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My mothers house is a river. I am lured to her door and immediately I am humbled.

My mother is a river and when I am real still and quiet she shows me her secrets. But where we live, cameras with blue lights that interrupt the blackness of the night sky sit high on corners with stores where my mother purchases inadequate foods that will stunt her babies; they then call her cra y, la y, pathology of society. !omethings wrong with her; theres got to be. "er kids cant read or speak proper. "er sons done pulled out choppers to shoot each other. !hes got a baby on her hip. !hes e#pecting another. My mother, I know you better than that. Ive seen you take obstacles, wrap them in the finest gold; throw it over her shoulder real brave and bold; in $ust a matter of minutes Ive watched healings unfold. I swear my mama is a miracle. Mrs. %annie &ou "amer' Mother, ()ou used to say, *"oney when you come down here you supposed to stay with me. +here else, Meanin home against the beer the shotguns and the point of view of white men don never see Black anybodies without some violent itch start up. -he ones who said, *.o .iggas /otin in -his -own . . .
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lessen it be feet first to the booth -hen $ailed you beat you brutal bloody1battered1 beat you blue beyond the feeling of the terrible and failed to stop you. 2nly 3od could but he wouldnt 4 "umble as a woman anywhere. I remember finding you inside the &aundromat in 5uleville lion spine rela#ed1 hell whats the point to courage when you washin clothes, But that took courage $ust to sit there1target to the killers lookin for your singin face perspirey through the rinse and spin and later you stood mighty in the door on 6ames !treet loud callin' (B7&&8-! 25 .2 B7&&8-!9 -"8 %22: I! ;22<8: =. 38--I. ;2&:9> +e ate a family tremulous but fortified by turnips1okra1handpicked like the lilies.>? My mother is always willing to fight. 5efusing to be detained, Ive seen her escape@0ABA. -his is for =ssata' mother, sister, friend, youve been on my mind. Bandit Cueen, you abandoned their bars but never your calls for freedom for your people. 8ven when 6. 8dgar sent his boys to hoover your fight, even with the lights and sirens and gunshots firing@ that scene of violence they would use to frame you for a crime you didnt commit@ you stayed committed. =nd now they call you terrorist cause you got them shook, got them lookin twice over their shoulders.

My mother, your courage could move boulders; finding ways to survive, learning to thrive despite them trying to kill your fight. !o they lock you tight in cells. +e know well ($ails and prisons.> -hey (show us how perfectly conservative ideology in this country about safety and risk has dominated public policy. =s some of my colleagues on the panel will discuss, if weEre interested in
understanding how perfectly civil and human rights are being eroded in this country, how blatant violations of rights are

gender, racial, national, cultural subordination, we could see that perfectly if we look in womenEs $ails and prisons. +e could see perfect se#ual repression, #enophobia in perfect terms, the perfect oppression of young people, and we could go on and on.
accepted in the service of maintaining -here is no better place to understand that the increasingly concentrated disadvantage in this country is based on race, class, and, I would argue, gender than in the women that are incarcerated.

+e know well that perfect (equation' you divide up a family, multiply mommys movements *cause daddy done moved where no responsibility can ever find him, add in depression and bitterness, subtract the encouragement, then watch the percentages fill up the prisons. !ee we master mathematicians.> .ow suppose you did listen and (at last you actually got around to considering the impact of law on the lives of FBlackG women.> (:ecide whether you too will portray FusG as helpless, powerless, troubled souls, woefully in need of legal rights and remedies.> +ere better than that. =nd you know it. -hats why every time we show it you complain that were (too angry, too emotional, too sub$ective4 too instinctual.> +hat you (really want to say is that I am being too selfHconsciously black Ibrown, yellow, redJ and1or female to suit their tastes and should Klighten upK because I am making FyouG feel very uncomfortable, and that is not nice. =nd I want FyouG to think that I am nice, donEt I,> .o, I think the time has come for F!apphireG to get truly hysterical, to speak on her own behalf.
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I grew up thinking that K!apphireK was merely a character in the Amos EnE Andy program, a figment of a white manEs racist1se#ist comic imagination.M &ittle did I suspect that !apphire was a more generally employed appellation for the stereotypical B&=;< BI-;"@ tough, domineering, emasculating, strident, and shrill.D !apphire is the sort of person you look at and wonder how she can possibly stand herself. =ll she does is complain. +hy doesnEt that woman shut up, Black bitch hunts are alive and well in the territory where minority female law faculty labor. -here are so many things to get riled about that keeping quiet is impossible. +e really cannot function effectively without coming to terms with !apphire. !ilence will not protect her. !he has had to Nght, and still does, for that very visibility which also renders her most vulnerable, her Blackness. %or to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call america, she has had to learn this Nrst and most vital lesson@ that she was never meant to survive. -hat visibility which makes her most vulnerable is that which also is the source of her greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind her into dust anyway, whether or not she speaks. !o Black mother shout. (I know that Fyou areG not $ust flying off the handle, seeing imaginary insults and problems where there are none> +e done dealt with so much. !urveilling, they watch us struggle, making ways out of none. )ea, 6ohnnys got his gun. But my mother has got hers too for when those B;O: <nockers roll through to throw their arms with force. !he aint got many choices. !o this is for my mother@that !apphire who dares to speak (when the sticky fingers of fear have gripped the throats of the people and words as beautiful as (freedom,> or ($ustice,> or (love> never quite make it to their tongues and they are stuck choking and gasping for breath on a (coulda> or a (shoulda> *til theres nothing else left.>
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-his is for my mothers who dont fare well in this land of the greed, for those (at the ;ook ;ounty 6ail where there are 0,PPP women tonight. BPQ of them are Black women. &ike most of the women in $ails and prisons in this country, most of them H RPQ HH are detained there because of their involvement in nonHviolent crimes, mostly crimes of survival to take care of themselves and their children > But $ail aint the worst thing theyve been through. My mother, this is for you.