or urgent, need for black men to realize this problem and to join their sisters in resisting racist-sexist structures of capitalist domination. But that collaboration recedes from the horizon when intergender need is literally taken to the grave — when black women aren’t fellow strugglers and insurgents but are the objects of putatively male needs: sexual gratification, domestic control, and violent, phallic sublimation.

Lorde’s troping on the idea of “need” is tragic and visionary. It captures a powerful social dynamic — a problem of racial, gender, and class politics as they inhere in rape-murder — and provokes us to ask other questions. What happens when we say — to lovers, friends, comrades, companions — “I need you”? Do we really mean it? In what ways do we mean it? On what, or whose, terms?

Or do you say

…you need me you need me you need me
a broken drum
calling me Black goddess Black hope Black
strength Black mother
yet you touch me
and I die in the alleys of Boston…

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