Better Not Never Tell…

As I continue this journey of…well not sure what else to call it except a journey; this new road of being awakened to and acknowledging my own trauma is far too new for any type of description. It just is.
But it is in this acknowledgement that old memories don’t look quite the same anymore. Among those memories is the movie The Color Purple. My family and I can quote this movie as if we wrote it ourselves. But aside from the movie itself, I recall a day when I and someone else walked into the house to hear moaning and groaning coming from under the stairs. When we went to investigate we found my young sisters and cousins play-acting The Color Purple’s opening scene where Celie was giving birth. It’s a striking memory for me and I remember how all the drama of that scene was there. The seriousness, the pain and agony and the uncertainty. But what I remember most is how funny it was. Of all the scenes in the movie to act out, these young girls chose the birth scene and we all thought it was funny.
Today, as the memory came to me, all I could think about was Celie’s father when he came to take her baby.
“Ya better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill ya mamma.”
“Better not never tell nobody but God.”
I wonder how the girls would have dealt with this had they been allowed to continue. I wonder if they understood the command. I wonder why, when confronted with young girls play-acting this particular scene, why we thought it was funny. I wonder if anyone ever talked to them about the meaning of the scene.
I suspect not. It was just funny.
Thinking back, I recall how the NAACP boycotted the film for its portrayal of Black men. They talked about “stereotypical representations.” Reading the articles today I find that many mention the incest, rape and domestic violence saying the movie perpetuated the stereotype “that Black people as a whole are…perverse, sexually wanton and irresponsible.” Many Black women had problems with class distortions but that “sexual politics and sexual violence” are issues that need to be addressed in the Black community.
But with all the controversy, commentary and analysis, this one statement is never mentioned.
Better not never tell nobody but God.
As those young girls play-acted that scene, how did they interpret the command? Did they understand that Celie had been raped by her father? Did they understand that the command protected Celie’s father? Many questions, few answers. It was funny.
Better not never tell nobody but God.
The problem is that the command was normal. Even the double-negative of the command was normal. Everyone understood the command; even the play-acting children understood the command of silence…nobody ever caught them play-acting that scene again.
Better not never tell nobody but God.
We all understood. And while there were protests and boycotts of the movie, most of us have continued to comply with this command.
Better not never tell nobody but God.
I do not recall a single person ever talking about it. Even as my family and I quoted the movie extensively and often, this command was never among the quotes we used.
Better not never tell nobody but God.
And 30+ years later, many of us are still heeding the command.
I am not.
Better not never tell nobody but God.
It’s time to end the silence.
It’s time to stop protecting the abuser who would command us “Better not never tell nobody but God.”
The power in this command is such that even a movie invoking silence renders us compliant.
No More.