Started from the bottom now you where?: An MLK Day reflection, of sorts
By Darnell L Moore
Cheryl Clarke once prudently instructed, “So, all of us would do well to stop fighting each other for our space at the bottom, because there ain’t no more room.”
Clarke, a poet/scholar celebrated for fearlessly and brilliantly giving voice to the experiences of Black lesbian feminists, has always been acutely aware of the ways that myopic politics result in movement asphyxiation—the ways that one’s refusal to think beyond his own experience of oppression and liberation might easily result in the suffocating of those who are packed tightly in the lowermost regions of the US socio-sexual-economic order. She knew the price of a fight waged against the wrong enemy would be costly.
She knew, for example, as evidenced by the argument she articulated in her now classic essay “Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community,” that the undoing of a world organized around White racial supremacy would be incomplete if Black folk, especially men, refused to do away with their own tools of oppression.
She knew that some Black brother’s vision of “freedom” could easily double as restriction in the lives of Black women.
She knew that some heterosexual feminists—White, Black, and otherwise—imagined a liberated anti-patriarchal future that did not include her queer likeness and that of other queer and trans people.
She knew, like some of us, that even though non-White, non-straight, non-abled, non-male, non-bourgeois, and other nonentities (as imagined by those in power) might be the everyday targets of structural violence, we are all differently situated at the proverbial bottom.
Some of us are placed at bottom-center and some maneuver from the margins. Some of us have one foot on the floor and the other placed on the back of a comrade. Some of us are positioned slightly above the rest with both feet squarely placed on the necks of another as we push our way to the top. Some of us are trampled upon, forgotten, daily. And, still, there ain’t no more room for any of us, which is the primary aim of structural oppression; namely, to create the conditions for hostilities among would-be comrades so that we might expertly destroy each other.
Given this, I suggest that we seriously consider several questions as we prepare ourselves to commemorate another Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday:
1). How might we re-imagine a Black radical politic that, as Black feminists have long reminded us, builds upon the notion of “difference” and understands that Black freedom is not free if it fails to make clear the diverse ways that heteropatriarchy, sexism, rape culture, antagonism (against queer and trans folk), class elitism, ableism, and other structural and ideological forces differently shape Black life?
2). How can we claim we want to build a more just and less violent world, if we fail to understand the various forms and impacts of violence among the Black, especially women and children?
3). Which of our children deserve our advocacy and the lifting of our collective voice in these times of anti-Blackness: those we imagine as befitting of our respect or those who seemingly perform deviance and disrepute like our Black LGBT youth (who are thought to bring various forms of violence and sickness upon themselves because of their “lifestyle” choices), “wayward” Black boys (who sag their pants, use the term “my nigga,” and fuss when they get stopped and frisked), or “ghetto” Black girls (whose fights are captured on World Star Hip Hop)? (Note: These questions are not new and have been articulated by so many thoughtful sisters and brothers for decades. That we are still posing the same questions because we fail to respond to them is the problem.)
Nonetheless, we are good at articulating powerful analyses of oppression, but how might we begin to map our own means of oppressing? We might be adept at naming whose feet are situated on our necks, but we must also assess whose necks our feet are situated on.
Really, there ain’t no room at the bottom and even when we think that the quickest way to the top is by pouncing on the back of another to get there, we might discover that it doesn’t take long before you find yourself Black, “making it,” and still somebody’s “nigger,” still in the same spot with the rest at the bottom having moved nowhere.
And forward is a better destination than nowhere. We need each other to get there, however.
Darnell L. Moore is a writer and activist whose work is informed by anti-racist, feminist, queer of color, and anti-colonial thought and advocacy.Moore was appointed by Newark Mayor Cory Booker as Inaugural Chair of the city of Newark, New Jersey LGBT Concerns Advisory Commission. The Commission is the first of its kind in the state. His essays, social commentary, poetry, and interviews have appeared in various national and international media venues, including the Feminist Wire, Ebony magazine, and The Huffington Post. For more information visit www.youbelinginitiative.com.