Whaddya Mean, "We"? Or Why I'll Wear Red on Halloween

When black feminism isn't enough: A brand new sisterhood takes on the politics of pronouns.

| Tue Oct. 23, 2007 3:00 AM EDT
"Y'all got a mouse in your pocket?" That was the "joke" that Negroes my age (i.e. with living plantation and/or Jim Crow relatives) heard every day growing up, whenever white folks used the pronoun "we." E.g. "We're the land of the free," "we're a nation of immigrants," "we don't have a class system." Oh, how we snickered in our impotence.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I helped integrate my local public school system and even us black fourth graders in 1968 reflexively, wordlessly, elbowed each other whenever the all-white faculty invoked "we" in class and at assemblies. We knew that meant that "we" blacks would get to watch our white classmates do something cool—and that we should consider ourselves lucky for the privilege—but at least the elbowing was pretty easy given that we black kids numbered less than 5 percent, a fact due not to quotas but mere happenstance, we were assured. Also, "we" were the only ones in our gifted school routinely praised for how well we'd do as future secretaries and truck drivers when we aced tests. So, you'll understand if we minorities know to get nervous when you white folks get your "we" on. Well, the freedom spirit has worked its way down such that we minority females now know to get nervous when our fellow men of color start slinging the imperial "we" around.

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In a long-awaited (by me, at least) development, "we" ain't having it. And the only thing better than black women fighting black male power is women of color, in general, fighting as a united front to protect ourselves, push for our rights, and obliterate the intra, "of-color" barriers helping to keep minorities crabs-in-a-barrel more intent on keeping other "colors" in their place than working together for all to move ahead. Women of color know what men of color don't yet. Yellow, black, brown, "mixed": it's all just "not white" to them, so stop doing the master's work for him. This crystallized for me, black feminist though I have long been, when I realized that a movement spearheaded by black women, but encompassing all women of color, is gaining force.

Thank the Goddess they have the mother-wit to realize that we women of color face a battle dissimilar only in its cultural specifics; Sharpton, Jackson, the various [fill in the blank] Legal Defense Funds talk about "people" when they really only mean "men" though it is the men in our various communities who cause most of our day-to-day problems but who damn us for complaining about them. I present the following at length because it's simply that important that the violence and oppression of women of color be acknowledged, disowned, and defeated. It's even more important that women of color understand and accept that their shared gender trumps any physiognomic and cultural differences.

To my chagrin, I had to sit with this for a few days before its true significance hit me. When I first read this the million times it was forwarded to me, I read "women of color" as "black women" since that's (along with a sadly few feminist black men) who'd sent it to me. But after watching all the videos and reading all the posts, I got that this is a "woman of color" problem that transcends a black woman thing or a woman-in-general thing; props to NOW, but they just aren't up to speed on our issues. These women's cheeky pronoun use—especially "we"—is mind bending. Black feminism isn't the point; I get that now. A feminism of color is and kudos to these women for focusing their rage enough to bring all their sisters along (all emphasis added):

On October 31st, Women of color from around the country will be gathering in spaces where acts of violence against women of color occurred to reclaim that space and take a stand against continued gender and or racially motivated violence. Stop the Violence, End the Silence participants will wear red and transform the space with red objects as a sign of reclamation. Events will commence at 9 pm EST all across the country. Participants are encouraged to read a solidarity litany at the close of their self designed program.

This call to action was sparked by University of Chicago Political Science graduate student Fallon Wilson and activist Izetta Mobley. After seeing very little media attention given to the plight of Megan Williams, a black woman brutally raped and tortured by 6 people for a week, and that of a Haitian Haitian woman in Dunbar Village, Florida who was also raped and forced to perform oral sex on her son, they created a short film How How Do We Keep a Social Movement Alive?, asking those who mobilized on behalf of the Jena 6 to not neglect these instances of violence against women of color. As more and more web viewers saw the short film, they learned of other stories two of which are now in the documentary and countless others that have made their way onto their website.

Women of color from across the country will also be organizing Town Hall meetings in their homes, places of worship, and work places in the weeks leading up to the 31st. These meetings are designed to document the silences surrounding women of color stories of violence by creating a "safe space" for both women and men to share their stories. Participants are encouraged to outline ways that people can stay engaged and make a difference within their own communities.... Confirmed sites of participation include Atlanta, Chicago, and New York.

What I almost missed as most important about all this is that's its "women of color" and not "black" women, or "latina" women or [insert your preferred minority here] women. I'm embarrassed to admit how happily jarred I was by the organizers' studied, interrogative use of the pronoun "we" on their site and how it highlighted the bullshit behind minority men's demands for justice. For instance, their video highlights: a 13-year-old Native American girl who was beaten by two white women and who has since been harassed by several men yelling "white power" outside of her home and seven black lesbian girls who attempted to stop an attacker and were latter charged with aggravated assault and are facing up to 11 year prison sentences. Doesn't fit neatly onto a placard denouncing minority male-associated racism and police brutality, does it? So, if you really want to scare folks, devour this site and wear red on Halloween. Dare to LISTEN TO, love, respect and protect women of color. They shook me out of what I thought was an enlightened comfort zone, so check them out and ask yourself how much you really care about what happens to "the mules of the world."

Zora Neale Hurston was talking about black women, but if she were alive today, she'd be dragging her tape recorders to barrios, reservations and of-color immigrant ghettoes, don't you think?

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