This is a quote from a speech “Learning from the 60s,” which was delivered by Black feminist lesbian poet, writer, and activist Audre Lorde at Harvard University in February 1982. It’s one of the speeches included in her book, Sister Outsider.
This is not the first time I’ve cited her words of wisdom, and it won’t be the last. Given that we are currently faced with a virulent assault from the right on all things democratic, including our right to vote, along with open hostile white supremacist racism combined with toxic sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia while in the midst of a global pandemic, I find a need to listen to some elder wisdom just to get me through the day.
More distressing for me is when some of the people I have considered to be allies in the struggle decide to dismiss a raft of “isms” to only float in one boat, not cognizant of the fact that any of them we ignore and allow to fester unchallenged will sink the whole flotilla. I’m watching it happen and am both appalled and angry.
I cannot sever or block off pieces of myself to only respond to one part of what makes me a whole person. I cannot remain silent and countenance the deadly results that happen to somebody who ain’t exactly like me, turn my head, and walk away saying “It’s not my problem,” or, “It’s not my issue,” with the smug conclusion that “my pain is more important than your pain.”
When I first started writing here at Daily Kos, we used to have signature lines that were our favorite quotes attached to our comments. Mine was from civil rights and women’s activist, musician, and ethnomusicologist Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon: “If you’re in a coalition and you’re comfortable, you know it’s not a broad enough coalition.” It’s still posted to my profile.
I don’t want to be comfortable. I want justice. Not just for me and mine. At age 73 I’m not gonna live to see it happen, but no matter, because if I manage to walk a few steps farther down the road with some of you beside me, I will have done my tiny bit.
Someone asked me recently why I “bother” to spend my time posting daily news here, on Twitter, and Facebook about Puerto Rico since I’m not Puerto Rican. I have a simple answer: “Why not?”
I am neither Jewish nor Muslim, yet I care deeply about the malignant antisemitism and Islamophobia I witness daily in the news, on social media, and sometimes right here on this blog I call home.
Though I currently have no major disabilities, should I ignore ableism? Do I pay no attention to toxic air and water and climate change?
I wish I could reprint the entirety of Lorde’s speech; each paragraph, each sentence, each word. I sit here dithering about what to quote because it’s all so relevant to where we are today.
Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust. If we are to keep the enormity of the forces aligned against us from establishing a false hierarchy of oppression, we must school ourselves to recognize that any attack against Blacks, any attack against women, is an attack against all of us who recognize that our interests are not being served by the systems we support. Each one of us here is a link in the connection between anti-poor legislation, gay shootings, the burning of synagogues, street harassment, attacks against women, and resurgent violence against Black people. I ask myself as well as each one of you, exactly what alteration in the particular fabric of my everyday life does this connection call for? Survival is not a theory. In what way do I contribute to the subjugation of any part of those who I define as my people? Insight must illuminate the particulars of our lives: who labors to make the bread we waste, or the energy it takes to make nuclear poisons which will not biodegrade for one thousand years; or who goes blind assembling the microtransistors in our inexpensive calculators?
Lorde’s words from almost 40 years ago could have been spoken yesterday or tomorrow. Please take the time to read the whole speech.
I thought about her on Mother’s Day as I consider her to be one of my spiritual mothers.
I’m not posting this to suggest you abandon your political issue of choice or the work you may be doing in an area in of which you have knowledge, expertise, or a visceral attachment. I do suggest you consider how other issues are intimately and inextricably intertwined with yours. The connective tissue is there if you take the time to look for it.
For example, try to think about how racism and white supremacy negatively affect those of you who are not-Black folks. I don’t care if you don’t have one Black friend or live in a lily white enclave. It’s not enough to simply repeat an anti-racist slogan and then go on about your day. If you’re a male beneficiary of all the patriarchal privilege vested in that gender, do some thinking and then some reading through a female lens … and learn to listen.
Put in a little of your time and step out of your comfort zone. If you do, we will all reap the benefits. If not, ultimately we will all fail—together.