In a Litany of Survival, Audre Lorde writes, “When we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.” These words shape our collective organizing to break the silence surrounding women of color’s stories of violence.I want to help break that silence (my own story, posted sometime ago, is here). But I want to write about what happens when people do break the silence--not to stop the violence, but to perpetuate it.
Now, while I love Claudia in her own right, one of the things for which I have so much respect for her is the fact that she is openly out and unapologetic in small town Louisiana. There are, of course, the hateful whispers and slurs. But what I hear most are the faux-sympathetic-tone comments, the "if-onlies"--she is smart, beautiful, determined, funny, if only she... lived her life according to someone else's expectations. And then there are the concerned members of our church, who aren't biased or hateful or judgmental or just damned nosey--they are just worried about her eternal soul. Nevermind if they make her life hell.
Her experiences are one of the reasons I wholeheartedly disbelieve the old "sticks and stones" line. Because these words do hurt; they are spoken to crush her spirit, to shame her, to make her be someone that she is not.
This is Felicia. Everyday in October that I passed the civic center in a nearby town, I had to see a memorial, a red silhouette, on the lawn for Felicia and too many other women and children killed by relatives.
Felicia was murdered a few years ago by her estranged husband as she was attempting to move on with her life. She was vibrant, lovely, and unapologetic about the way she lived her life--a source of much talk in a small town.
Felicia was married three times. My best friend, her goddaughter, teased her about the fact that she wore white each time. She told us, she was going to wear white each time--until she got it right.
She believed her third marriage was the right fit. It turned out not to be so. Felicia and her husband were separated and she had begun dating someone else.
Her husband shot her in the parking lot of a local Wal-Mart, went home and killed himself.
For a short while, there were sympathetic outpourings, respectful silences. And then, the breaking of the silence, again negative, began. For some people, Felicia had caused her own death.
Because she, as wife (and thus property), had been with another man.
Because she was not afraid to move on from situations that made her unhappy.
Because everyone knew, **wink, wink** her reputation.
And even some people who condemned him based it on the observation that, "he knew what he was getting."
And I hated those words, imbued as they were with the attempt to justify, rationalize, excuse what happened to her.
In fact knowing, feeling, experiencing the ugliness of words, as so many women have, is one reason I support documenting the silence. Because I want the silence broken. And I want it broken by words we have learned to use to support, build up, nurture, preserve, love each other.
Because I am worn out by the alternative.