“This month is National Poetry Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time of reckoning for and celebration of survivors, living and ancestral, crossing this bridge between starshine and clay, in COVID-19’s shadow.
Years ago, during casual conversation, Wren (named changed), a now deceased older relative of mine, and contemporary of Clifton’s, disclosed that she had been sexually abused. Born during the early years of the Great Depression in the Deep South, she was from a generation of women accustomed to being told that the violence they experienced in their homes and families was the natural cost of being Black, female, and poor. She was that strong prototypical Black woman; heavily armored, guarding a tender heart, stealthy smile, monster work ethic, and a take no prisoners wit that dazzled and infuriated.
Having no model, she couldn’t understand why “younger folks” made such a “fuss” about rape and sexual assault. Shaping her life, she couldn’t understand why women of a more “liberated” generation didn’t just buck up and move on because “I was raped practically every day of my life”. Part of the African American exodus of Great Migration pioneers, she was fiercely proud that she’d moved to California on her own, worked any odd job she could find to support her family alone, and never had to depend on a man for support. Her stiff upper lip trauma has painful resonance as Covid-19 lays bare the disparities that survivors face in Black communities at the epicenter of the U.S.’ health care gulag.”