Beatriz Badikian-Gartler – I HEAR YOU SISTER: Women of Color Speak (to Each Other)

30 06 2007

I HEAR YOU SISTER: Women of Color Speak (to Each Other)
Beatriz Badikian-Gartler, Chicago
(2006) The International Fiction Review 33: 64-70



I first read the collection This Bridge Called My Back[i] in 1981 for a class I took on feminist philosophy. At that time, I let it wash over me, I let it enter me. It was one of several texts we had to read for the class. But soon, it became the only book that mattered. I read it, then discussed it in class and, when school was over, took it with me on a long journey through Europe. It became my friend and confidante during lonely nights in strange cities. I identified with the women and their writing; they became my compañeras who said the things I had been thinking of for years but had not been able to articulate. They showed me that what I had been and was feeling and thinking was not strange, unusual, crazy. They spoke for me and with me. Years later, in graduate school, I picked up This Bridge once again. It was for a class on African-American women writers and dialogics. And, when the professor spoke about Mae Henderson’s essay


Speaking in Tongues,”[ii] the proverbial light bulb flashed in my head. Anzaldua’s “Speaking in Tongues”[iii] came rushing out, flooding my mind with the connections between Latinas and African-American women, so obvious that I hadn’t seen them until then, so obvious to me now that I don’t understand why more work on this is not done.

Gloria Anzaldua’s “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” one of the essays in the collection, was written over a period of five days. The first section serves as an introduction to the problems that Third-World women writers face in the United States. The second section intersects Anzaldua’s privileged position as writer/teacher/publisher with her daily struggle against racism, sexism, and the Anglo-male-mainstream efforts to silence her. The third and final section offers readers a clear picture of the tasks at hand, the alternatives for the future.

This essay is a conversation between Anzaldua’s essay and the words of African-American women writers and scholars speaking through my elaborations and annotations. And, although dated, it is still relevant. Racism and sexism still live among us, still affect our daily lives. It is obviously a hypothetical conversation that needs to become a reality. For too long women of color in the United States have stayed in their communities, fought the same battles separately, and suffered similar casualties on their own. Yet, it is so transparently clear to me that we have much more in common than not. We are sisters in the struggle and must share the triumphs. Witness Anzaldua’s opening line: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers: 21 mayo 80 Dear mujeres de color, companions in writing…. The epistolary form is always a dialogue, albeit one carried out in silence. It presumes a reader-or more than one. The use of the epistolary form by women of color, such as Alice Walker in The Color Purple, is explored in Mae Henderson’s essay “The Color Purple: Revisions and Redefinitions.”[iv]

Henderson posits this use as a subversion of the form created by men to write about women and, in the process, inscribe male control over literary images of women, a form later appropriated by white women writers as well. By choosing the epistolary style, Third-World women writers are “able to draw on a form which places [their] work in a tradition associated with women, allows a feminine narrative voice, and establishes a bond and intimacy between women.” Furthermore, Henderson


theorizes that “Walker’s use of the vernacular … has invested an old and somewhat rigid form with new life.”[v]

Similarly, Anzaldua’s use of Spanish functions as a vernacular: to breathe new life into an old body, subverting a traditional form with original and culturally specific forms, namely, the linguistic code switch between English and Spanish common in the Latino community. And Anzaldua continues: … I sit here naked in the sun typewriter against my knee trying to visualize you…. “What is at once characteristic and suggestive about black women’s writing is its interlocutory, or dialogic, character, reflecting not only a relationship with the ‘other(s),’ but an internal dialogue with the plural aspects of self that constitute the matrix of black female subjectivity,” writes Mae Henderson in her own “Speaking in Tongues.”[vi]

She envisions black women’s writing as, in the words of Bakhtin, “a unique collaboration with oneself,” claiming a dialogue with an imaginary other outside the self as well as with the varied aspects within herself. Similarly, Gloria Anzaldua imagines her companions while she writes: the Black woman who huddles over a desk in New York, the Chicana sitting on a porch in South Texas, the Indian woman walking to school, the Asian-American tugged in all directions by children and husband. These women are at once external to Anzaldua because of their racial, social, historical, and cultural variations and internal to her, representing “a dialectic of identity [of] those aspects of self shared with others.”[vii]

This “simultaneity of discourse,”[viii] as posited by Henderson, becomes a literal simultaneity when Anzaldua visualizes the women sitting down, attempting to write as if they were in the same room with her, sharing her struggle, almost becoming her. And then Anzaldua says: It is not easy writing this letter. It began as a poem, a long poem. I tried to turn it into an essay but the result was wooden, cold…. How to begin. How to approximate the intimacy and immediacy I want. What form? A letter, of course…. The African-American scholar Joyce Ann Joyce compares Black poststructuralist critics to their white counterparts in their adoption of an alienating discourse that speaks only “to a small, isolated audience,” calling their language “pseudoscientific.”[ix]


This need to communicate directly and deeply drives Anzaldua to the epistolary form, privileging it over other genres and styles. Later Anzaldua writes: … My dear hermanas, the dangers we face as women writers of color are not the same as those of white women though we have many in common…. We can’t transcend the dangers, can’t rise above them…. In describing the struggle of the Black creative writer, Joyce points out her need to “establish a connection between the self and many people outside that self”[xi] through language, sharing experiences that bond the women with the strongest possible ties. Anzaldua’s greeting as hermanas (sisters) declares one of the strongest bonds between women, second only to the bond between mothers and daughters. United by the dangers we face every day and unable to avoid them, we struggle together, creating alliances, useful in future struggles. Drawing the battle lines clearly, Anzaldua’s positioning allows all women writers of color to enter the conversation and, in the process, become visible. She writes: … Unlikely to be friends of people in high literary places, the beginning writer woman of color is invisible both in the white male mainstream world and in the white women’s feminist world, though in the latter this is gradually changing. The lesbian of color is not only invisible, she doesn’t even exist. Our speech, too, is inaudible. She calls this speech “speaking in tongues” and prefigures Henderson’s trope for the simultaneous “plurality of voices” and “multiplicity of discourses” present in the writings of African-American women.[xii]

Then Anzaldua adds: We speak in tongues like the outcast and the insane…. Although her attribution of this speech to the outcast and insane appears to deprivilege it, her own use of the language in her writing contradicts the superficially negative characterization. When her attention turns to white women, her position seems more ambivalent since they enjoy certain privileges in racial and ethnic terms yet struggle because of their gender. In the paragraphs that follow, Anzaldua addresses her teachers who did not allow her to speak her Spanish language, much less teach it, the language that reflects “our culture, our spirit.” When Alice Walker speaks of the creativity of black women in her essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” she offers the examples of numerous mothers and grandmothers, women who were not allowed to express their creativity in traditional forms and had to resort to gardening, cooking, sewing, in order to allow the creative spark to flourish.

Anzaldua’s indictment of the status quo continues in a poem that functions as a dialogue on three different levels: on a superficial level, the poem is addressed to the mainstream’s preconceived ideas about Third-World women based on their use of a different language; on a genre level, its inclusion in the essay becomes a


dialogue between creative writing and nonfiction writing; and finally, on a textual level, the figure of the “mother” in the poem, whose voice in the distance she cannot understand, connects her to Walker’s mother and grandmothers who “knew what we / must know / without knowing a page / of it / themselves”[xiii]

Anzaldua continues, by questioning her right to choose to become a writer, to believe she has something to contribute when everything and everyone around her seems to deny that. Her response: …I think, yes, perhaps if we go to the university…. They convince us that we must cultivate art for art’s sake…. Achieve in order to win the coveted title “literary writer” … above all do not be simple, direct, nor immediate…. In her essay “The Race for Theory,” African-American scholar Barbara Christian presents her critique of what she calls the “academic hegemony” and its language, which she describes as alienating, unnecessarily complicated, and just plain ugly.[xiv]

Anzaldua prefigures Christian’s position, stating that this type of abstract theoretical language only serves to isolate the writer/scholar from the masses. Simultaneously, however, Christian observes that theoretical and creative writing can serve as a political tool if they are rooted in practice, avoiding the pitfalls of elitism and exclusivity. By problematizing feminist theories that “do not take into account … that women are of many races and ethnic backgrounds,” theories that collapse all women of color into one single, monolithic category, ignoring distinctions,[xv]

Christian parallels Anzaldua’s stereotypical images of passive Black, Chinese, Chicana, and Indian women who know how to treat a man. Yet these women revolt: … When you come knocking on our doors with your rubber stamps to brand our faces … when you come with your branding irons to burn MY PROPERTY on our buttocks, we will vomit the guilt … we are tired of being your scapegoats…. Anzaldua’s image here mirrors Shirley Williams’s protagonist Dessa Rose; those identifying Rs branded on her thigh and hip by the slave owner constitute an act of discursive domination over Dessa’s body and relegate her to the status of object. Struggling to gain her subjectivity, Anzaldua questions her compelling need to write. Her answer: … Because the writing saves me …. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive…. In another mirroring effect, Barbara Christian declares, “what I write and how I write is done in order to save my own life.”[xvi]

The need to exist and to


affirm that existence drives both women to write. Furthermore, Anzaldua insists on being the one to write her own stories; to make myself (169), she adds, just like Sula does in Toni Morrison’s eponymous novel, who declares her need to make herself and not anyone else when confronted with the issue of marriage. Sula’s characteristic outspokenness and disregard for the objections of the community about her behavior complement Anzaldua’s need to write about the unmentionables (169), disregarding the outrage of censors and audience alike. Writing represents an act of resistance in Anzaldua’s life. Imposed definitions must be fought. The need to survive is stronger than the fear of surrendering: I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing (169), she proclaims in one line, yet in the next she questions herself on her merits, her qualifications. Her answer: … The act of writing is the act of making soul…. It is the quest for the self, for the center of the self, which we women of color have come to think as other – the dark, the feminine … we knew we were different, set apart, exiled… (169).

Anzaldua’s use of the metaphor of making soul not only echoes the by now familiar use of this image by African-American people but also foreshadows the next collection edited by Gloria Anzaldua, titled Making Face, Making Soul. Elaborating on this act of making soul, Anzaldua offers the images of “other,” “quest for self,” and “exile,” also by now familiar tropes in the writings of African-American women. Characters such as Sula, Janie, Celie, and others exemplify this quest for acceptance by the world outside and the world inside.

Their own communities, where they often return in search of solace and acceptance, are not always welcoming. Writing seems to be the answer for Anzaldua as well as for many of the Black women writers who, through their protagonists and in a dialectical fashion, attempt to uncover and discover the sites of oppression and repression while, simultaneously, creating a safe space for themselves. A few days later, in the section that follows, Gloria Anzaldua exhorts the women of color to write no matter what the difficulties may be. Situating herself in a relatively privileged position where she can “lie in bed” and write all day, her attention turns to those who should write while riding the bus or waiting in the welfare line, during meals or before going to sleep. “While you wash the floor … listen to the words chanting in your body” (170), she suggests, because writing is essential to survival. Finally, the concluding letter addresses the tasks at hand and places responsibility squarely on the women’s shoulders. Quoting Alice Walker’s words from “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Anzaldua questions the fate of all the women who throughout history were not allowed to express their creativity, speculating that if they had been, they would have achieved the power required to defeat oppression.


 Writing that brings on change in the lives of poor children, women, people of color; writing that is born from real human beings and returns to them liberatory and useful: this is Anzaldua’s solution for what she and Barbara Christian and Joyce Ann Joyce see as the problem with detached, objective writing. In the last few lines, Anzaldua introduces the trope of the howl, “a form of speaking in tongues and a linguistic disruption that serves as the precondition for Sula’s entry into language” (33). This sound allows Sula’s expression of her subjectivity as a Black female, just as Anzaldua demands that women of color appropriate that howl and transform it into words, into a language that will free us materially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Gloria Anzaldua speaks to numerous interlocutors, on a multitude of levels, in several tongues. The African-American women respond-through my reading of their words-on a number of levels. Letters, poems, and journal entries included in the epistolary essay constitute a dialogue between genres. English is not the only tongue of choice; Spanish takes its rightful place in the writing. In this way, genres and languages meet and speak to each other as the women speak to each other, with each other. And they listen. We listen. We meet at a crossroad-in this case called academia-as Third-World women writers and critics; we meet at a wider space and open ourselves up and interact with one another freely. Their task, our task, is to unravel, explain, and transform our work into meaningful, useful, and empowering tools for our lives. This Bridge Called My Back has been one of these tools, a markedly important one in the trajectory of Third-World women writers.

This conversation ends here. But it must continue in real life. And it will.

1 Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds., This Bridge Called My Back, 2nd ed. (New York: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, 1983).2 Mae Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition,” Changing Our Own Words, ed. Cheryl Wall (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989).

3 Gloria Anzaldua, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (New York: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, 1983). Subsequent references are to this edition and are cited parenthetically in the text.

4 Mae Henderson, “The Color Purple: Revisions and Redefinitions,” Modern Critical Voices: Alice Walker, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1989)

5 Henderson, “The Color Purple” 68.

6 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 18.

7 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 19.

8 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 20.

9 Joyce Ann Joyce, “The Black Canon: Reconstructing Black American Literary Criticism,” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 18.2 (Winter 1987) 339.

10 Joyce 340.

11 Joyce 341.

12 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 22-23.

13 Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Ms. Magazine, May 1974, 105. Rpt. in Alice Walker: “Everyday Use,” ed. Barbara T. Christian (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994) vi: 39-49.

14 Barbara Christian, “The Race for Theory,” Making Face, Making Soul: Hacienda Caras, ed. Gloria Anzaldua (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation Books, 1990) 339.

15 Christian 342.

16 Christian 343.

Call for Submissions – Women of Color Zine: the MAIZ Chronicles

29 06 2007

the basics

Submissions are still being accepted for the first issue of the The MAIZ Chronicles. This is an invitation to be part of the zine. If you are a mujer(women of color. If you label and ID as a person of color, please submit. ) and would like to submit to the zine, please contact me at

There is no theme but we would like to publish pieces from unique perspectives by mujeres on issues concerning mujeres and folks of colors- – issues that are hardly covered in zines.

Let me know if you would like to help by passing out flyers, layout, submissions, or including the call out in your zine, message board or your friends and students. Anyone can help out with the process.

Deadline: ??

The MAIZ Chronicles is being edited by Noemi Martinez, who writes the zines Hermana, Resist, South Texas Experience and Homespun and runs C/S Distro. Noemi is a Chicana/Boriqua activist writer & poet, single mama living on the Texas/Mexico border. She is the human trafficking outreach coordinator for the legal aid.

MAIZ-Mujeres Artistas/Activistas Insurgentes y Zine-istas

What’s a zine? A lo-fo small underground publication with a small circulation, usually reproduced at a copy place and collated at the writers home. More on Noemi’s zines can be found at and the distro at

Sudy: ‘We are the Daughters’

26 06 2007

This beautiful poem was written by one of the Women of Color Bloggers at the AMC. Click the title link below to go to Sudy’s blog, A Womyn’s Ecdysis.

We Are the Daughters

I wrote this poem for myself, and for all the transforming women of color I met this weekend in Detroit. Mabuhay.

We Are the Daughters

We are the daughters of the forgotten, the skinned, the given-up in the trenches
by the roadside
We are the daughters once covered in blankets, helpless heaps
without shields
We are the beaten with sticks, paddles, belts, and bricks
We are the daughters of violence
And the violated
Our mothers knew the pain of childbirth without anesthesia
contractions throbbing with wariness
We are the daughters of doubters, the relentless uncertain
We are the first documented, freshly counted
The ones who knew community by faith, street, and fringe living
Not by gathering, similarity, or food
Our mothers and fathers are the immigrants – the forced travelers – thrown
We are the daughters with honor, without legacy
With riches, without inheritance
Our traditions are storytelling, sharing, remembering
Branding it in our minds because it will not be texted, printed, distributed, categorized, considered
We are the daughters of gates
Passing through with filthy, but functioning feet
We are the ones sacrificed, priced, shamed
We are all of these
We are all of these
Our troubles are less jagged than our mothers
Our survival less in question
Our thriving dependant upon more our will, not chance
We are the daughters of a thousand strokes of window washers
And poor wages
We are the daughters of cruel legislature, temporary amnesty, refugee camps, and collision
We are the daughters of grain, cotton, las floras, and sugar cane
We are the divergent behaviors, red with depression, pale with negligence
We are the mules of silence, withholding, and secrecy
Our tongues speak our history, hyphens
Bridging the borders of land and sea
We are speakeasies, the back alley ways
We know the gravel and dirt roads
The railroads sound in our dreams and whistles goodbye
We are the daughters of stopped clocks, crossovers, irreverence, heat
We flip paradoxes on the tips of our lashes, especially within ourselves
We look for madness, familiar
We are the daughters of failed government, tastes of sovereignty, uprising
We are the daughters of broken tsinelas, broken hearts, broken bones
We are the daughters of the vanished, the raped, the disappeared, the murdered
The long funerals, the lonely guitar, the rambling corner, the panic rooms
We are the daughters of slurs and political graffiti
We are the walkers through fresh basil gardens with our fathers
The orphaned sparrow
We are the sought prize of many, those waiting to kidnap us
To lure us with scholarships and jimmies
To convince us we deserve better, we are better
Than our ancestors who couldn’t read a coke bottle
Forget them, they say
They want us
They want us badly
To be human erasure for a war waged against our blood, our families
To slowly abolish the mass graves,
glossing over them with petals and dowry
Our deliverance eradicates the atrocities, the scratched signatures allowing the rapes
their misnomers, their wide eyed pretense
they want us to bow to the ivory tower, the one granting us degrees
they want us to forget the hours, lives, humanity that was stolen from our people
they want to shave us clean from any bandages, scars, proof of your imperialistic sodomy
they want us to forsake our memories and accept their offertory
our privilege circles our feet, hopscotching our destinies, leading us away
they want us to be grateful, but not mirror our mothers
or drink from the same clay cups, or splinter from the same broom
they want us to be fed, but hungry for more, and therefore compliant
they do not know that we are the daughters of hair, Brown, restless, and fight
they want to brainwash, inculcate us
but they do not remember our mother’s blood is not a drying stain, but a free flowing wound from which we still suckle and warm ourselves
we feed ourselves
we are the daughters of vision
and we are the thieves
stealing, taking, claiming, owning the
land, fish, air we righteously and already own
we take and give back to our foremothers, we kneel before our scrolls of imprisonment
We breathe easier
But we live with memorials and pledges
We invoke what we did not live through
We remember our reasons
Our mothers were never bought
And we cannot be sold
We are the daughters of a thousand dreams
we are both the fruition and bearers of completion
We are the daughters of swallowing caves
Erupting ground
cracking trees
and mulberry scents

We are the daughters the world hoped would die in the bellies of our mothers

We are the unlost, thrice self-found
And rejoicing

Zines by Women of Color – more grassroots publishing goodness

26 06 2007

Here is a list of zines published by Women of Color (from the presentation Women of Color Zines given by Nadia Abou-Karr, Noemi Martinez, Trula Breckenridge, and Johanna Eva at the AMC):

  • No Snow Here (Nadia)
  • Hermana Resist (Noemi)
  • Sisu (Johanna)
  • Telectric (Sam)*
  • Circular (Kannan)
  • Molly (edited by Candra)
  • Insurgente; Mala (Bianca)*
  • Big Boots
  • Multi-Kid
  • Driving Blind (Anna)
  • Bamboo Girl (Margarita)
  • Quantify (Lauren)*
  • Framing Historical Theft (Athena)
  • External Text (Yumi)*
  • All This is Mine (Sugene)
  • Behind Wire Fences (Anna)
  • Brewster (Charisma)*
  • From Here to There and Back Again (Shannon)
  • I Dreamed I was Assertive (Celia)
  • Letters from the War Years (edited by Leah)
  • Evolution of a Race Riot
  • How to Stage a Coup
  • Tenacious (edited by Vikki)
  • Cervauxxx
  • Metasynderyne (Ari)
  • Ultra Mama/Mama Specific Productions
  • Halo-Halo (co-edited by Claire)*
  • Marimacho (Luna)*

You can look for these zines by contacting a zine distro or visiting a zine library. Here is a list of distros run by women of color:

* No longer being produced – but check zine libraries.

The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action (excerpt) by Audre Lorde

26 06 2007

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.

I was forced to look upon myself and my living with a harsh and urgent clarity that has left me still shaken but much stronger. Some of what I experienced during that time has helped elucidate for me much of what I feel concerning the transformation of silence into language and action.

In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words.

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?

And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.”

In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear — fear of contempt, of censure, of some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live.

And that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.

Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation.

For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone can we survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth.

And it is never without fear — of visibility, of the harsh light of scrutiny and perhaps judgment, of pain, of death. But we have lived through all of those already, in silence, except death. And I remind myself all the time now that if I were to have been born mute, or had maintained an oath of silence my whole life long for safety, I would still have suffered, and I would still die. It is very good for establishing perspective.

We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.

The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.

(Originally delivered at the Modern Language Association’s “Lesbian and Literature Panel,” Chicago, Illinois, December 28, 1977. First published in Sinister Wisdom 6 (1978) and The Cancer Journals (Spinsters, Ink, San Francisco, 1980)

J: AMC Follow-up – thoughts on grassroots publishing as a response to sexual violence

26 06 2007

At the AMC this weekend, Lex and I ran a workshop called Wrong is Not My Name: Poetic Healing as a Response to Sexual Violence where we shared our experience creating our interactive anthology Wrong is Not My Name: A Tribute to Survival Via June Jordan. Here’s a description:

This hands-on workshop will highlight the theory and practice of grassroots publishing as a response to Sexual Violence. Participants will learn about how this form of media fits into the work of UBUNTU, a women of color/survivor-led coalition committed to replacing gendered violence with sustaining transformative love. Based in Durham, NC. UBUNTU is practicing a model of community creation centered around healing, expression, sustainability, internal education and awareness raising. Participants will experience the UBUNTU model of community creation, through the production of a group publication during this workshop.

In the course of preparing to lead the workshop, we had some really interesting conversations about grassroots publishing in the context of our work – I wanted to share some thoughts from these as well as some things I learned about zines and resources for exploring further.

Grassroots publishing (by which I mean to include a wide range of mediums that allow writers to share their words without going through commercial publishing institutions – independent presses, zines, community newsletters, booklets, brochures, blogs, etc.), can be a powerful resource in the context of personal and community healing because:

The process of creating and writing – ‘coming to voice’ on paper – can be an accessible and concrete way for survivors to engage in healing. For some of us, the processes of emotional and physical healing can feel intimidating (big, mysterious, painful) and we often cope by avoiding and shutting down emotionally. Survivors of sexual violence are sometimes silenced by feelings of isolation, shame, self-doubt, and fear. Talking through experiences of violence or their aftermath with another person or people that we trust is a crucial element of the healing process (click here for information on supporting a survivor of sexual assault). Writing is no substitute, but healing is an ongoing process and putting things down on paper can be useful at any point along the way. Writing – journaling, poetry, freeform, essays, or really in any form – allows us to acknowledge and express feelings and thoughts at whatever pace and time feels right. When it is just us and the paper (or the screen) we don’t have to worry about being judged, or blamed, or disbelieved. We can share our truths, or not share them – either way, in writing we learn to hear and honor our own voices.

    …and when we speak we are afraid
    our words will not be heard
    nor welcomed
    but when we are silent
    we are still afraid

    So it is better to speak
    we were never meant to survive

    Audre Lorde
    ‘Litany for Survival’

    When we publish our writings (on blogs, in zines, or elsewhere) it is a way of meeting the world as a part of healing – this is important because we honor eachother’s humanity by speaking our truths, and because as Lex reminded us, “silence is already a form of death.” Speaking truth is also a powerful and transformative act of resistance within the context of a rape culture that demands our silence. Research tells us that there are an estimated 21 million survivors in this country today, and that every 2 1/2 minutes someone is sexually assaulted – yet, too often people speak about rape as though it were a rare occurrence and isolated to back alleyways and “other” people. When survivors speak up, we challenge popular misconceptions about rape. We also make it easier for other survivors to do the same.

      Being part of a writing community within UBUNTU has allowed us to connect to other survivors, to support and celebrate eachother. And in sharing our stories and experiences with eachother we are able to bring our analysis of sexual violence to a systemic (rather than individual) level. When we observe the commonalities between these experiences, we can clearly see the structural roots of sexual violence and understand rape culture as situated within the context of interlocking racial, gendered, sexual, and class-based oppressions. Taken as a body of work, the writings of survivors (in UBUNTU and elsewhere) speak to and document the prevalence of sexual violence and to the physical and emotional costs of rape culture for real people – both survivors and our loved ones. In this way, these writings are also a political resource or tool that can be useful in educating and calling for change. Through the use of grassroots publishing methods we are able to share our writings quickly, easily, and widely with little or no overhead costs – making the process accessible to all who know ‘it is better to speak’.

        What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
        The world would split open.

        Muriel Rukeseyer
        ‘Kathe Kollwitz’

        J: Allied Media Conference – beautiful!

        25 06 2007

        This weekend Yolanda, Lex, and I had the revolutionary joy of attending the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. There is so much to say that I won’t try to recap in one post but I do want to say that it was amazing, inspiring, and truly beautiful. We learned about how folks are using a wide spectrum of media forms to connect movements, educate, empower, and create possibilities. Many many thanks to BFP for organizing the Women of Color bloggers caucus and bringing us all together in one place. I am smiling just thinking about it. Please look for more about the AMC (and general brilliance) from:

        Hermana Resist
        Fabulosa Mujer
        A WomynEcdysis
        No Snow Here
        The Primary Contradiction
        A Book Without A Cover
        Dangerous and Moving