The Soviet Union
“At every dinner meal there are always three glasses: one for water, one for wine, and one for vodka, which flows like water, and with apparently as little effect upon Russians.”
“There are three different Russian automobiles. This is the cheapest, and most popular — hundreds and hundreds of cars stacked, all the same lemon color. Obviously, that month the factory was producing yellow.
I watched all of this industry pass and it came through to me on that bus ride down to Samarkand that this land was not industrial so much as it was industrious. There was a flavor of people working hard and doing things and it was very attractive. On top of that, I learned that this area between Tashkent and Samarkand was once known as the “Hungry Desert” because although it was fertile, no rain ever fell and it was covered with a coat of salt. Through technology devised to lift the salt, and a great deal of human hands and engineering, this whole area has been made to bloom, and it really does bloom. It is being farmed, mostly with cotton. People live here and there are massive irrigation ditches and pipes that maintain trees where there are towns and collective farms. All through Uzbekistan the feeling of a desert having been reclaimed and bearing huge fruit is very constant.”
“She talked most movingly of the history of the women of Uzbekistan. The ways in which the women of this area, from 1924 on, fought to come out from behind complete veiling, from Moslem cloister to the twentieth century. How they gave their lives to go bare-faced, to be able to read. Many of them fought and many of them died very terrible deaths in this battle, killed by their own fathers and brothers.”
“On the West Coast of Africa, the Fon of Dahomey still have twelve different kinds of marriage. One of them is known as “giving the goat to the buck,” where a woman of independent means marries another woman who then may or may not bear children, all of whom will belong to the blood line of the first woman. Some marriages of this kind are arranged to provide heirs for women of means who wish to remain “free,” and some are lesbian relationships. Marriages like these occur throughout Africa, in several different places among different peoples. Routinely, the women involved are accepted members of their communities, evaluated not by their sexuality but by their respective places within the community.”
“Oppressors always expect the oppressed to extend to them the understanding so lacking in themselves.”
“Mary, I ask that you be aware of how this serves the destructive forces of racism and separation between women — the assumption that the herstory and myth of white women is the legitimate and sole herstory and myth of all women to call upon for power and background, and that nonwhite women and our herstories are noteworthy only as decorations, or examples of female victimization. I ask that you be aware of the effect that this dismissal has upon the community of Black women and other women of Color, and how it devalues your own words. This dismissal does not essentially differ from the specialized devaluations that make Black women prey, for instance, to the murders even now happening in your own city. When patriarchy dismisses us, it encourages our murderers.”
“For survival, they must also be raised to recognize the enemy’s many faces. Black children of lesbian couples have an advantage because they learn, very early, that oppression comes in many different forms, none of which have anything to do with their own worth.”
“When a people share a common oppression, certain kinds of skills and joint defenses are developed. And if you survive you survive because those skills and defenses have worked. When you come into conflict over other existing differences, there is a vulnerability to each other which is desperate and very deep. And that is what happens between Black men and women because we have certain weapons we have perfected together that white women and men have not shared. I said this to someone, and she said, very rightly, the same thing exists within the Jewish community between Jewish men and Jewish women. I think the oppression is different, but the same mechanism of vulnerability exists. When you share a common oppression you have certain additional weapons against each other because you’ve forged them in secret together against a common enemy.”
“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know M that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”
“For it is not the anger of Black women which is dripping down over this globe like a diseased liquid. It is not my anger that launches rockets, spends over sixty thousand dollars a second on missiles and other agents of war and death, slaughters children in cities, stockpiles nerve gas and chemical bombs, sodomizes our daughters and our earth. It is not the anger of Black women which corrodes into blind, dehumanizing power, bent upon the annihilation of us all unless we meet it with what we have, our power to examine and to redefine the terms upon which we will live and work; our power to envision and to reconstruct, anger by painful anger, stone upon heavy stone, a future of pollinating difference and the earth to support our choices.”
“I don’t like to talk about hate. I don’t like to remember the cancellation and hatred, heavy as my wished-for death, seen in the eyes of so many white people from the time I could see. It was echoed in newspapers and movies and holy pictures and comic books and Amos ‘n Andy radio programs. I had no tools to dissect it, no language to name it.
The AA subway train to Harlem. I clutch my mother’s sleeve, her arms full of shopping bags, christmas-heavy. The wet smell of winter clothes, the train’s lurching. My mother spots an almost seat, pushes my little snowsuited body down. On one side of me a man reading a paper. On the other, a woman in a fur hat staring at me. Her mouth twitches as she stares and then her gaze drops down, pulling mine with it. Her leather-gloved hand plucks at the line where my new blue snowpants and her sleek fur coat meet. She jerks her coat closer to her. I look. I do not see whatever terrible thing she is seeing on the seat between us probably a roach. But she has communicated her horror to me. It must be something very bad from the way she’s looking, so I pull my snowsuit closer to me away from it, too. When I look up the woman is still staring at me, her nose holes and eyes huge. And suddenly I realize there is nothing crawling up the seat between us; it is me she doesn’t want her coat to touch. The fur brushes past my face as she stands with a shudder and holds on to a strap in the speeding train. Born and bred a New York City child, I quickly slide over to make room for my mother to sit down. No word has been spoken. I’m afraid to say anything to my mother because I don’t know what I’ve done. I look at the sides of my snowpants, secretly. Is there something on them? Something’s going on here I do not understand, but I will never forget it. Her eyes. The flared nostrils. The hate.
My three-year-old eyes ache from the machinery used to test them. My forehead is sore. I have been poked and prodded in the eyes and stared into all morning. I huddle into the tall metal and leather chair, frightened and miserable and wanting my mother. On the other side of the eye clinic’s examining room, a group of young white men in white coats discuss my peculiar eyes. M Only one voice remains in my memory. “From the looks of her she’s probably simple, too.” They all laugh. One of them comes over to me, enunciating slowly and carefully, “OK, girlie, go wait outside now.” He pats me on the cheek. I am grateful for the absence of harshness.
The Story Hour librarian reading Little Black Sambo. Her white fingers hold up the little book about a shoebutton-faced little boy with big red lips and many pigtails and a hatful of butter. I remember the pictures hurting me and my thinking again there must be something wrong with me because everybody else is laughing and besides the library downtown has given this little book a special prize, the library lady tells us.
SO WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU, ANYWAY? DON’T BE SO SENSITIVE!
Sixth grade in a new catholic school and I am the first Black student. The white girls laugh at my braided hair. The nun sends a note home to my mother saying that “pigtails are not appropriate attire for school,” and that I should learn to comb my hair in “a more becoming style.”
Lexie Goldman and I on Lexington Avenue, our adolescent faces flushed from springtime and our dash out of high school. We stop at a luncheonette, ask for water. The woman behind the counter smiles at Lexie. Gives us water. Lexie’s in a glass. Mine in a paper cup. Afterward we joke about mine being portable. Too loudly.
My first interview for a part-time job after school. An optical company on Nassau Street has called my school and asked for one of its students. The man behind the counter reads my application and then looks up at me, surprised by my Black face. His eyes remind me of the woman on the train when I was five. Then something else is added, as he looks me up and down, pausing at my breasts.”
“Growing up, metabolizing hatred like a daily bread. Because I am Black, because I am woman, because I am not Black enough, because i am not some particular fantasy of a woman, because I AM. On such a consistent diet, one can eventually come to value the hatred of one’s enemies more than one values the love of friends, for that hatred becomes the source of anger, and anger is a powerful fuel.
And true, sometimes it seems that anger alone keeps me alive; it burns with a bright and undiminished flame. Yet anger, like guilt, is an incomplete form of human knowledge. More useful than hatred, but still limited. Anger is useful to help clarify our differences, but in the long run, strength that is bred by anger alone is a blind force which cannot create the future. It can only demolish the past. Such strength does not focus upon what lies ahead, but upon what lies behind, upon what created it — hatred. And hatred is a deathwish for the hated, not a lifewish for anything else.
To grow up metabolizing hatred like daily bread means that eventually every human interaction becomes tainted with the negative passion and intensity of its by-products — anger and cruelty.”
“Little brown niggerbaby candies testified against us. We survived the wind-driven spittle on our child’s shoe and pink flesh-colored bandaids, attempted rapes on rooftops and the prodding fingers of the super’s boy, seeing our girlfriends blown to bits in Sunday School, and we absorbed that loathing as a natural state. We had to metabolize such hatred that our cells have learned to live upon it because we had to, or die of it. Old King Mithridates learned to eat arsenic bit by bit and so outwitted his poisoners, but I’d have hated to kiss him upon his lips! Now we deny such hatred ever existed because we have learned to neutralize it through ourselves, and the catabolic process throws off waste products of fury even when we love.
I see hatred
I am bathed in it, drowning in it since almost the beginning of my life
it has been the air I breathe
the food I eat, the content of my perceptions;
the single most constant fact of my existence
is their hatred
I am too young for my history
It is not that Black women shed each other’s psychic blood so easily, but that we have ourselves bled so often, the pain of bloodshed becomes almost commonplace. If I have learned to eat my own flesh in the forest — starving, keening, learning the lesson of the she-wolf who chews off her own paw to leave the trap behind — if I must drink my own blood, thirsting, why should I stop at yours until your dear dead arms hang like withered garlands upon my breast and I weep for your going, oh my sister, I grieve for our gone.”