Book Launch: America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, And The Struggle For Justice by Treva B. Lindsey | Treva B. Lindsey in conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry | Friday, April 22, 6:30 p.m. | Rofhiwa Book Café, Durham | Register and save your seat online
In 1964, performing in front of a mostly all-white crowd, North Carolina native Nina Simone released what would be known as one of her first protest anthems: “Mississippi Goddam.” Disturbed by the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama in 1963 that took the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair—all of whom were either 14 or 11—the genre-bending songstress vowed to use her voice to make a difference. Simone’s frustrations were further intensified by the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, which took place in Mississippi in the summer of 1963.
Today, the repeated acts of violence and oppression against Black communities across America bring forth feelings for Black folks almost identical to those of Simone. And when we look specifically at the treatment of Black women and girls, the statistics reveal that they are at risk of dying at disproportionately higher rates than their white counterparts as relates to police violence, maternal and infant care, and intercommunal violence.
In her new book—America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, and the Struggle for Justice, published on April 5—the scholar Treva B. Lindsey traces the uniquely harmful experiences of Black women and girls. As a self-identified survivor of multiple forms of violence, who has been writing and thinking about violence for many years, Lindsey blends the structure of a memoir with history and theory. “The ethical framework of this book is informed by Ntozake Shange’s call to handle Black women warmly,” says Lindsey, an associate professor and current chair of undergraduate studies of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Ohio State University.
Ahead of her April 25 book launch at Rofhiwa Book Café in East Durham—where she’ll be in conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry—INDY Week spoke with Lindsey over Zoom about her inspiration for writing and the effects of anti-Blackness, misogynoir, and capitalism on Black women and girls.
INDY Week: I can imagine what the inspiration for the book was, but I would love for you to share what led you here.
TREVA B. LINDSEY: You know, in college, I was thinking about violence against Black women. I was thinking about it in graduate school when I began looking at lynchings of Black women and thinking about the work of other scholars who were asking us to consider what kinds of cisgender-specific forms of terror Black women and girls endured. This includes looking at the pervasiveness of rape and sexual violence in the history of Black women. It has always been a part of my excavation as a historian to find the violence and to find ways that Black women and girls are distinctly targeted and why—what structurally and what systemically leads to persistent harm?
In addition to that, when I was writing my first book, in the intro, I literally talk about the different ways that we talk about anti-Black violence and how even our framings of anti-Black violence tend to be masculine …. I wanted to have a kind of historical understanding that allowed me to do a very precise and rigorous contemporary analysis of what violence and harm against Black women looks like. The data is right there and so alarming and heartbreaking. I wanted to be able to tell those stories in ways that goes beyond the data into a sense of urgency, but with care around the severity and gravity of various forms of violence and their impact on Black women and girls and gender-variant people.
Who are you imagining when you’re writing, and what do you hope that they can gain from this book?
I write for and with Black women and girls, and the “for” is very intentional. I want to make sure Black women see themselves in my work or hear their stories. This is a comprehensive but not exhaustive collection in terms of assessing what violence and harm against Black women and girls look like.
But I hope that people who are non–Black women and girls picking up this book take seriously the gravity of what we’re talking about. It’s important they understand the depths of history and how much work we have to do. It’s one of the reasons I included some of my own experiences with violence in the book so that I’m also a guide for readers. It’s a hard book. It’s very emotionally draining. The experience won’t be like, ‘I’m sitting, I’m reading, I’m finishing.’ Readers will have to sit with the things they read.
I also provided at the end a list of organizations that I think people should learn about, invest in, and support. I’m not necessarily asking co-conspirators or potential accomplices to look at things as much as I’m asking them to support and believe that Black women and girls and gender-expansive people are already building. We have organizations, collectives, institutions, campaigns, and initiatives that can absolutely benefit from support and resources. In order to come into these established spaces, as transparently and as informative as possible, here’s the book, and here are all the people I’m citing from …. There’s a whole body of work that’s asking us to contend with harm and violence against Black women and girls, and if you contend with that work, then you might be apt to be in those spaces and really be a genuine, generous, and generative co-conspirator or accomplice.
Because the book is so emotional, what did your research and writing process look like? How did you consistently care for yourself?
Citations for me are a collaborative and accountability practice. I am collaborating with thinkers who came before me and hopefully opening space for more collaboration for thinkers who are going to gauge my work in their work. I’m accountable to those thinkers, artists, activists, organizers, and ancestors who’ve done such incredible work that has helped me think through this and offer the ideas that I’m offering.
The research for this book really began almost seven or eight years ago. I did not want to write this book and had been putting it off for years. I started writing in more public outlets, and as I started cultivating a voice as a writer that wasn’t overly informed by my training as an academic and my training as a feminist historian in a very particular way, I wanted to have a voice in whatever my next book project would be that had both effective and affective registers. My goal is for people to read it and gain a lot of knowledge, but I also want them to feel and resonate with it, which meant a certain kind of bearing of witness, of baring of myself, and most importantly, the opportunity to think about what was the best way to write this story with care. That meant that in the book, I refer to everyone by their first names, not their last.
What does the future look like for Black women and girls? Specifically—what do you think is the realistic future and then also an imaginative future?
That’s a great question. So, you know, despite the epilogue, the conclusion was originally about the discipline of hope. My thinking is informed by prison and police abolitionist Mariame Kaba, specifically understanding what traditions are being created and what futures and worlds are imagined. And I bet on us! I believe so strongly in Black women’s and girls’ ability to create new worlds because we have done it before. We’ve created new ideas of liberation and we’ve practiced freedom all the time in the ways we love, dance, rap, and write. We are active practitioners of liberation. And so, in that way, I have always been about us, and I will never bet against us.
In reality, there are some really stark things to contend with. When I started diving into the writing for this book, a Black woman was being murdered every 17 or so hours. Crime data is about a year behind, so right now the available data reveals an average of four Black women and girls are murdered per day. So even in that two-year period, the shift is awful.
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