Simmons 2012 Silence

Title Information

Speaker: LaKisha Simmons

Title: Listening for Silence

Subtitle: Black Women, Dissemblance and Sexual Violence during the 20th Century

Conference: 97th Annual Convention of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History: Black Women in American Culture & History (September 26-30, 2012)

Place: Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania, United States

Date: September 28, 2012

Language: English

Keywords: 20th Century | U.S. History | Victims: Silence

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Additional Information

Speaker: LaKisha Simmons, Department of Transnational Studies, University at


»Darlene Clark Hine has explored the silences surrounding black women’s experiences of sexual violence during the Jim Crow Era, arguing that a “culture of dissemblance” kept black women from speaking about rape in order to protect their dignity and shield them from disapprobation. Connected to this “culture of dissemblance” was the very real need for all black Americans to focus on survival; talking aloud about the pains and horrors of segregation was not seen as a key to enduring the hardship of Jim Crow. Thus, keeping secrets became a mechanism of survival. Because of all the various types of silences and the emphasis on self-respect and the de-emphasis on the struggles of everyday life, finding records of sexual violence suffered by black women in the archive is extremely difficult for historians.
The sexual violence perpetrated against black girls can nonetheless be traced through both the many peculiar silences and the rare moments when these silences were interrupted. Oral histories that recount life in the Jim Crow South help to break through such silences. At some points, the interviewees only hint toward the history of sexual violence and harassment, purposefully leaving holes in their stories that help maintain privacy and shield inner lives. This paper uses oral histories as a source for understanding sexual abuse, exploring how sexual violence—and the concealment around it—affected black women and children. In doing so, I argue that historians must be attuned to silence in the archive. Often, the stories of black women and sexual violence highlighted by historians are focused on the moments of voice—moments when black women and particular cases become cause célèbre. But there are many other moments when black women endured sexual violence silently. What can we, as historians, learn about those moments?« (Source: All Academic)

Added: December 20, 2014 – Last updated: December 20, 2014