YOU & ME WE GOT MORE YESTERDAY THAN ANYBODY. WE NEED SOME KIND OF TOMORROW


— TONI MORRISON

We are a collective of Black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974. [1] During that time we have been involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while at the same time doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements. The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.

We will discuss four major topics in the paper that follows: (1) the genesis of contemporary Black feminism; (2) what we believe, i.e., the specific province of our politics; (3) the problems in organizing Black feminists, including a brief herstory of our collective; and (4) Black feminist issues and practice.

1. The genesis of Contemporary Black Feminism
Before looking at the recent development of Black feminism we would like to affirm that we find our origins in the historical reality of Afro-American women’s continuous life-and-death struggle for survival and liberation. Black women’s extremely negative relationship to the American political system (a system of white male rule) has always been determined by our membership in two oppressed racial and sexual castes. As Angela Davis points out in “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves,” Black women have always embodied, if only in their physical manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule and have actively resisted its inroads upon them and their communities in both dramatic and subtle ways. There have always been Black women activists—some known, like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, and thousands upon thousands unknown—who have had a shared awareness of how their sexual identity combined with their racial identity to make their whole life situation and the focus of their political struggles unique. Contemporary Black feminism is the outgrowth of countless generations of personal sacrifice, militancy, and work by our mothers and sisters.

A Black feminist presence has evolved most obviously in connection with the second wave of the American women’s movement beginning in the late 1960s. Black, other Third World, and working women have been involved in the feminist movement from its start, but both outside reactionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself have served to obscure our participation. In 1973, Black feminists, primarily located in New York, felt the necessity of forming a separate Black feminist group. This became the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO).

Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements for Black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and I970s. Many of us were active in those movements (Civil Rights, Black nationalism, the Black Panthers), and all of our lives Were greatly affected and changed by their ideologies, their goals, and the tactics used to achieve their goals. It was our experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements, as well as experience on the periphery of the white male left, that led to the need to develop a politics that was anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those of Black and white men.

There is also undeniably a personal genesis for Black Feminism, that is, the political realization that comes from the seemingly personal experiences of individual Black women’s lives. Black feminists and many more Black women who do not define themselves as feminists have all experienced sexual oppression as a constant factor in our day-to-day existence. As children we realized that we were different from boys and that we were treated differently. For example, we were told in the same breath to be quiet both for the sake of being “ladylike” and to make us less objectionable in the eyes of white people. As we grew older we became aware of the threat of physical and sexual abuse by men. However, we had no way of conceptualizing what was so apparent to us, what we knew was really happening.

Black feminists often talk about their feelings of craziness before becoming conscious of the concepts of sexual politics, patriarchal rule, and most importantly, feminism, the political analysis and practice that we women use to struggle against our oppression. The fact that racial politics and indeed racism are pervasive factors in our lives did not allow us, and still does not allow most Black women, to look more deeply into our own experiences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a politics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression. Our development must also be tied to the contemporary economic and political position of Black people. The post World War II generation of Black youth was the first to be able to minimally partake of certain educational and employment options, previously closed completely to Black people. Although our economic position is still at the very bottom of the American capitalistic economy, a handful of us have been able to gain certain tools as a result of tokenism in education and employment which potentially enable us to more effectively fight our oppression.

A combined anti-racist and anti-sexist position drew us together initially, and as we developed politically we addressed ourselves to heterosexism and economic oppression under capItalism.

2. What We Believe
Above all else, Our politics initially sprang from the shared belief that Black women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else’s may because of our need as human persons for autonomy. This may seem so obvious as to sound simplistic, but it is apparent that no other ostensibly progressive movement has ever consIdered our specific oppression as a priority or worked seriously for the ending of that oppression. Merely naming the pejorative stereotypes attributed to Black women (e.g. mammy, matriarch, Sapphire, whore, bulldagger), let alone cataloguing the cruel, often murderous, treatment we receive, Indicates how little value has been placed upon our lives during four centuries of bondage in the Western hemisphere. We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.

This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression. In the case of Black women this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the political movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of liberation than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.

We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in Black women’s lives as are the politics of class and race. We also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is such a thing as racial-sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of Black women by white men as a weapon of political repression.

Although we are feminists and Lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand. Our situation as Black people necessitates that we have solidarity around the fact of race, which white women of course do not need to have with white men, unless it is their negative solidarity as racial oppressors. We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.

We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses. Material resources must be equally distributed among those who create these resources. We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation. We have arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relationships that takes into account the specific class position of Black women who are generally marginal in the labor force, while at this particular time some of us are temporarily viewed as doubly desirable tokens at white-collar and professional levels. We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that his analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as Black women.

A political contribution which we feel we have already made is the expansion of the feminist principle that the personal is political. In our consciousness-raising sessions, for example, we have in many ways gone beyond white women’s revelations because we are dealing with the implications of race and class as well as sex. Even our Black women’s style of talking/testifying in Black language about what we have experienced has a resonance that is both cultural and political. We have spent a great deal of energy delving into the cultural and experiential nature of our oppression out of necessity because none of these matters has ever been looked at before. No one before has ever examined the multilayered texture of Black women’s lives. An example of this kind of revelation/conceptualization occurred at a meeting as we discussed the ways in which our early intellectual interests had been attacked by our peers, particularly Black males. We discovered that all of us, because we were “smart” had also been considered “ugly,” i.e., “smart-ugly.” “Smart-ugly” crystallized the way in which most of us had been forced to develop our intellects at great cost to our “social” lives. The sanctions In the Black and white communities against Black women thinkers is comparatively much higher than for white women, particularly ones from the educated middle and upper classes.

As we have already stated, we reject the stance of Lesbian separatism because it is not a viable political analysis or strategy for us. It leaves out far too much and far too many people, particularly Black men, women, and children. We have a great deal of criticism and loathing for what men have been socialized to be in this society: what they support, how they act, and how they oppress. But we do not have the misguided notion that it is their maleness, per se—i.e., their biological maleness—that makes them what they are. As BIack women we find any type of biological determinism a particularly dangerous and reactionary basis upon which to build a politic. We must also question whether Lesbian separatism is an adequate and progressive political analysis and strategy, even for those who practice it, since it so completely denies any but the sexual sources of women’s oppression, negating the facts of class and race.

3. Problems in Organizing Black Feminists
During our years together as a Black feminist collective we have experienced success and defeat, joy and pain, victory and failure. We have found that it is very difficult to organize around Black feminist issues, difficult even to announce in certain contexts that we are Black feminists. We have tried to think about the reasons for our difficulties, particularly since the white women’s movement continues to be strong and to grow in many directions. In this section we will discuss some of the general reasons for the organizing problems we face and also talk specifically about the stages in organizing our own collective.

The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two, but instead to address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess anyone of these types of privilege have.

The psychological toll of being a Black woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated. There is a very low value placed upon Black women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist. As an early group member once said, “We are all damaged people merely by virtue of being Black women.” We are dispossessed psychologically and on every other level, and yet we feel the necessity to struggle to change the condition of all Black women. In “A Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood,” Michele Wallace arrives at this conclusion:
We exists as women who are Black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world. [2]

Wallace is pessimistic but realistic in her assessment of Black feminists’ position, particularly in her allusion to the nearly classic isolation most of us face. We might use our position at the bottom, however, to make a clear leap into revolutionary action. If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.

Feminism is, nevertheless, very threatening to the majority of Black people because it calls into question some of the most basic assumptions about our existence, i.e., that sex should be a determinant of power relationships. Here is the way male and female roles were defined in a Black nationalist pamphlet from the early 1970s:
We understand that it is and has been traditional that the man is the head of the house. He is the leader of the house/nation because his knowledge of the world is broader, his awareness is greater, his understanding is fuller and his application of this information is wiser… After all, it is only reasonable that the man be the head of the house because he is able to defend and protect the development of his home… Women cannot do the same things as men—they are made by nature to function differently. Equality of men and women is something that cannot happen even in the abstract world. Men are not equal to other men, i.e. ability, experience or even understanding. The value of men and women can be seen as in the value of gold and silver—they are not equal but both have great value. We must realize that men and women are a complement to each other because there is no house/family without a man and his wife. Both are essential to the development of any life. [3]

The material conditions of most Black women would hardly lead them to upset both economic and sexual arrangements that seem to represent some stability in their lives. Many Black women have a good understanding of both sexism and racism, but because of the everyday constrictions of their lives, cannot risk struggling against them both.

The reaction of Black men to feminism has been notoriously negative. They are, of course, even more threatened than Black women by the possibility that Black feminists might organize around our own needs. They realize that they might not only lose valuable and hardworking allies in their struggles but that they might also be forced to change their habitually sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing Black women. Accusations that Black feminism divides the Black struggle are powerful deterrents to the growth of an autonomous Black women’s movement.

Still, hundreds of women have been active at different times during the three-year existence of our group. And every Black woman who came, came out of a strongly-felt need for some level of possibility that did not previously exist in her life.

When we first started meeting early in 1974 after the NBFO first eastern regional conference, we did not have a strategy for organizing, or even a focus. We just wanted to see what we had. After a period of months of not meeting, we began to meet again late in the year and started doing an intense variety of consciousness-raising. The overwhelming feeling that we had is that after years and years we had finally found each other. Although we were not doing political work as a group, individuals continued their involvement in Lesbian politics, sterilization abuse and abortion rights work, Third World Women’s International Women’s Day activities, and support activity for the trials of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, Joan Little, and Inéz García. During our first summer when membership had dropped off considerably, those of us remaining devoted serious discussion to the possibility of opening a refuge for battered women in a Black community. (There was no refuge in Boston at that time.) We also decided around that time to become an independent collective since we had serious disagreements with NBFO’s bourgeois-feminist stance and their lack of a clear politIcal focus.

We also were contacted at that time by socialist feminists, with whom we had worked on abortion rights activities, who wanted to encourage us to attend the National Socialist Feminist Conference in Yellow Springs. One of our members did attend and despite the narrowness of the ideology that was promoted at that particular conference, we became more aware of the need for us to understand our own economic situation and to make our own economic analysis.

In the fall, when some members returned, we experienced several months of comparative inactivity and internal disagreements which were first conceptualized as a Lesbian-straight split but which were also the result of class and political differences. During the summer those of us who were still meeting had determined the need to do political work and to move beyond consciousness-raising and serving exclusively as an emotional support group. At the beginning of 1976, when some of the women who had not wanted to do political work and who also had voiced disagreements stopped attending of their own accord, we again looked for a focus. We decided at that time, with the addition of new members, to become a study group. We had always shared our reading with each other, and some of us had written papers on Black feminism for group discussion a few months before this decision was made. We began functioning as a study group and also began discussing the possibility of starting a Black feminist publication. We had a retreat in the late spring which provided a time for both political discussion and working out interpersonal issues. Currently we are planning to gather together a collectIon of Black feminist writing. We feel that it is absolutely essential to demonstrate the reality of our politics to other Black women and believe that we can do this through writing and distributing our work. The fact that individual Black feminists are living in isolation all over the country, that our own numbers are small, and that we have some skills in writing, printing, and publishing makes us want to carry out these kinds of projects as a means of organizing Black feminists as we continue to do political work in coalition with other groups.

4. Black Feminist Issues and Projects
During our time together we have identified and worked on many issues of particular relevance to Black women. The inclusiveness of our politics makes us concerned with any situation that impinges upon the lives of women, Third World and working people. We are of course particularly committed to working on those struggles in which race, sex, and class are simultaneous factors in oppression. We might, for example, become involved in workplace organizing at a factory that employs Third World women or picket a hospital that is cutting back on already inadequate heath care to a Third World community, or set up a rape crisis center in a Black neighborhood. Organizing around welfare and daycare concerns might also be a focus. The work to be done and the countless issues that this work represents merely reflect the pervasiveness of our oppression.

Issues and projects that collective members have actually worked on are sterilization abuse, abortion rights, battered women, rape and health care. We have also done many workshops and educationals on Black feminism on college campuses, at women’s conferences, and most recently for high school women.

One issue that is of major concern to us and that we have begun to publicly address is racism in the white women’s movement. As Black feminists we are made constantly and painfully aware of how little effort white women have made to understand and combat their racism, which requires among other things that they have a more than superficial comprehension of race, color, and Black history and culture. Eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do, but we will continue to speak to and demand accountability on this issue.

In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving “correct” political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society. We are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our practice. In her introduction to Sisterhood is Powerful Robin Morgan writes:
I haven’t the faintest notion what possible revolutionary role white heterosexual men could fulfill, since they are the very embodiment of reactionary-vested-interest-power.

As Black feminists and Lesbians we know that we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.

The plot of her undoing begins with his dominion. It begins in the fifteenth century with a papal bull, with a philosopher at his desk, pen in hand, as he sorts the world into categories of genus and species. It begins with a bill of sale, with a story in the newspaper that enumer- ates her crimes, with a note appended to the file: she answers questions easily, but appears stupid; it begins with a wanted poster that reduces the history of her life to a single word— condemned. The plot of her undoing begins with a man in his study writing a tome about the Americas, the species, the fauna, the races, it is a compendium illustrated with botanical drawings, architectural plans, sketches of farm buildings, and a microscopic view of her scarf- skin. The plot of her undoing begins with the violence of reason. It begins with an entry in the ledger that itemizes her as number 71, a meager girl, and forever erases her name. It begins with her rape by the ship’s crew. It begins with the stillbirth, with the abortifacients, with the children lost at sea, with the babies unloved, with the calculations of maternal mortality, with negative formulas of value, with falling property rates, with alarming BMI profiles, with the epidemics, with criminal statistics, with the addictions, with the Great Removal, with the Trail of Tears, with the Middle Passage, with the Decades of Disappointment, with the Nakba, with the Ghost Dance, with the Cattle Killing. It begins with Cassandra’s discounted words, with Philomela’s silence, with Nongqawuse prophecies, with Rebecca Jackson’s spirit drawings, with the letters scrawled in the crawlspace. The plot of her undoing begins with the enclosure. She falls quickly into the list: his settled land, his property, his real estate, his plantation, his acres, his frontier, his fence, his family, his wife, his cattle, his brood mare, his slave, his wet nurse, his bitch, his world.

The plot of her undoing begins with the man, the sovereign, the subject, the self-possessed, the able-bodied, the reasonable, the gendered, the neurotypical, it begins with the vertical hierarchy of life, with the uneven distribution of death, with the announcement “I think” and “I am” and “I own” and “I will,” with the possessive my and mine, with therefore and hereafter, with future increase, with the sanctity of property, with the map of the territory, with the deed that says get the hell out and affirms that there is no place for her anywhere, with the court order that declares her a squatter and a trespasser, with the mortgage for mud people, with the eviction, with no human involved.

The plot of her undoing begins with she, her, his, him, mine; with the rape in the provision ground, with the legal fact that she belongs to him, with the promise that he will do right by her, with the things whispered in the night, with her name and those of her children registered in the farm book (along with the plow and spades, whips and harnesses), with the chart that lists her animal characteristics on one side and her human on the other.

The plot of her undoing begins when he sleeps with her best friend, when he molests her daughter, when he refuses to wear the condom, when he forces her in the freshman dorm. The plot of her undoing begins with the proposal and the ring, with the beautiful wedding, with the black eye and the bruised lips, with the promises never to do it again, with the lone- liness that breaks her, with the boredom and the shame, with the inventory of betrayals. The plot of her undoing begins with his claim to the fetus, with the womb made into a factory, with her body as the implement for his future, for his gain. It begins with his efforts to destroy her. It begins when he calls her his bitch, when he says she is nasty, when he swears to turn back the clock, when he grabs her pussy, when he hurts her down there. When he bellows: mine, mine, mine.

The plot of her undoing begins with inviolable rights, with liberty and happiness, with the sanctity of property. It begins when she learns to pronounce the words master and mistress. It begins with the sale of the horses and the oxen and her brothers. It begins with yellow bone and red bone. It begins when she learns to nod in agreement without uttering a word. When she answers dutifully to all the names tossed off indifferently, carelessly. When she cowers as if there is something else to lose.

The plot of her undoing begins with the transition from foraging to cultivation. It begins with the household and the plantation and the factory. It begins with imperial concepts like “popu- lousness” and “terra nullius” and “the New Jerusalem.” It begins with the East India trade and the Africa trade. It begins with the disease of royalty. It begins with the bit in her mouth and the lashes on her back. It begins with animal husbandry and economies of scale. It begins with black cargo, native slaves, and white indenture, with primitive accumulation. It begins with manifest destiny and a plan to exterminate all the brutes. It begins with the genocide of her people, with the lie of her disappearance.

The plot of her undoing begins with prayers for relief and a program for amelioration and a society for the protection of negros, natives, aborigines, children, and dogs. It begins with the reform party and the coalition government. It begins with the idea to save her from herself, with the scheme to train her for a better life, with the program for self-improvement, with the reformatory, with the internment camp. It begins when the social worker takes the infant, when the doctor sterilizes her, when the detention center provides the training for citizenship, it begins when education becomes compulsory for native children. It begins with the white schoolteachers. The plot of her undoing begins with an edict, with an asiento, with a sovereign decision, with a short account of the destruction of the Indies, with an executive order, with a removal act, with her manumission papers, with a declaration that seals her dispossession, with a treaty ceasing all hostilities, with a plan for resettlement.

The plot of her undoing begins with the fences and the corralling of the animals, with the law of the father, with the patronymic that identifies the true heirs, with the disinheritance of the bastards. It begins with her existence as an object of property. The plot of her undoing begins with the signs posted on the perimeter of the enclosed land: “No Trespassing,” “Violators Will Be Prosecuted,” “Danger,” “Proceed at Your Own Peril.”

The plot of her undoing begins with the constitution that endows her with rights that no white man is bound to respect, that designates her an eternal alien, outsider, foreigner, and enemy combatant. The plot of her undoing begins with the ground removed from under her feet. It begins with proclamations, with nonevents, with servitude in-all-but-name, with the afterlife. The plot of her undoing begins with the social contract, with the marriage vow, with the dream of the state, with the novel of love, with the longing to be sovereign, with coveting a piece of the pie. The plot of her undoing begins with the measure of man, with financial transactions and exchanges, with the calculation of her worth necessary to secure her freedom papers, with the documents that transform her from nobody to someone, with the great assumption, with the American dream, with the settler romance, with future prospects, with being slow to anger.

The plot of her undoing begins with her consignment to the hold, with her place fixed at the bottom, with the interminable state of her defeat, with her capacity to endure the worst yet. The plot begins with the blackening of the world. With being brutalized, scorned, dishon- ored, and violated. With being cast out. It begins with the wall, with the electrified fence, with the surgical bomb, with the embargo, with the police helicopters and the military drones looking for all those out of place and on the run. It begins with a blunt instrument to the back of the head, with being unable to breathe, with refusing to put out her cigarette.

The plot of her undoing begins with chastity, fidelity, virtue, and submission. It begins with the exchange between the husband and the father, with true womanhood, with her property, with the daughters of the confederacy, with the daughters of the revolution, with the double down on white supremacy, with neoliberal feminism and structural adjustment, with a bid for governance.

The plot of her undoing begins with dispossession and the rule of law. It begins with the great chain of being, it begins with her relegation to the lowest rung, it begins with the restricted sentience of animals and brutes, it begins with commodities that speak. It begins with the rights of man and citizen. It begins with the pledge of allegiance, with the stars and stripes, with the iron cross, with the dream of belonging, with the division of us and them, with profit margins and returns, with the love of God and country, with a pearl-handled pistol, with the want of safety, with the necessary war, with a white picket fence, with the NRA and IRAs, with the investment portfolio, with Balenciaga, with the renovation of the brownstones in the hood, with the ordinances about loud music, block parties, barbecues in the front yard, and hanging out on the stoop after night falls.

The plot of her undoing begins when they expel her from the city, when they make black radical Brooklyn an exhibit in the Museum of Natural History, when all the members of the funk band are white boys, when the faux soul food kitchen in Bushwick serves sriracha and shakshuka, when someone spray-paints tattarattat on a wall in South Jamaica. When they clear the renewed city of all signs of her and the people she loves, it begins.

The plot of her undoing begins with the advent of the insurance company, with anticipated loss and securitized risk, with the pillage of shithole countries. It begins with a hedge fund, a red line, a portfolio, with the real property transmitted across generations, with a monopoly on public resources, with the flows of global capital. The plot of her undoing begins with the assertion, but I am a decent person, but it is not my fault, but I worked hard for what I have, but I am not responsible, but we could not find a qualified candidate, but there are good people on both sides, but the free speech of fascists must also be protected.

The plot of her undoing begins with the word consent, with faking an orgasm, with finish- ing herself off in secret, with coming quietly, with wanting more, with wanting it longer and harder, with not wanting it at all, with wanting it too much, with not wanting it enough, with wanting at all.

The plot of her undoing begins with contracts and white polar bears. It begins with her neph- ew watching from the closet, with her screams in the boy’s mouth. It begins with the men split- ting her open. It begins with corrective rape. It begins with a shortcut through the alley, with a package at the post office, with an offer of chocolate, with a knock at the front door. It begins in the house of a friend. It begins in her own bed. It begins with the promise not to tell anyone.

The plot of her undoing begins with official Negroes and gatekeepers and state representatives and nongovernmental organizations and the Bureau of Native Affairs and the TRC and the War Crimes Tribunal. It begins with her hands raised for the pledge, held in the salute, with her humiliation in the barracks, with donning the uniform, with mouthing the anthem, with signing the loyalty oath. The plot of her undoing begins with the vow, I do, with the promise, until death do us part, with the checking of the appropriate boxes, with holding her tongue, with biding her time, with causing no trouble at all, with contracting her limbs and lowering her eyes, with not saying a fucking word. The plot of her undoing begins with a fetal pose, with her hands in the air, with the words please, please.

The plot of her undoing begins with a man who looks presidential, who says all the right words and utters them so they sound sweet, so they sound possible and within reach, not at all like a lie—hope and change. The plot of her undoing begins with a man who looks presidential, who speaks like a fool, who grabs pussy and beats down niggers and spics. The plot of her undoing begins with the foreclosure, the water crisis, the state executions, with derivatives and deregulation, with data mining. It begins with the oil and the pipeline, it begins with silver and gold and diamonds, with fossil fuels and fracking, it begins when the hurricane lands, when the troops arrive at the border, it begins with the wall, with the prison, with the refugee camp.

The plot of her undoing begins with the knowledge that she can’t protect her children, or shield her baby when the police break open the front door, or defend her home when the sights of the Glock 22 fall on her chest, or record the death she anticipates. The plot of her undoing begins as a state of unredressed injury.

The undoing of the plot proceeds by stealth. It is almost never recognized as anything at all and certainly never as significant. The undoing of the plot is blamed on foreign agents and outside agitators and troublemakers and communists. The undoing of the plot does not substitute the woman for the man, or topple the hierarchy to become the hierarchy. It does not replace the bad state with the good state or supplant the villain with the man of the people. It does not craft a story of leaders and followers in which she might assume a starring role. The undoing is not for your entertainment, even if it is for your benefit.

It unfolds when she is not much noticed, it advances at a snail’s pace, it is stoked by quiet per- sistence, it is nurtured in the hollow of trees and in the dismal swamp, it is secreted by leaving no traces of human habitation.

The undoing of the plot begins because she won’t do shit. She won’t be no bird in a cage, no black woman at the lectern, no model Negro, no cog in the machine.

The undoing of the plot begins when everything has been taken. When life approaches ex- tinction, when no one will be spared, when nothing is all that is left, when she is all that is left. The undoing begins with a potion poured into a silver soup tureen before she delivers it to the table, with acts of sabotage and destruction, with idleness and destitution. The undoing of the plot begins with her drifting from the course, with an errant path, with getting lost to the world. The undoing begins with an escape to the woods, with perilous freedom, with petit maroonage, with wading in the water. It does not begin with proclamations or constitutions or decrees or appeals or a seat at the table or a stake in the game. The undoing of the plot does not start on bended knee, it does not begin with ballots or bullets, or with an address to the court, or with a petition, or with the demand for redress, or with the slogan: no justice, no peace. It begins with the earth under her feet. It begins with all of them gathered at the river and ready to strike, with all of them assembled in the squatter city, with all of them getting ready to be free in the clearing. They don’t say what they know: all things will be changed. The undoing of the plot begins with her runaway tongue, with her outstretched hands, with songs shared across the unfree territory and the occupied lands, with the pledges of love that propel struggle, with the vision that this bitter earth may not be what it seems.