Last night, we went to see Jumping the Broom, but this is not about that movie. I don’t have energy to waste on telling Salim Akil to do better (again); I don’t have enough energy to show the ways in which Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes are cinematic bedfellows, conspiring in the dark to teach black women how to get and keep a man with the help of Jesus.
I’d rather talk about what happens when six feminists walk into a movie theater or any other space that would render us silent. We laugh. We pass popcorn. We call “bullshit” when appropriate. We notice similarities to relatives and point them out to our neighbors. We drink smuggled wine. We talk too loud. We fume. We remind ourselves and those listening that we are absent from/ offended by this film. We have side conversations about which child star has grown into his face, about which male lead may or may not have dentures. We resist. We glow in the dark.
That we managed to have fun after (maybe during) two hours of a prosperity gospel sermon with pictures is more than a miracle; it’s a daily practice of society’s despised and dispossessed. Pearl Cleage, in an essay called “Beverly’s Boots” wrote about such practice. In the aftermath of the Bush/ Quayle election, the city of Atlanta exploded with black feminist energy. Hanging out with sisterfriends, Cleage almost forgot to remember that she had just been politically dispossessed and the remembrance almost depressed her: “All of a sudden, I felt my blues coming back strong and that’s when I saw Beverly’s boots.” They were cowboy boots that “didn’t give a damn about George Bush.” For a few hours the other night, we didn’t give a damn either.
Let me be clear; we didn’t have to stay in that theater. In fact, if faced with a similar situation in the future we will probably leave. But the truth is that there are other spaces we don’t want to leave. We talked last night about the academy, about the politics of negation that play out, about the silencing that goes on and the frequent dismissals. But I don’t want to leave. I take my daughter to church to wear the dresses bought by her relatives and I wonder what tools I need to give her if decide to stay; I can’t smuggle in wine or call “bullshit” when I hear it. There are other institutions and groups that would rather I disappear and still I glow in the dark.
I often think about what CF Ashon wrote when the news of Eddie Long’s sexual abuse surfaced. He wrote, “The ability to have pleasure in the spaces that try to make it impossible is important… We have the capacity to withhold in us a certain consent to the theological, emotional, psychical violence we are made to endure. And having the capacity to withhold, we have something in us that persists.” I hope I am not abusing his meaning when I say that in withholding consent to violent messages, we are also creating ways to find and make pleasure in the space(s) of negation, to play (with ourselves) in the dark.
It is a lesson I have learned by living in this body that is already coded with meaning, with darkness.
Darkness is alive, creating light/ life. It is more than empty metaphor, imbued with meaning by those who have named themselves namers. We laugh in the dark. We dance in the dark. We gossip, whisper, plot and plan. We soothe each other, we build fortresses, we organize, we recycle love and expand it. We won’t be negated, silenced, erased. We withhold consent. We glow.