Monday, October 29, 2012

The Confrontation With Abuse for Black Women in Ntazoke Shange's “With No Immediate Cause” and Nikki Giovanni's “Woman”

[By Simone Savannah]

I have spent a number of years examining women’s issues, including the confrontation with sexism and racism for Black women in Literature and Creative Writing. Furthermore, since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and because of the overwhelming conversations about recent attacks against Black women, I have chosen to dedicate this post to victims/survivors of domestic violence.

The conversations surrounding the abuse of brown and black girls have been particularly frustrating for me and a few of my colleagues. Examining the language used to justify domestic (and public) violence, it is possible that these conversations are unnerving to women (and men) who have suffered abuse and are working to dismantle patriarchal notions of masculinity and femininity that shape our responses to violence.

The rhetoric utilized in these conversations justifies the abuse through very sexist beliefs about the role of women and men in the event of confrontation or disagreement. Many Black poets have written pieces that attempt to both expose and eradicate abuse. These pieces respond to the very real failure of our society to understand and intervene in a dialogue about this painful subject. For example, in her piece, “With No Immediate Cause,” Ntazoke Shange writes from an outsider’s perspective as she rattles off horrifying statistics and stories on violence and sexual abuse. In the poem, the speaker is surprised by an announcement she finds in a newspaper. Possibly functioning as a powerful inspiration for the poem, the announcement reads,

there is some concern
that alleged battered women
might start to murder their
husbands and lovers with no
immediate cause

The speaker is probably surprised for three reasons: 1) alleged—reports of abuse often include this word, this so-calledness, though the abuse has actually occurred. 2) murder—the announcement assumes that the abused women will retaliate in the same way of their husbands or lovers instead of reporting the crime or seeking safety. The word murder could also imply that it is not a factor of personal safety or self-defense. 3)with no immediate cause. This assumption often points back to the idea that if women do not report abuse, they have not been abused or that their reasons behind their responses to abuse are invalid. The word immediate implies that the result that effects of abuse are both immediate and temporary. These are real life assumptions used to devalue the experiences of wo/men, and they must be corrected if we are willing to be productive in the fight against violence.  

Many other poets have sought to dismantle and/or uncover some of the assumptions featured in Shange’s piece. It is important to examine these pieces as they counteract the distorted ideas about domestic abuse and offer readers healthy and productive perspectives on how our society can handle this type of violence. Additionally, some Black poets have written poems that are said to surround issues of domestic violence and are used to empower women or men who find themselves in this type of emotionally, mentally, and/or physically taxing  situation.

Perhaps, “Woman” by Nikki Giovanni is a powerful example. The she is the poem is most always shot down by the he as she attempts to form her desired identity. It is because of his refusal to uplift her and support her that she is unable to achieve that identity. Giovanni uses phrases, such as “he refused,” “he wouldn’t,” and “he declined” to reject what “she wanted”.  Just as powerful as the announcement in Shange’s poem, Giovanni allows the protagonist to attain her desired identity without his assistance. The last stanza also seems to call attention to what it means to be a man and woman. The use of “right” may allow the reader to bring his or her focus to the “right” way to define manhood and womanhood, as well as what is “right” or wrong in the situation crafted in the poem.

she decided to become
a woman
and though he still refused
to be a man
she decided it was all

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