excerpt from “The Nine Sentiments” by Michael Ondaatje
Life before desire
Cities without rivers or bells.
Where is the forest
not cut down
for profit or literature
whose blossoms instead
will close the heart
Where is the suitor
one can talk with
Where is the room
without the damn god of love?
By Jessica Horn
Editors Note: We were scheduled to post a reflection by Jessica Horn later in this second week of our global forum celebrating Audre Lorde’s life and living legacy. However, TFW Contributing Editor and co-editor, with Sokari Ekine, of Queer African Reader, Hakima Abbas recently informed us that the Ugandan President *just* signed the Anti-Homosexuality bill into law. There is no time like the present. For most of us, “Today Is Not the Day.” We must use our wherewithal to do whatever we’re able to do to support our LGBTQIA Brothers and Sisters in Uganda whose lives are in grave state sanctioned danger. Family in Uganda are using #IAmGoingNowhere to speak out. If you use twitter and are able, please follow the conversation today and use the hashtag in solidarity.
Without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression… ~ Audre Lorde
I found Audre Lorde as an undergraduate student at Smith College. She was one of the pieces of gold that emerged from a frantic search in libraries, bookshops, classrooms and student organising spaces, a search for echoes of anything that reflected the experience of my feminist left upbringing in what we then called the ‘Third World’, my east African ancestry, the African continent whose liberation I cared so much for, and the new identity of political blackness that I embraced as I came to understand the history of Black, Latina and first Nations struggle in the USA. I was in search of African feminists, of black feminists- and I found poet-philosophers. Yes, I found June Jordan, Sonia Sanchez, Gloria Anzaldua, Chrystosand Sandra Cisneros. And I found Audre Lorde.
Audre Lorde wrote. She wrote and she wrote and she wrote. The volume of her poetic and analytical production in relation to her years on this earth is itself a cause for celebration. She wrote in what feels like a different activist economy, an economy of independent feminist presses, and feminist collectives, left-wing bookshops and social spaces that gave physical ground to intellectual communities. She wrote from the vantage point of a liberated imagination, one that could even name itself as a black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet- a set of interlaced identities that signaled a unification of ways of being in this world often deemed as mutually exclusive.
These days we obsess about Beyoncé’s feminist contributions as celebrity culture and one-liner politics invade via cyber-space, and as the world burns around us in religious fundamentalist backlash. Audre Lorde’s writing reminds us of the power of depth. Of taking on a part of life and burrowing deep enough that you start to see the interconnections, to see that all the strands of this devastating, complex, beautiful life are in fact woven together. To be able to see how the macro-political and the micro-narratives of our intimate lives connect- that is what Audre Lorde’s work offers us.
Today the President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. This follows on from the passing of the Anti-Pornography Act in Uganda which enables greater state surveillance of people’s private lives, and echoes the Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act and other legislation in recent years in many other African countries aimed at solidifying exclusion and hatred in law. This legal trend brings into sharp relief the reality that our bodies remain the battlegrounds on which all struggles for patriarchal power and control are waged. Our sexualities are in the focus, with states seizing the sovereignty of our own bodies away from each and every one of us, while paying scant attention to the demands we ourselves put on them around our bodily integrity. We demand quality accessible healthcare, tackling impunity for violence against women and girls and the often appalling treatment of women and girl survivors by police and the courts, and creating economic environments that support our ability to live autonomous, meaningful lives. Instead, we get laws that call for imprisonment and collective censorship of our legitimate desires.
Audre Lorde warned us in her essay on Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference that
unless one lives and loves in the trenches it is difficult to remember that the war against dehumanization is ceaseless.
It feels like everybody is living and loving in the trenches now. Everyone is under attack, regardless of their identities. Its time to rise up, to throw away the silences as Audre encouraged us to, and to realize, as she did, that we may not be able to choose
the time, and the arena and the manner of our revolution… we must do battle where we are standing
Published 24 February 2014 on The Feminist Wire
Today in Rio de Janeiro, people devoted to the Afro-American religions gather on Copacabana beach to leave offerings to the goddess Yemaja - the ocean, the essence of motherhood.
To meditate on the meaning of Assata Shakur is to meditate on the meaning of a vibrant tradition of revolutionary black women’s thought and action, and how it has shaped our sense of what it means to be gendered beings in societies framed by multiple injustices. My own feminist politics evolved through an immersion in the introspective words and equally profound deeds of African American feminist women like Assata Shakur, Sonia Sanchez, June Jordan and Angela Davis. Each in their varying incarnations of black feminism affirmed that it is possible to be both militant and magical. In their internationalism they also offered a politics that echoed the Third Worldist, left, liberation and anti-apartheid perspectives that framed my own childhood and political beginnings.
My respect for Assata and for the activist political tradition from which she comes does not emerge from a naïve romanticism about the bravery of “revolutionaries” or the daring resistance of armed struggle. In fact I remain ambivalent but largely against the use of arms as a tool for transformation, because while I understand the tactical argument I am still find myself unable to support approaches that I do not see as halting the cycle of violence or challenging the militarised framing of our lives. However I think it may also be a distraction to focus on one aspect of activist strategy, born as it was in a heated historical moment and in the face of active state violence, and not look at the full scope of the black feminist revolutionary politics of Assata Shakur and others who participated in the Black Panther Party. In Assata we find a mind and a heart that calls on us to name and confront structural violence through equally profound changes in how our world is ordered. In her politics she articulates the connections between all systems of injustice, and the rich interconnected struggle needed to take this on. In her example is a call is to do something about it.
Weapons of mass love
It seems too easy, even feeble, to frame your political adversary as a terrorist- as if there is no more eloquent moral argument you can make to assert your political disagreement. Yes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the USA moved to place Assata Shakur on its list of Most Wanted Terrorists, cash bounty and all, this year. In being labelled a “terrorist”, Assata joins many of the people we would all call “visionaries”, “voices of freedom”…“the beautiful ones”; people like Angela Davis and Nelson Mandela whose sheer intelligence and capacity to turn people’s minds towards thoughts of liberation made them a threat that had to be controlled. Indeed speaking of Nelson Mandela, we should remember that this beloved global symbol of integrity and democratic ethics was only removed from the United States list of terrorists in 2008.
What then is terror? To us systematic sexist and racist oppression is terror. Economic marginalisation is terror. Hatred and homophobia is terror. The lack of an accessible quality public health system is terror. State inaction and impunity in the face of violence against women and girls is terror. Clearly neither me nor anyone who stands for feminist transformation, radical inclusivity, and redistribution of power and possibility into the hands of the majority would stand for any form of fundamentalism or hate-inspired politics. Our strength and our fight have always been plurality and creating a just peace. As Assata Shakur herself has articulated in the poem that opens her autobiography: “I believe in living/ I believe in birth/ I believe in the sweat of love/ and in the fire of truth”. Our fight has always been against the terror of oppression; our fight has always been for love.
As we celebrate Assata Shakur’s birthday we celebrate the necessity of taking back the power to name and define our world, and from that place of agency, to shape our present. As we celebrate her, we also celebrate a tradition of black women’s radicalism which keeps pushing us to stand together, to stand inside love, and fight for all of humanity. And we listen to Assata’s wisdom, carried to us through a musical collaboration with d’bi young: “we need a revolution of the mind, we need a revolution of the heart, we need a revolution of the spirit. The power of people is stronger than any weapon, a people’s revolution can’t be stopped. We need to be weapons of mass construction, weapons of mass love”. We are ready Assata. We know we have to carry on the work.
- Jessica Horn, Published on The Feminist Wire, 12 July 2013
Celebrating the African, activist, feminist brilliance of some of my favourite musicians of all time- the late Chiwoniso and Bi Kidude who I have been blessed to meet and dance with, and Simphiwe Dana, Thandiswa Mazwai and Fatoumata Diawara who move my world! Custom tshirt by www.thefreshesttshirt.com #africanwomenrock #afrifem
I call myself a feminist because I am working hard on becoming a politically effective one. I believe that my commitment to feminist values grows out of my genuine love and respect for the woman who raised me and protected me as a child. As an adult that founding love and respect has progressively been translated into a renewed commitment to women and politics in general.[..].. I am inspired by the current vibrancy of the women’s movement and radical transnational feminism as alternatives to mainstream heteronormative cultural values. I am inspired by critical feminists who seek to change the way we think and feel—so that we can contribute much more compassionately. I am inspired by philosophical thoughts and art forms: that make me see differently. I am inspired by transformative scholarship and political perspectives that affirm the creativity and positivity of others’ difference.”- Caroline Bazarrabusa Horn, Ugandan feministI am actually in tears reading my mum’s entry in Voice, Power and Soul: Portraits of African Feminists II — to realise that this really is my heritage, a lineage of feminist revolutionary love. This is my mother’s voice. ♥