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Shaping Silence: Power Rooted in Conviction Shapes Action

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Shapes of Silence: Writing by Women of Colour and the Politics of Testimony

 By Proma Tagore

“There is a silence that cannot speak.

            There is a silence that will not speak.

            Beneath the grass the speaking dreams and beneath the dreams is a sensate sea. The speech that frees comes from that amniotic deep. To attend its voice, I can hear it say, is to embrace its absence. But I fail the task. The word is stone.

            I admit it.

            I hate the stillness. I hate the stone. I hate the sealed vault with its cold icon. I hate staring into the night. The questions thinning into space. The sky swallowing the echoes.

            Unless the stone bursts with telling, unless the seed flowers with speech, there is in my life no loving word. The sound I hear is only sound. White sound. Words, when they fall, are pock marks on the earth. They are hailstones seeking an underground stream.

            If I could follow the stream down and down to the hidden voice, would I come at last to the freeing word? I ask the night sky but the silence is steadfast. There is no reply.”

-       Excerpt by Joy Kogawa, Obasan


Questions to Consider from Kogawa’s, Obason


What does it mean to bear witness, or give testimony, to multiform histories and experiences of silence?

How do we discover and express the word/s between different spoken messages, deliverances?

This book endeavors to find the alternate strategies of tracing and presenc-ing the very contours or shapes of our silence.


Tagore, Proma. The Shapes of Silence: Writing by Women of Colour and the Politics of       Testimony. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 2009. Print.



MALCOLM X - Don't Sit-In, Stand Up; On Black Nationalism Speech

"Malcolm X- Don't Sit-In, Stand Up; On Black Nationalism."         Don't+sit+in+stand+up+malcolm+x+speech. Youtube, 2012.        Web. 28 Sept. 2015.      <     n%2Bstand%2Bup%2Bmalcolm%2Bx%2Bspeech&ei=UTF-            8&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-001>.



Audre Lorde

“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you.... What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.

I began to ask each time: "What's the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?" Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, "disappeared" or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What's the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, ‘If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.’ And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”



Some people are forced into silence. I appreciated that Audre Lorde explains speaking out as an opportunity to incite other voices. I think that Lorde also points to the importance of many opinions, thoughts, ideas, and processes of sharing one’s truth in complicating and improving society at large. Though she challenges us to move past our fears into the spoken word, she does not give us advice on how to begin this journey. What if the process of emerging from silence is more difficult than being left out, ignored, and/or erased from the conversation? What are people willing to risk to excavate the truth? How many levels of truth can we discover?

It was interesting that she examined silence and its correlation with legacy. Also, Audre Lorde puts herself in an interesting position in relation to privilege.

 When I first read this line, “Then push yourself a little further than you dare,” I thought she meant that people should speak their truths more and she was pushing them to express their strong stances, but now I am not so sure. I wonder if she gives us an opportunity to show who we are through unexplored modes that are more comfortable and fitting for the various people and perspectives who want or need to share their stories.

 "A Quote by Audre Lorde." Goodreads. Goodreads Inc, 22 Sept.   2015. Web. 28 Sept. 2015. <>.