“If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free, since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” — Combahee River Collective Statement, 1977
This weekend at the Pride: Durham, NC parade, I wore a sports bra and a tutu. I allowed a stranger in a pickup truck to paint a rainbow on my bare arm. I felt safe.
It should go without saying that a queer Black woman like myself in a city like Durham that has benefited from years of coalition-building work at the intersection of my own identity, and where our district attorney, Satana Deberry, is a proud Black lesbian, would feel safe, especially at a parade celebrating the lives of LGBTQ people. But I have to say it because, just a few years ago, Black queer activist and artist Laila Nur faced harassment and silencing at the Pride parade in Durham. It makes a difference to me that the LGBTQ Center of Durham, founded by Helena Cragg, a Black lesbian with an inclusive vision, is now organizing Pride. And this year, I allowed my whole self to show up, tutu, afro, chucks, and all.
Part of the reason that I felt so safe, so free, so Black, so proud, as I pranced along the parade route, was because I was surrounded by Black feminists, people who have dedicated their lives to the freedom of all people by focusing on Black women as an epicenter of possibility.
The Black Feminist Bookmobile project participated in the parade this year. In my hands, I held booklets that contained the statement quoted above designed by BFB co-founder Courtney Reid-Eaton. I handed them out to people in the crowd. In front of me in a borrowed Mercedes-Benz, behind me dancing in the bed of a pickup, and all alongside me reveling were participants in the Mobile Homecoming, an experiential archive my partner Sangodare and I created to amplify the generations of Queer Black Brilliance. Many of them had come into town for our three-day revival. I was surrounded by generations of love, and people who work every day to make my freedom, safety, and dignity more possible.
While fully experiencing my freedom, I also could not take it for granted. As I drove to the parade, I passed a truck waving a Confederate flag. And as we adorned our float, we were asked to wait in the parking lot across the street from Shooters II, which has been publicly protested over allegations that the nightclub has been complicit in sexual assault.
On its marquis was a sign welcoming Duke Lacrosse alumni into town.
I remembered that the first time I marched the streets of Durham was in 2007, as part of the National Day of Truthtelling organized by UBUNTU, a women-of-color-survivor-led coalition to end gendered violence that emerged in response to the Duke Lacrosse scandal and the vilification of a Black N.C. Central student, mother, and sex worker. I stood in the back of (yet another) pickup truck in front of the rental house of the Duke Lacrosse team and read a poem about a world where all of us are safe and honored in our skin. A block later, a multitude of survivors carried colorful adinkra symbols and blared the song “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child as we danced along the wall of East Campus, the same wall where the Pride parade starts and ends.
And twelve years later, the NC NAACP’s failure to address sexual harassment of young Black women working in their organization for years is coming to the forefront in the current campaign for the organization’s president. And there are some who would once again silence and vilify Black women survivors instead of embracing the opportunity to heal and create a better organization and a better world.
I wonder if the freedom of Black women is a threat, not because it oppresses anyone else, but because it challenges all people to be free. Are you afraid of me and other Black feminists who consistently challenge oppression? Or are you afraid of the bravery it would take to live into your own freedom?
So yes. This weekend I was in the streets again, half-naked, with a booklet explaining why Black women in 1977 created an organization and a political framework to address racism, sexism, and homophobia at the same time, surrounded by people who have made the possibility of freedom their daily practice. And my suggestion to every organization, initiative, and political group in Durham—and everywhere else—is this: Believe, support, uplift, and fight for Black women.
But only if you want to be free.
ALEXIS PAULINE GUMBS is the author of M Archive: After the End of the World, Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity, and co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.
NEXT WEEK: CHIKA GUJARATHI, a Raleigh-based writer and author of the Hello Namaste! children’s books, whose work can be found on her blog The Antibland Chronicles.
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INDY Voices—a rotating column featuring some of the Triangle’s most compelling writers—is made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Visit KeepItINDY.com for more information.