The Combahee River Collective

A picture of the Combahee River from the realtor Plantation Services which sells property along the river.

A picture of the Combahee River from the realtor Plantation Services which sells property along the river.

As Black feminists we are made constantly and painfully aware of how little effort white women have made to understand and combat their racism, which requires among other things that they have a more than superficial comprehension of race, color, and Black history and culture. Eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do, but we will continue to speak to and demand accountability on this issue.

From The Combahee River Statement

Throughout the mid-70s and early 1980s, a group of Black women gathered for weekly meetings in Boston to discuss Black feminism. Their Combahee River Statement has become a key document in the principles of contemporary Black feminism. While reading the statement, I was reminded of the poem And When You Leave Take Your Pictures With You by Jo Carrillo.

poem

The poem sounds its owws, ohs and uhs as if the voice is sick with disgust. The “sisters” in the poem are White and they are not actually family to the women they objectify – women of color whose pictures hang on the “sisters” walls, Black and Brown women in symbolic postures.

Picturing these pictures on walls, I recall a story of two women on a bus who are wearing the same hat; they are the characters in Flannery O’Conner’s Everything that Rises Must Converge.

In the story, Julian agrees to accompany his loathsome mother to the YMCA and is yoked with the nagging persistence of her bigotry and insecurity during his journey with her. He repeatedly reassures her about her hat–a symbol of her self-importance. When a Black woman wearing the same hat arrives on the bus, we’re presented with Julian’s mother’s crisis. She tries to regain her superiority by condescending the woman and her child by giving the child a penny. In this moment, Julian’s guilt and hate for his mother converge as the Black mother slaps the penny away and knocks Julian’s mother to the ground. This is the image I keep hanging on my mind’s wall and I see often. When I call it up, I run the whole phrase through my mind, around and around.

Everything that rises must converge
Everything that rises must converge

Everything that rises must converge

Traveling through Carrillo’s poem along with my image of O’Conner’s characters helped me understand the intention of the Combahee River Collective.

It took me a second. My first thought was, what happened between these movements of women – why do they have to be so separate or opposed to each other? Then, I paddled through the concepts and the complex histories through poetry, creative writing and a bit of my own life.

If it all is not yet alive within, or if something is keeping me from connecting to the power of pain that a movement requires, I try to feel the ohs and uhs and owws in a poem and the impact of a story of Everything that Rises must Converge. Then, maybe, I begin to understand.

by Wren Longno, a student at The New School

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