Pat Parker was an African American lesbian poet who died in 1989. While Pat and I never met, her poetry has been this powerful influence in my life. like so many poets she wrote about the world around her. However, it was through her poetry that she found the place to give voice to her life and her realities as an African American lesbian feminist. She wrote about things that were personal and political. She wrote truth in her poems in a way that touched peoples lives and continues to touch people’s lives today. Perhaps the poem that has made the most significant impact on my life is called “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend.” While I can appreciate the entire poem, it is the first two lines that continue to resonate with me today and I can continue to use in my teaching. She wrote: “the first thing you do is to forget that i'm Black. Second, you must never forget that i'm Black.”
I say that about so many things. forget that I am a same sex loving woman and at the same time never forget. Forget that I use a wheelchair, but never forget. Forget that I am biracial, but never forget.
When we take the time to get to know each other as human beings, as creations of the Infinite, then we get to see the divine in each other. We see each other as human beings without all the labels, stereotypes, prejudices, and stuff that gets attached once we begin to put people in categories. At the same time, in the process of knowing me, never forget that who I am, includes me being a biracial same sex loving woman with a disability. Don’t forget that my day to day realities are shaped by the systems of inequality that shape the realities of us all.
See there is far more to each of us then what comes attached to the categories we are placed in. I am more than a 54 year old (at the time of this writing) same sex loving biracial woman with a disability. I am more than the roles I fill in life. I am more than a parent, a partner, and a professor.
Sometimes we make bridging the cultural divides way too hard because we allow our fears about what we think we know to separate us from one another. I remember sitting in a very painful meeting one day with people who I thought loved and respected me. As I sat there and listened, what I heard were words that pierced my spirit as they spoke about how they had challenges with me because I was white, rich and educated. In a matter of seconds, I went from thinking they saw me as a human being to realizing they had never really connected with me because they could never forget the categories they had put me in.
We are all more than the categories the world has created and that others put us in. We are human beings, reflections of the love of the Infinite Presence. As I seek to develop relationships with other creations of the Infinite in this world, I strive to take the advice of Pat Parker and forget and remember the categories and labels attached to those I meet. So I forget that my friends are trans, gay, lesbian, heterosexual, black, Latina, Native American, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindi, Agnostic, Aetheist and at the same time I never forget.
What would the world be like if we all worked at forgetting and remembering at the same time? What would the world be like if we all took the time to remember that we are creations of the Infinite? What would the world be like if we set aside our prejudices, stereotypes and fears and took the time to connect with each other as reflections of love and creations of the Infinite? If we did, would Pat Parker have ever needed to write her poem instructing white people on how to be her friend?