This morning, I was doing a little research and found that one of the scholars I really admire, Barbara Christian, is no longer with us. I didn’t know. And I’m mad about it. Let me explain. I’m saddened and dismayed by the fact that so many of the black women scholar/activist/artists that I admire are no longer walking the earth. Barbara Christian, Audre Lorde, Lorraine Hansberry, Pat Parker, and others have all been taken from us too soon. All of the aforementioned women were taken by cancer, and although that is not the point of this piece, it is surely an odd coincidence.
But this piece is about my anger. I’m angry that with almost ten years of post-secondary education under my belt, I had not heard of most of these women until recently. Five years of undergrad, not one course on black women’s writing or black feminism. And if you’re thinking that undergrad is ancient history, it’s not. I went back to school as a late twenty-something year old woman. Two years of a master’s in English, nothing about black feminism there either, and the only graduate level black literature seminar my department offered was my last semester there, too late for me to take it. I did, however, take a course on African-American lit, with its obligatory slave narratives and tragic mulattas. No disrespect intended to these narratives, it’s just that I already knew them. Now that I’m doing a PhD, I can focus my attentions on the literatures that mean the most to me: black lesbian fiction, black feminism, and other contemporary black women’s fiction.
My point here is that in most of my post-secondary institutions, not only was black women’s writing relegated to the margins, in most cases it was non-existent. Now, those of you who have attended schools with strong Black Studies or Women’s Studies programs, consider yourself fortunate. A lot of us have had to fight to include black women’s writing in our syllabi, or justify our reasons for wanting to write about it in the first place. Those of you who know me, or have been reading for a while, know that I’ve been reading black women’s lit since I was big enough to pick up a book. However, I was not introduced to some of the scholarly work of black women until very recently, and the only black feminist I had heard of was Angela Davis. So I’m mad that these institutions denied me the privilege of learning about so many wonderful black women scholar/activists and artists when I was beginning my academic career.
I’m mad because I should have KNOWN.
I’m mad because they didn’t want me to know.
Now, in the world that I live in, ignorance is no excuse, and it has become my goal, my duty, as it has of some of my sister/friends, to write about the women who have helped to shape my thinking about this struggle that we are all engaged in. You BETTER know that every time someone asks me about my work I tell them that I “do” Black Lesbian Studies and that I am a black lesbian feminist. I don’t care that “queer” is the “hot” term right now; I refuse to allow you to name me. I don’t deal in theoretical abstractions, I deal in black women’s lit and black feminism because they are always attending to the issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality that are such a part of our lived experiences. The author ain’t dead, I AM the author. The women I write about and the thousands upon thousands of women like them ain’t dead either. They are the authors of their own stories, and I want you to know them, to read them, to understand that these stories are as vital to our survival as the air we breathe.
So I keep searching, and reading, and writing; telling anybody who will listen. And even some who don’t. ’Cause I want them to KNOW.
This is one of the ways in which I use my anger. How are you using yours?