Charlotte Pierce-Baker weaves together the accounts of black women who have been raped and who have felt that they had to remain silent in order to protect themselves and their race. The book opens with the author's own account of being raped in her middle-class home outside Philadelphia. It continues, telling of the author's family's response, the ordeal of going to court and the desperate attempts of the members of the family to mend their lives. In the course of her work as a volunteer for Women Organized Against Rape, Pierce-Baker collected stories of other rape victims. The middle section of the book provides the testimonies of ten "silent survivors" - women who were sexually molested by male relatives during childhood, subjected to "acquaintance rape" or, like the author, assaulted by strangers. The final section gives voice to men who have supported the women they love who have been raped. These narratives are combined to tell of black women's survival after sexual violence.
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In Surviving the Silence, Charlotte Pierce-Baker provides a space for survivors to discuss the unthinkable act of rape. Pierce-Baker, a survivor herself, places rape within a historical and cultural context, explaining the shroud of silence that surrounds it within the black community. She allows women to speak about their experiences as informed by their race and gender identities, weaving together their stories with her own. In her gripping introduction, Pierce-Baker writes, "For black women, where rape is concerned, race has preceded issues of gender. We are taught that we are first black, then women.... Black women have survived by keeping quiet, not solely out of shame, but out of a need to preserve the race and its image. In our attempts to preserve racial pride, we black women have often sacrificed our souls."
Pierce-Baker's careful inclusion of many voices fills the silence and demonstrates how little has been said until now about black women's experience with sexual assault. Some stories feel incomplete because the narrator is unwilling to speak; the silence becomes palpable in these stories, demonstrating the isolating silence for these women and for other survivors. Surviving the Silence breaks ground by voicing, poignantly and sometimes painfully, the perspectives of the survivors and also their loved ones, as Pierce-Baker creates a space for the fathers, husbands, and male friends to speak. The book's unique discussion of black women's survival experiences supplies a rich addition to the existing dialogue of sexual assault. --Amy WanAbout the Author:
Charlotte Pierce-Baker is a professor of women's studies at Duke University. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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