I went to In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, by Alice Walker, The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward, and Fiyah, Issue 1, to recapture the trick of living while oppressed. I seem to have lost it in my 20s or 30s when I could wrap the privilege of having a job with money, living in NYC among a chosen community, with the status of a married woman around me like a force field. I had left behind the teachers who belittled the idea of a woman or a black man inventing the cotton gin and the boyfriend who hit me and I channelled most of my rage into my non-profit job securing women’s reproductive rights and occasionally at the men on the street who told me to smile. I had money for taxis at night and didn’t worry as much about walking home after dark.
I forgot what it’s like to live not feeling safe.
I forgot what it’s like to live with white skin my only privilege (yes it’s a big one).
The world has not been free of injustice, but it seemed it was getting better. And now it’s getting so much worse with bewildering speed. So I’m drawing on the coping mechanisms, the organizing strategies, the ideas of how to live, how to resist, how to be an artist, of people who never had a chance to forget. Who didn’t have the privilege to forget. And I’m crying, but it’s not all tears of rage and despair, some of those tears are for recognition, beauty and strength.
I chose In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens because it was immediately available at my library, I remember reading her essays in college and because she is (relatively) old school now. I wanted to see what a black womanist activist was saying about the 60s and 70s (knowing that so much has changed and so much has not changed). I went to The Fire This Time, because it’s current and can tell me about now, this moment we’re living in. And it blew me away. There’s not one essay or poem in the collection that didn’t bring connections up to the surface for me or move me. “Message to My Daughters” by Edwidge Danticat made me cry in public, at a restaurant. “Know Your Rights!” by Emily Raboteau made me hopeful, because there is always resistance. “White Rage” by Carol Anderson told me about my people and I have her book on hold at the library now. Everyone should read this book. It will galvanize you. It will help you understand our world. It will give you models for resistance. And I went to Fiyah because life is about more than essays, it’s about art, which reveals reality, and hopes and fears, and speculative fiction is my go-to reading choice. I recommend it, even if, especially if, you’re not white and the stories don’t “resonate” with you. How are they going to ever resonate if you don’t immerse yourself or give them a chance? And even if they don’t resonate, ever, at least you learned something about others and yourself.