Everybody remembers the first time they were taught that part of the human race was Other. . . . It’s as though I told you that your left hand is not part of your body.
When I was a child, to call someone “black” was an insult, a curse word, something that made you fight. But to me it contains all of the history of oppression and resistance, of being close to the soil and the sky, of plain speaking.
My grandmother and my two aunts were an exhibition in resilience and resourcefulness and black womanhood. They rarely talked about the unfairness of the world with the words that I use now with my social-justice friends, words like intersectionality and equality, oppression and discrimination. They didn’t discuss those things because they were too busy living it, navigating it, surviving it.
Black women, we have attitude. We are the only people on earth born knowing how to roll our eyes with them closed.
Some people say all black people look alike. We call those people “police.”
Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another.
Is this why I didn’t get the job? Is this why my lease application was denied? Is this why I got into college? Is this why this person keeps following me around the grocery store? And when you ask, you’re looked at like you’re crazy, met with denial — because it’s always plausible, deniable.
To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.
Slavery is a memory of something we cannot remember, and yet we cannot forget.
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.
Why are all the angels white? Why ain’t there no black angels?
We have these immense possibilities of making something of ourselves, but we get sidetracked, by being a man, by being a woman, or being black, being white. All the dichotomies that Western thinking pushes us into.
Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries. In fact, racism and its perennial ally — economic exploitation — provide the key to understanding most of the international complications of this generation.
To cheapen the lives of any group of men, cheapens the lives of all men, even our own. This is a law of human psychology, or human nature. And it will not be repealed by our wishes, nor will it be merciful to our blindness.
[In Mecca, the holy city of Islam,] there were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and nonwhite.
The black, the white, the brown, the red, the yellow, the hetero, the homo, the trans, the poor, the rich, the literate, the illiterate, the weak, the strong — all are my sisters and brothers. My life is their life.