Power and politics exercise class 12
Power and politics exercise class 12
With a moment of space in this wild and bloody spring, I want to speak the words I
have had in mind for you. I had hoped that our paths might cross and we could sit down
together and talk, but this has not happened.
I wish you strength and satisfaction in your eventual victory over the repressive forces
of the University in Boston. I am glad so many women attended the speak-out, and
hope that this show of joined power will make more space for you to grow and be
Thank you for having Gyn/Ecology sent to me. So much of it is full of import, useful,
generative, and provoking. As in Beyond God The Father, many of your analyses are
strengthening and helpful to me. Therefore, it is because of what you have given to me
in the past work that I write this letter to you now, hoping to share with you the benefits
of my insights as you have shared the benefits of yours with me.
This letter has been delayed because of my grave reluctance to reach out to you, for
what I want us to chew upon here is neither easy nor simple. The history of white
women who are unable to hear Black women’s words, or to maintain dialogue with us,
is long and discouraging. But for me to assume that you will not hear me represents
not only history, perhaps, but an old pattern of relating, sometimes protective and
sometimes dysfunctional, which we, as women shaping our future, are in the process
of shattering and passing beyond, I hope.
I believe in your good faith toward all women, in your vision of a future within which
we can all flourish, and in your commitment to the hard and often painful work. In this
spirit I invite you to a joint clarification of some of the differences which lie between
us as a Black and a white woman.
When I started reading Gyn/Ecology, I was truly excited by the vision behind your
words and nodded my head as you spoke in your first passage of myth and mystification.
Your words on the nature and function of the Goddess, as well as the ways in which
her face has been obscured, agreed with what I myself have discovered in my searches
through African myth/legend/religion for the true nature of old female power.
So I wondered, why doesn’t Mary deal with Afrekete as an example? Why are her
goddess images only white, western European, Judeo-Christian? Where were Afrekete,
Yemanje, Oyo, and Mawulisa? Where were the warrior goddesses of the Vodun, the
Dahomeian Amazons and the warrior-women of Dan? Well, I thought, Mary has made
a conscious decision to narrow her scope and to deal only with the ecology of western
Then I came to the first three chapters of your second passage, and it was obvious
that you were dealing with non-European women, but only as victims and preyers
upon each other. I began to feel my history and my mythic background distorted by
the absence of any images of my foremothers in power. Your inclusion of African
genital mutilation was an important and necessary piece in any consideration of female
ecology, and too little has been written about it. To imply, however, that all women
suffer the same oppression simply because we are women is to lose sight of the many
varied tools of patriarchy. It is to ignore how those tools are used by women without
awareness against each other.
To dismiss our black foremothers may well be to dismiss where European women
learned to love. As an African-American woman in white patriarchy, I am used to
having my archetypal experience distorted and trivialized, but it is terribly painful to
feel it being done by a woman whose knowledge so much touches my own.
When I speak of knowledge, as you know, I am speaking of that dark and true depth
which understanding serves, waits upon, and makes accessible through language to
ourselves and others. It is this depth within each of us that nurtures vision.
What you excluded from Gyn/Ecology dismissed my heritage and the heritage of
all other non-European women, and denied the real connections that exist between
all of us.
It is obvious that you have done a tremendous amount of work for this book. But simply
because so little material on non-white female power and symbol exists in white women’s
words from a radical feminist perspective, to exclude this aspect of connection from even
comment in your work is to deny the fountain of non-European female strength and power
that nurtures each of our visions. It is to make a point by choice.
Then, to realize that the only quotations from Black women’s words were the ones
you used to introduce your chapter on African genital mutilation made me question
why you needed to use them at all. For my part, I felt that you had in fact misused my
words, utilized them only to testify against myself as a woman of color. For my words
which you used were no more, nor less, illustrative of this chapter than “Poetry Is Not
a Luxury” or any number of my other poems might have been of many other parts of
So the question arises in my mind, Mary, do you ever really read the work of black women?
Did you ever read my words, or did you merely finger through them for quotations which
you thought might valuably support an already conceived idea concerning some old and
distorted connection between us? This is not a rhetorical question.
To me, this feels like another instance of the knowledge, crone-ology and work of
women of Color being ghettoized by a white woman dealing only out of a patriarchal
western European frame of reference. Even your words on page 49 of Gyn/Ecology,
“The strength which Self-centering women find, in finding our background, is our own
strength, which we give back to ourselves,” have a different ring as we remember the
old traditions of power and strength and nurturance found in the female bonding of
African women. It is there to be tapped by all women who do not fear the revelation
of connection to themselves.
Have you read my work, and the work of other black women, for what it could give
you? Or did you hunt through only to find words that would legitimize your chapter on
African genital mutilation in the eyes of other Black women? And if so, then why not
use our words to legitimize or illustrate the other places where we connect in our being
and becoming? If, on the other hand, it was not Black women you were attempting to
reach, in what way did our words illustrate your point for white women?
Mary, I ask that you be aware of how this serves the destructive forces of racism
and separation between women – the assumption that the herstory and myth of white
women is the legitimate and sole herstory and myth of all women to call upon for
power and background, and that nonwhite women and our herstories are noteworthy
only as decorations, or examples of female victimization. I ask that you be aware of the
effect that this dismissal has upon the community of black women and other women
of color, and how it devalues your own words. This dismissal does not essentially
differ from the specialized devaluations that make black women prey, for instance,
to the murders even now happening in your own city. When patriarchy dismisses us,
it encourages our murderers. When radical lesbian feminist theory dismisses us, it
encourages its own demise.
This dismissal stands as a real block to communication between us. This block makes
it far easier to turn away from you completely than to attempt to understand the
thinking behind your choices. Should the next step be war between us, or separation?
Assimilation within a solely western European herstory is not acceptable.
Mary, I ask that you remember what is dark and ancient and divine within yourself that
aids your speaking. As outsiders, we need each other for support and connection and
all the other necessities of living on the borders. But in order to come together we must
recognize each other. Yet I feel that since you have so completely un-recognized me,
perhaps I have been in error concerning you and no longer recognize you.
I feel you do celebrate differences between white women as a creative force toward
change, rather than a reason for misunderstanding and separation. But you fail to
recognize that, as women, those differences expose all women to various forms and
degrees of patriarchal oppression, some of which we share and some of which we do
not. For instance, surely you know that for nonwhite women in this country, there is
an 80 percent fatality rate from breast cancer; three times the number of unnecessary
eventrations, hysterectomies and sterilizations as for white women; three times as
many chances of being raped, murdered, or assaulted as exist for white women. These
are statistical facts, not coincidences nor paranoid fantasies.
Within the community of women, racism is a reality force in my life as it is not in
yours. The white women with hoods on in Ohio handing out KKK literature on the
street may not like what you have to say, but they will shoot me on sight. (If you and
I were to walk into a classroom of women in Dismal Gulch, Alabama, where the only
thing they knew about each of us was that we were both Lesbian/Radical/Feminist,
you would see exactly what I mean.)
The oppression of women knows no ethnic nor racial boundaries, true, but that does
not mean it is identical within those differences. Nor do the reservoirs of our ancient
power know these boundaries. To deal with one without even alluding to the other is
to distort our commonality as well as our difference.
For then beyond sisterhood is still racism.
We first met at the MLA panel, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and
Action.” This letter attempts to break a silence which I had imposed upon myself
shortly before that date. I had decided never again to speak to white women about
racism. I felt it was wasted energy because of destructive guilt and defensiveness, and
because whatever I had to say might better be said by white women to one another at
far less emotional cost to the speaker, and probably with a better hearing. But I would
like not to destroy you in my consciousness, not to have to. So as a sister Hag, I ask
you to speak to my perceptions.
Whether or not you do, Mary, again I thank you for what I have learned from you.
This letter is in repayment.
In the hands of Afrekete,