Words to Live By

June Jordan, Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton, and Audre Lorde at the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival in 1979.
June Jordan, Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton, and Audre Lorde at the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival in 1979.

I’m ready to say “don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lorde split ya” to the month of October. Is it me or was this past month just extra ridiculous? From the ongoing shenanigans in Ferguson, to the exploits of so-called white allies in the anti-street harassment movement, to the tomfoolery of Thug Kitchen (I knew they had to be white hipsters), to the yearly ritual of blackface that is Halloween–there has been a range of indignities big and small thrown at people of color that boggle the mind.

But wait, you say, that’s every month.

Right. You are absolutely right. (Sigh).

Even though I…you…we should be inured to this foolishness, some days it feels like the wounds are broken open anew and that this shit is too much to take. And for those moments I need the healing words of women I admire—the mentors and friends in my head—that help me move through the world with dignity and not just collapse under the weight of all the hatred and violence.  Here are some of my favorites in my mental arsenal.

When micro and macroagressions try to reduce my humanity on the daily, I remember the words of indigenous-rights activist Rigoberta Menchú:

“We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism.”

When I recognize the root of the fear directed at me as I move through the world, I remember the words of memoirist and trans advocate, Janet Mock:

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power—not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.”

When I’m feeling low about my work I remember the words of labor activist, Dolores Huerta:

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”

When I’m feeling like taking care of myself has no room on my agenda—a constant struggle—I remember the words of our Lorde:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

When I’m meditating on the difficult work of moving through the world in love, I think of civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs’ words:

“Love isn’t about what we did yesterday; it’s about what we do today and tomorrow and the day after.”

When I feel like my voice is too small, too unimportant to be shared or heard, I remember the words of my personal guru, Toni Morrison:

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

And when I am making a way out of no way, I remember the words of my favorite poet, Lucille Clifton:

 won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Take these words into November. I know I will.

9 thoughts on “Words to Live By

  1. Thank you so much for writing out these quotes and elevating the voices of Black women!

    Just a note: Janet Mock did use that quote in her book Redefining Realness, however, she was quoting bell hooks. See page 195 of her book where she explicitly states this. No shade! Just offering the info. Maybe this post could be edited to reflect a correction and/or replaced with something else directly from Janet Mock?

    Thanks again for all the amazing work y’all at CRC are doing. Keeping up with this blog keeps me sane and I feel a hell of a lot less alone.

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