The personal is political:
Learning about liberation
The personal is political:
Learning about liberation
As girls ask why, they seek out answers beyond themselves: in the words and wisdom of others; in books and films; in mythology and popular narrative. Other girls, not yet in conscious relationship with oppression, stumble across a word, a phrase, a book, a space, a place that opens up a whole new way of looking at the world. A portal into a politicised existence. No matter where or how she finds them, spaces of consciousness raising and political education are an essential entrypoint for – or next step in – girls’ journeys of resistance.
I found this book called Victoire ou la douleur des femmes by Gilbert Schlogel. It’s a book about the premises of the European feminist movements. In the environment I grew up in, there were more important things to do than questioning life or resisting. I think that we internalised women’s quote-unquote “inferior status”. So, that book planted a seed in my mind. While reading it I realised that it was possible to rebel and fight for what we believe in. This book was like a wake-up call. That book planted a seed…He said: “Don’t talk to me like that, you owe me respect.” I don’t know what I was thinking but I answered: “Parents owe their children respect too. Children aren’t the only ones who must respect their parents, you owe me respect as well. Today, you disrespected us!” I said that knowing what to expect and then bam! He slapped me! He said, “Who do you think you are to talk to me this way? Don’t you know that the Bible says honor your parents?” That evening I said: “And the Bible also says to respect your wife!” Oh my God, I don’t know how I gathered the courage to speak to him like that on that night!
She said, you wrote that story last year about being raped, right? I said yes. And she said to me, I want to tell you that that story changed my life. I was gobsmacked. I was like, what? She said, it changed my life. And that was when I realised what that activism was. I didn’t have the word for it, but I realised then that that was activism…
…And she stopped to talk to me and stuff and she said to me, listen I read this story that you wrote last year about being raped and I want to tell you, you completely changed my life. That was the second time in two months.
Books play a very important role or part in my life. So in 1980, the first book that I read – a political book – was the biography of Albert Luthuli, “Let My People Go”. And I read that book. That was also like a turning point for me. I think reading that. And then I started to read a lot of other books about what happened in other countries. I remember there was this one book about this woman and guerrilla warfare. The book’s name was “Domitila”. I don’t know who the author is but I read that one. We had – it wasn’t like a book, we had to get photocopies.
We didn’t have money to go buy books. If you get somebody who’s got the book, then you ask for the book and then you make copies and then you distribute the copies amongst ourselves.
Maya Angelou, I am thinking Toni Morrison, Audre Lord… because in there i feel…whenever I felt that this resistance, this activism world which gets often lonely, or I am at a place of giving up or just need to take a break. I always refer to the words written by these women. I would say this keeps me going.
When I was younger, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary McLeod Bethune were two of the ones who just really… I don’t know why I read about them so much, but they just came across my eyes a lot. Also getting introduced to the work of Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou very early and then as I continued to grow, I think it went from just being like activist-educator black women to being more the women writers like Pearl Cleage, Alice Walker. Goodness, so many. Ntozake Shange changed my life. I still remember when I found For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. For the longest time I just carried that book around because there was something in her pages that just made me feel like, I wasn’t alone, my experience was not alien. It was in fact kindred to a whole cadre of other women who I might never lay my eyes on but we could meet together in the pages of her book.
CBC used to run these black discussions. It was like a public access show, that we must have gotten access to or something like that. But it was this interview show and all these black scholars and civil rights people, they would come and be interviewed on this show and they invited Ivan Van Sertima one Sunday. Of course, you know we were watching this two, three, four seasons behind. I remember being so blown away and this was around the same time that I had discovered Malcom X’s autobiography and his collected speeches. A lot of Angela Davis. Even though I had read all of my mother’s black history books, my mother had a pretty impressive library in those days. It was very intellectual. I used to read for boredom, not necessarily interest. So, I read everything and had the information in my head, but I think around that time was when it started to become… You know, being raised as a black is beautiful, black power, the daughter of black nationalists, all that kind of stuff, it was all intellectual. It’s all something very removed until it hits you personally and that was around the time when it hit me personally.