Friday, June 16, 2006

Be Quiet

I’ve read often about the silencing of women of color, experienced the displeasure when I say or do something “inappropriate,” seen the all-out efforts to keep us in our place. Today, I am wondering what role women of color play in that silencing, once we’ve accepted that invisibility is our rightful realm. Why am I wondering that? Because of a little girl whom I’ll call Alyssa.

Alyssa will start the second grade in the fall. She is a smart little girl, with a sweet, round face, and a truly infectious giggle. She’s in my best friend’s class in our summer program. We all like Alyssa, but she makes us pull out our hair.

She’s too loud. Too bossy. Too opinionated. Too grown. Too much of an attitude. These are our regular complaints. There is regularly a chorus of, “Keep it down,” “Be quiet,” “Hush,” “Indoor voice, please,” “That’s not your concern,” and—the most common—“Please stay out of grown folk’s business!”

It has become a mission of sorts, to “correct,” to “quiet down” this little girl. Today, my best friend told her she needed to act more like a lady. And yesterday, another female visitor to the program told her she’d “be so cute if you stayed in a child’s place.”

That’s what got me to wondering. Someday, will “a child’s place” become “a woman’s place”? And why is it that all of us, the women who coordinate, teach, fix lunch, etc. for the program, are so heavily vested in “teaching” Alyssa demure-ness, of holding her tongue, of soft-spoken-ness. We are all black, and I am beginning to suspect that we’ve internalized all those messages, subtle and not so subtle, about why we should be quiet.

The value of invisibility.


brownfemipower said...

you know elle, a truer post never was spoken. And I think that this applies to woc communities not just black women, for example, I've know a few latina women who have this random dislike of black women--and as I press for more information as to "why" all I can get is, they're not very polite, they're rude--all the code words you outlined here. I 100% think that we silence each other, we silence ourselves, we silence our daughters. I can't tell you how many times I've told my drama queen daughter to "knock it off" "be quite" "stop it" etc when she gets too loud and bossy--and yetI then get *mad* at her when she doesn't stand up for herself!!! I've had to catch myself many times and remind myself of my own hypocrisy and mixed messages, because i realize as i'm speaking how confusing i am being to my girl!! I also remember reading some where that black girls are the most outspoken of all girls of color in the classroom, but at the same time, black girls are also the most likely outside of white boys to be on ritalin!! So I think we are very much internalizing "being good"--we have all probably been punished severly for speaking out at some point in our lives...whether through beatings or reprimands or medication.
great post...very thought provoking...

Elle said...

Thanks, BfP.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...