June Jordan: What About That?
by Sidney Brinkley
In 1997 poet and author June Jordan was a featured speaker at the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum's 10th Annual Conference in Long Beach, California.
During her speech Jordan spoke of one of her early Lesbian experiences and how she met the woman she fell in love with.
Though to read the story she tells is fascinating, it is not the complete "June Jordan experience."
What the printed word does not capture is the timbre her voice, the cadence of her speech.The performance poet who entertains while delivering a serious message. It was the height of the "Black is Beautiful" movement of the late 1960's and June Jordan was a reporter for the "New York Times" on her way to Mississippi to do an article on racism in the South.
A young woman from Hazelhurst, Mississippi had recently arrived in Harlem and offered to give Jordan a list of contacts. "She also offered me dinner," Jordan said and the two eventually became lovers for "several unforgettable years." "The way we met was definitely political," Jordan said.
"Black is Beautiful'" had replaced "Black Power" as the motivating concept of the day and I'd been uneasy about it. What did it mean, really? Would 'Black is Beautiful,' for example, produce more Black college graduates? Or better inner-city housing? To me it was a political slogan that might not yield any on-the-ground change. I was not convinced that a physiological shift would necessarily impact upon discrimination on the job and so forth.
"When I arrived at her place that winter evening, my head was full of statistics about Mississippi's White violence, and rural Black mechanism of defense. But, at the very second she had pulled the broiler tray out from the stove, and was testing the steak for our dinner, and she had glanced up at me, well, 'I got it!' I had this revelation.
Truly, it was like an intervention of the divine. I got a glimpse of her face under that huge Afro-crown she was wearing and there was nothing I not understand. As a matter of fact, not only was Black is Beautiful to me, to a most personally inspiring degree, but also Black is Beautiful galvanized my political determinations to make all of Mississippi a safe and gracious home for Black folks.
As a matter of fact, I was ready to make over the entire United States into a safe and gracious home for Black folks. There was no conflict between the personal and political chambers of my personal heart."
What About That?
Jordan moved from the personal to the political and blasted the Gay and Lesbian movement, in general, for being what she called self-centered "Newt's Gay Republican and Gay Clinton Democrats." Jordan said it was not enough for Black Gays to be just "Gay and Lesbian" and focus only on "Gay Rights" while unaware of and unsupportive of other struggles.
"What is the moral meaning of who we are?" she asked. "Let's suppose we know who we are as Black and Gay or Lesbian or Bisexual human beings and then...What about that?
How does any facet of your, or my, identity intersect, for instance, with the fact that the average grade level of Black elementary or high school children happens to be a D+? That's the situation in Oakland, California. What about that?
"Does our sexual or racial identity compel an activist intersection with such a horrifying status-quo or not? Is it sexual or racial identity that will catapult each of us into creative agency for social change? I would say, I hope so.
But also, I do not believe that who you are guarantees anything important about what you will choose to mean in the context of others' lives. And perhaps the very existence of a Black Gay and Lesbian conference says that who we are still needs organization, support and affirmation.
Perhaps we are still trying to figure out if we're 'on' or 'out' at first base. I hope we can recognize we are 'on,' and jump forward from there."
Jordan made it clear she is to the Left of many Gays and has a broader politics.
"As long as there are Gay and Lesbian Americans who view sexuality as the first and last defining facet of their existence, and who, therefore, do not defend immigrants against the savagery of xenophobic hatred, as long as there are Gay and Lesbian Americans who view sexuality as the first and last defining facet of their lives, then for that long I am not one with you and you are not one with me.
"I wanted to say my fight for sexual freedom, my fight for the right to hold my lovers' hand, to kiss his lips, or, more to the point, to kiss her lips, in everyday daylight, my personal fight is part of a principal fight for freedom, and in my own greater Jihad, I am struggling to make absolutely manifest a principled commitment to the principals of freedom and equality.
And I believe this is the righteous struggle I must continue if I hope to deserve coalitional support for my love, my people, my country and my world."