if God can Cook / you Know I can: Pedagogy of Those Opting-Out of Oppression – The Feminist Wire

if God can Cook / you Know I can: Pedagogy of Those Opting-Out of Oppression

By Carrie Y. T. Kholi

As a poet/scholar, I’m having a difficult time labeling this piece.  It feels like a tough lesson from my favorite instructors, some of their words present below.  It feels like a good poem, able to be read at 20 and 40 and after, each time teaching even the writer something new.  It feels like a love letter, personal and distinct, able to exist only inside the small bubble of friendships, feelings and desires that created it.  Regardless of how it presents itself, regardless of what you choose to call it, I hope it feels to you like comfort, like guidance, like a mirror held up in reminder that no matter where you fall within the cycle of revolution, you are power. 

You are necessary for change. 

I am an expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way…I can’t apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to… We will never have to be other than who we are in order to be successful…We realize that we are as ourselves unlimited and our experiences valid. It is for the rest of the world to recognize this, if they choose.

— Celie, The Color Purple

Boldness and design.  M’Dear would say, always said on the subject of Black anything … Disposessed, landless, this and that-less and free, therefore, to go anywhere and say anything and be everything if we’d only know it once and for all.  Simply slip into the power, into the powerful power hanging unrecognized in the back-hall closet.

— Velma, The Salt Eaters (Toni Cade Bambara)


“Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it.”

— James Baldwin


I. Salvation is the Issue

While the problem of black life has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern:

“Black people have been dying in America for a very long time.”

This statement emerged out of a very privileged conversation between a very privileged black woman technologist/hacktivist/burgeoning serial entrepreneur and equally privileged black woman PhD candidate/fashion stylist/writer and professional dreamer.

This statement has been haunting a host of exchanges between black woman professional students/activists, black woman/men artists/art gallery owners, black woman/men dancers/small business owners, black woman/men writers/restaurateurs/production assistants/directors/realtors …

These people are here, labeled by race not because this statement could not also be haunting conversations had by others, but because it matters, at least to me, to be reminded that regardless of class, black people are aware that we have been being murdered in America.

These people are here, labeled by race not because this statement is not haunting conversations had by others, but because it matters, at least to me, to be reminded that yes, there are black people exploring their multiple ways of existing in this life – trying on and donning graciously, admirably, remarkably their multiple hats – and still, haunted by the looming death of their mothers, and fathers, and sons, and daughters, and spouses … and selves.

They are caught in a maddening crux between devoting each partial piece of every second to chasing and catching and conquering every dream and giving up at the thought of all the work that has yet to be done so that every other brown person might also do the same.

They are you and I and we.

“Black people have been dying in America for a very long time.”

We may not be starving.  Still, we are hungry for change.  We are not presently being battered but still bear the bruises of a too long struggle with injustice.  We’re weary in this battle for peace, in this battle for home, in this battle for citizenship, and personhood, and the right to exist as we desire, and the right to exist outside of the wills, and fears, and desires of others, which – without irony – is yielding what feels like few results.

Black people have been dying for a very long time in America and we only – so desperately, so insistently – want to live.

We understand that our voices, perhaps small in number, are strong in conviction. The words read here are built on the backs of the many believers that have come before us, that hold us presently, that walk among us, that pass between us, that greet us or dismiss us, that, too, long to live.  We believe with supreme certainty that our desire to be in a manner that we define as suitable and amenable within our specifications of personal humanity – our will to call home a land in which we feel, to an extent, ownership, and to an even greater extent, protection – is not just a yearning, but rather our god/ess given right as human beings submitting our breath and light, and most importantly, energy to the multiple systems and institutions with which we must/choose to exist within as citizens in these United States.

With that said, while acknowledging the importance of our personal distinctions and life experience, we solemnly recognize and insist that we are not alone.  We have never been alone.  Upon our insistence – come what may, pass what might – we will never be alone.

Our everyday existence, though to some anathema, is not to us enigma or chimera.

To and because of various oppressors, we have existed as the undesired, the persecuted, the subjugated, the oppressed, the …

And still, we have managed to live as the desiring, the developing, the questioning, the resisting, the seeking – always of something greater, something more, some small negotiation of a thing at least partially meeting our approval.

This something has not been given to us as many have hoped.  Still, we are here.

We are with agency. Let us never forget.

The last few weeks, for many, – not unlike the last few hundred years – have been fueled by anger, tension, anger, sadness, rage, confusion, rage, longing, fury, disillusion, fury, avidity, intense fervor, and an even more intense, knot-forming, gut-churning hope for a sign that we might still be wise to believe in change – our only taste of true consistency.

Our feelings will dissipate only to collect again.  As they have done before. The outside signs we seek, we shall find.  Then, they, too, will fall away.  It is sad and it is true.

We must know this:

There exists no sign but self.  There is no hope greater than the personal portion we successfully conjure and make real within ourselves. For, there is no revolution without our bodies, and brains, and buy-in.  We are change.

We are difference. Daily.


II. “Are You Ready to be Well?”

“Black people have been dying in America for a very long time.”

The first step in most paths to emotional and psychical healing reads something like “We admitted we were powerless … and that our lives had become unmanageable.”  We, as living breathing contributing bodies must accept what is our reality.  As oppressed people, in many ways, we have been made to feel powerless and this feeling of powerlessness combined with a number of circumstances outside of our immediate control, presses our lives into a dark and small corner of a feeling that can only be described as overwhelmingly unmanageable.

We cannot manage hate in America.  We cannot manage violence in America.  We cannot manage fear in America. We cannot manage hateful violent fearful people in America.

We are powerless when it comes to controlling the circumstances outside of ourselves, the circumstances that dictate whether we will be brutalized for who we love or murdered for who we are, or for how both frame what others believe us to be.

Still, we are here.

We are with agency.

“Black people have been dying in America for a very long time.” 

“And what are we supposed to do about it?”

Trayvon Martin is not an anomaly.

An anomaly is the person who can name every single black male child shot and killed before, on the day of, and after Trayvon Martin’s death.  Or rather, every black male adult, or every black female child, or every black female adult or …

“Black people have been dying in America for a very long time.”

“And what are we supposed to do about it?”

When President Barack Obama makes a statement saying, “The African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away,” he means what we too often hear too many young African American youth proclaiming as response to the violence, danger, lack of adequate food / shelter / transportation / education, and general inability to find hope in their daily reality, “It is what it is.”

And that is not the problem.  The real problem being that too many black and brown and white and … women/men/children recognize this without the personal hope of pushing forward, without stretching out into and occupying the idea that it – American life for all Americans, and all people inhabiting America – is not what it can be.

And that is the point: It is what it is.

Not that it is what it once was. It is not.

To deny the transformation that has taken place in the hearts and psyches of American people is a disservice to our present and future generations as well as a complete discredit and dismissal of important and exhausting work that has preceded this moment in which we are reading this very document today.  But, It is what it is.

It is not what it can be.  It is not what it should be.  It is not what we want it to be.  Most importantly, it is not what it will be.


III. “The drive for invulnerability usually leaves one totally vulnerable.”

“And what are we supposed to do about it?”


We offer this up knowing that even the minutest version of this idea is not “for everyone.”

We offer this up knowing that what we have previously known as rebellion, as resistance, as not swallowing the bullshit as it is spoon-fed to us, does not feel – when carried out in 2013 – as though it carries the same value as it did in its previous manifestations.  We accept this.  Lives are changing.  Paces are changing.  Privilege is changing. 

What might have served as a substantial system of disruption in 1963 may only feel like a small annoyance in this day – to the oppressor and the oppressed.

We can pretend as though the excuses of the “busy” are just that, but we must acknowledge that once we have accepted our powerlessness over the outside world, it is difficult to feel empowered in any sort of struggle.

We must acknowledge that once we recognize that it is difficult to manage other people, said recognition does not undo the fact that most of our lives are spent, still, executing the tedious tasks of management, particularly of those things seen as immediate extensions of our selves.  We must manage our employees, our homes, our children, our parents, our finances, our time …  We micro-manage everything from the hygiene habits of loved ones to the office etiquette of those we only engage with 8 hours a day a few days a week.  And it is the constant threat of mis-managing, the persistent fear that we will ruin one of our daily tasks involved in the tedium that guides our lives, that keeps us trapped.

We are the perpetuators of preparation and it is this cycle that at once separates us from and still makes us useful to the actors – the marchers, the picketers, the “rioters” …

We see ourselves as those with too demanding jobs and too many bills and too small businesses and too tasking responsibilities.  We are the skilled. The tried. The tested.

We are committed to carpools and dissertations and students and families and a host of other things that, in truth, tend to escape recall because in most moments it is difficult to remember all of the things on the non-negotiable to-do list when you are trying to privilege them over your non-negotiable human rights and sense of freedom.

We persist.

“And what are we supposed to do about it?”

We are powerless over all things except ourselves, but our multiple selves – we – are the only strength we need.  Because you have strength, fight – with everything you have in you, by whatever means you have available to you.

When we say fight, we do not necessarily mean physical dispute, unless your situation calls for that.

When we say fight, we do not necessarily mean with the use of arms, unless your situation calls for that.

When we say fight, we mean that regardless of bad timing or scheduling conflicts or previous obligation, decide within and for yourself that anytime is a good time for change.  Anytime is a good time for life preservation and expansion.

Anytime is a good time for revolution.

Every situation calls for that.


IV.  “The source of health is never outside, sweetheart.”

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed; it is merely conserved and transferred. We understand this to mean that any power generation process actually involves conversion of energy from one form to another.

When we say fight, we mean in this instance, in all instances, turn your energy toward creating a world that is conducive for all parts of you.  Turn your energy toward creating a world where no parts of you must die in order to feel at home.  Turn your energy toward freedom.

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics tells us that energy is neither created nor destroyed, thus the energy of the universe is a constant.  We understand this to mean that our own energy is, too, constant.

We are powerless not because we are without power, but because life and its alluring, confusing, bedazzling distractions has mislead us into thinking our only power lies in waiting, worrying, fearing, and punishing ourselves with our own minds.

We are overwhelmed not because we are without sense, but because we are standing unarmed, naked, inside lives that do not feel to be our own.

We do not yet understand: We do not become powerful.  We are power. We need only to awaken from a weakening slumber of self-misconception.  We need step into our power hanging unrecognized in each of our back-hall closets.

When we say fight, we mean act.  We mean use your energy for your selves. We mean for your self.  We mean for your power.

We mean act even if it comes between your multiple meetings in a day.  Even if it bursts from you in heated conversation over dinner, even if it lies in mid-day emailing, early morning tweeting, all day and any time Instagram’ing, Facebook status updating, carpooling, planning but not attending, phone-calling, book-sending, letter-writing, essay-editing, act.

The unknowing, un-trying, unworthy of judging your actions by the standards of their own inaction will try to shame you.  They will tell you at once that you are not doing enough and others, in the same instance, that you are doing too much.  They do not understand that you are doing.  They will try to hush your insistences, your longings, your questionings, your desire to understand how you are to go on when

“Black people have been dying in America for a very long time.”

They may never understand your need to make peace with

“And what are we supposed to do about it?”

Do not be shaken.  Act.

Act until you make them so uncomfortable that they might do the very thing they fear:


For one can not throw the brick and photograph himself doing it and send it to the media and develop an essay about it and write subsequent essays to question the first, and, alone, create a successful social media campaign to back the already in motion legislative changes being made to change the situation triggering the initial brick-throwing, all while trying to comfort his or her family because he or she is now in jail or out of work or a number of other consequences resulting from the …

Act.  In all the ways you can. In every moment you can.

There is room for everyone in the revolution.


kholi-oakland-headshot-300khoLi is a poet/scholar/teacher/blogger, new media strategist, and self-defined goal digger + dream catcher.  Co-founder and Creative Director of Khafra Company, Founder & CEO of The Ardor Brand, Creator of Be Your Own Girlfriend, and Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers University, khoLi spends the bulk of her time using mystical powers to conjure enough hours in the day to complete her dissertation – appropriately titled, “Running Out of Time: Radicalism, Resistance, and the Future of African American Literature.”
khoLi mixes her love for literature, creative copy, brand development, and pop culture in order to discuss the generation and progress of trans-historical moments in black resistance while worrying the lines of identity and power.  She believes that Jay Z is necessary for the revolution and that joy is a radical political position.  khoLi can be reached via email at [email protected].  For bookings, contact [email protected].