Quotes From Essays by Max S. Gordon

Photo by Rufus Müller

Thanks to a good friend of mine who suggested I begin to compile these quotations so that she wouldn’t have to search through my essays to find them. Thanks to everyone who has “highlighted” quotes in the Medium pieces, read my work and left feedback, or passed it on to friends. I very much appreciate your encouragment and support. I will be updating this list from time to time. _______________________________________________________________

“There isn’t an oppressed person alive who at one point or another hasn’t felt the seductive gravity of capitulation. The decision to resist always means thrusting oneself into the vast, unknown and dangerous wilderness of truly being free. One is tormented, at the same time, by the grim suspicion that while a secure existence may never be found in self-determination, a designated place always awaits one who will succumb to the State.”Jesusland, Democratic Underground, December 7, 2004 (as Max Gordon)

“Pornography is a psychological orientation to existence. It is the precise moment in one’s mind when the commodification of a human life outweighs the importance of the potential creativity of that life.” Abu Ghraib: Postcards From The Edge, Open Democracy, October 13, 2004 (As Max Gordon)

“You know something very bizarre is going on in Hollywood when the movie ‘Rise of Planet of the Apes’ tells more about the black experience in America than ‘The Help.’…There is love in Viola Davis’ performance, and Emma Stone’s as well, but it simply isn’t enough. This period in our history had women and men, both black and white, who were brave, many of whom lost their lives; and they, and we, deserve a whole lot better than the bullshit science-fiction found in The Help. And if there’s a choice between the unreal, pastel-colored South of the film and its paternalistic treatment of blacks, and the movie ‘reality’ of primates who have the courage to liberate themselves, then I’ll stand with the apes.” I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free: On ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ and ‘The Help’, The New Civil Rights Movement, August 21, 2011

“…you can’t deal with Bill Cosby now without at some point dealing with yourself and your relationship with the truth. In L’affaire Cosby, yes, Bill Cosby is in seriously deep shit, but you will also be defined.”Bill Cosby, Himself: Fame, Narcissism and Sexual Violence, December 25, 2014

On Audre Lorde:
“When a black, lesbian, feminist, poet, mother living with cancer stands up in her glory, it is the ultimate liberation. Each of us is represented in her aspect; every race, every sex and sexual orientation. When she is liberated or liberates herself, we are all liberated, because in the hierarchy of societal power she is technically at the “bottom.” When she rises up from being buried alive under an avalanche of childhood sexual and physical abuse, institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, and all the attempts that society has manufactured to kill her, render her silent, drive her crazy, or make her physically sick or addicted; if she still remembers everything we’ve done to her and is able to tell and tell it eloquently, then we are all in danger.”
Audre, Sapience Magazine, March 2006

“Someone will read this who may be an artist, who understands what it means to walk out the front door and deal with all the madness of the world — black, queer, gender and class. Yet she wills herself to create. And despite a desire to self-destruct, or to take a gun and destroy, she instead finds the generosity to say “Good Morning” to passersby. Or perhaps she starts a movement.”Be Glad That You Are Free: On Nina Simone, Miles Ahead, Lemonade, Lauryn Hill and Prince, The New Civil Rights Movement, May 15, 2016

“Nina left blood on the piano keys, she had breakdowns, lovers left her, men beat her, a country refused to acknowledge her genius. We enjoy the peacock’s feathers, but she ate the thorns.”Be Glad That You Are Free: On Nina Simone, Miles Ahead, Lemonade, Lauryn Hill and Prince, The New Civil Rights Movement, May 15, 2016

As in the blues tradition, “Death come a-creepin’ in my room,” you eventually have to ask yourself at some point, why do I want to kill myself, what I am trying to kill inside me? As a gay man, I know when I’ve sometimes felt the need to kill something inside me, or what I am told — whether from childhood conditioning or Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign — should be dead. I don’t know what Whitney’s demons were, perhaps there were many, but I know there are addicts for whom there aren’t enough drugs in the world, who can’t get high enough to escape, and for whom “excessive partying” is really just a polite term for suicide attempts.” — Whitney: Sister Can’t Fly On One Wing, February 12, 2012, The New Civil Rights Movement

“…while we may see the parallels to a black woman’s children being sold during slavery, we are often unable to comprehend the full horror of that historic violation because of the mythology that still prevails about black women’s sexuality, and our inability to have an honest national conversation about slavery in this country. Through The Handmaid’s Tale, however, we are appalled in a quite different way when the women whose children are taken from them are blonde, educated, and named Laura, Becky, Susan, Michelle, June — professional women, women with their own children, their own homes, money, and power. The Handmaid’s Tale is Miss Ann cast as a slave.”On Race and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, The New Civil Rights Movement, May 24, 2017

“It occurred to me America hasn’t really happened yet, that despite its great potential, we are still waiting on America, as one waits on the platform, expectant and hopeful, for a train to come.” — The Cult of Whiteness: On #OscarsSoWhite, Donald Trump and The End of America, The New Civil Rights Movement, February 7, 2016

“It’s strangely off-balance, and must make life feel vague and slightly weightless, when there is less love coming from your living than your dead.” — You Hold On: A message to gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender youth, October 10, 2012

“I could only speculate from what I observed, but it seemed to me that Lauryn [Hill]’s music had the power to bring some black women to a place of joy they’d known as girls, and yet was, at the same time, a complete fulfillment of adult black womanhood.” Be Glad That You Are Free: On Nina Simone, Miles Ahead, Lemonade, Lauryn Hill and Prince, The New Civil Rights Movement, May 15, 2016

“I thought of the stereotype of the crazy black female, of Nina, and a world of media images and male comics who found humor in portrayals of black women as angry, combative, aggressive, mean — of what it meant always to have to fight back to survive; fighting for everyone, including the men who condemn you, and then being punished for it. How you just get tired. In the intimate space Lauryn created, that burden seemed, at least for a few hours, lifted. One woman didn’t sing along, but kept brushing away tears with the edge of her hand. I watched the nodding heads and knew that I recognized this tableau from somewhere: it was the same look on the women’s faces in a college auditorium filled with black students where Nina performed “Young, Gifted and Black”. It was the relief that comes from finally being heard, the expansion of having your story told, and told right. In that moment I realized Lauryn was, is, our Nina, and that an artist who is true to her vision can save lives.”Be Glad That You Are Free: On Nina Simone, Miles Ahead, Lemonade, Lauryn Hill and Prince, The New Civil Rights Movement, May 15, 2016

“I had to acknowledge that the people who supported Cosby weren’t unthinking idiots or monsters, but were real people, black and white, male and female, straight and gay, who chose not to believe these women. While the survivors were beating back the masses and defending themselves daily in the media, Cosby’s supporters were comfortably getting on with their lives, and because of their support, so was Bill Cosby.” — A Different World: Why We Owe The Cosby Accusers An Apology, Medium, December 3, 2017

“This is part of the triumph of ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ and part of its disgrace; while it deconstructs the American sexual fear, for example, that refused to acknowledge Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte as sex symbols, the film also refuses to deal with the sexuality of his subject, or that Baldwin is indeed a “sexual” icon of a different kind. The man who spent his life demanding we tell the truth to each other and to ourselves deserves, at least in his own movie, to have the truth told about him.” Faggot as Footnote: On James Baldwin, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘Can I Get A Witness’ and ‘Moonlight’, the New Civil Rights Movement, February 25, 2017

“Nina’s blackness was as hard and enduring as onyx, an African juju that pierced you like a church-house scream, as deep and penetrating as her voodoo stare into our collective souls–”Be Glad That You Are Free: On Nina Simone, Miles Ahead, Lemonade, Lauryn Hill and Prince, The New Civil Rights Movement, May 15, 2016

“What is ultimately at stake is this: If you can acknowledge James Baldwin fully for what he was, then your admiration of him may lead you to a place of compassion and understanding for what you have been taught to fear in your own life. And ultimately this may save your life, or someone else’s. It’s not very complicated — if you admire Baldwin for the entirety of who he was, you may embrace your gay son, your lesbian daughter, rather than try and destroy them. You may come out of the closet with pride as bisexual, rather than destroy yourself.” Faggot as Footnote: On James Baldwin, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘Can I Get A Witness’ and ‘Moonlight’, The New Civil Rights Movement, February 25, 2017

“Hatred of the ‘other’ is the way we attempt to control our fear of death through specialness.” — Maybe Yesterday, But Not Tonight: A Black Homosexual Speaks to Mike Pence, The New Civil Rights Movement, April 12, 2015

Nina, for those of us who feel that her music still sustains us through persecutions, is a crowning achievement in American artistry and black American radical consciousness. Her blackness was hard-won — she fought for it every day of her life — and is deeper and more profound than a prosthetic nose and fudge-colored foundation.” —Be Glad That You Are Free: On Nina Simone, Miles Ahead, Lemonade, Lauryn Hill and Prince, The New Civil Rights Movement, May 15, 2016

“In the end, despite her many achievements, I can’t claim Dr. Rice. If she is the realization of Dr. King’s ‘dream’, he should have been more specific.” — Bringing Down the Hope, Condoleezza Rice, Black Capitalism and War, Democratic Underground, January 6, 2004

“In a system in which commodification, objectification, and greed define all our human exchanges, rape, when acknowledged at all, is seen as an unfortunate bi-product, like toxic waste from a very productive factory. When it happens, it’s embarrassing and unfortunate, and best ignored completely. For the victim, being raped carries a stigma and shame, not unlike being poor. The only way to reconcile being raped in this paradigm, to be made whole, is to go out and rape someone else.” —A Different World: Why We Owe The Cosby Accusers An Apology, Medium, December 3, 2017

“The process of dehumanization required for the white capitalist to exploit others in order to make money, and which defined American slavery, backfires on the black American capitalist if he still has a conscience; on some level, no matter how successful he is in business, slavery is not an abstraction he can ignore in some history book, it’s his family reunion.” Family Feud: Jay-Z, Beyoncé and The Desecration of Black Art, Medium, January 7, 2018

“When I think about a possible time capsule that includes a copy of the televised Their Eyes Were Watching God as a document of black life in 2005 or even in the 1920’s, I realize that it doesn’t tell the truth about either one — it’s a nothing burger. During the period in the Eighties and early Nineties, when Hollywood’s commitment to telling the truth about black life extended only as far as Beverly Hills Cop I and II and Jumping Jack Flash, when white female actresses were at their perkiest, I considered starting a support group for me and my disillusioned friends, NAMR (Niggers Against Meg Ryan).” — Watchers and Witnesses: Oprah, Zora and James, March 13, 2005.

There is no delicate way to put it: Rich people wipe their asses with poor people. When you have a certain amount of money in America, you don’t even have to focus your eyes on individual poor people anymore — they are a blur if they exist at all. A disembodied “hand” extends a towel in the restaurant washroom, “little fairies” (illegal immigrants paid less than minimum wage) cook your food and clean your hotel room, “pixies and sprites” (black and Latino mothers working two jobs) clean your toilet bowl and raise your kids. You aren’t required to see anyone you don’t want to see, because you have earned your money and you have paid for a service and that makes it fair. One day, perhaps, if they are so fortunate, they may earn enough money to have a poor person to wipe their ass with too. And that is how America works. Land of the free, home of the slave.” — Martha X, The Radicialization of Martha Stewart, Democratic Underground, January 19, 2005

“Resist Trump, and finally forgive yourself, for the childhood abuse, for the childhood violence. The abuse that’s been sabotaging your life, that makes you apologize when other people bump into you, that keeps you in torn clothes. End the war with self. Integrate. Reconcile. Emerge into your greatest power. We need you whole. Your life is an ecosystem and you have a right to keep it balanced and to preserve it. Stop all self-harm. Remember: it wasn’t your body that betrayed you. And although you may not always feel like it, despite what happened to you, your beauty remains intact.” Resist Trump, A Survival Guide, “One Year Later: Writers, Artists & Advocates Respond to Our American Crisis”, First Person Plural Series, November 7, 2017

“Because our motley crew of freaks, fags, feminists, students, artists, negroes, outlaws, queers, blues women, dykes, homeless people, jigaboos, drag queens, the othered, and yo Mama are not just going to sit back and watch our reproductive rights taken away, our gay marriages overturned, our black children shot in the streets like dogs, and say, ‘Business as usual.’ We’re going to fight. Welcome to the second Civil War. You have no idea how strong you are. But you’re about to find out.” —“What Just Happened, Writers Respond to the 2016 Presidential Election”, First Person Plural Series, November 15, 2016

“And somebody out there knows that if blacks and women and queer people are terrorized, or drunk and addicted, or incarcerated, or depressed by what we watch on the news each night, we won’t have the self-esteem to ask for our “piece of pie”, we won’t even go near the table. If we fight each other over bullshit scraps, if the men abandon the women when they are raped and don’t believe them, and the women dispute the men when they claim racism, and if everyone gangs up on the queers, then we are divided, and someone prospers and laughs, literally, all the way to the bank. The system we’ve created requires these rapes and deaths, because a fully empowered woman whose body belongs to her may not need your mascara, your designer jeans, may not look in the mirror and think she’s fat (there go your diet pills and your eating disorders), a black man whose choices haven’t been circumscribed by racial terror may not want to work at your fast-food chains looking forward to a lifetime of standing on his feet at Wal-Mart, but will remember his childhood dream and go to law school instead.”Bill Cosby, Himself: Fame, Narcissism and Sexual Violence, The New Civil Rights Movement, December 25, 2014

“I come from a people who were a source of free labor in this country, people who belonged to someone else, as a mother watched her daughters on the auction block, sold away from her like so much furniture, like cattle. I come from a people who wore pink triangles in concentration camps, who were stigmatized because of who we loved. I come from a people whose blood littered Southern dirt roads, hanging from trees like limp Christmas angels, because we wanted economic freedom or the right to vote. I come from a people who couldn’t use a public bathroom or drinking fountain, no matter how desperate we were, if it said, “White Only.” I come from a people who knew their bars could be raided at any time by police, with no rights to privacy. I come from a people who sat in psychiatrist’s offices to be cured of our “sickness,” who still go to special religious camps to fix our “problem” with Christ, as those who claim to love us smash us in the name of God. I come from a people who can receive the death penalty in some countries for what God made us. I come from a people who are sometimes driven to suicide by self-hate. I come from a people who kill each other on the streets because of self-hate. America, I won’t choose sides, I can’t choose against myself and neither can you. I will not make it easier for you by going away, by staying quiet, by resolving this for you — this, our wonderful dilemma.” — Max S. Gordon, Proud Americans, Be Who You Are, The New Civil Rights Movement, September 12, 2015

“We are the descendants of slaves. Our children have been sold from us. We’ve lost our languages, we’ve lost our tribes. We have been tortured for learning to read. We’ve been maimed for attempting to escape, lynched for our progress. Murdered as social control. In 1817 and in 2017. Our memory is our song. And when our black art becomes corrupted, we don’t end up with real estate, we end up with nothing. The dignity and truth of our experience must be maintained. Our lives must bear witness. As James Baldwin taught us, what doesn’t bear witness in our art, collaborates.” Max S. Gordon, Family Feud: Jay-Z, Beyoncé and The Desecration of Black Art, Medium, January 7, 2018

“Let’s face it: sometimes being gay is hard and sometimes we don’t want to live. Does it get better when you come out? Yes and no. When you are honest about your sexuality and risk telling others, does the Coming-Out Fairy fly over your house, wave a wand, and make sure you never feel pain again? No. Sometimes more pain is on the way. But it is a different kind of pain, a pain that is worthy of you.

And some kinds of pain you will never have to feel again. You won’t have to hide, or lie, or pretend to be something you are not. You can stand up for yourself, you can have dignity, and you can respect yourself for being brave.

But even if you aren’t out, it doesn’t matter, you’ll get there one day. Until that day comes, you hold on. You hold on in Michigan, you hold on in Mississippi, you hold on in Alabama, in Idaho, in New Jersey, in Colorado, in Georgia, in Texas, in Mexico, in Japan, in Germany, in Iran, in Zimbabwe, or wherever the hell you are on the planet. And you remember: it’s not the fact that we are attracted to the same sex that makes us courageous or wonderful, it’s the fact that we sometimes have to risk everything to stand up for who we are.” — You Hold On, A Message To Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender youth, October 10, 2010

“Justice isn’t only defined by how we respond to the past. It is also about how we change the future.”

— In response to the announcement that no charges will be filed against the Elizabeth City, NC police in the murder of Andrew Brown, Jr., May 21, 2021

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Max S. Gordon is a writer and activist. He has been published in the anthologies Inside Separate Worlds: Life Stories of Young Blacks, Jews and Latinos (University of Michigan Press, 1991), Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Anthology of African-​American Lesbian and Gay Fiction (Henry Holt, 1996). His work has also appeared on openDemocracy, Democratic Underground and Truthout, in Z Magazine, Gay Times, Sapience, and other progressive on-​line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally. His essays include “Bill Cosby, Himself, Fame, Narcissism and Sexual Violence”, “A Different World: Why We Owe The Cosby Accusers An Apology”, “Faggot as Footnote: On James Baldwin, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘Can I Get A Witness’ and ‘Moonlight’”, “Resist Trump: A Survival Guide”, “Family Feud: Jay-Z, Beyoncé and the Desecration of Black Art”

Max S. Gordon is a writer and activist. His work has appeared in on-line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally. Follow Max on twitter:@maxgordon19