Wednesday, July 16, 2008

white quotation of the week (andrea gibson)



See Through

We're on our way back to school from gymnastics class.
And only in Boulder, Colorado,
the kids are singing John Lennon's "Imagine"
at the back of the bus, when

Jesse stops herself mid-verse,
stretches her arm across the aisle like a sunbeam,
tugs at the edge of my shirt and asks,
"What does hatred mean?"

Jesse's five years old.
Anything I say, she's gonna believe.
But I realize, I don't know the answer.
I'm not sure what hatred means.
I could guess and say it's the opposite of love.
I could guess and say,
"Jesse, hatred is why there are nothing but white faces
on our private-school bus."

But Jesse isn't white yet.
Go ahead and ask her.

"What color are you, Jesse?"

"Well, it looks like I'm pink."

Shane thinks he's orange.
Skylar says she's tan.
Rhett says he's see-through.
"See, you can see how my veins are blue
but they're red when I bleed."

And I wish there was no such thing as springtime.
'Cause I don't trust the machines
that will one day be planting seeds in these gardens
teaching them that some people are flowers
some people are weeds,
rip the weeds by their roots
ignore their screams
tilt your own face to the sun
take what you want,
you are the chosen ones.

Sitting Bull said white people are liars and thieves.
I wanna tell Jesse he was wrong.

I wanna tell her we didn't come like a time bomb,
gunpowder on our breath,
teeth built like bullets,
that this land didn't weep when our feet
first mercilessly hit the ground.
I don't want to say we drowned and maimed the children,
sliced long strips of their skin for bridle reins,
I don't wanna say the moon was slain,
the constellations dispersed like shrapnel.
Mothers killed their babies, then killed themselves
when they saw our faces on the horizon
and all that we left was a trail of tears.

But if I have to say that,
I wanna say our boats stopped there.
I wanna say the waves never saw the sails of slave ships,
never heard the sound of chain links,
but Jesse, think slaughterhouse.
Think people branded, suffocating, foaming at the mouth.
Can you imagine what kind of pain you would have to endure,
to throw yourself overboard 2000 miles out to sea?
Lungs gratefully exchanging breath for saltwater,
gratefully trading life for death.

Can you imagine being chained to your dead daughter?
How many days would it take you to stop
searching her hands for lifelines?
To stop searching her fingertips for remnants of sunshine?
To stop searching her wrists for a pulse,
for just some sign of time turning backwards
to when you knew
people could never do things like this?

And Jesse this
is not just a picture of our history,
not just a picture of our past.
We've been hundreds of years
measuring the size of our hearts
by the size of our fists,
erecting our bliss on the broken backs of dark skin.
The present is far from gift-wrapped.

Ask New Orleans,
Ask mothers in the Bronx,
chasing rats out of their babies' cribs.
Ask the fathers of the kids
whose lives we exchange for cheap gas.
Ask our prisons why jail bars always come in black.
Ask Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq.
Ask the woman in Thailand whose cancer builds our laptops.
Ask the Mexican man working in a field fertilized
by nerve gas.
Ask his daughter when she's born without fingers
or hands to pray with.
Ask me how long I could keep going with this list.
God might be watching,
but we are not.

You are white, Jesse.
There are bodies dangling
from the limbs of your family tree.
Our people pull people from the soil like weeds.
Breathe in our story.
Force yourself to hold in your lungs
'til you can hear our hymns sung beneath white sheets.
'til your can feel your own finger on the trigger of the gun.
Feel yourself fire as they shout.
Do not look away as bullet enters heartbeat.
Now breathe out.
This is where we come from.
This is still where we are.
Now where will we go from here?

I don't believe we're hateful.
I think mostly we're just asleep.
But the math adds up the same.
You can't call up the dead and say,
"Sorry, we were looking the other way."

There are names and faces behind our apathy,
eulogies beneath our choices.
There are voices deep as roots
thundering unquestionable truth
through the white noise that pacifies our ears.
Don't tell me we don't hear.
Don't tell me we don't hear.
When the moon is slain,
when the constellations disperse like shrapnel,
don't you think it's time,
something changed?


Andrea Gibson is "a queer poet/activist whose work deconstructs the foundations of the current political machine, highlighting issues such as patriarchy, gender norms, white supremacy, and capitalist culture." A performance poet who has won multiple slam contests, headlined at major venues, and appeared on Free Speech TV, Dyke TV, the BBC, and in the film Slam Planet, Gibson has also self-released three CDs and three books.

Transcribed from an audio file available here, the above poem also appears in Gibson's first published book, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns. Performances of many of her poems are available on YouTube.

19 comments:

  1. This is why people say you (and others who wish to speak the truth) are self-hating whites.

    Because there is a lot to hate about being white, and telling the truth confronts us with that very ugly fact.

    The weight of it can be suffocating, stultifying the mind with the enormity of the crime.

    I feel like King David, wanting to build the temple, but being told he can't, because he's got too much blood on his hands. Only there isn't a Solomon to take up the dream, because every generation that follows is white like me.

    It feels like the whole white race would have to pass before its sins could be atoned for. And maybe even that wouldn't be enough to wipe the debt away.

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  2. knowgoodwhitepeopleJuly 16, 2008 at 11:39 AM

    Awesome.
    Awesome.

    Damn, Andrea.

    I want to read it again. But it hurt so much the first time...Damn.

    Can you imagine being chained to your dead daughter? How many days would it take you to stop searching her hands for lifelines?
    To stop searching her fingertips for remnants of sunshine?
    To stop searching her wrists for a pulse,
    for just some sign of time turning backwards
    to when you knew
    people could never do things like this?


    Damn.

    And Jason called the Middle Passage a "cruise" for which slave decendants should be billed.

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  3. Wow!!

    Beautiful, thought provoking.

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  4. I'm averse to reading poetry. I don't know why, I just don't like to read it. But I read this, because of the vivid colours in the photograph. I am glad that I read it. It is a very good poem.

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  5. Gosh, I am shocked, but I feel the same way as the Linden Branch about this. I'm black, but I find it disturbing that the author presented whiteness in this poem as if its interchangeable with evil. It's even more disturbing in this context because this is what she contemplates telling a child. Had she told the child this, the child certainly would experience self-hatred. As we strive for racial reconciliation, I think it's important to arrive at a place where we can acknowledge and examine the past and the present without villifying an entire race of people.

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  6. thanks for the comments all. Nadra wrote:

    Had she told the child this, the child certainly would experience self-hatred.

    Yes. Maybe that's why she didn't tell her.

    As for villifying a whole race and equating it with evil, I thought it was more of an acknowledgment of that which most of today's white Americans don't want to face--what's been done in their (racial) name. Not their own, supposedly inherent evil.

    I may well agree this idea: whiteness (itself) is interchangeable with evil. Except that there are other forms of evil as well. Not, again, that white people themselves are evil--most of them have just been duped. But in America, the concept itself of whiteness arose as significant for reasons that most of us today consider entirely malignant.

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  7. Nadra,

    But what part of that account isn't true?

    The author says, "I don't believe we're hateful", but how can anyone, including the child she speaks of, come to any other conclusion when reading through the litany of sin committed in the name of white supremacy?

    How many times can you kill and maim and render people destitute and without hope before the excuse "Sorry, we were looking the other way" becomes not just insufficient, as the poet suggests, but an out and out lie.

    The only sane response, that I can think of, would be autogenocide, to actively work against the interests and prosperity of the white race, because it is increasingly apparent that these interests and this prosperity is both the direct result of these crimes, and its perpetuation is merely a continuation of those crimes until present day.

    It is in the interest of whiteness to continue the "normative" oppression of others, and so the interest of whites must be opposed if one is at all concerned with the wrongs the author mentioned. She has more than a duty to tell the child, she should be dismantling the white world that nurtures and privileges him.

    She must destroy the illusion that he has somehow attained his position in the world through natural means, or by some virtue of his own. The privilege he lives with must be turned sour in his mouth so that he can no longer accept it, that his mind will revolt at every instance of it. He must be forced to confront the truth and make a moral decision about how he is going to live in a world where he prospers because others suffer.

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  8. Excuse me for existing. I think I forgot my Zyclon-b inhalator so the autogenocide will have to wait.

    Talk about self-hatred. Why doesn't Andrea Gibson doesn't write a poem deploring the breach of the Geneva conventions by the Mongols. Seriously if whites were as irredeemably evil as that poem presents them it makes you wonder how come slavery doesn't exist to this day because in the end if every white was mouth foaming with racism there wouldn't have been nothing that black people could have done to stop us.

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  9. Zane,

    Perhaps overt racism was simply too obvious a dissonance for the lie of the white persons inherent goodness. Or maybe it was found to eventually undermine our sense of absolute individualism to have such an obvious example of privilege bound to the color of our skin rather than as a product of our own triumphant will.

    Who knows, perhaps the end of official slavery is the hand of God slowly moving through history to right the wrongs of whiteness, and we have yet to see the conclusion of that judgement. Or maybe there is no god, and official slavery ended simply because it was expedient for the people in power.

    What isn't a safe bet is to conclude that it was by the virtue of white people that slavery was ended.

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  10. Macon and the Linden Branch, I agree with everything you said. I guess I had this reaction because I've worked with children, specifically teachng them about the colonization of the Americas, and some of the white students were upset that whites were consistently portrayed as evil. Given that, I struggle with how to teach a white child or whites in general to come to grips with what's been done in the name of white supremacy/manifest destiny without instilling a sense of self-hatred into them. I am not good because I am black. They are not bad because they are white. However, much evil has been done because of the notion of white supremacy.

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  11. Given that, I struggle with how to teach a white child or whites in general to come to grips with what's been done in the name of white supremacy/manifest destiny without instilling a sense of self-hatred into them.

    I think it is important, and this is also something they did at my time at school, to let children know, that whites can make choices. White does not mean you inherit evil. When I was a child my idols were the members of the 'White Rose', showing me that there were Germans who weren't a part of the (German) Holocaust and tried to resist.

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  12. Nadra,

    What is wrong with a little self-hatred? A little self-loathing, of shame at the position one has inherited upon the backs of others, and is complicit in with nearly every action one takes and each eye averted from racial oppression.

    If people of color can be made to feel bad for their fictional faults, then surely it wouldn't hurt for whites to suffer a little for the realities of their elevated position in the world.

    Perhaps then they wouldn't be so comfortable participating in the systematic racism that seems to compose the very air we breath in this society.

    No, I think a little discomfort would be a good thing, like a burr in the saddle, spurring change in an anti-racist revolution that has at times resembled a glacier (and one that seems particularly adept at finding ways to take two steps back for each step forward) more than a movement.

    Racism hasn't died, it's adapted and prospered with the evolving social environment, and it has been able to do so by hiding behind an impenetrable mask of white ignorance. It is high time the mask be torn away, and the ugly face of white racism be revealed. That this face is discomforting is only natural, for otherwise there would have been no need for the mask.

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  13. What is wrong with a little self-hatred? A little self-loathing

    Because it's simply not healthy and I don't think it helps anybody...

    It simply doesn't make sense for Whites to "hate themselves" because of some kind of vicarious connection to somebody who just happened to share your skin color or racial/familial lineage.

    All the shame and guile Whites suppose to have had and you're still saying "It feels like the whole white race would have to pass before its sins could be atoned for."

    Obviously all the shame and guilt tripping hasn't worked.

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  14. All the shame and [guilt] Whites suppose to have had and you're still saying "It feels like the whole white race would have to pass before its sins could be atoned for."

    Obviously all the shame and guilt tripping hasn't worked.


    I wouldn't know if hasn't worked, because it hasn't been tried. Whites don't have shame and guilt because their entire lives have been filled with pleasant lies and magnificent fictions of the greatness and the goodness of the white race. They haven't been listening to people of color because in general they aren't exposed to people of color in the sort of intimacy one would need to communicate these truths.

    This is why I think it needs to be autogenocidal, for only when white people start speaking the truth to themselves will the reality of this world and the role whites have had in shaping it be made known to them. We have to tear away our own masks and force upon each other the ugly scars of a racist past, a past that lives right up to this day.

    I would go so far as to say that a white person without a little self-hatred and shame is a white who is still carrying on the tradition of racism, for this shame and loathing is not the disease, but the mark of the diseases passing, of the demise of racism within that individual, an indicator that the habits and beliefs of a racist system no longer find a welcome abode within such a persons life.

    This is the whole point of the poem, to finally expose the racist reality of the white world, to exchange the lies we tell ourselves for the truth that needs be told. And to bear that truth upon our hearts as lessons learned, so that we might continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

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  15. This is a beautiful poem and I'm really glad to be turned on to Andrea Gibson. I'm definitely going to be checking her out on YouTube. On some of the comments, however, it strikes me as interesting the way White folks so often call simple description of White history, behavior, and attitudes "self-hatred." I get this regularly. What I have to point out over and over and over is that I don't hate myself; I hate the stuff White people do. In fact, I use the term "White" (a social construction) differently from "European-American" (an ethnicity).

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  16. Changeseeker,

    I wasn't going to say anything in response, but now I've come to the conclusion that perhaps I should.

    I don't hate myself; I hate the stuff White people do

    This sounds a little dissociative to me, as if you weren't white with all of the accrued benefits therein. I'm not sure how much progress one can make in opposing racism when it isn't recognized that you are part of the problem needing to be opposed.

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  17. I feel like I've just been slapped in the face, but in a wonderful way. It's all so true and disheatening.

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  18. Let me start out by saying that the poem truly spoke to me. I agree that it is important for the ugliness of history to be studied in service to the truth. That being said, poor whites have also suffered under virtual slavery throughout European history. Although the evils of racial persecution is undeniable, it doesn't seem quite fair to lay blame on all whites when poor whites have been suffering horribly under rich whites for generations.

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  19. not me,

    You really should read the comments above yours. Also, have you read this brief, famous article? Basically, while being "poor" means one's life is worse than those of many others, it doesn't absolve one from what nevertheless comes along with being "white."

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