Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Miss Celie's Blues

This is a very graphic post.
That song, which I love, has come up twice recently, in posts by bloggers I love. You know it, the one from The Color Purple that Shug sings to Celie at the juke joint, the one that gives Celie the courage to poke out her tongue at women who made fun at her. Nubian wrote about why she loves the movie and the song, what she sees of herself in them. And BfP included it in a beautiful tribute to Black Amazon.

I had mentioned to nubian, in another place, that I loved the song, that my sister and I sing it to each other quite often. Since then, I've wanted to write about what it means to me. I've balked at the idea--despite all the things I share with y'all, there's lots I don't say. What would people think? I wonder. Is it appropriate--it's not as if my pseudonymity is unbreachable or even particularly well protected. How personal should an aspiring academic get online?

But I can't shake it, the desire to write about it. And so I will.

I no longer watch The Color Purple from the beginning. I can't take it--Mister's abuse of Celie, the separation from Nettie, the attack on Sophia, and all the other pain is too much. I have to pick it up deep into the film. Usually when Celie's about to cut Mister at the dinner table.

I can't take Miss Celie's pain because it mirrors my own. I know her too well, it feels like. The childhood sexual abuse by a man you should've been able to trust. That first unexpected slap just for speaking your mind. That moment when you touch that newly-inflicted injury with your hand, feeling the blood and still not believing that he could do that, that he would do that. Scrambling to have everything just so, only to be told that it's not right. It's never right. Lying still and squeezing your eyes shut, because it's just easier to go along with it--it can't really be rape if you're in a relationship. Because that would mean you'd been raped more than once. And no one will believe you've been raped more than once.

And I know why she hid her smile behind her hand, too. Oh, yes, part of it is because you don't deserve to be happy. Hell, if you did, all those things wouldn't keep happening to you. But another part is, don't-look-at-me, I-don't-want-the-attention. Because, you reason, after you're abused repeatedly, there must be something about you, something that attracts the attention of abusers, something you're doing wrong. So you struggle to make yourself as small, as invisible as possible.

I did that. And in the back of my mind, I nurtured a love for another song, His Eye Is on the Sparrow. Because I believed those words--that if God cared about a plain, little bird, then surely I, as small as I tried to be, meant something.

But, of course, there's another part to The Color Purple, the part I can watch, the part with which I am beginning to identify. When Celie makes it out. My journey out didn't begin as beautifully as hers did--with letters from her beloved sister (or, perhaps, from the moment she met Shug) or as satisfyingly--when she told Mister off, fearlessly, at that family dinner.

It began in three places, I believe. In my home--I woke up one night from a dream, crying, thinking, what would I be if all those things hadn't happened to me? That was a catalyst, in a sense, because I'd fooled myself into believing that I wasn't really affected anymore, that I was in control of my life, that I wasn't like other women because I'd only been hit three or four times, and I could get out at any point because I had the education and the income, and on and on.

In my mind--because I had a child. And I did not want him growing up seeing me abused or learning to be abusive.

In a doctor's office--after the last sexual assault, when I'd decided to call the police. I spent my 28th birthday in a police car and an examining room. I refused the rape exam--he hadn't been able to penetrate because, tired of lying there and closing my eyes, I'd fought his ass back. And I still couldn't wrap my mind around the idea of my being raped. What I did let them do was swab my face. I suppose he'd considered that consolation humiliation.

But something else happened too. I had to talk to a rape counselor and best friend Texas was in the room. At one point, the counselor asked me something like, "You don't think very much of yourself, do you?" I said no. And best friend Texas started crying. It dawned on me that, for some reason, she thought much of me. And I used that, her love and the love of my other friends and family, who were outraged when I didn't feel I had a right to be, who thought much of me-old, fat, not much more than a little brown sparrow, me. I used it to edify me while I was trying to develop some self love. I can never explain what my best friends, my sister, and my closest cousins have been to me. Never.

So like, Miss Celie, I made it out, too, in a way. I don't think I am as triumphant as she was, not yet. But I do know, for certain, that when I shimmy for my sister and laugh and sing that part, "I'm something, I hope you think that you're something, too," I know that coming from nothing, from sparrowness, I mean it with everything in me.

borrowed from nubian.


StyleyGeek said...

Thank you for sharing that post. I really admire the courage it must have taken.

I don't think I've commented here before, but I've been reading appreciatively for a while, so I hope it doesn't sound stalkerish when I say that I think you are something too.

Abadiebitch said...


I think you are something, something very valuable.

Zan said...

I don't think you should ever be ashamed or hesitant to tell that story. Horrible things happen to beautiful people, all the other beautiful people need to know they're not alone or at fault.

And this story sounds so much like my best friend's story. I'm just waiting for her to realize that yeah, she really IS something. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Oh, Elle . . . thanks for writing about your experiences and your growth. Your words, and your experiences, have touched many, many women. You *are* something, something pretty damn amazing. {{{{{ hugs }}}}}

Anonymous said...

Reading about this again, I can remember that day like it was yesterday.

You have always been a beautiful person that I've admired from day one. And it hurt to know you didn't see yourself the way I saw/see you.

I'm so proud of you!
Love you!!!

brownfemipower said...

chills, elle. Chills.

You know, in one of my english classes, somebody commented (and there was an ensuing fight), that he didn't like walkers writing because everything just seemed too pat. That the real world wasn't like that. There was a fight after that because first off all, walker (esp with the color purple) has been critisized for being too "dark"--but also because with that book, that movie--well, that was the first time I think that it had even been IMAGINED that black women, that a black queer woman, could change things. That there were ways she could reject and walk away from abuse,that she could be deeply in love, that she could hear the world talk to her--I think alice walker wrote that way on purpose--so that the possibility could be thrown into the world--the possibility that black women can love themselves.

I watched the movie the other night, after I wrote that for blackamazon, and the thing that always gets me, is the love between women--the love that itches your head when you need it.The love that continues writing letters even when you get no return, the love that fights through abuse--those scenes are so hard to watch because, really, it's the very first time celie stands up for herself, and she's doing it because of love for another woman--and even after the are seperated--the defiant "only death would keep me from it" and the hand clapping--that's true raw womanly love, and it's painful to see it abused.

anyway. i'm all set to cry.

i'm so glad that you're knowing your something. I've know you are too--

Anonymous said...

"Because, you reason, after you're abused repeatedly, there must be something about you, something that attracts the attention of abusers, something you're doing wrong."

This is one of the most pernicious beliefs. I hadn't thought of it myself until I got it inculcated into me by a counselor!!! It took years to unlearn.

Lovely post.

elle said...

thank all of you. i was still scared after i posted, and then i thought, why?

bfp, that's just the love (from women) that i got. that i still get.

the color purple is so very real to me, that i always want to say fuck the critics. i've mostly heard about the "bashing" black men, but you know what? i love black men and lots of them have hurt me. deeply. and i'm tired of being silent b/c i don't want to be a traitor. sylvia @ the anti-essentialist conundrum links to an interview in which filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons asks, “Why aren’t Black men who rape Black women traitors to the race?” why indeed.

because, while some people back home had sympathy for me, it was usually based on the fact that they knew he was a jackass in other ways--not because what he did to me was truly an offense. but they still couldn't believe i "sent" him to jail (not his actions, me, i sent him to jail!). the fact that we lived together somehow made it less of a crime. the mailwoman here, after asking me what happened (he'd had conversations with her almost daily and she noticed a letter he sent from prison. i gave her a short, "he attacked me" version) frowned and said something like, "Surely they didn't have to send him to jail for that!" Her reasoning was that it was only a domestic dispute, not a real assault. she is a black woman.

but anyway, thanks for the hugs and the thoughts and the words. i love y'all. seriously, this community means a lot to me.

I hope y'all think that you're something too.

Phantom Scribbler said...

I guess you know that I've been lurking here ever since those posts we did on the same topic awhile back. This is a brave and beautiful post.

There are a lot of things I'll probably regret about my blog, one day or another, but admitting to having been abused is not one of them. I hope you'll feel the same way. Even though it's damn hard to shake the feeling that drawing attention to oneself is asking for it yet again.

You ARE really something. I'm glad you know it.

Kate said...

I'm not only all set to cry, I am crying. You are absolutely, most definitely something. I read your blog with the eagerness of a kid on Christmas morning. Thank you for sharing this.

Courtney said...

Elle, this is painful and heartwarming and human and I'm so glad you wrote it. Believe it, sister, you are something! And we love you.

Gwyneth Bolton said...


Thank you for having the courage to share your story. So many black and brown women are hurt by black and brown men and our communities ignore and caste those hurts aside. That's why I love Alice Walker and the activism she brings to her work. She sheds light on injustice and encourages us all to do something. That's why I love her collection of essays, "Anything We Love Can Be Saved" and her latest "We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For." Sharing our stories and letting each other know that we are not to blame is the first step towards healing. Thanks, Elle.

Sylvia said...

*does all sorts of nose wrinkles and weird faces to keep the tears in*

You are something, and I'm glad you know it. I'm glad you embrace it, and I'm really glad you shared your story.

Blackamazon said...


elle said...

thank you, again, for the love. i'm finding virtual hugs are quite sweetly comforting.

blackamazon, so glad to see you!

Anonymous said...

i just deleted everything i wrote b/c it felt like I would mar something beautiful. i just want to {{{{{elle}}}}

RageyOne said...

Kudos to you for sharing your story and overcoming that part of your life. I applaud you for expressing yourself and letting all of us know the "real" you!

Sending you a {{{hug}}}!


Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, I'm actually crying reading this. Thank you so much for sharing this. Really, really thank you. You show your strength in telling this story.

Jen Bartman said...

Elle, you said, "Lying still and squeezing your eyes shut, because it's just easier to go along with it--it can't really be rape if you're in a relationship. Because that would mean you'd been raped more than once. And no one will believe you've been raped more than once." You know, the more brave women like you share stories, the more likely it becomes that the rest of us will one day find the courage to speak. I think it is especially difficult to call rape by its name in a situation like the one you described. Excellent work (and work it is).

wwwmama said...

thank you for sharing a very personal and beautifully written post that is clearly touching all who read it. This is my first visit to your blog, but I'll definitely be back to read more.

Anonymous said...

::wiping tears::thank you for sharing your story elle...very beautiful, painful and transformative.

AcadeMama said...

You are so powerful for being able to share such a personal and painful experience in this type of (often very public) forum. I empathize with you and hope for your continued healing and strength. I wish I were half as strong to put the words on the page, or screen, or in the world in some way. For me, it's still easier to just not thing about the "bad stuff" because I seem to be getting along just fine. Part of me wants to continue this way, but part of me is suspicious that this way will ultimately have to end.

Anonymous said...

i know i'm late on this, but am catching up with blog reading. thank you for sharing such a painful story. i send you lots and lots of virtual hugs. and thank you for being there for me with my stuff too.

Rent Party said...

This is a great piece of writing.

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