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39 2 “Crimes against the Flesh” Politics and Poetics of the Black Female Body The European hegemonies stole bodies—some of them female—we regard this human and social irreparability as high crimes against the flesh, as the person of African females . . . registered the wounding. —Hortense Spillers,“Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” All too often the enemies of our physical and emotional well-being are social and political. That is why we must strive to understand the complex politics of Black women’s health. —Angela Davis,“Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired” Addressing the downward spiral of black women induced by various ailments , including cancer and drug addiction, Evelyn C. White bemoans that illnesses have rendered them powerless, resulting not only in their lack of citizen rights but also in their ultimate erasure. She remarks: “Ironically, this downward trend has occurred at a time when this country has developed state-of-the-art medical technology that is envied around the world. Without a sound body and mind, it is impossible for black women to attain personal goals or to provide the leadership our community needs” (xiv). On one hand, White’s comment reveals that medicine has an innate hierarchy that marginalizes certain bodies, thereby creating a community or diaspora of “diseased” bodies. On the other hand, she interrogates the discriminatory policy of the medical establishment/the 40 · African Diasporic Women’s Narratives state, performing a cross-examination of the state’s obligation in ensuring the well-being of all of its citizens. It is therefore no mere coincidence that Angela Davis politicizes black women’s health concerns, underscoring the struggles women have endured in their quest for health: “the pursuit of health in body, mind and spirit weaves in and out of every major struggle women have ever waged in our quest for social, economic and political emancipation” (“Sick and Tired” 18). Hence the pursuit of health should be unquestionable, a necessary requirement that engages the politics of belonging and identity. One’s health, that is, the personal well-being of the individual, determines the welfare of the community, the black diaspora . Alternatively, an unhealthy body further engenders patterns of oppression. Audre Lorde reveals how the concept of health is exploited to appeal to the national white body, intimating that the medical establishment is complicit in reinforcing and perpetuating disease among patients in its goal to “normalize” the body. Health is deeply politicized, a fact that Lorde exposes in ascertaining that the ills are preconditioned by a racist, heterosexist, hegemonic society. Consequently, Lorde rejects homogeneous categorization of female patients, imploring that women empower themselves by rejecting “body conformity” and the “theft” of the body. Responding to the “theft,” Lorde repudiates the essentialist approach in treating all female bodies. Addressing how certain bodies are stigmatized, M. Jacqui Alexander duly reminds us in her informative essay “Not Just Any (Body) Can Be a Citizen: The Politics of Law, Sexuality, and Postcoloniality in Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas” that some bodies imperil the nation.1 Straddling multiple borders and embodying multiple “incompatible” identities, including gay, black, woman, feminist, lesbian, and mother, Lorde qualifies as an “outlaw” of the state, to borrow Alexander ’s term. Addressing the criminalization of certain bodies, Alexander argues that those bodies that have refused the nation’s “heterosexual imperative for citizenship” have been stigmatized, rendered deviant and defiant. She writes: Although policing the sexual (stigmatizing and outlawing several kinds of non-procreative sex, particularly lesbian and gay sex, and prostitution) has something to do with sex, it is also more than sex. Embedded here are powerful signifiers of appropriate sexuality, about the kind of sexuality that presumably imperils the nation, and about the kind of sexuality that “Crimes against the Flesh”: Politics and Poetics of the Black Female Body · 41 promotes citizenship. Not just (any) body can be a citizen anymore, for some bodies have been marked by the state as non-procreative, in pursuit of sex only for pleasure, a sex that is non-productive of babies and of no economic gain. (“Not Just [Any] Body” 6) Drawing on Alexander’s theoretical insight, Lorde is figuratively positioned between borderlands, partaking in sex for both procreative—she is a mother of two—and non-procreative reasons—she is a professed lesbian . Furthermore, Lorde’s deviance (and attendant defiance) is exemplified through her lesbian identity and her sick, diseased body. Accordingly, Lorde’s “queering the nation” is dualistic. Engaging the act of...


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