Lorde – From “There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions”

From Homophobia and Education (New York: Council on Interracial Books for
Children, 1983)

I simply do not believe that one aspect of myself can possibly profit from the oppression of any other part of my identity. I know that my people cannot possibly profit from the oppression of any other group which seeks the right to peaceful existence. Rather, we diminish ourselves by denying to others what we have shed blood to obtain for our children. And those children need to learn that they do not have to become like each other in order to work together for a future they will all share.

In this passage Audre Lorde spoke specifically to the social intersections in which she stood: Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, poet, mother, and interracial lover. However, her message is so profound and timeless that it can be extended to apply to a multitude of social realities to account for differences in ethnicity, age, class, geography, ability, etc.

Lorde emphasized that oppression regardless of it’s particular discrimination stems from the same place. She said, “I have learned that sexism and heterosexism both arise from the same source as racism,” and therefore, argued that they were all equally detrimental and deserving of equal and simultaneous resistance. Oppression, Lorde implied, knows no boundaries; if oppression against one group is allowed to thrive, it will sooner or later spread to oppress others. Consequently, no one can afford to pick particular battles:

I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, .wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.

This is particularly significant as it relates to Hip-hop feminism, Black girlhood, and recurring manifestations of the cult of respectability in this generation of women and girls in Hip-hop culture because I am Black, female/ a girl (Brown, 2009), and socialized in Hip-hop culture.

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Brown – Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward A Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy

Brown, Ruth Nicole. Black Girlhood Celebration :Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy. 5 Vol. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. Print.

In Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-hop Feminist Pedagogy, Ruth Nicole Brown attempts to chart out a pedagogy capable of recognizing the nuances and challenges of race, gender, sexuality, class, and hip-hop culture and how they intersect in the lives of “Black girls.” For Brown, “Black girls” is not an essential category describing African American only, but is also inclusive of Jamaican immigrants, Native Americans, and whites who identify as allies. Brown uses her project Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT) that works with teenage girls that identify as Black in a Mid-western town as a case study to illustrate how this pedagogy manifests as a Black girlhood celebration. Including her own autoethnographic reflections, field notes, news clippings and participant reflections and samples of work while in the program, Brown paints a picture of how such a pedagogy could be enacted and adapted in other settings.

Brown has a joint appointment in Gender and Women’s Studies an Educational Policy. In this book, Brown’s voice is polyvocal; while this book is addressed primarily to other academics in her fields, it also reads as though it is a call to fellow Hip-hop feminists, Black girls and women to do the work of saving our lives. As a reader from a similar Hip-hop socialization and generation I laughed out loud and could relate when Brown described her experience dropping down low doing the “Cha-Cha Slide” and then having to take her time bringing it back up!

Brown’s work is informed by her previous experience as a researcher and “girl saver” in a “girls’ empowerment program” that operated on a colonial banking model that reinforced White middle-class patriarchal values of girlhood. Brown’s work challenges both “girl saving” and “girl empowerment” rhetoric which both exclude the culture and material realities of young Black girls, and operate on the ageist assumptions that girls in general are deficient and need fixing by adults. Instead of trying to “squeeze” Black girlhood into these limited models, Brown’s Black Girlhood Celebration and Hip-hop feminist pedagogy work to make Black Girls and their realities, needs, desires, and ways of being central in their own right.

Brown demonstrates how SOLHOT honors Black girlhood, it’s language, cultural productions (dance, poetry, music), and needs (to be accepted, have a place to express themselves and work out questions and complex feelings). Black girlhood is defined as:

the representations, memories, and lived experiences of being and becoming in a body marked as youthful, Black, and female. Black girlhood is not dependent, then, on age, physical maturity, or any essential category of identity (1).

SOLHOT, an “afterschool” program that meets twice a week for two hours each session over the course of one-and-a-half-years in the case study, also experiences challenges. Brown shares these challenges and how she works together with the SOLHOT girls (student participants) and homegirls (the “mentors”) in order to navigate perceived challenges and turn them into learning opportunities.

A part of crafting this “new” pedagogy, although Brown admits that similar work is being done by other Hip-hop feminist and community workers, is crafting a language for it. Since the Black girlhood experience is so unique and marginalized in Girls’ Studies, Hip-hop, and education/ youth programming, Brown carefully chooses her words and explains how they differ from their typical contexts. For example, she uses “homegirls” to describe “mentors” because mentors typically operate on the banking method of depositing information or values into mentees which Brown rejects.

Brown’s approach to pedagogy is similar to bell hooks’ ( ) approach in Teaching to Transgress in that Brown embraces the notions of passion and joy in the classroom, the necessity of self-actualization of the teacher/ leader/ homegirl, and the incorporation and recognition of the body and spirit in addition to the mind in the learning experience.

Brown’s pedagogy focuses on process and community building above an actual product or production as a result:

Saving Our Lives may appear on the surface as a nod toward that project of youth management, but it is not… when SOLHOT works, I do quite believe that lives are saved by collectively acting on our own behalf. How the “saving” happens is not in the logistics and activities, but in our coming together. In SOLHOT we acknowledge our common problems to each other. We feel it together. We walk through it together. While we walk, we talk about what’s real outside of this problem (64).

In true Hip-hop feminist form, Brown acknowledges the contradictions and gray areas involved with Black girls and women working together in such a dynamic and un-stable way. Like Friere, Brown does states and restates that she does not intend for Black Girlhood Celebration to be prescriptive and the model for Hip-hop feminist pedagogy, but an example and a possibility.

On a personal note, this book was an incredible read for me. It validated my frustrations as a Black woman working for a nonprofit organization as a program director for “at risk” youth and striving to provide nurturing programs for primarily Black and Brown boys and girls. I was constantly told that I did not need to spend as much time in the classrooms and programs with my students, but I DID. They needed me and I needed them. I needed to hear from them what it was that they needed. I needed to see when their eyes glazed over in boredom. I needed to check (and correct) “mentors” that were condescending to the youth. Ruth Brown also helped me to better understand my successes. I smile thinking of doing the Cha Cha Slide with my girls and them teaching me how to Cupid Shuffle. That was our “batty dance.” This further let’s me know – that we are on to something and change gon come!