When the feminists began to be very
articulate and write articles and march and go to meetings in camps
and have magazines and so on, I always said that’s interesting.
They’re having these huge meetings about feminism and the
power of women, and they’re leaving all their Black maids at
Toni Morrison, Interview, 2013, The
New York Public Library
listen to women. Since
the re-boot of #MeToo in 2017, I’ve found it interesting to
hear women speak and
write about the ways women have
had to placate men. Women have
been expected to remain silent when being told how this world
operates. Women this.
Hemingway really did love women!
Take our word for it! Besides, he’s an honored member of the
American literary canon!
so women decided to no
longer acknowledge Hemingway as the great and almighty American
writer. He’s a misogynist! Period. Some women going
so far as to no longer requiring their students to read the writer’s
seem to notice how Ernest Hemingway portrayed Robert Cohen, the
Jewish character, in The Sun Also Rises. And
did the women confer
with Black women or Latina women as to how to respond to Hemingway’s
misogyny or his preconceptions toward Jews or people of color? The
women who voted for 45
and who supported the alleged pedophile, Roy Moore, didn’t ask
Black women what they thought of these white men. In fact, 53% of
white women thumbed their nose at women of color in that November
presidential election. The current occupant in the White House knew
these women would
understand what he didn’t even attempt to disguise in coded
language: Mexican men rape white women!
I’ll come back to Hemingway in a minute.
structural bias toward men (white men,
in particular). Women recognize
this institutionalization of gender bias in language. Women
acknowledge the ways women
have been trained/educated to
believe in and therefore play the role of an abiding companion within
a patriarchal narrative. Yet, to recognize that the majority of women
on the planet are women of color, that is, women who are not women,
is somehow incomprehensible.
When it comes to understanding racism existence in the US, some of
these same women become
downright indignant: how dare we consider them anything other than
sisters in the
not recognize that
similar if not the same language used to uncover the structural and
systemic violence of sexism against women is also similar if not the
same language used to uncover the structural and systemic violence of
racism against people of color is troubling. Incomprehensible to me,
and to women of color at least since Sojourner Truth!
We women are undermined and
silenced! We women are discredited and disrespected! Women’s
knowledge is “subjugated”! How is “mankind”
inclusive of women?
I’m willing to bet that in most cases - this conveniently
imposed blindness, this sudden expression of ignorance - is
deliberate. Whatever you want to call it, the results are the same:
it’s convenient and painless means of forgetting, having to own
up to culpability in the very act of sidestepping historical
responsibility as a member of that racial group of conquerors. It
requires privilege, that is, racial
privilege. Self interest, too! Self interest makes the difference
most every time.
saying enough is enough. We’re tired of pandering to the status
quo. Tired of going along to get alongto our detriment. Nothing
changes, except we get older, tired. I should have said this when the
librarian recommended a book her book club is reading. I don’t
remember if she volunteered this information or if I asked her. But,
as she was describing the book, I could see it! I could see how such
a book is marketed for a book club of mainly women.
Progressive, maybe. Democratic. White.
sounded like another version of Out of Africa.
It’s written by a woman.
Set in Africa.
I said. Caught off guard again. On the other hand, why would this
librarian think I would be interested in such a book, set in Africa,
written by a woman?
can’t come into the library after police have shot dead another
young Black life and express my sorrow or anger. In fact, anything I
say about any murder of our young will be greeted with a stoic
expression from any one of the women
librarians. I’m to understand by the stoic expression that the
librarian can’t make a comment. But if I came in, as I have,
and mention hearing about the domestic abuse charges against Johnny
Depp or Casey Affleck, if I say to the attending librarian, that I
don’t want to view this or that film featuring either of the
actors - well, that’s okay. That will get a response. It’s
about women. Domestic
abuse or sexual assault against women…
while my heart is breaking as I watch the police video of Stephon
Clark being shot 22 times. As a woman, I can’t share this event
with another woman!
told the librarian to request the book for me. Put it on my account!
We do pander. I do. Too much. And when I had time to check the title,
which I can’t recall now, it is as I expected. Well, I’ve
been to Africa too! I taught a year in Ethiopia, and I’m trying
to write of my experiences—and where’s the market for our
not a book written by a Black African women - a Nigerian, an
Ethiopian, a Gambian - on saying, cooking Injera for a community of
elders? Are there no Black African nurses or doctors? No Black
African archaeologists or geologists? Are we to believe that there
are no Black African travel writers on the whole continent of Africa?
know there’s a tradition of Black African women writers -
Bessie Head, Buchi Emecheta, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Tsitsi Dangarembga
among others. Why aren’t the works of these writers offered as
reading material for these book clubs?
read and studied some travel literature out of Africa written by
white Europeans, including Joseph Conrad’s Heart of
Darkness and the discourse
surrounding this work. Europeans learned of Africa and its people
from merchants, seamen, and missionaries who wrote of their
experiences. The image of Africa as a dark, mysterious, black hole of
sorts, on this Earth’s surface, did much to justify and
legitimize the theft of that continent of its resources, but also
most important, of its people—and the rights of the survivors
of this pillage to achieve their full potential as human beings.
once does the canonized author, Conrad, in Heart of
Darkness, (1899), refer to the
African people as people—African
suddenly as we struggled round a bend there would be a glimpse of
rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black
limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying,
of eyes rolling under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage.”
however, the narrator, Marlow, wonders about the worst of it—the
slowly dawning knowledge that these creatures are “not
inhuman.” But that these howling, leaping, and horrid faces, he
writes, might actually be kin to us, Europeans. This might be an
expression of their “humanity.” Like you and me, reader!
“[T]he thought of your remote kinship with this wild and
passionate uproar. Ugly.”
Conrad, in Congo Diary and Other Uncollected Pieces,
(1890), records encountering three women, one appeared to be an
“albino,” with “horrid chalky white and pink
blotches. Red eyes. Red hair. Features very Negroid and ugly.”
George Washington Williams, a Black American and self-made
intellectual, in an open letter to King Leopold II, regarding the
“truth, the whole truth,” writes of the ugliness of the
King’s troops. “Your Majesty’s Government has been,
and is now, guilty of waging unjust and cruel wars against natives,
with the hope of securing slaves and women, to minister to the
behests of the officers of your Government.”
writes of witnessing “brutal” acts by Belgian soldiers
“who give no quarter to the aged grandmother or nursing child
at the breast of its mother.”
his travel-memoir set in Africa, Swedish writer
Sven Lindquist notes (“Exterminate All the Brutes”)
that Conrad couldn’t have
avoided hearing of the “ceaseless genocide that marked his
century...It is we who have suppressed it. We do not want to
remember. We want genocide to have begun and ended with Nazism. That
is what is most comforting.”
thought it would be a “teaching moment.” A by the way,
because I’m rushing in and off to a doctor’s appointment.
That book, I checked it out, whatever week that was. And removed the
request. We, I said, we are
tired of reading the Out of Africa type
by a woman, the librarian says again.
but… and I’m moving back, away from the counter, toward
the library’s door. I’m running late. But, I am tired.
We’re tired of the white account of their time in Africa.
sorry you feel this
it’s not me - alone.
many times have I been here with women?
I could suggest she read The Guardian July
22, 2016 article, “Let’s Get More Travel Stories on
Africa by Africans,” written by Elliot Ross, Lydia Ngoma, and
Samira Sawlani, in which the authors, critiquing Louise Linton’s
travel-to-Africa-memoir, call for travel stories set in Africa
written by Africans—thank you! Because enough is enough!
Because, my dear fellow woman, 200 years worth of travel narratives
written primarily by white Europeans as well as white Americans is
can’t be so difficult for a younger generation of women to
one of the writers of the article I mentioned above, Sawlani, who is
not Lenore Daniels, writes: “while there is no shortage of
travel writers from diverse backgrounds, their experiences are rarely
seen in the mainstream media. Such stories would provide a more
authentic and badly needed alternative to the cliched, often
patronising tales by ‘white saviours,’ with their echoes
of Kipling and Conrad.”
it doesn’t matter if they are male or female! But she can’t
imagine what I’m thinking nor has she heard or read the
thoughts of Black women critics and theorists since the 1970s.
yes, I’m tired of it. I’m not alone. I say. But it’s
fine for you. (And, no, it’s informed
opinion. Literature is my subject).
the librarian adds something interesting. She says, I don’t
want to fight with
you, Ms. Daniels.
thinking, fight? She’s using the word, fight? And “Ms.
Daniels”--is this yet a road sign to another fissure,
particularly in this country?
I’ve dared to speak as a Black women. I’ve dared to speak
back to a woman! So
A bad girl! What doesn’t
need articulation and what is understood is that I’m not
playing the role of the “good” Black woman. Or, better -
girl. I didn’t stay in character, responding to the “good”
and, of course, non-racist protagonist, with a nothing more than a
smile and a bow.
to maintain the illusion of innocence if I refuse to play by part to
I must want a “fight”!
trying to get to a doctor’s appointment. For a moment, I look
at her, at a bit of a distance now, wondering what
does she see?
a teaching moment, I say as I’m opening the library door and
in the younger generations could benefit from a public library system
and librarians who are unafraid and willing to challenge racial as
well as gender discrimination - but for the self interests. Too many
fear losing their positions, income. Or losing funding from other
self-interests groups intent on maintaining the racial imbalance…
rather read Hemingway’s 1935 hunting memoir Green
Hills of Africa! At least with
Hemingway, he doesn’t pretend to care much about the Africans
he encounters; he’s pursuing “big game” as a hunter
on the safari. (Unfortunately)! According to C.G. Poore, critiquing
the book for the The New York Times in
1935, “Africa is thoroughly in the book.” That is,
Hemingway gives us the hyena and the big lions, Simba, included,
writes Poore. It’s about the pleasures, he adds, of drinking
and writing. That’s Hemingway! No illusions must I maintain for
the benefit of women who
refuse to see that women are more than Anglo and more than American.
Hemingway served me well during the years in the 1980s when I taught
English 099, 100, and 101 for the City Colleges of Chicago. I reached
out to Hemingway for his 3-4-page short stories, his nearly
adjective-free, simple vocabulary and short sentences. And the
subject matter of his stories—humans in trying situations,
surviving—mirrored our circumstances and helped us communicate
with one another beyond the patriarchal glare.
write about their travels to Africa. These women are exercising a
certain freedom, aren’t they. In the meantime, I don’t
have to read them. And so…
years ago this year, the Kerner report, looking at race relations in
the US, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and
the subsequent riots and unrest in cities across the country,
concluded that the US was divided. Two societies existed—one
Black and one white. “Separate and unequal.”
and unequal. Seems to suit some just fine.
a few days ago, on April 10th,
many of us heard the news that we lost a long-time community
organizer, agitator. A fighter supreme! In one of her last group
emails, there was Kiilu Nyasha calling us to action: “We have
to step up to the plate, folks!”
do because the fight for justice and equality never ends for women of
the world who’ve had enough.