Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures(1990)

Edited by

Russell Ferguson

Martha Gever

Trinh T. Minh-ha

Cornel West

Foreword by

Marcia Tucker

Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures(1990)

Images selected by

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

The New Museum of Contemporary Art New York, New York

The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England

 

 

marginality as site of resistance

Four years ago in the preface to Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center I expressed these thoughts on marginality:

To be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body. As black Americans living in a small Kentucky town, the railroad tracks were a daily reminder of our marginality. Across those tracks were paved streets, stores we could not enter, restaurants we could not eat in, and people we could not look directly in the face. Across those tracks was a world we could work in as maids, as janitors, as prostitutes, as long as it was in a service capacity. We could enter that world but we could not live there. We had always to return to the margin, to cross the tracks, to shacks and abandoned houses on the edge of town.

There were laws to ensure our return. To not return was to risk being punished. Living as we did-on the edge- we developed a particular way of seeing reality. We looked both from the out­ side in and front the inside out. We focused our attention on the center as well as on the margin. We understood both. This mode of seeing reminded us of the existence of a whole universe, a main body made up of both margin and center. Our survival depended on an ongoing public awareness of the separation between margin and center and an ongoing private acknowledge­ ment that we were a necessary, vital part of that whole.

This sense of wholeness, impressed upon our consciousness by the structure of our daily lives, provided us an oppositional world view-a mode of seeing unknown to most of our oppressors that sustained us, aided us in our struggle to transcend poverty and despair, strengthened our sense of self and our solidarity.

Though incomplete, I was working in these statements to identify marginality as much more than a site of deprivation. In fact I was saying just the opposite: that it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance. It was this marginality that I was naming as a central location for the production of a counter hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives. As such, I was not speak­ ing of a marginality one wishes to lose, to give up, or surrender as part of moving into the center, but rather as a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s ca­ pacity to resist. It offers the possibility of radical perspectives from which to sec and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.

This is not a mythic notion of marginality. It comes from lived experience. Yet I want to talk about what it means to struggle to maintain that marginality even as one works, produces, lives, if you will, at the center. I no longer live in that segregated world across the tracks. Central to life in that world was the ongoing awareness of the necessity of opposition. When Bob Marley sings, “We refuse to be what you want us to be, we are what we are, and that’s the way it’s going to be,” that space of refusal, where one can say no to the colonizer, no to the downpressor, is located in the margins. And

 

 

one can only say no, speak to the voice of resistance, because there exists a counter language. While it may resemble in ways the colonizer’s tongue, it has to undergo a transformation. It has been irrevocably changed. When I left that concrete space in the margins, I kept alive in my heart a way of knowing reality which affirms continually not only the primacy of resistance but the necessity of a resistance that is sustained by re­ membrance of the past, which includes recollections of broken tongues, giving us ways to speak that de-colonize our minds, our very beings. Once mama said to me as I was about to go again to the predominately white university, “You can take what the white people have to offer but you do not have to love them.” Now understanding her cul­ tural codes I know that she was not saying to me not to love people of other races. She was speaking about colonization and the reality of what it means to be taught in a cul­ ture of domination by those who dominate. She was insisting on my power to be able to separate useful knowledge that I might get from the dominating group from partici­ pation in ways of knowing that would lead to estrangement, alienation, and, worse, assimilation and cooption. She was saying that it is not necessary to give yourself over to them to learn. Not having been in those institutions, she still knew that I might be faced again and again with situations where I would be “tried,” made to feel as though a central requirement of my being accepted might be participation in this system of ex­ change to ensure my success, my “making it.” She was reminding me of the necessity of opposition and simultaneously encouraging me not to lose that radical perspective shaped and formed by marginality.

Understanding marginality as position and place of resistance is crucial for op­ pressed, exploited, colonized people. If we only view the margin as sign, marking the condition of our pain and deprivation, then a certain hopelessness and despair, a deep ni­ hilism penetrates in a destructive way the very ground of our being. It is there in that space of collective despair that one’s creativity, one’s imagination is at risk, there that one’s mind is fully colonized, there that the freedom one longs for is lost. Truly the mind that resists colonization struggles for freedom of expression. That struggle may not even begin with the colonizer; it may begin within one’s segregated colonized com­ munity and family. I want to note that I am not trying to romantically re-inscribe the notion of that space of marginality where the oppressed live apart from their oppressors as “pure.” I want to say that these margins have been both sites of repression and sites of resistance. And since we are well able to name the nature of that repression, we know better the margins as site of deprivation. We arc more silent when it comes to speaking of the margin as site of resistance. We are more often silenced when it comes to speak­ ing of the margin as site of resistance.

Silenced. During my graduate years I heard myself speaking often in the voice of re­ sistance. I cannot say that my speech was welcomed. I cannot say that my speech was heard in such a way that it altered relations between colonizer and colonized. Yet what I have noticed is that those scholars, most especially those who name themselves radical critical thinkers, feminist thinkers, now fully participate in the construction of a dis­ course about the “Other.” I was made “other” there in that space with them. In that space in the margins, that lived-in segregated world of my past and present, I was not “other.” They did not meet me there in that space. They met me at the center. They

 

 

greeted me as colonizers. I am waiting to learn from them the path of their resistance, of how it came to be that they were able to surrender the power to act as colonizers. I am waiting for them to bear witness, to give testimony. They say that the discourse on marginality, on difference has moved beyond a discussion of us and them. They do not speak of how this movement has taken place. This is a response from the radical space of my marginality. It is a space of resistance. It is a space I choose.

I am waiting for them to stop talking about the “other,” to stop even describing how important it is to be able to speak about difference. It is not just important what we speak about but how and why we speak. Often this speech about the “other” is also a mask, an oppressive talk hiding gaps, absences, that space where our words would be if we were speaking, if there was silence, if we were there. This “we” is that us in the mar­ gins, that “we” who inhabit marginal space that is not a site of domination but a place of resistance. Enter chat space. Often this speech about the “other” annihilates, erases. No need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better than yon can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still colonizer, the speaking subject and you are now at the center of my talk. We greet you as liberators. This “we” is that us in the margins, that “we” who inhabit marginal space that is not a site of domination but a place of resistance. Enter that space. This is an intervention. I am writ­ ing to you. I am speaking from a place in the margins where I am different-where I see things differently. Speaking from margins. Speaking in resistance. I open a book. There are words on the back cover “never in the shadows again,” a book which suggests the possibility of speaking as liberators. Only who is speaking and who is silent. Only who stands in the shadows-the shadow in a doorway, the space where images of black women are represented voiceless, the space where our words are invoked to serve and support, the space of our absence. Only small echoes of protest. We are re-written. We are “other.” We are the margin. Who is speaking and to whom. Where do we locate our­ selves and our comrades.

Silenced. We fear those who speak about us who do not speak to us and with us. We know what it is like to be silenced. We know that the forces that silence us because they never want us to speak, differ from the forces that say speak, tell me your story. Only do not speak in the voice of resistance. Only speak from that space in the margin that is a sign of deprivation, a wound, and unfulfilled longing. Only speak your pain.

This is an intervention, A message from that space in the margin that is a site of cre­ ativity and power, that inclusive space where we recover ourselves, where we move in solidarity to erase the category colonized/colonizer. Marginality as site of resistance. Enter that space. Let us meet there. Enter that space. We greet you as liberators.

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