Reflections on Love, Tears and Activism
All over the world, there are women and men engaged in a project of transformation - folk who are not content to seek only the comfort of denial but would rather unearth the truths about the human condition in order to move us forward. These are those individuals, and collectives, who know that they are part of something….something which is sometimes undefinable, but which is known instinctively…rooted in the language of justice, equality, freedom, voice, space, creativity, respect, self-determination, autonomy….. and more. It’s not that such folk are void of ego or ambition. It’s not that they aren’t plagued by the demons of consumerism, misplaced desire or vanity. It’s not that they aren’t wholly human. It’s precisely their humanness that spurs them forward…often with an obsessive love for their ‘people’…which is oftentimes simply love for humanity. Over the years I’ve been blessed to meet so many of those activists, artists, speakers, workers, leaders, warriors, peace-makers, nurturers, healers, writers, thinkers…all dreaming and creating a different world. I remain in awe of each one…too many to name…from my feminist sistahs who I recently connected with in Aotearoa..Samoan, Maori, Indian and European alike, who gave me welcome, wisdom and solace, to my queer activist/artists heart-friends in Brixton who take me to new places in spirit and mind, to my beautiful, outrageous, creative and defiant Jamaican family, proud defenders ofqueer, Jamaican identities (who challenge me to remember my journeys and remember and know that ‘home’ is complicated but that we are engaged in decolonising our minds), to my feminist thinkers right here in the UK who are courageous enough to just push that vision one step further, to my home people who ground and inspire me, shower me with tenderness and fierceness and see into my soul in an instant…truly…my soul sistahs and my partner and children who give me joy, laughter and know me even in the darkness. There are also those who are no longer here…those we have lost along the way…those who I have embraced as well as those who I never met in the flesh but whose words have provided me with insight and strength. Each person has helped me along the way…lifting me, kicking my political butt, inspiring me, teaching me…holding my hand. I am grateful. Without this, I and others around me would struggle to hold on to the courage to keep doing ‘the thing’ that we do. Without this, this year, 2012, would have perhaps been a very different year.
2012 has been my year of tears. I have cried in joy and in pain. I have wept in sheer gratitude and awe. I have sobbed in hurt and frustration. I have belly-laughed till tears ran down my face and I have bitten down on my lips to stop tears from coming while my shaky voice still betrayed my emotions. It has been hard, heart-breaking, troubling, reassuring, painful, frustrating, treacherous, lonely, love-filled, fragile, wonderful and inspiring. In moving at an almost unnerving pace, I have been in and out of people’s homes, women’s refuges, community centres, detention centres, government buildings, police stations, airports, train stations, conference venues, Skype meetings, meeting rooms, taxis and hotels. I’ve experienced and really come to know how a depth of connection is possible in the briefest of interactions. I now truly know that a single conversation can move immediately to the soul and touch the core of self in ways that are usually reserved for the well-walked terrain of old friendships. I’ve come to truly understand that while longevity is a gift, it does not guarantee anything except itself. I’ve come to accept that privilege does not really interrogate itself except when something else (maybe conscience) arises and without the heartfelt interrogation of our own privilege, we cannot transform our world. I have been more aware of the gaps and silos in our thoughts and our practice than ever before. I know that in too many cases intersectionality has not made it off the pages of feminist texts into any kind of lived reality….and therefore I myself, with my intersecting identities and realities, am the embodiment of the difficult, the awkward and the problematic. For example, 2012 has been the year when I have truly understood that only a handful of my white feminist sisters, in this moment in time, are willing to interrogate their racism. I have understood this not because of academic debates or policy disagreements or arguments about agendas and priorities (like many black feminists I have come to accept such challenges as part and parcel of the course and whilst this is tiresome…much of it bounces off); instead, I have understood this in the moments of flippant comments, of intellectual dismissal, of misguided envy which interprets the places that my passion takes me to, and my speaking of the journey, as success and self-admiration. I have understood this because in this last year I have experienced being ‘taken down’ by women that I know – but who I now understand – cannot be with what my partner and I have now started calling soul melanin (a deliberate combination and conflationof terms which are themselves loaded)… for we are (those of us who are continuing this journey) always the ‘black-heart’ woman, the angry black woman, the uppity ‘negress’, the intellectual inferior, the one who dared to speak more, the one who had the audacity to defy, the one who dared to not ask permission of the mistress to speak, the one who is ‘larger than life’ etc.etc. I have walked into spaces where I am the acceptable face of blackness, while the sistah, sometimes the indigenous woman, trying to get her voice heard is ignored…because her words are different, her feminism somehow less than, her love of her black brother a source of suspicion, her attempt to shake off the roles offered to her seen as stupid or reactionary. I have sat in spaces where I was so clearly no longer the acceptable face of blackness because I dared to grow, reach, affirm or celebrate. I have been in meetings where the stench of racism filled the air and the women who I wanted to smell it…simply didn’t…while I watched the black women choking in the smell and all but one lament afterwards at how the ‘movers and shakers’ in our ‘sector’ could be this way…still. I have stopped having certain conversations with women that I care about and even love, because I have found their unwillingness to manage their own defensiveness…just too hard in moments when I am exhausted. Each scenario has broken pieces in heart….and I’ve done what I needed to do…handle the conversation…but oftentimes I have cried or stumbled into dark places in myself not in self-pity, but in hurt and rage that WE are still here. BUT each experience offers a lesson. In a recent conversation with my beautiful, friend and sistah, Dorett, she did her magical thing of pulling the truths out of my belly. She helped me to remember that it is indeed possible for me to love those very same women…but that I needn’t try to keep exposing my raw, black pain in order to have them deal with their racism. I could just understand that there must be necessary distance…and the common ground can be appreciated, and walked, but the different pathways are also who we are. Her counsel as always soothed and challenged me…perhaps getting me ready for another series of journeys. Her counsel also helped me reflect on what drives me…for while my ego is as important to me as everyone else’s…it isn’t my ego which drives me…it’s an overwhelming sense of urgency….it’s an obsessive, unwavering commitment to a different, equal, just, safe, free world….not in 100 years…but right now.
My grandmother, Mama, used to say we were all ‘living on borrowed time’. I’ve never really analysed that pronouncement, but Mama was a loving, formidable woman who believed that life, like time, should not be wasted. She knew that this is not a dress rehearsal. This really is IT! Maybe all of that time that I spent with her explains part of why I am so very driven. Maybe I have known and lost too many people and I know the fragility and uncertainty of life. Maybe I am mindful of how many feminist sisters have died in the last decade. Maybe I know that many of our queer warriors exist only now in our memories or in the legacies of change that they have bequeathed to us. Maybe I just know there’s a lot to do. Dorett helped me to articulate my sense of urgency. She helped me to unravel my sense of ‘I don’t know if there will be tomorrow, or later, I only have NOW’! So while I know I’m often tired, and I need to start spending more time with my friends again, and I want a holiday where I stare at the sea and get sand in between my toes…I know that as long as the colonisers refuse to be uncomfortable…while the colonised have to live with the anguish and ‘discomfort’ of legacies of colonialism then I can’t truly pretend to be free, I know that as long as religion continues to be a platform for hate, my spiritual freedom is threatened, I know that as long as women are killed simply for being women…this is not a free world…I know that as long as LGBTQ people are seen as less than…this is not the world I want to live and love in…and the list goes on. I want to live a long, full life…but as Bob Marley rightfully pointed out…this isn’t about ‘my life’….this is about something bigger…much bigger.
In love, remembrance and gratitude,
© Marai 2012