"Come Out/Wherever You Are/We Need to Have This Meeting? — June Jordan, “Calling on All Silent Minorities”
My life has been about challenging white supremacy. I mentioned this to a polite liberal yesterday, I but I doubt if this individual, racially privileged by the supremacy of whiteness in our society, understood me. She and generations of her family have benefited from racist policies and laws enslaving my ancestors and then disenfranchising them; she and generations of her family have benefited financially from the support of a capitalist.
I suspect she thinks I’m angry about something that is not only invisible to her—but invisible, period! It’s frustrating to be the challenge to those who have never felt as if they were standing in quicksand up to their necks. Nonetheless, for me what else is there to do? And yet, there have been times I’ve wondered if it’s been worth the sacrifice to fight anti-democratic forces that are as fascist as they are determined to see a new order.
When the poet and activist June Jordan died in June 2002 of cancer, I was preparing to teaching in Africa. I don’t remember if I knew I would be teaching in Ethiopia by June of that year. I had begun the process of securing a fellowship in May of that year. I was at home, trying to gather up the necessary material to support my application, while feeling as if I were standing in that proverbial quicksand up to my neck.
Reading Jordan’s words, we can imagine standing with her on the field, witnessing the use of dogs and water holes on Black children.
Having already received a call at home from, I believe, the only Black campus administrator warning me that I had better not reveal what happened two years prior, during the summer before the my first teaching term, the Fall term, when I was called to his office. I wasn’t to leave until I agreed not to sign the two-year Visiting Professorship contract. He, who had little to do if anything with me being hired, was put up to it by the white administrators. His bosses…
I taught Jordan’s poetry only once, and I while I had attended a good many readings by poets, I had never heard her reading her works. And yet, there I was, in my home, in 2002, feeling uncertain about the next few months ahead of me and certain of sinking ground beneath me when I heard that Jordan, a soldier (Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood, 2002), was no longer in the field. I would have to move out of the house I was renting since the campus never intended to renew my contract or offer me tenure track as they mentioned to me and my former chair before I arrived on campus. I would have to spread my books and personally things among three colleagues, and, at forty-nine, start again.Somewhere else.
Is it worth it?
This is the man who spoke to her about the war and the lessons he had learned and now needed to pass down to her, his only child. Jordan’s response was to accept the inheritance of resistance. “I had to become a soldier.”
Soldiers continue passing down lessons learned from the field.
There is, June Jordan explains, “a hideous, neo-Nazi worldview loose on the land.” The year is 1980, and Jordan’s essay, “Civil Wars,” calls out “adherents” of hate whose aim is to “subjugate or exterminate, everything and everyone who is not Christian and white and male and heterosexual.” Jordan publishes a collection of essays, Civil Wars: Observations from the Front Lines of America in 1981. The poet was already looking down field at what obstructs the struggle for democracy.
In the “Introduction” (1995), to Civil Wars, Jordan writes, “Civil Wars begins thirty-one years ago. And tonight I feel the drifting/shifting of all these years. So much has changed! So much remains the same or worse!”
On the battle field, fighting “hard in the middle of an enormous argument about America,” Jordan writes that she saw herself surrounded by “enemies.” As a result, she accepts the media’s characterization of her, a “‘minority,’” in a ‘naturally’ white America.” The feeling of being floundering and isolated was the catalyst for her to consider ways to resist submitting to her own subjugation. Jordan joined others marching for justice. She writes poems, letters. She speaks at rallies and sits in at meetings taking notes. But there was, nonetheless, always this “public display” of hate and contempt. And she found herself seeking the “chimerical prize” of self-respect.
Jordan turns her attention to the spread of the Civil Rights movement across the country and is stunned, she writes, by the consequential display of even more racist hate from Americas who refuse to understand anything that doesn’t maintain white dominance. The idea of something being taken away, stolen from perceived “victims” of a grand theft isn’t new: reading Jordan’s words, we can imagine standing with her on the field, witnessing the use of dogs and water holes on Black children. We look down field from where we are now to witness the use of chokeholds, “knees,” and guns to take Black lives with impunity. We look down field with Jordan to see what is yet to be done.
The “avalanche of horrors,” Jordan reminds us, served us in the past to mobilize ourselves and our allies in the 1950s and 1960s. That “avalanche of horrors” inspired Jordan to join the movement, nailing down, as she writes, the “equality of rights.”
We’ve seen our progress move one step forward and the backlash pushes us two steps back. The enemy remains the same. A resurfacing of fascism with an American face. White supremacy is there, beneath an insidious performance of teaching what it means to be an American while busily weeding out contaminates, such as a history of genocide and enslavement and violent suppression of citizenship. It’s there in the inequities of our health care system. It’s on the streets, along embankments under viaducts where families reside without adequate housing or employment to afford decent housing.
As Jordan observed, white supremacy doesn’t back down; instead, those fighting to maintain the foundational status of white supremacy had to content with Black Americans exerting their energy to preserve the historical status of a “mass revolt.”
“We did not know we would win,” Jordan writes. “We knew that we were right.” The quest for white male supremacy, she continues, jeopardizes most of America. “Beyond white hatred for people of African descent, the push for white supremacy punishes, and hopes to extirpate, every people what is not ‘white’ and, also, ‘Christian.’”
There are days when it seems that only the lives of the punishers matter. What will they lose that they haven’t already thrown off, as of no value to them?
“Hatred kills people,” writes Jordan. “Cruelty kills people. Greed kills people.” Watch when the “powerful few.” she writes, face the cameras and stand before the microphone shouting over our voices made “inaudible” thanks to the dissemination of “scary disinformation.” Did we notice the shifting of the ground we walk on? Among ourselves, Jordan writes, we cheer our wins, forgetting “how it was before we possessed the freedoms we enjoy.” Did we not see the undemocratic forces double up the hate to assure we forget “the power and virtue of moral certainty”?
“We have abandoned an activist, moral language, and our enemies on the ‘Right’ have eagerly moved into that vacuum, proclaiming their bigotries, their violence, and their inhumane policy proposals as God-given, while defining the rest of us as ‘Wrong,’” writes Jordan.
We are, the bigots claim, “genetically, racially, linguistically, and sexually: Wrong.”
Who is wrong? Seriously?
“[T]here is a hideous, neo-Nazi worldview loose on the land…”
What is right about homeless women and children—anywhere in the world, let alone in the world’s richest nation? What is right about denying women the right to choice? What is right about omitting America’s history of violence against people who are racially different or whose sexual orientation isn’t heterosexual?
What is wrong about fighting against the chaotic ordering of fascist America? “Whose country is this, anyway?,” Jordan asks. “And who or what is ‘an American’”?
It’s tiring and certainly stressful. But who will do what is the right things to do?
In a New York Times article, poet Eliza Gabbert reminded us in June of Jordan’s words of inspiration, words that inspired me back in 2002: In her poems, writes Jordan, are “things that I do / in the dark / reaching for you / whoever you are.” Continuing the fight is worth it—despite the vicious push back.
“Otherwise,” writes Jordan in Civil Wars, “there may be no otherwise worth living for.”