Grounding with the Daughters of the Soil
If you imagine a woman as the territory, then each time you pinch or scratch her, you leave you a wound, that is what the government does each time it digs a hole for mining, each time it diverts a river, it wastes us away, it deforms us, little by little doing away with us.
- Sara Quinones, President of the Community Council of Alto Mira y Frontera, Cauca, Colombia
“Geographically, in the most crude sense, the body is territorialized – it is publicly and financially claimed, owned, and controlled by an outsider. Territorialization [of the body] marks and names the scale of the body, turning ideas that justify bondage into corporeal evidence of racial difference.”
-Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle
On November 17, 2014, fifty women of the Association of Afro-descendant Women of Yolombó (ASOMUAFROYO) initiated a march from their rural mountain community in southwestern Colombia to the country’s capital city of Bogotá (Network, 2014). The women’s association is part of the Afro-Descendant Community Council of La Toma, the politico-administrative body of autonomous governance of ancestral black communities recognized in Law 70 of 1993. Their political mobilization was a deliberate attempt to remove armed illegal mining activities that are still stealing the community’s intergenerational source of accessible gold deposits, poisoning their rivers, and threatening their lives with assassination and the long-term displacement of their families from their rural ancestral lands to urban dystopias. Under the title “Black Women’s March for the Care of Life and the Ancestral Territories”, the women, accompanied by their children, marched to Colombia’s capital where they proceeded to occupy the Ministry of Interior, forcing government officials to negotiate on a range of grievances centered on their communities’ territorial rights.
Through the Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network, an international solidarity network of scholars and activists in the United States, colleagues across the country hosted information sessions, translated and disseminated communiqués, and fundraised in support of ASOMUAFROYO’s march. Following the mobilization, the women of ASOMUAFROYO decided to continue organizing black women at a broader regional and national scale. It was also decided that our international solidarity efforts would be more intentional about advancing dialogues with black women throughout the diaspora who are or may be inspired to engage in political solidarity. Among the many forms these efforts may take, the focus on dialogue and communication pointed to the work of black women's writers as a natural place to search for sisters with whom to explore and build common ground.
Guided by the power of Barbara Christian’s affirmation that “people of color have always theorized - but in forms quite different from the Western form of abstract logic ... often in narrative forms, in the stories we create, in riddles and proverbs, in the play with language…”(Christian 1988) it has become evident that Black Women's Writing, in its greatly diverse forms, is a rich soil upon which to ground the attempts to build solidarity. Moreover, Hortense Spillers' declaration that "In order for me to speak a truer word concerning myself, I must strip down through layers of attenuated meanings, made an excess in time, over time, assigned by a particular historical order, and there await whatever marvels of my own inventiveness." further indicates that Black Women's Writings are examples of the creative forms of self-expression through which sisters of the diaspora may find, share, and together craft each other's liberatory truths. Thus, the attempt to support the work of ASOMUAFROYO has highlighted the relevance of black women's writing, particularly poetry and literature, to the task of building solidarity networks with black women throughout the diaspora.
In this sense, it's fitting to find that the poetic explorations of black women’s writing in Carole Boyce Davies and 'Molara Ogundipe-Leslie's edited volume Moving Beyond Boundaries: International Dimensions of Black Women’s Writing begins with a triplet of Sister Netifa's work: I am a Poem; Daughters of the Soil; and Sister. The first poem, I am a Poem, deliberately identifies black women's poetry as an embodiedment of their experiences and explicitly calls on us to look unto poetry as a source of liberatory knowledge. The second, Daugthers of the Soil, introduces a more direct link to the task of building solidarity with ASOMUAFROYO's territorial struggles by drawing attention to the relationship between black women's struggles and their metaphorical landscapes:
"We are daughters of the soil.
look at us, feel our anger.
feel our pain.
feel our sorrow.
eyes weeping blood, blood
flowing into rivers.
staining the ear".
shoot us! shoot us! death cannot kill the spirit
our spirit, which will rise,
rise like a mist to smother the downpressor.
then fall like dew,
to nourish the land
that gave we birth.
we are daughters of the soil.”
This, then, serves as an example of the potential of black women's poetry and literature to facilitate dialogues that lend themselves to building political solidarity among black women of the diaspora via their relationships (metaphorical and otherwise) to land and territory.
This search for common ground speaks to Keisha-Khan Perry's The Groundings with my Sisters: Toward a Black Diasporic Feminist Agenda in the Americas. This work partly builds on Walter Rodney's The Groundings with My Brothers where, as Perry shares:
"Rodney uses the term "groundings" to define the process of building solidarity as black people:
I was prepared to go anywhere that any group of Black people were prepared to sit down to talk and listen. Because, that is Black Power, that is one of the elements, a sitting down together to reason, to 'ground,' as the Brothers [Sisters] say. We have to 'ground together' . . .. Now the new understanding is that Brothers [Sisters] must talk to each other (Rodney 1990: 78)." – Perry, 2009
While also nodding to Manning Marable's "Groundings with my Sisters: Patriarchy and the Exploitation of Black Women" which offers a critique of "the tendency of black liberation movements to erase women from political memory, particularly the importance of black female radical thought and action" (Perry, 2009) Perry puts Carole Boyce Davies' examination of Claudia Jones political significance) in dialogue with Afro-Brazilian writers/activists’ Sonia Beatriz dos Santos, and Lelia Gonzales writings on afro-diasporic feminism to highlight the pertinence of Latin American black women's political thought to the process of grounding. Thinking back to Sara Quiñones' statement cited above further implores us to think of grounding as a poetic metaphor that prompts us to consider the extent to which black women's relationship to land can and does serves as a locus from whence black women theorize and launch political practice.
Sister Netifa’s final poem in Moving Beyond Boundaries’ opening trifecta, Sister, echoes ASOMUAFROYO’s efforts to build solidarity among black women of the diaspora:
Stand firm sister
We are your family
And here in places you never head of
Will never see
Are fighting by your side
For all of our freedom
All together, the efforts to build solidarity by searching for common ground points to the possibility that black women's poetics-politics of land and territory are rich grounds upon which to plant the seeds of solidarity between sisters of the soil.