Wednesday, October 31, 2007


From Document the Silence:

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.

I've written here about how the discourse surrounding well-known cases of violence against black women is so heartbreakingly, overwhelmingly negative in the attempt to lessen the impact (and even deny the fact) of that violence. And about how the language used about the so-called "immigrant problem" shapes opinion and policies that deny immigrant women their status as women, mothers, family and community members, human beings.

There is so much more to be said. But today I wanted to focus on the negative language, the language that hurts our spirits and sustains the violence, that I hear daily, intimately.

This is my Claudia and her girlfriend.

*****picture redacted*****

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.


Gwyneth Bolton said...

Thank you for writing this and sharing it Elle. Thank you.


Dr. Laura Marie Grimes said...

Yes, thank you Dr. Elle for these powerful words.

changeseeker said...

"And I hated those words, imbued as they were with the attempt to justify, rationalize, excuse what happened to her."

Sometimes I think at least part of this phenomenon has to do with how scared many people seem to be to live their own lives and take responsibility themselves for THEIR decisions. If they can assign a "reason" why some horrible thing happened to a person, they can reassure themselves that they're not doing whatever it is, so that can't happen to them.

What they don't realize is that what they ARE doing (being arrogant, judgmental, racist, sexist, elitist, homophobic, etc.) is a whole lot more destructive and self-destructive than whatever it is they typically focus on from the throne upon which they are so dubiously seated. Thanks for this post. You're right on the money.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...