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Celebrating “In Spite Of”

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Celebrating “In Spite Of”


“…come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” –Lucille Clifton

This has been a particularly troublesome week. Between the Sikh Temple Shooting over the weekend, and the execution of Marvin Wilson, we are once again reminded about how difficult it is to be person of color in this country, and the extent to which whiteness dictates the national discourse. The possibly preventable Sikh Temple Shooting coupled with the Aurora attack, reveals that even what we call terrorism is shaped by the color of the attacker. Furthermore, in the case of Marvin Wilson, we see that to be Black in this country means that we don’t even have the right to determine when we have learning disabilities, or mental illness, even though the myriads of social and institutional disparities in this country probably have—and  are—driving many people of color crazier every day.

Nevertheless, I revel in positivity, and we must remember to keep track of the things in our lives that can allow us to find the hope to press forward. I once had a teacher who said that Black students must learn to education themselves “…in spite of…” I evoke her words to this moment. As people of color, as religious minorities, as women, as sexual minorities, as people with mental and physical disabilities, we must continue to learn to celebrate our lives and victories in spite of the constant reminders of how challenging life can be for us. If it weren’t for the people in this country’s past and present that fought and celebrated “in spite of,” we would not even have made a slither of the (albeit imperfect) progress we have accomplished.

Just to highlight a victory. I encourage everyone to read Keith Boykin’s Anthology “For Colored Boys,” which is now available online and in stores Monday. It is another literary work that seeks to draw the intersections between sexual orientation and race.  It features poems, stories, and essays of Black Queer Men from professional football player Wade Davis to the internet personality B. Scott. The last set of these Black Gay anthologies such as Joseph Beam’s In the Life and Brother to Brother, were released just at the tail-end of the AIDS epidemic, when there were no Frank Oceans and Obamas, thus this new anthology should be a refreshing foray into the lives of contemporary Black queer men of color, one which reveals the extent of our progress, but also the new challenges we face in the 21st century Obama-age.

Lastly, I want to post a poem by Lucille Clifton. It’s a wonderful work from her collection The Book of Light, and it brilliantly expresses the power of celebrating in spite of.  You can see a video of her reciting it here.

“Won’t you celebrate with me”

won’t you celebrate with me

what I have shaped into

a kind of life? I had no model.

born in Babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did I see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Have a blessed Friday.