REVIEW: ‘All the Women in My Family Sing’

A powerful collection of stories revealing hurt and hope


All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World — Essays on Equality, Justice and Freedom (Nothing but The Truth, $16.95) showcases social commentary seldom heard. After all, who listens to females of color outside celebrity Oprah Winfrey or political firebrand Maxine Waters?

Edited by Deborah Santana, lauded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Alfre Woodard, this international collection of 69 contributors adds a chorus that should be heard and well-heeded.

La Rhonda Crosby-Johnson’s “From Negro to Black,” waxes subtly sardonic: “I was just about getting the Negro thing down when the world turned Black. Huey Newton. Angela Davis. The old schoolyard adage, ‘If you’re white, you’re all right; if you’re Black get back” was quickly replaced with “black is beautiful, brown is hip, yellow is mellow and white ain’t sh*t.”

Fed up with so-called social progress, Crosby-Johnson laces into a fluidly articulate, seething indictment. “[H]ere I am, African American in a time overflowing with that were marked First’— America’s First Black President.

“There were sorrows that made us weep and wail, as donned wristbands with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. We marched and stood before tanks to convince those who shoot us and leave us dying in the streets, those who would use the power of their badges to imprison and rape us that we are here to stay.

“We still need the courage when others run away and to develop tools to fight enemies more cunning and violent than the KKK of my Colored grandparents.”

Menen Hialu forcefully brings home the tragically minimized issue of sexual health, which, if STDs struck men as readily, one must surmise awareness and prevention would be significantly heightened.

Culled from the accounts of 17 Ethiopian women, “Invisible Women” strikes a profoundly disturbing chord at the outset, that, in this day and age, ignorance and fear so prevail that they spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to be ostracized for something over which they’ve no control — being afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

One can only imagine how many more, for the same reason, dare not seek medical treatment to prevent the HIV virus from progressing to AIDS. “In Ethiopia, the rate of HIV/AIDS for women is twice as that for men. Inequalities characterizing the lives of women including poverty, violence and lack of protection make them more vulnerable to the disease.”

Hardship extends to daughters — young women compelled to work in the Middle East as domestics to send money back home when, for instance, an infected mother is rendered unemployable or dies of AIDS.  Recruiters trick most of them into traveling illegally and, once they are smuggled abroad, find themselves ready victims of abuse, often forced sex trafficking.

The voices heard in “Invisible Women” hold onto hope. One of them states, “Love is what is most important. But people are governed by laws and not love, so it would be good if people were forced to follow anti-discriminatory laws on HIV/AIDS.”

“Prison Parenting” hits hard, to the heart and soul. Rhonda Turpin, currently incarcerated, recounts, “When a woman is sentenced, her children and grandchildren automatically become victims of the criminal justice system also. There is, of course, no calculating the mental and emotional cost of that sudden loss to the little ones left behind.

How much worse it is for those whose new providers can’t afford get them therapy. Or how much damage is done when there’s no other family and they are shuttled off to Children’s Service, which is well-known for opportunists who simply warehouse youngsters as nothing more or less than bodies that bring in a regular county or city support check.

As Turpin relates, women have been locked for the flimsiest of reasons, including cashing a deceased husband’s social security check in order to keep a roof overhead, clothes on youngsters’ backs and food on the table.

“The tide is turning, somewhat,” Turpin observes, but real reform is a long way off.” Clearly, so is the capacity of countries around the world to transcend man’s inherent inhumanity to woman.