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Your Silence Will Not Protect You

I’ve been searching tonight for my copy of Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider because when in doubt, Audre Lorde has the answer. But, I haven’t been able to find it amidst boxes and boxes of books and I’m starting to think that maybe it’s at my parents’ house where I probably took it, reading it on the plane, in a fit of the same fierce need to get some Lorde in me.

But, no matter: her words haunt. Use your anger, she’s admonished me before. Women have power and are powerful, she always tells me. And this, which is the gut punch, the truest of the true: Your silence will not protect you.

It never has. Those ideas that I have for stories, for my novel, for my creative life, rot slow in my mouth. They do not grow in all that damp and dark. And they do not keep me from being seen, from people judging me, from being liked or disliked. Hidden away, they do not save me from myself or the world. And if the silence cannot save me from all of that, if the silence is not superhuman and immortal, catching bullets in its mouth and moving too fast for blades to slice it, why do I cling to it?

But, I did find some Lorde tonight because the internet is our friend. And as always, Lorde knows just what I mean:

And, of course, I am afraid– you can hear it in my voice– because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside of you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth.”

Here’s the wholeness and avoiding the right hook of our own fear.

Oh Yeah? And Where’s Your Shelf?

I went to a networking event last night for writers and literary folk. I had some nice conversations and met some good people. Late into the night, I talked to a publicist, whose firm had organized the get-together. I started telling her about my writing and the book(s) I’m working on. I knew my synopsis of the books were disorganized and I felt like I was rambling. She was kind though and then said, “What you’ll have to think about is where will it be shelved.” In the midst of the meandering description, she had clued into how tough I’ve found it to categorize what I want to do with one of the books. It’s got some speculative fiction, shellacked with satire, and doused with social commentary. Indeed, what shelf would it be on!

But then she hit me with, “Like would it be shelved in African American Literature?” since I had told her both books star black women. Oh. That’s what she meant. I felt a flash back to my Borders rant. In all the words I’d given her, the plot points I’d touched on, the setting I’d sketched out, it seems what she’s mostly heard was BLACK. I know it was her thinking as a publicist, as someone who would try to promote a book, but then there’s part of the problem.

Where’s my shelf? she wanted to know. While white writers can decide to be on just about any shelf because they aren’t constrained by race, by people considering race before they consider story. I’m not looking for a colorblind readership, as though there is something wrong with being a black writer and writing black stories. I just want a readership open to the stories of people who may not look just like they do.

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