Using your Voice Makes You a Target

Returning a book back to the library Monday, I decided to look at the magazine section. I came across the most recent issue of The Nation and decided to pick it up. I know that Professor Harris Perry had discourse with Cornel West and Chris Hedges in May around President Obama’s positions and policies around race, racial alliances, identity and class. So I decided to read this article because it seemed to be a follow up to the conversation. It also helped that the title was “Breaking News: Not All Black Intellectuals Think Alike.” #Heheheh.

A particular part of the article spoke to me, the section where she connects voice to citizenship. She writes:

Citizenship in a democratic system rests on the ability to freely and openly choose, criticize and depose one’s leaders. This must obtain whether those leaders are elected or self-appointed. It cannot be contingent on whether the critiques are accurate or false, empirical or ideological, well or poorly made. Citizenship is voice. West exercised his voice, and I mine. But the history and persistence of racial inequality and white privilege in America means that the exercise of voice for black citizens is fraught with the dangers of surveillance. It’s yet another challenge of being black and exercising citizenship in the United States. Even as we articulate our grievances, black citizens are haunted by that “peculiar sensation” that W.E.B. Du Bois described as “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

I thought of voice and the fact that two White men have been impersonating queer women of color on the internet.

I thought of how my colleagues, other Black women who are teachers and graduate students from across the country who write anonymously on the internet for fear of retribution from their departments and future potential employers. Whereas on the other hand, here are these two heterosexual White men assuming the identity of women of color, to further their own career ends.

I thought of how I routinely have to tell Negro men to sit down when they try and debate me about gender theory, racial theory or political economy on the internet. It’s not that I don’t mind being challenged, that is a part of the game. The issue is their willingness to challenge me while being woefully under read. When I am dialoging with people who know more than me in an academic setting or on the street, I shut the hell up and listen and learn. These men, and some women on the internet learn real quickly that they can learn from me  or ask me questions, but unless they know my arguments, and the arguments of the people I have read, I will sit them down with the quickness. My work will be respected. This ain’t JV, this is elite. I have the bills and bifocals to prove it.

As a Black woman that writes about race, gender, pop culture and sexuality on the internet, I was excited when I saw Harris Perry write,

I vigorously object to the oft-repeated sentiment that African-Americans should avoid public disagreements and settle matters internally to present a united front. It’s clear from the history of black organizing that this strategy is particularly disempowering for black women, black youth, black gay men and lesbians, and others who have fewer internal community resources to ensure that their concerns are represented in a broader racial agenda. Failing to air the dirty laundry has historically meant that these groups are left washing it with their own hands.

To say it another way, failing to air our dirty laundry leaves the deviants, the single mothers, the queers, the lesbians, the gays, the felons, the hustlers, the sex workers-basically anyone who is lewd and lascivious shit out of luck.

Using your voice makes you a target, but as Audre Lorde has famously said, your silence won’t protect you.

You use your voice lately?

How did that turn out?

You choose NOT to speak up lately?

How did that turn out?

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  1. says

    The Black Intellectual Battle Royales show me:

    1. How the rest of the Black/Of Color community lacks a voice in the mainstream. Or rather, we lack control of how our voices are used.

    2 That everyone likes a good round of the dozens. But, unlike the real thing–which ends with laughing– this one is ending on screen with a fist fight.

    3. It also makes me wonder what Obama can/will do specifically for communities of color, and how he can do it without getting assassinated by the media. The main voice lacking from the debates is The President’s no?

    There’s nothing positive in any media, mainstream or underground, that I’ve read to balance this out. Just like there’s nothing positive in the mainstream to balance out the media’s obsession with Colorism and Michelle Obama. Something wicked is up man.

    My question to you Renina, is what ways do you see Black artists and the Black public responding to media manipulation? And how can we amplify those voices?

  2. says

    You know, Renina, I don’t really know that the masses of whites are listening because they don’t really have to as the ones in “power”. I particularly don’t know that blacks are listening anyway…until the neuses tighten around their necks to a point where they can’t breathe (i.e., until they perceive that an issue is affecting them directly, not knowing that the issue has affected them all along).

    My wife brought up an interesting point when I read her your piece:

    “Even the bible says that a fool is thought to be wise until he opens his mouth.”

    She said that we have to understand that though we have the right to air our dirty laundry, it may not be the most beneficial to do for blacks in general, or any particular subset of black people.

    My thing is that many—if not most—black issues are not about what one perceives as “deviant” or less empowered subsets of black people, but black people as a whole. Indeed, many whites perceive blacks, in general, as a subset not to be taken seriously. As such, I can argue that blacks, in general, are all in the same boat when it comes to most social matters. This being the case,how are we really going to benefit ourselves by airing out our dirty laundry?

    We are going to have to wash our own dirty laundry, regardless if we air it out or not. My thing is that we don’t have to look like buffoons while doing it.

  3. rae says

    Due to the circumstances of my citizenship [that I have in a place I’ve never lived and don’t have in the place I have been living most of my life] I am constantly worried about speaking out. I don’t feel safe as it is, so speaking out about black feminist issues worries me to no end. Theoretically, I am protected by the law. Even if that were true, I am still not protected from the backlash of many of the communities I am a part of.

    While I am extremely committed to pacifism and usually conform to Western ideals of argument and debate (unemotionally, without getting visibly upset), I find that my friends and acquaintances (most of whom are white) are terribly threatened by my views. (My views, by the way, generally align with a lot of anti-racist, anti-heterosexist black feminist literature and communities online.) Harris Perry’s article is wonderfully spot on, especially when she says that “the exercise of voice for black citizens is fraught with the dangers of surveillance.” Perhaps I’m overreacting or being a coward… But I just can’t feel safe talking about these things I care so much about — not in my own house, at my college (save for a two sanity-saving spaces on campus), even online.

    Still, it has been getting better. I have been working at surrounding myself with a few individuals with whom I can speak candidly, but I still haven’t the courage to write a blog or publish an article. Even if it was anonymous, I feel like it could jeopardize my relationships, career options.

    Still, the Audre Lorde quote is absolutely true. None of this will protect me.

  4. Renina says


    Thank you for speaking up.

    There is danger in being silent, there is danger in speaking as well.

    What I have found is that I have to speak so that I can speak again.

    As a Black woman in a white institution, I feel the burn of being surveilled. It is just something that I understand that I must live with.

    I also want to share with you that getting to a point where i felt comfortable writing under my own name was a process. I wrote anonymously for 5 years on this blog. It has been a process and it sounds like it is one for you as well.

    Thank you for sharing.


  5. says

    I guess that I am just of a different breed. Perhaps it’s age or my own experience, but I have always been one to speak out. If I have paid a price, I don’t know. Unfortunately, I have always been somewhat of a nonconformist or bohemian, so I have not not succeeded in the rat race (probably to my own detriment). From the time that I attended college, I became known in some circles as a militant. I really didn’t think of any professional type consequences, and at the time I really didn’t care. An outspoken black male at a predominately UGA, and over the years I just decided to get back to my roots—regardless of who might be listening.

    But, it’s like I said, I don’t know if anybody is listening at this point. People are just so apathetic. My wife has shared concerns about my web site, and possible repercussions in regards to my family and safety. I really don’t believe it’s that serious, but you never know. Some things you just have to do and follow through on, because you’ll never find peace in your own soul until you come to grips with that which God has placed it upon heart to do. Some things are worth struggling for, and worth the great sacrifices that you make—even if it causes you some professional or personal heartache. Like I said, I don’t think any of it is really that serious, but, then again, some things truly are worth dying for.

    Speaking for and/or to my people is what I do, and if whites don’t like it, too bad. I will try and explain it to them, but at the end of the day if they want to ostracize me for speaking my honest feelings, then so be it.

    In so many ways, it’s really not about whites so much as it is blacks. We can do so much for (and within) our own community to prosper if people would just change their minds.

    As an African-American striving to build a voice on the Internet, sometimes I just feel like Puff, the magic dragon—an old dinosaur that is no longer appreciated or necessary.

  6. says

    Renina, sorry for the typos/errors. I am going to have to start proofing before I hit the button.

    Sometimes I get so wound up and uptight, that I speak before I think.

    But, you know? One reason why I like to write is because—unlike the spoken word—no one can twist up what I have said (without being disingenuous, that is). It’s all there in black and white.