The one who controls the narrative has the power. Such control is often subtle.
Silencing can take many forms. In my life, my most consistent experience of silencing has been some form of subsumption. This is to say that whenever I begin to begin to reflect on my experience to share that experience, that reflection, that sharing is meet with some form of the response, “we all experience that.” The response is intended to bring about a type of healing. It is a faux healing at best.
Far from being comforting, reassuring, whole-making, such a response, indeed, leads to a greater sense of fragmentation, alienation, and frustration. Wounds are covered over, scabbed over, prone to fester under a facade of “peace” in the pronouncement “we all experience that.”
What I hear and sense in such a response is “Your narrative is disruptive and inconvenient to our noise and haste. Get with the paradigm.” In the rush to possess power, to have dominion, to control, being present with the other, hearing the other, is not desirable. To be present with means to look into — one’s self.
Toni Morrison writes in Playing in the Dark, “The fabrication of an Africanist persona is reflexive; an extraordinary meditation on the self; a powerful exploration of the fears and desires that reside in the writerly conscious. It requires hard work not to see this.” (17) Yet, it seems the hard work of silencing is desirable and preferable in the dominant cultural paradigm.
As this new year has dawned, I am struck by how much it resembles last year and so many years before that. Years in which Emmett died and Sandra died and Tamir died; years in which Fannie Lou is beaten in jail because the paradigm wasn’t ready; years in which four little girls die in a bombing; years in which the artistry of Phillis is declared to be “below the dignity of criticism.”
A new year dawns and old years yawn because there’s nothing new under the sun. The years continue to be years in which Black lives can’t matter because all lives must matter and the only lives that do matter are those lives properly aligned with the narrative of the dominant paradigm. Thus, there are tears for the people of the towers in the U.S. and Europe, but sneers for people of the desert, the Kush, the Gedi.
I am the history of Black lives besieged, Black lives silenced. I am the history of Black lives not allowed to matter. I am the history of Black lives who have “no rights which the white man’s bound to respect.” I am the history of Memphis, Wilmington, Tulsa, and Rosewood. I am Lumumba poisoned. I am Martin felled by a bullet. Death pursues me all the day long, yet I live.
In me is the vision that, “The day will come when history will speak… Africa [and African descended people] will write its own history… it will be a history of glory and dignity.”
It is a vision contrary to the silencing vision of Hegel who declared, “What we properly understand by Africa, is the Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature, and which had to be presented here only as on the threshold of the World’s History.”
The dominant paradigm is always about the business of silencing. Fear is a tool. Fear of loss. Fear that the speaker will not survive. Audre Lorde proclaimed, “Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal.”
In this new year, with so much that continues to be at stake, I must with Sister Audre resist silencing because, “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared.”