Tryin' To Make It Real

'Tis true

my pearls were beads of sweat

wrung for weary bodies' pain,

instead of rings upon my hands

I wore swollen bursting veins.

My ornaments were the whip-lash's scar

my diamond, perhaps, a tear.

Instead of paint and powder on my face

I wore a solid mask of fear to see my blood so spilled.

And you, women seeing

spoke no protest

but cuddled down in your pink slavery

as though somehow my wasted blood

confirmed your superiority.' Beulah Richardson

NASCENT YET, the singular movement of black women, as women, I believe can be realized. Because the necessary sense of urgency is obscured behind the facade of other forms of expressed empathy and solidarity, the few omens appear as ignored and undeciphered glyphs. But listen to the voices sometimes, though I am not inducing you to magnify what in any case is only rudimentary and fragmentary. If there is a "feminine consciousness"(and the words embody a trailing off behind the ineffably seductive); its roots are here.

"Ain't it hard to stumble

got no place to fall?

If the wolfman's knocking at your door,

may not have place at all,"   Bernice Reagon   'Matriarch Blues'

There are continuing arguments as to the value of cultural nationalism. In the final analysis, some say, it is only a distraction from the ultimate human concerns and the fulfillment of those concerns. To the extent that racialism easily allows for a certain immobilization and stasis, by its tendency to mystification and stereotyping, it indisputably becomes self-defeating. James Baldwin says, in a discussion of the dynamics operating in a certain group of expatriates: "For one thing, it becomes impossible, the moment one thinks of it, to predicate the existence of a common experience. The moment one thinks about it, it becomes apparent that there is no such thing. That experience is a private, and a very largely speechless affair is the principal truth..." Agreed. And still we find the world of individuals constantly involved in the charting of analogous hypotheses and experiments, discoveries and frustration; the hope evidently being that somehow correspondence will be found, and from correspondence will grow support, and from support--change.

"We been had/we been took/we been misled"

You should hear the 'Harambee Singers.' Bernice Reagon is the guiding force behind the group which consists of four black women. During the peak of the civil rights movement in the South, she was a member of the Freedom Singers. She and her songs have changed in congruence with the shifts in the political emphases of the black liberation struggle. To hear them is to live momentarily in the history and the future they project for black people in America.

To Bernice Johnson Reagan, I say today, almost ten years later: Your voice echoes in my mind and your songs can sing what I felt in Albany better than the few words I put on paper. I remember seeing you lift your beautiful black head, stand squarely over your feet, your lips trembling as the melodious words 'Over my head, I see freedom in the air' came forth with an urgency and pain that brought out a sense of intense renewal and commitment to liberation.   James Forman

This is not to suggest a return to only songs and praying. Remember and rediscover that the impetus resulting in such creation is not one of purely individual experience.

"I wish that it had not been necessary to

become socially and politically oriented,

I don't want to be Jesus Christ. I don't

know beans about politics--I mean technically. But I had to choose this way. My

people were in trouble."   Nina Simone

And Nina sings.

"They say you love to fuss and fight

and bring a good man down.

And don't know how to treat him

when he takes you on the town.

They say you ain't behind him

and just don't understand,

and think that you're a woman,

but acting like a man.

Hey gal, what you gonna do?

* * *

When you love a man enough,

you're bound to disagree,

Ain't nobody perfect

Cause ain't nobody free."   from 'Blues for Mama'

MILLIONS OF WORDS have by this time been devoted to the study of black music: that unique area of musical expression created by Afro-Americans from the generous heart of their experience. For example, we might agree with Samuel Charters, author of The Poetry of the Blues: "It is in some ways discomforting to think of the blues as an expression of 'differentness,' since it is the difference between Negro and white in America which has been used as the justification for preventing the Negro from taking his place in American society, but there is a difference in tradition and in the social memory which gives to both blacks and whites their distinctiveness." The great beauty of the blues is partly that it is not a constant caterwauling of social protest but the lucid and poetic presentation of a shared lifestyle and sensibility.

"I sing the blues of a woman that has to tell it like it is

I sing church, a sister throwing off the trials of the week ending, and pulling on strength, from another sister or brother, for the new week a-coming.

I sing the song of play, for children too have wisdom

I sing Mama, looking alone at Toshi and Kwan"   Bernice Reagon

But when, and how does one begin to build a movement out of this in some ways elusive, perhaps errant, and in any case emotional sensibility?

"We been had/we been took/we been misled"

Radcliffe College is sponsoring in May, through the offices of assistant dean Doris Mitchell, a symposium entitled "Black Women: Myths and Realities." The guiding rationale appears to be that sisters can begin to approach the task of self-definition and self-direction with definite focus. It is an excellent idea, and the title in particular encompasses the dilemma in which we find ourselves. For example, we watched our seduction by the Moynihan myth of the black matriarchy. And continually, still, we miss the union and explication of our perceptions of the reality through which we are living, and through which we wish to live; simply because it is so easy to accept the idealizations, those titular and usually meaningless idealizations of our being.

FEMINISM. Not just the 'same rights' as men; 'as in political and economic status'; which was made obvious in 1949 with the publication of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. No, more than anything else the righteous and intrinsic concern of teminism appears to me to be the liberation of one's psychology, and one's self-definition, from the essentially incorrect and oppressive definition of some other.


am a black woman

tall as a cypress


beyond all definition still

defying place

and time

and circumstance assailed impervious indestructible

Look on me and be

renewed.   Mari Evans

But this is mythology.

"We been had/we been took/we been misled"

Mythology has its place, but the possibility of seduction into a rigid and atrophying consciousness is imminent. This is not tryin' to make it real.

In 1970 at the first Congress of African Peoples in Atlanta, Amina Baraka led a workshop which dealt with questions of family structure and nationhood.

This workshop was over 70 per cent women, and often the discussion took turnts to the individual, yet shared hassles these people struggled with daily. One particular woman, from New York, again and again attempted to articulate a series of questions that boiled down to: How does one begin to subvert the alienation forced upon one by apartment living in New York City? The answers struggled out with as much difficulty as the question, and only when individuals began to relate their personal experiences of a group supportiveness and closeness, did any pattern emerge. Mothers with children and all living without men, worked and shared the fruits of that work. Those non-pregnant, or for whatever reason unemployed, kept their children and those of the working mothers. And sisters talked of food co-ops.

"In the end/unity will be thrust upon us"   Gil Scott-Heron

On a hot Southern summer day, the first glimmers of an idea that only efforts at solidarity--and perhaps, solidarity as black women, could ease the battle for survival.

There is now strong and vocal interest in questions raised by the constant exposure of the injustices in courts and prisons. People identify with prisoners unjustly held and gagged defendants in the courts, for here are the most visible manifestations of the bars around all our lives and the cruel gags that hold back articulation.

"Let us unite out of love/not hate"   Gill Scott-Heron

Too much to ask. Many steps must occur before unity, all those painful steps at constant self-definition, and definition of the political realities.

Psyche. Not jivin', but that may be hard to realize till we chase Freud out of the door, and Grier and Cobbs too unless they succeed in their efforts to free their psychological orientation from models of psychopathology, and come full-circle to re-definitions in conjunct with black culture. Nations consist of individuals, and for the time being, most individuals are shaped by the cauldron, or cesspool, or nest of their families, or the absence of family. No more visible chains on the body, the ultimate battleground is for the chains of definitions and fantasy that hang on the mind.

Feminism. Not simply the right to control one's body but one's mind. The right to a new psychology. The right to reassess the possible ways in which individuals connect, into friends, into families. The right to liberation. Auxiliary and intrinsic to any struggle for black liberation; if it is not simply to recreate in color, the Euro-American disaster. We must be our own leaders.

"We been had/we been took/we been misled"