Black Breasts And Battle Cries
On Thursday morning, May 22, 2015, in the San Francisco Financial District, approximately three hundred activists in protest of the murder of unarmed Black Women by United States Law Enforcers stopped traffic and generated a palpable signal throughout social media. What brought a significant contribution to the signal’s amplification was the tactic used by a segment of the Black Women protesting. That tactic? The segment of Black Women went without a segment of clothing revealing their Black breasts and some are even reported to have gone without undergarments.
In the spirit of Black Women who have demonstrated against Whyte Supremacy throughout history, the sisters laid bare their grievances with the state by stating their grievances partially bare.
The demonstration orchestrated by the BlackOUT Collective succeeded in tandem the African American Policy Forum’s report entitled,”Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women”. The Twitter hashtag, #SayHerName was typed while presenting powerfully impactful images of Black Women in a militancy of semi-nudity not often conjured in the media. The protest action was only one–yet possibly the most resonant and resounding one–of at least seventeen protest actions nationwide addressing the murder of unarmed Black Women by US Law Enforcers that Thursday.
Black Women In Resistance
While the protest has generated much attention due to the ladies’ decision to present their forms topless, it should not go without considering they were filing a public grievance. Protest is the intentional usage of spectacle to file a public grievance. The public grievance included not only the addressing of the media silence that surrounds the murder of 7-year young Aiyana Stanley Jones, Rekia Boyd, Tanesha Anderson and many other names, but it also addressed the perception of the Black Woman’s naked form. In fact, I could so far as to say Women’s naked form in general, however, while I skirt attacks of being a sexist and misogynist, I probably should not add inclusionist or “All Lives Matter”-ist to the list of scorn against my public writings. In that vein, while this particular disruption roots itself in African tradition of protest by Black Women using their nakedness, with the most prominent example being in the Women’s War in Eastern Nigeria in 1929. It should be highlighted here, that the tradition of Women’s rebellion against their enslavement by European and United States’ traders is often reflected in the mass suicides(and preceding homicides of slavers) of the Igbo of Nigeria, often accredited with being led by the Black Women. Much of this is documented under the history and legends emanating from the actions that give birth to the consecrating of “Ebo’s Landing”. That Black Women have repeatedly been of wit to use their bodies in protest and rebellion is greatly reflected in the documentation of the life and times of Sojourner Truth.
Sojourner and Black Breasts In Resistance
While I refuse to make this a comprehensive biographical sketch of the blazing ball of brilliance and bravery that is the an-“sister”(coined, not quoted, and I’m charging for its usage…), Sojourner, I do feel two well relayed tales from her existence here deserve note. Sojourner is possibly most storied due to her being engaged at a 1851 Akron, Ohio Women’s Rights conference. According to Paula Giddings’, “When And Where I Enter”:
From the very beginning of the conference, the White women were overwhelmed by the jeers and hoots of men who had come to disrupt the meeting. Their most effective antagonist was a clergyman who used both the gender of Jesus and the helplessness of women to counter their feminist arguments. Present at the meeting was the legendary abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who squelched a heckler with an oft-quoted speech. In the first place, she said, Jesus came from “God and a woman–man had nothing to do with it.” Secondly, Truth asserted that women were not inherently weak and helpless. Raising herself to her full height of six feet, flexing a muscled arm, and bellowing with a voice one observer likened to the apocalyptic thunders, Truth informed the audience that she could outwork, outeat, and outlast any man. Then she challenged: “Ain’t I a woman?”
The second incident I would like to present occurs in the state of Indiana, around the date of October 4, 1858, and is documented in a letter reprinted in “Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend” written by Carleton Mabee, Susan Mabee that I have uploaded here on page 189:
In both situations, Sojourner addresses what I have observed being addressed in its complexity and intricate nature by US Black Women, and fundamentally–as well as blatantly– by the sisters of the san Francisco protest action. In dealing with Whyte Supremacy, in addressing dominance over definition of their bodies and psychic spaces, Black Women battle sexism as it pertains to their overall Womanness as well as racist sexism, or misogynoir, as it pertains to their Black Womanness. While the Black Woman’s body is oversexualized and pushed into a collective space whereby the attitude towards all Women is that their bodies are to be dominated and are weak, the Black Woman’s body is also criminalized and frequently masculinized in a subhuman sort of fashion. As it has been stated by Michelle Wallace, the Black Woman has been mythically extended in some Super Woman area of the collective conscious and robbed of the ability to feel;they are so strong, it is said of them.
For me, as a man, as a Black Man, at that, it does enter my thoughts in both aspects. The imagery of Black Women in protest, not exposing their Selves, but involving their Selves is sexy and militant(How is that for a male gaze rendering?). In the manner that Sojourner courageously and humorously asks the two Whyte male “validators” if they want to suck her breasts, it is at once an embrace of her sexualness, as well as a use of that sexualness as a challenge when confronted with a hostile and violent Whyte and male presence. In the same breath that the sisters have to confront a militarized threat to their lives with very minimal media concern, they also have to wage a psychological campaign that thinks their bodies are to only be used in a sexual and male-dictated fashion. Unfortunately, this second campaign is on a multitude of occasions fought on the mental battlefields within the minds of others Blacks: Black Men and other Black Women.