June Jordan

May 6, 2006

…I look for and work for defeat of international evil, indifference, and suffering, only when I am not otherwise stunned by the odds, temporarily paralyzed by the revulsion and grieving despair.

But life itself compels an optimism. It does not seem reasonable that the majority of the peoples of the world should, finally, lose joy, and rational justice, as a global experiment to be pursued and fiercely protected. It seems unreasonable that more than 400 million people, right now, struggle against hunger and starvation, even while there is arable earth aplenty to feed and nourish every one of us. It does not seem reasonable that the color of your skin should curse and condemn all of your days and the days of your children. It seems preposterous that gender, that being a woman, anywhere in the world, should elicit contempt, or fear, or ridicule…


I heard an Auschwitz survivor, Elly Gross… : “I guess it was my destiny to live.”

She meant that her life hopes to honor the memory of her mother and her five-year-old brother who were waved to the left – to their death – by a white-gloved Nazi officer, June 2, 1944, while she was waved to the right, first to Auschwitz and then to the slave labor at Fallersleben.

She meant that to live is not just a given: To live means you owe something big to those whose lives are taken away from them.

…I realized that regardless of the tragedy, regardless of the grief, regardless of the monstrous challenge, Some of Us Have Not Died.

…And what shall we do, we who did not die?

What shall we do now? How shall we grieve, and cry out loud, and face down despair? Is there an honorable non-violent means toward mourning and remembering who and what we loved?

from “Some of Us Did Not Die”

I’d gone to a conference about current “liberation” struggles and then, I’d noticed that, when it was time for a drink (and even, possibly, a cigarette), the men tended to the right and the women to the left of the bar.

While this sexual determinism struck me as a bit weird, I was completely dismayed by events of the following day.

A rather good-looking (if I may say so) Black scholar of substantial academic standing held forth on the exploitation of Black men and Black women in American cinema. Equipped with a host of film clips, and super-relentlessly polysyllabic commentary, this eminent Brother inveighed against the exploitative and, therefore, demeaning film presentation of physically attractive Black men and women, for almost an hour.

From the back row of the auditorium, I had a really hard time detecting the exploitation thing. What I could see, easily, were fully clothed, gorgeous Black men, or Black women, in various close-ups of irresistibly physical information.

That’s what I saw.

What I heard was “commodification” and “racist appropriation” and “trivialization,” and so on, and I wished I could just turn off the sound.

But I couldn’t do that.

However, that speaker was followed by a second, extremely good-looking (again, if I may say so) Black man who, before presenting his conference paper on something about prisons and the sixties, stunned that august assembly of self-declared radicals:

He said:

“In all honesty, I have to admit that, while I understand where my Brother was coming from, I also found those Black women attractive; I also got turned on!”

At this point, a Black woman in her twenties, a young scholar who had earlier made quite an impression as her well-trained mind raced into and out of ideas she handled with striking sophistication – that young scholar yelled, aloud, from her front row seat: “I can’t believe you said that! You make me sick!”

And, judging from the murmured support elicited by her outburst, she spoke for many…

Sex was no longer okay.

Well, behind that realization, I went into postmenopausal shock. I’d been misled. All the discussion of heterosexuality and bisexuality and gay and lesbian sexuality, all of that was not about sex! All of that was about issues requiring analysis of hegemonic consciousness and capitalistic patterns of primary affectional engagement. And meanwhile, sex, itself, was out of favor!

And just when I, for example, was getting interested. I mean, not only the politics and/or the psychology and/or the economics of sex, but, you know, the activating energies as well as the energetic activities of sex had just begun to dominate my imagination, and my daily circumlocutions, indoors and out!


I’m with Emma Goldman: If you can’t dance, it’s not my kind of revolution.

from “A Couple of Words on Behalf of Sex (Itself)”

That voice was not the voice of God… That was the voice of a leader who did not tell others to do what he would or could not do: bodily he gave witness to his faith that the righteous cause of his activity would constitute his safety.


…I would hope that we would not again impose the multiplicity of our best and desperate hopes upon the miracle of one man trying to do good.


And if we want others, different from ourselves and stronger, perhaps, than we, to notice what we need when we cannot, ourselves, eliminate our neediness, then we must not, ourselves, attempt to live deaf and dumb to the clamor of human crying out that surrounds us. For no matter how desolate our own condition, there is someone else depending on our humanity for his or her rescue.

from “The Mountain and the Man who was not God”

These New Men follow a rather cross-eyed vision of Far West mythology. No longer does The New Man pit himself against much greater odds than he can ever see – pestilence, drought, outlaw bands of cattle thieves, and corporate encroachment upon his lands. Instead, he preys upon his wife, his children, his Black coworker, the poor, the elderly, Grenada, Nicaragua, and he boasts about it – if not at the neighborhood bar, then at a full scale press conference held at The Big House.


On the wall there is a crucifix. But, in this room, Christ is a tribal prince. He leads to nothing but ruin. One is never right to invoke him in such circumstances, because the true Christ only exists when one stands up to one’s own brothers to defend the Stranger. [from novel Sitt-Marie Rose by Etel Adnan]

The fear of telling the truth is the most painful sensation of a moral life.

from “Life After Lebanon”

…several weeks ago, a graduate student came to discuss her grade. I praised the excellence of her final paper; indeed it had seemed to me an extraordinary pulling together of recent left brain / right brain research with the themes of transcendental poetry.

She told me that, for her part, she’d completed her reading of my political essays. “You are so lucky!” she exclaimed.

“What do you mean by that?”

“You have a cause. You have a purpose to your life.”

I looked carefully at this white woman; what was she really saying to me?

“What do you mean?” I repeated.

“Poverty. Police violence. Discrimination in general.”

(Jesus Christ, I thought: Is this her idea of lucky?)

from “Report from the Bahamas”

It takes courage to say that the good were defeated not because they were good, but because they were weak. [Bertolt Brecht]

from “Many Rivers to Cross”

At the SUNY in Stony Brook, where I have been teaching this past year… when I said, this is not my class, this is our class, I do not want to hear what I think, I need to know what you think, the students told me, finally, that they were dumbfounded. They thought it must be a set-up or else a jive undertaking… my primary challenge is, year after year, to convince our children that they know something we need to know, and that their own feelings are important…

…Who among us is competent to raise our children? Who among us is competent to have a love affair? Who among us is competent, who among us is strong enough and sure enough and safe enough and happy enough to truly love and protect those who are smaller and weaker than we are? Who among us is competent enough in genuine life science and life art so that we can foster and appreciate and calmly explore the potentiality of a different way of doing things, a different way of seeing things, a different, a new way of being at home in the world?

…Can we not learn from our children because we cannot believe that we are capable of having created a new life that may save our own? Are we bankrupt of self-love to the degree that we cannot have faith in the innocence and the willingness and the tenderly discovering and perpetual energy and excitement of our young people?

from “Old Stories, New Lives”

The vast innocence of my students, Black and white, signified a vulnerability that I became increasingly determined not to violate with endless bad news.

from “Notes Toward a Black Balancing of Love and Hatred”

All of this started with my uncle… He showed me numerous ways to disarm/disable an assailant. But what he told me is what I best remember: “It’s a bully. Probably you can’t win. That’s why he’s picking the fight. But if you go in there, saying to yourself, ‘I may not win this one but it’s going to cost you; if you hit me you better hope to take me out. Because I’ll be going for your life.’ – If you go in there like that they’ll leave you alone. And remember: it’s a bully. It’s not about fair. From the start: it’s not about fair.”

…I learned, in short, that fighting is a whole lot less disagreeable than turning tail or knuckling under. It feels better. Besides, he was right; I lost a lot of fights as a kid in Bedford-Stuyvesant. But nobody fought me twice. They said I was “crazy.”


I loved words and I hated to fight. But if, as a Black girl-child in America, I could not evade the necessity to fight, then, maybe, I could choose my weaponry at least.


As Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer said as she stood on her porch in Mississippi, “Ain’ no such thing as I can hate anybody and hope to see God’s face.”


My life seems to be an increasing revelation of the intimate face of universal struggle. You begin with your family and the kids on the block, and next you open your eyes to what you call your people and that leads you into land reform into Black English into Angola leads you back to your own bed where you lie by yourself, wondering if you deserve to be peaceful, or trusted or desired or left to the freedom of your own unfaltering heart…

And then if you’re lucky, and I have been lucky, everything comes back to you. And then you know why one of the freedom fighters in the sixties, a young Black woman interviewed shortly after she was beaten up for riding near the front of an interstate bus – you know why she said, “We are all so very happy.”

It’s because it’s on. All of us and me by myself: we’re on.

from “Foreword to Civil Wars”


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