Being born a woman is an awful tragedy. Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.
Living with racism in America means tolerating a level of violence inflicted on the black body that we would not upon the white body. This deviation is not a random fact, but the price of living in a society with a lengthy history of considering black people as a lesser strain of humanity. When you live in such a society, the prospect of incarcerating, disenfranchising, and ultimately executing white humans at the same rate as black humans makes makes very little sense. Disproportion is the point.
She actively cultivated her own unknowability, perhaps as a way to maintain this separateness. She never spoke of a desire to make a living as a photographer. In Chicago, where she lived for decades, she refused to give film processors and pawn shopkeepers her real name, instead handing out fake names all over town. She demanded separate locks for her rooms in her employers’ homes, and forbade anyone from ever entering her space. She didn’t mention family or old friends. She lied about where she was born, claiming France as her homeland (she was born in New York City in 1926), and spoke with a contrived Continental accent that no one could place. She dressed in an outdated style, or, as one interviewee put it, “like a Soviet factory worker from the nineteen-fifties.” In the film, an acquaintance recalls asking her what she did for a living. Her response: “I’m a sort of spy.”