Writing against wrongs
Suzanne Brooks' resume is pretty varied. She's worked as a police officer in Philadelphia and an affirmative action officer at Penn State University and the University of Nevada, Reno. She was the director of the Multi-Cultural Center at Sacramento State and she co-founded the International Association for Women of Color Day. The common thread? A “commitment to justice and equality,” says Brooks. In the writer's 2011 partially autobiographical book, The Constructive Extermination of Women of Color, she writes about personal and historical discrimination. Next month, she's putting together the 2015 annual Sacramento Community Women of Color Day/Diversity Event, which features a roundtable discussion on racism, sexism and discrimination.
It’s nearing the end of Black History Month, the shortest month of the year. People have noticed this and drawn certain conclusions …
I thought that Black History Month was brought about through the efforts of black scholars, so I don't think they picked it because it was the shortest month. Though there have been other people who have tried to present it that way and suggested it, I don't think that's what happened.
Anyway, I think that's irrelevant. Racism isn't only about color, and racism is an imperfect term. It's really a broad term about how people are singled out based on some characteristic which may be physical, which may be cultural, which may be a belief system. But in some way, people are perceived as part of a group, and as that group, they are discriminated against, or murdered, beaten up, demeaned in some way, kept out of employment, housing or so forth.
What was the inspiration behind The Constructive Extermination of Women of Color?
This is actually mostly my unpublished dissertation. But the long-term inspiration came from a book that I cite in there: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. That book haunted me. Always, through all the work I have done related to women of color, I have always thought about that. We needed a book like that, something that really looks at “What does an individual go through in that circumstance?”
That book, when I think about it, it's still disturbing. Because Ellison's “Battle Royal” is Ferguson—or the guy that sold a couple cigarettes and they choked him to death. I feel that women of color are in that battle, too.
The reality: I think we have to change with the times. What has changed is DNA research. There's no more than about a 7 percent gene difference in any two people on the planet, because we're the same species. You know, a dog is still a dog no matter what breed it is, and people are not as different as those dogs are. I'm really moving to that direction in this conversation about race—with resistance from all sides.
What is the structure of the book?
It comes from two places, mainly. One is 18 articles I wrote for the online magazine The Black Commentator [www.blackcommentator.com]. And some of those were drawn from other writings, too. And my unfinished dissertation.
Most people don't get the title—most academics and intelligentsia, they say: What do you mean “constructive extermination?” And that's actually a legal term. It's like when your boss wants to get rid of you and doesn't have an excuse, and so they do everything to make you miserable until you quit. That's what I see happening to women of color. Women of color don't want to face racism and sexism. Nobody wants to face that. But it's there.
Who are some women of color you admire?
There's not just a few, there are so many that have been inspirational to me. Lucille Clifton is a writer that I had a chance to meet. She went to school with Roberta Flack, and knew James Baldwin. He helped her get her writing start.
I like to meet a lot of women who other people don't know, who stick in there and do stuff. There's a women who's a director of a foster family agency here and is a friend of mine: Dr. Shelly Goldsby of Fred Jefferson Memorial Homes. There's a lawyer here helping women through law. That takes real determination and sacrifice. They're not rare is the thing. That's what I'm trying to say.
Working on anything else?
I'm working on a book called Stained With Our Blood that is going to ratchet this up a little bit. Because what I'm thinking is that there are consequences to what has happened to women of color.
What solutions are there to marginalization?
People can take a stand. Why can't they do something? If people just do one thing in their lifetimes—times millions of people—it'd be millions of actions. They can talk to their neighbors, watch for crime in their neighborhood, watch for bullying.
They can also hire people if they're in a position to hire people—hire people who are worth doing the job, don't hire incompetent people because they happen to be the right gender or what you see as the right race.
Do something to get to know somebody else. Go to all these festivals and stuff we have here. If you go to Festival De La Familia, how many people from other groups are there, other than just Latinos? How many people go to the Buddhist Church of Sacramento's Spring Food Festival?
Read a book. I have a list on my website: www.womenworldculture.com.