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Nikki Giovanni Has Made Peace With Her Hate

"I am a space freak. As a little girl, I shared a bedroom with my sister. And I got to sleep on the side of the bed facing the outside wall, so there was a window, and I would look out at the stars. I thought if I ran into a Martian and the Martian said, “Who are you?” what would my answer be? The only answer could be “I am an Earthling.” I realized — and have continued to realize — that it would be illogical if I were to tell the Martian I’m a Black woman. That’s because a Martian doesn’t know what Black is, and they don’t know what a woman is. So we know that race is illogical. It is a construct that is destructive. So I’m watching, for example, the transgender kids now, and I think they’re doing something wonderful, because they’re saying about their gender what I had already recognized — and I’m not the only one; don’t misunderstand — about race. They’re saying they will not be blocked by what somebody else thinks they are. That’s a hell of a step. And if I could start Earth all over again, I would always make sure that if you had to answer the question, “Who are you?” then you’d have to say, “I’m an Earthling.” That way you don’t get trapped in what somebody thinks is your gender and your race. If Earth survives — there’s a good chance we’ll blow ourselves up — gender and race are going to go."

Regarding her anti-racialization ethic, Giovanni makes it clear that she did not always see race (and gender) that way (she includes gender identity as a group categorization and identification habit that, if life on Earth lasts long enough, will go away). "Go back to my first book." she tells the interviewer, "It was a different world. You’re talking to me almost 60 years later, and there are things that I have learned and things that Earth has learned."

The arc of increased understanding and resistance regarding social identity dogmas is, thankfully, bending progressively away from lethally absurd and restrictive constructions of human differences and similarities. But, like a river, there are backwaters in which things remain as they were, untouched by learning and choices to do better. The river of awareness and action regarding racialization (which should be understood as any practice of reducing anyone to an essentialized "other" status, whether in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, or what have you) is, at the present moment, more backwater than forward-flow, but we are not passive logs stuck in place in the backwater. We are the river - choosing to move forward or stagnate. Like Nikki Giovanni, we can learn, we can be brave, we can make choices, we can teach.

What did you learn about social identity, social bias, and social justice? Would any of it make sense to a Martian anthropologist? What might you need to unlearn? What are you teaching?



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