For Those Who Talk Back
My tongue is wild. People tell me that I’m loud, reactive, confrontational, aggressive. My friends call me loudmouth, hater, call out queen, agitator. I wear these labels as badges. My survival mechanism in situations of fight or flight or freeze is to fight. And the fight gathers at the tip of my tongue. My survival is in the custody of my tongue.
And when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.
– Audre Lorde
…What it means to be racialized is to experience the state not as the institution that guarantees the universal protection of life but rather as one that is the very agent of death. – Grace Kyungwon Hong
Neoliberal ideologies hold out the promise of protection from premature death in exchange for complicity with this pretense. – Grace Kyungwon Hong
Race is both capitalism’s effect and its excess. – Grace Kyungwon Hong
Racialized people have been necessary in this system, which exploits our labor but yet designates us as excess. “We were never meant to survive.” We were always meant to stay the object and never the subject. We were always meant to work and never to live.
As Grace Kyungwon Hong says, our lives are unprotectable and our deaths, ungrievable.
Every time I talk back to power, I feel visceral, physiological fear. A fear deep in the pit of my stomach–something my ancestors gave me to survive. My heart pounds in my chest. My knees feel weak. I get choked up.
Trauma can be a big T, for example when one is faced with annihilation, and a small t, when one feels the subtler expressions of oppression–betrayal or abandonment, an affirmation that we were never meant to survive. Both are the stuff that wears and tears on your body and soul, killing you over time.
Neuroscience suggests that when individuals face life threatening circumstances, the limbic system is activated for survival, and the pre-frontal cerebral cortex, including Broca’s area (the part of the brain responsible for verbal language) loses power. Thus, memories of traumatic events are likely to be encoded nonverbally, in sensory and somatic form. – Rachel A. Cohen
I often get jealous when certain people have facility and access to words. Trauma physiologically makes it hard for one to access speech.
I was nearly annihilated repeatedly by a family member during my childhood. Twenty-five years later, I have just begun to find the words to talk about it.
She mimicks [sic] the speaking. That might resemble speech. (Anything at all.) Bared noise, groan, bits torn from words. The entire lower lip would lift upwards then sink back to its original place. She would gather both lips and protrude them in a pout taking in the breath that might utter some thing. (One thing. Just one.) But the breath falls away. With a slight tilting of her head backwards, she would gather the strength in her shoulders and remain in this position.
It murmurs inside. It murmurs. Inside is the pain of speech the pain to say, To not say. Says nothing against the pain to speak. It festers inside. The wound, liquid, dust. Must break. Must avoid. –Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Who is to say that robbing a people of its language is less violent than war? – Ray Gwyn Smith
Oppression, colonization, exploitation, and domination takes our voices away from us. Anglos and white-adjacents who work with people of color communities often say, “we’re giving them a voice.” We already have voices that you cannot take from us. With our voices (that you have not given us), we are talking. Listen.
This is the oppressor’s language, yet I need it to talk to you. – Adrienne Rich
I remember being sent to the corner of the classroom for “talking back” to the Anglo teacher when all I was trying to do was tell her how to pronounce my name. – Gloria Anzaldúa
I remember when I got time out and detention in elementary school because I recited the pledge of allegiance too loud. The teacher only reprimanded me once we were done reciting it. “You were shouting. It was disrespectful and disruptive.” But I remember that I barely spoke loud enough to hear myself over the rest of the class. Maybe it was because I wasn’t supposed to pledge my allegiance in my FOB accent. Maybe I was just supposed to move my mouth with no sound coming out–that’s what I did every time moving forward.
Moving from silence into speech is for the oppressed, the colonized, the exploited, and those who stand and struggle side by side a gesture of defiance that heals, that makes new life and new growth possible. It is that act of speech, of ‘talking back,’ that is no mere gesture of empty words, that is the expression of our movement from object to subject—the liberated voice.” – bell hooks
Speech is self-care. Speech is an act of love. Speech is resistance.
The breath can be decolonized. The breath and sound that exit the cavities of our bodies heal, transform, and liberate us.
When is speech mine and for me? Where is speech most nourishing?
For me, in Korean and Konglish.
The tongue that is forbidden is your own mother tongue. You speak in the dark, in the secret. The one that is yours. Your own…Mother tongue is your refuge. It is being home. Being who you are. Truly. To speak makes you sad. Yearning. To utter each word is a privilege you risk by death. – Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
And in gossip.
Though gossip is unofficial, I do not mean to imply that it occupies a terrain that is separate or discrete from official narratives; rather, gossip is peculiarly parasitic, pillaging from the official, imitating without discrimination, exaggerating, relaying. In this sense, gossip requires that we abandon binary notions of legitimate and illegitimate, discourse and counter discourse, or “public” and “private”, for it traverses these classifications so as to render such divisions untenable. – Lisa Lowe
I talk behind oppressors’ backs and in words not for them. I need witness and testimony. It is imperative to survival.
I do not wish to speak with you, answer your questions, or sign or hand you any documents based on my 5th amendment rights.
I do not give you permission to enter my home based on my 4th amendment rights unless you have a warrant to enter, signed by a judge or magistrate with my name on it that you slide under the door.
I do not give you permission to search any of my belongings based on my 4th amendment rights.
For use, true speaking is not solely an expression of creative power; it is an act of resistance, a political gesture that challenges politics of domination that would render us nameless, and voiceless. As such, it is a courageous act–as such, it represents a threat. To those who wield oppressive power, that which is threatening must necessarily be wiped out, annihilated, silenced. – bell hooks
I have come to believe over and over again that what is more important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. – Audre Lorde
Speaking and talking back is always at the risk of retaliation and even annihilation.
Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out. – Gloria Anzaldúa
There are risks for people who assert their constitutional rights to authorities. We fear retaliation and excessive force, but what other options do we have?
What’s here to protect us, doesn’t protect us.
A system cannot protect those it was never designed to protect.
What can our society look like if it protects and centers us?
I stood at the border, stood at the edge and claimed it as central. Claimed it as central and let the rest of the world move over to where I was. – Toni Morrison
Is this too much to ask for? To ask for protection? For food, shelter, good health? For safety? For survival?
I dream up futures that aren’t for me. I dream up futures for my child that they will never see. I dream up futures for my neighbors where we can live without the constant maintenance of our T/traumas in order to fight to survive. My dreams of the future call for action.
I: speak, react, get angry, scream, protest, call out, talk back, lash out with my tongue. I want safety now—for me, my family, my neighbors, everyone. It shouldn’t be a hard ask, but it is, for a system that profits from the exploitation and annihilation of people. We’re constantly up against a brick wall that we cannot climb over. We were never meant to survive. I talk back to power because this is something I inherited from my ancestors, and something I want to nurture for my descendants to resource, even if it kills them.
 Audre Lorde, “A Litany for Survival,” Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147275/a-litany-for-survival
 Grace Kyungwon Hong, Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 51.
 Grace Kyungwon Hong, 7
 Grace Kyungwon Hong, The Ruptures of American Capital: Women of Color Feminism and the Culture of Immigrant Labor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 81.
 Rachel A. Cohen, “Common Threads: a recovery programme for survivors of gender based violence,” Intervention 2013, Volume 11, Number 2, 157, https://www.interventionjournal.com/sites/default/files/Common_Threads___a_recovery_programme_for.4.pdf
 Theresa Hak Hyung Cha, Dictee (Berkeley: The Regents of the University of California, 2001), 3
 Ray Gwyn Smith, quoted in Gloria Anzaldúa, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2012), 77
 Adrienne Rich, “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” in Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, ed. bell hooks (Boston: South End Press, 1989), 28.
 Gloria Anzaldúa, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2012), 77.
 bell hooks, “Talking Back” in Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South End Press, 1989), 9.
 Theresa Hak Hyung Cha, Dictee, 45-46
 Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 113.
 bell hooks, 8.
 Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” in Sister Outsider (Crossing Press, 1984), 40.
 Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2012), 77.
 Toni Morrison, interview by Jana Wendt, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQ0mMjII22I&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2anDoQJJ7hmtjaQeE39qrBqpbWmlOegBNWNbnHmmSHou3bBaKJwKSYSp0