Violence Versus Motherhood

The interview between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde invites readers to investigate if all of Baldwin’s material is applicable to women or if some of his messages only apply to Black men. Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room specifically looks at issues found in same-sex relationships between men and the shame of male homosexuality. I felt limited in my essay on Giovanni’s Room and Baldwin’s queer politics because the passages from his novel and various Bible passages only applied to male homosexuality. Naturally, Baldwin’s overall message of love in queer relationships can be beneficial to queer women; however, centering the plot around Black men’s experiences in male-dominant circles creates distinctions on the issues experienced by Black men and women.

These distinctions continue in Baldwin’s essays as he focuses on highlighting the physical violence suffered by Black men while addressing sexual violence and early teen pregnancy Black women experience. In “A Fly in Buttermilk,” Baldwin writes about the negative experiences Black students suffer at low-income schools. He writes, “G. is just about at the age when boys begin dropping out of school. Perhaps they get a girl into trouble; she also drops out; the boy gets work for a time or gets into trouble for a long time. I was told that forty-five girls had left school for maternity ward the year before. A week or ten days before I arrived in the city eighteen boys from G.’s former high school had been sentenced to the chain gang” (191). Although studies show that Black and Latina girls are more than twice as likely as white girls to become pregnant before they leave adolescence, I wondered about the impact of placing emphasis on Black women’s fertility as their struggle while emphasizing the physical violence and assault Black boys suffered.

In her interview with Baldwin, Lorde also addresses Black girls getting pregnant early, but identifies this as a struggle for Black boys as well. She says, “There are little Black girl children having babies. But this is not an immaculate conception, so we’ve got little Black boys who are making babies, too. We have little Black children making little Black children.” Baldwin and Lorde discuss distinctions between typical experiences of Black men and women. Baldwins speaks of the male experience saying, “Do you know what happens to a man when he’s ashamed of himself when he can’t find a job?… When he can’t protect anybody? When he can’t do anything?” Audre Lorde responds, “Do you know what happens to a woman who gives birth, who puts that child out there and has to go out and hook to feed it? Do you know what happens to a woman who goes crazy and beats her kids across the room because she’s so full of frustration and anger?” However, Lorde also addresses that Black women suffer physical violence in the same ways Black men do, “Do you know what happens to a lesbian who sees her woman and her child beaten on the street while six other guys are holding her?” In our conversations about intersectionality, it is important to examine distinctions between the adversity Black men and women experience and the portrayals of these distinctions.