I Ask Marta About Cultural Trespass
So, Marta: When or how did you first come to be aware of the various sensitivities around “cultural trespass” (as it were)?
In college in the 1980’s I was reading a lot of black women writers and poets – do you remember But Some of Us Are Brave: All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men: Black Women’s Studies edited by Gloria T. Hull and Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith? And This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua? For some reason, it all resonated for me so deeply.
Here’s part of The Bridge Poem by Donna Kate Rushin that still sticks in my brain when a whole lot of other stuff I learned in college is long gone:
“….I explain my mother to my father my father to my little sister
My little sister to my brother my brother to the white feminists
The white feminists to the Black church folks the Black church folks
To the Ex-hippies the ex-hippies to the Black separatists the
Black separatists to the artists the artists to my friends’ parents…
I’ve got the explain myself
I do more translating
Than the Gawdamn U.N.
Forget it I’m sick of it….
Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people
Find another connection to the rest of the world
Find something else to make you legitimate
Find some other way to be political and hip
I will not be the bridge to your womanhood
Now, this was all pretty theoretical to me: I didn’t know many black folks at all, I’d grown up in a pretty white (liberal/hippie/intellectual) world. Still, somehow this made sense: It’s not her job to explain herself to me. And yet, I wanted to connect. This is maybe, for better and for worse, the driving force in my life: I want to connect.
Remember Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde? I’m pretty sure I thought she was a goddess when I was nineteen years old. I had just come out as a feminist and a lesbian and it was a pretty darn heady time. Adrienne Rich was also a goddess, and she and Audre Lorde, they didn’t shy away from the tough questions: How are we different? How are we the same? How can we be friends across the lines that keep us apart? Who drew those lines and can they/should they be undrawn?
Here’s part of Adrienne Rich’s poem Hunger, dedicated to Audre Lorde:
“…..I live in my Western skin,
my Western vision, torn
and flung to what I can’t control or even fathom.
Quantify suffering, you could rule the world.
They *can* rule the world while they can persuade us
our pain belongs in some order.
Is death by famine worse than death by suicide,
than a life of famine and suicide, if a black lesbian dies,
if a white prostitute dies, if a woman genius
starves herself to feed others,
self-hatred battening on her body?…”
We were so earnest, and theoretical, but man, we lived and breathed this stuff when I was nineteen, twenty, twenty-one years old.
We spelled women with a “y” and without much irony and we vigorously defended the exclusion of men from the Womyn’s Center, a beautiful space on the third floor of Carpenter Hall.
Sometime during my sophomore year, the “Gay People’s Union” got an “L” and became the LGPU.
It was all about identity, and we were trying really hard to figure it out. These questions of separation and connection and “cultural trespass” – it felt like life and death.
Say something back to Marta in our comments section. And tune in Wednesday, when Marta questions me about my troubled past.
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