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(This is part four of a four part series. Read parts one, two and three.)
“Contemporary Black feminism is the outgrowth of countless generations of personal sacrifice, militancy and work by our mothers and sisters.”
“We have found it difficult to organize around Black feminist issues, difficult even to announce in certain contexts that we are Black feminists.”
-both quotations from the Combahee River Collective Statement, 1977
Can Black Feminism be quantified?
I do not dream in numbers. I am one of those word-lovers who even disdains scrabble because I find the transmutation of words into unequal numerical values such as “triple word score” somewhat sacrilegious. So when I read the title of Part III of Duchess Harris’s Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Obama that asks “Can Black Feminism Be Quantified?” my knee jerked. No. I said to the waiting pages. Measure love. Measure the universe. Measure God. Black Feminism cannot be quantified.
And then I realized that all of these things had already been done. Numbers are hiding everywhere, declared or undeclared. Every quilt has a certain number of stitches, took a certain number of hours and days to make. Oppressed people travelling under night have been numbering the stars for generations. My mother calls me a certain number of times during any given week.
What an evocative question. Can Black Feminism be quantified?
Black Feminism Be(yond): Black Feminism and Abundance
At the end of the day Harris’s book is a testament to the fact the Black feminism lives. In the most unlikely of places. In relationship to the US government. Somewhere the act of voting. Even in spaces that look like absence. The lack of accountability of every contemporary administration. The contradictory presence of Black women in those administration. Black feminism is a question that will never not be worth asking. It has sides and synthesis. To deny it makes it even more necessary.
Kind of like us.
We are necessary even for the politicians who wish we didn’t exist. How else but the figure of the dangerous Black woman (in the form of the welfare queen) could Reagan et. al. convince poor white people to dismantle their own safety nets? How else but the figure of the dangerous Black woman (in the form of the tenured public school teacher and the district smudging parent) could conservatives continue to convince a country in urgent need of brilliance that education should be a rare privilege? Like the monument of Mammy that Melissa Harris-Lacewell mentions in Sister Citizen Black women are that monumental necessary underneath, that without which a whole society could not remember to hate itself and devalue the work of sustaining human life.
And what would happen to capitalism if the world remembered to love itself?
So Black feminism is as abundant as a capitalist society’s fear of magic and survival and sharing and waking up ready. If we are the hope and dream of the slave (yes I quoted Maya Angelou) then we are the nightmare of the logic that continues to enslave, turning life into a number of hours to work, third grade test calculations into numbers of prison beds to build, aspirations into student debt with interest, 99% percent of us into treadmill running borrowers of our own time.
Can Black feminism be quantified when the continual occasion for Black feminism is the dazzling way our lives and ingenuity defy quantification? When we were never meant to survive?
Lorde knows, this is the dangerous thing. The instant and triumph of Black feminism. The poetry of Black feminism’s abundant presence in the world. Stack it up and it will always exceed the measure. Like we exceed a state that doesn’t want our children to live. Like we exceed gender categories that can’t see us. Like how even Daniel Moynihan couldn’t understand how our enduring matriarchy was not extinct.
Our Black feminism is what the Combahee River Collective calls countless.
It is a certain extension in a calf muscle that changes shoes and keeps walking. It is a flashing look in the eye that interrupts anything. It is new vowels and spaces in the word “sista.” It is ancient depth in the center of the word “home.” It is recognition. It is touch. It is a drink of water. It is the acrobatic orientation of our bodies to love each other in a world that names us unloveable. It is the all of the food, all of the faith, all of the falling and getting up. It is like the unnumbered stars that electricity tries to hide. Black feminism is like that, so bright and surrounded in infinite Black. It is you who I can or cannot see from where I am. It is love. It is here. Here we are.
And Harris’s book is bravely saying that we count despite the structures we could never count on, despite the dreams that discount us. That our definition-defying being is material. That our presence or absence matters. That there is no state without us. No statement without the question of Black feminism. Which is the same as the question of who and what can be.