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The Confrontation With Abuse for Black Women in Ntazoke Shange’s “With No Immediate Cause” and Nikki Giovanni’s “Woman”

[By Simone Savannah]

I
have spent a number of years examining women’s issues, including the
confrontation with sexism and racism for Black women in Literature and Creative
Writing. Furthermore, since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and
because of the overwhelming conversations about recent attacks against Black
women, I have chosen to dedicate this post to victims/survivors of domestic
violence.
The
conversations surrounding the abuse of brown and black girls have been
particularly frustrating for me and a few of my colleagues. Examining the
language used to justify domestic (and public) violence, it is possible that
these conversations are unnerving to women (and men) who have suffered abuse
and are working to dismantle patriarchal notions of masculinity and femininity
that shape our responses to violence.

The
rhetoric utilized in these conversations justifies the abuse through very
sexist beliefs about the role of women and men in the event of confrontation or
disagreement. Many Black poets have written pieces that attempt to both expose
and eradicate abuse. These pieces respond to the very real failure of our
society to understand and intervene in a dialogue about this painful subject. For
example, in her piece, “With No Immediate Cause,” Ntazoke Shange writes from an
outsider’s perspective as she rattles off horrifying statistics and stories on
violence and sexual abuse. In the poem, the speaker is surprised by an
announcement she finds in a newspaper. Possibly functioning as a powerful
inspiration for the poem, the announcement reads,
there
is some concern
that
alleged battered women
might
start to murder their
husbands
and lovers with no
immediate
cause
The
speaker is probably surprised for three reasons: 1) alleged—reports of abuse often include this word, this so-calledness, though the abuse has
actually occurred. 2) murder—the
announcement assumes that the abused women will retaliate in the same way of
their husbands or lovers instead of reporting the crime or seeking safety. The
word murder could also imply that it is not a factor of personal safety or
self-defense. 3)with no immediate cause.
This assumption often points back to the idea that if women do not report
abuse, they have not been abused or that their reasons behind their responses
to abuse are invalid. The word immediate implies
that the result that effects of abuse are both immediate and temporary. These
are real life assumptions used to devalue the experiences of wo/men, and they
must be corrected if we are willing to be productive in the fight against
violence.  
Many
other poets have sought to dismantle and/or uncover some of the assumptions
featured in Shange’s piece. It is important to examine these pieces as they
counteract the distorted ideas about domestic abuse and offer readers healthy
and productive perspectives on how our society can handle this type of
violence. Additionally, some Black poets have written poems that are said to
surround issues of domestic violence and are used to empower women or men who
find themselves in this type of emotionally, mentally, and/or physically
taxing  situation.
Perhaps,
“Woman” by Nikki Giovanni is a powerful example. The she is the poem is most always shot down by the he as she attempts to form her desired
identity. It is because of his refusal to uplift her and support her that she
is unable to achieve that identity. Giovanni uses phrases, such as “he
refused,” “he wouldn’t,” and “he declined” to reject what “she wanted”.  Just as powerful as the announcement in
Shange’s poem, Giovanni allows the protagonist to attain her desired identity
without his assistance. The last stanza also seems to call attention to what it
means to be a man and woman. The use of “right” may allow the reader to bring
his or her focus to the “right” way to define manhood and womanhood, as well as
what is “right” or wrong in the situation crafted in the
poem.
she
decided to become
a
woman
and
though he still refused
to
be a man
she
decided it was all
right