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Unghosting Apparitional Histories

Erasures of Black Lesbian Feminism

Michelle Moravec, Author

This page was written by michelle moravec on 29 Apr 2014.

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1. it began with Audre Lorde.

It began with Audre Lorde. 

As I followed her through the conferences of the late 1970s, I kept bumping into shadows.  

Lorde, relegated to the role of "commentator" at the closing session “The Personal and the Political” of the 1979 conference The Second Sex Thirty Years Later delivered a stirring denunciation.

According to her biographer Alexis de Veaux, Lorde's remarks refered to "papers written by Linda Gordon, Camille Bristow, Bonnie Johnson, Manuela Fraire, and the conference coordinator, Jessica Benjamin — as embodying the limitations of the conference's scope.”    

As I tracked the panelists I learned that Bonnie Johnson and Camille Bristow gave a paper "Both And" described as "reflections on being black feminists."  Was Lorde criticizing them?

As I traced Lorde's now infamous remarks from audio tape (my transcription) to feminist periodicals  and into the polished essay "The Master's Tools" in This Bridge Called My Back (1981) and Sister Outsider (1984), I learned that while she made specific remarks about a few of the papers in the session, she spoke more broadly about the conference itself.   In transforming remarks into a published piece, Lorde took out Johnson and Bristow's names, along with all others to focus her critique.

I become curious about these women.   Camille Bristow I identified easily, but Bonnie Johnson, with her not uncommon name, proved more difficult, a sister/outsider living in the footnotes of academic books.
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