“I know the anger lies inside of me like I know the beat of my heart and the taste of my spit. It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.” ~ Audre Lorde (Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches)
You may have noticed that I’ve begun each post of this series with a quote from Audre Lorde. The depth of her insights astounds me. In her life, she was an African-American, lesbian woman. I share that because I am aware that I have no idea, no sense at all, of the major amount of oppression she must have faced in her life.
Her words cut my heart open. Wide.
My anger, my rage has been hidden most of my life. Hidden way down. She knew her anger like the beat of her heart and the taste of her spit.
When I read these lines, my heart stopped at ‘the threatening universe of whiteness’.
It would be really easy for me to write something here about Lorde’s quote and how it affected me. I could leave it at that, but I can’t.
Let me take a moment to share something else.
In the comments
of part one of this series, a woman named Kierra D. Foster-Ba shared this:
Both a scratch and a gaping wound share some commonalities. This does not mean they are the same or that the only difference is the degree or severity. This is how I feel when people of privilege talk about oppression. Yes, everyone experiences being treated unfairly but this does not mean that they are oppressed. There are various statistics that reveal that white women have overwhelmingly (at least statistically) benefited from affirmative action, something that people of color have been demonized for. So while, I would not challenge your feelings, your feelings are yours. I think in 2011 oppression is a strong word for a middle class, educated white woman to use. To me oppression is when 97% of the images of people you share several identity groups with (race; gender; complexion; body size; shape) are buffoons; belligerent; and unbelievable ignorant. A recent commercial for bounce comes to mind. It is a series about different people and the way they use bounce. The large black woman announces “Ah put em…Ah put em in my shoes; Ah put in my drawers….Ah put em; Ah bin put em for years.” This is oppression. These images of the angry; unattractive; ignorant and large black woman have not changed from the antebellum period to now, but the images of priveledged white women have changed from fainting women too fragile to work to smart; competative; atheletic women who are equal to men.
When I first read Kierra’s comment, I was taken aback. In my experience, the oppression I have suffered has been very painful. And, I don’t think it helps to judge who’s pain is more.
Kierra’s comment has stayed with me. I’ve promised myself to really be ruthless with my own bullshit. Her words pull at me, telling me to stop, listen, feel.
Just before I posted part two of this series, my article, The Courage to Sin, was unexpectedly posted on the Huffington Post. I didn’t expect this, because I submitted the post a while ago, and the post is long. The team at HP told me it was too long. They asked me to cut it down and I chose not to. Suddenly, as I found myself knee-deep in this series, it appeared, and I received this comment:
I guess it depends on who’s doing the ‘sinning’, since all women aren’t held to the same standard.
For example, myself being black,for me and a white woman to commit the same ‘sin’ isn’t the same. I will always be looked at and judged more harshly, and the worst motives will always be attributed to my actions. It’s not fun, free or innocent when I do it, it’s seen as evidence of an inherent lowliness.
Her words, “inherent lowliness” caused my heart to hurt, again. Those words are a direct hit to the hierarchical bigotry of patriarchy.
I responded saying none of this is fun, free or innocent for me, either…AND, “I hear the pain in your words. I want to know your story.”
I know of my own experience, of friend’s and client’s experiences with oppression. There are experiences of personal oppression, group oppression, systemic oppression and god knows what other kinds. Yes, there are degrees of oppression. And, there are very loud and obvious forms, and there are some very silent, very hidden forms.
I do know, after 54 years of living on this planet, that I will never really know your experience, or Kierra’s, or this other woman who courageously shared herself. I can only know mine. And, I do know that I want to hear their stories, hear your story, while at the same time have you hear mine.
Somewhere it could be easy to slip into silence again, a silence that comes from believing my story shouldn’t be told aloud because I was born white. No one has said that. I just know me, the old me. A while ago, I did believe that. I didn’t speak of it. As I read these words of women of color and their experiences, I know all our stories hold something another woman needs to hear.
The privilege I have enjoyed,
has given me things other women have not had. Some who have read this series have wondered if I’m attempting to speak of privilege as something to feel guilt about. I’m not. What I am wanting to share, here, is my process of investigating into the story I tell myself about silence, privilege and oppression in my life.
I truly want to know where I am not telling myself the truth, where I keep myself separate, where my own consciousness is stuck, holding on to something that I think is serving, but that really is not.
Guilt isn’t going to help anyone. Ruthless truth-telling will. Compassion for myself and my fellow sisters will. A genuine hunger to know what will break the barriers of separation with my sisters, so we can join hands to voice our collective “Enough is enough!” will.
Going back to Audre Lorde’s quote, I was shaken by the realization that an extremely intelligent, insightful, beautiful woman saw whiteness as a “threatening universe”. I am of this universe. I am a part of this threatening universe. I am of this whiteness.
When I read this, “It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.” my eyes light on the words, “worth wanting each other”. I don’t know the exact context that led to Lorde’s words, yet I am deeply touched by the depth of her heart. I do know that when I read them, I realized all women, no matter what complexion, race, socio-economic background, religion, nationality, age, sexual orientation, are worth wanting.
I know I am worth you wanting me, and I know you are worth my wanting you.
I now so clearly see that one of the most important ways I give up my power when I continue the deceit of privilege, is the power of connected women. When I speak of power, here, it’s not power over, but power with, and I know I am most powerful when my voice is joined in Sisterhood.
The old way is of hierarchy, the new way is not yet known.
And, the way of the Feminine is connectedness, relationship, weaving and circles. I can’t stand together with other women when I hold onto privilege out of fear of what might come if I lose it.
These past days of living this series of posts have brought many moments of synchronicity. I know, when we are doing what we’re here to do, symbols and offerings show up directly in one’s lived experience. I discovered this poem on Louise Rooney’s blog. The poem speaks to what is happening right now in our world. It speaks to the power that privilege and silence robs us of, the power of women united, voices rising and heard.
This World (by Rose Flint)
In Sudan, a Muslim woman journalist
faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers in a restaurant.
In Afghanistan, the family of Nadia the Poet
who wrote of love and beauty, said she shamed them –
she may have died with her scholar husband’s hands
around her throat. Sometimes lipstick is a crime
And Shakespeare, maths, and the desire to dance.
And still a woman’s unbound hair incites a man
to sexual violence – she must be covered up
in darkness, top to toe, to keep her safe.
So. In America, loving mothers give their daughters
breast implants for graduation. Thirty-two thousand
women seek breast surgery every month.
And in Africa, mothers, grandmothers, take the little girls
to the rusty knives of genital mutilation.
All this is fear and desperation,
the last acts of Old Order who is dying on his feet
and punching blind. This is when it changes.
The Goddess wakes. Everywhere, there are women
finding courage, taking action, speaking out, risking
their own lives for other women, refusing to collude.
This is Feminism now: becoming Sisterhood –
politician, priestess and protester working together,
sharing what it means to be Woman, everywhere.
Our linked hands and strong hearts are a power;
the Goddess is returning through each one of us
and we are bringing deep changes. We are dreaming in
a future that gives hope to the World, we are
women’s voices rising: strident, beautiful – and heard.
This post is written in honor of International Women’s Day, 2011. I would love to know your reactions, experiences, insights or anything else you feel you would like to share.
I want to know your story.
This post is part of Heather Plett’s 100 Years :: 100 People :: 100 Changes project. Today, she is offering a free ebook, Sophia Rising, with contributions of 20 people from all over the world. I am honored to be a contributor to Heather’s book.