Hannah Gamble is the author of Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast, winner of the 2012 National Poetry Series. Her essays appear at The Fanzine, The Poetry Foundation, and the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Chicago.
ON THE WHITE MEN WHO DON’T WANT REVOLUTION
When I was about 15, a woman in my church told several members of the congregation that there
was another member of the church who was a witch. I remember being excited by this news,
because it meant that my friends took it upon themselves to skip the day’s main assembly to go
to the smaller chapel next door and anoint each of the pews with holy oil and pray that witch
woman and the demon inside her would be cast out. I would join them, of course, and would thus
be doing something more exciting than listening to an old man’s well-meaning but ultimately
My father found out that I’d skipped the service, and so we had a conversation that night where I
tried to convince him that I had made a spiritually-responsible, albeit it unconventional,
decision—that I had responded appropriately to an urgent situation.
“[So-and- so] says that judgment is coming to our congregation,” I said, repeating something one
of my friends had told me.
“Hannah,” my father said, “you don’t want judgment to come to our church. Judgement would
be bad for all of us. It’s a bad and scary thing.”
“But if God thinks judgment needs to happen, shouldn’t we let it happen?” I said.
“No,” was the gist of what my father concluded.
I think about this exchange every time a white person criticizes the way that people of color call
out the racism they’ve experienced in their artistic, social, academic, professional, literary
worlds. The argument against these often unapologetically angry testaments is usually that
“they’re doing it wrong,” and that “they’re going to alienate every white person who could be
their valuable ally” by being too emotional, seeming too volatile, being unprofessional.
It’s hard for me to believe that these critical white people are really (ultimately) concerned for
these justifiably dissatisfied people of color (that they might not be getting optimal results)—I
usually think instead that these criticisms are coming from deep inside the white people who
don’t want themselves and their loved ones to one day be “unfairly” targeted/ called-out.
Let me say right now that I have been guilty of this very thing. A better title for this essay might
be “On the People Who Don’t Want Revolution Because They Haven’t Been Killed or Raped or
Many women, similarly, like to criticize other women for being too angry/ confrontational with
their feminist projects. The underlying message seems to be “Some of us have worked very hard
to get an okay thing going here, working and living within a system that hates us; please don’t
ruin this for us.”
When I was teaching beginning writing and rhetoric at Prairie State College a few years ago I
had my students read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” It is one of the
best things ever written. One of the most important ideas in this piece is that the biggest enemy
to a black person’s struggle for freedom and equality is the white moderate. The one who says
“I’m your friend and ally, but I think you just need to wait; the time isn’t right. You’re doing it
wrong; if you would just listen to me and follow my advice you’d be able to get what you want.
Don’t be foolish. Don’t be hasty. I’m going to help you, just not right at this minute.”
I’m writing this a couple days after nearly 50 (mostly queer Latinx) people were killed at Pulse
nightclub in Orlando (53 more were wounded). There are people with whom I attended church in
my teens who are posting things on their facebook walls reminding everyone that many muslims
are “bloodthirsty killers.” Then their are poets with whom I’m facebook friends expressing their
grief, and reminding everyone that they are both muslim and queer. Most of my facebook feed,
I’m thankful, is full of messages of love and support for all of our queer, muslim, and Latinx
siblings. I’m thankful that these are the sentiments of most of the people I know. I’m physically
overcome with sadness that this is our world now, and really has been our world since the
beginning of time—I just haven’t fully known it until a few years ago, when the internet allowed
me to read the stories of everyone (everyone brave enough to write about it and share it)
suffering, and my head was finally out of my white, grad-school- educated-with- mostly-other-
Revolution is uncomfortable and violent and chaotic, and “innocent” people get hurt on the way
to things changing so that fewer innocent people suffer. I’m a white, middle class, educated,
able-bodied, by-common- standards-attractive american who dates mostly people of the opposite
gender. I love many people who also fit these criteria. But I still want revolution to come. If I, or
the people I love, get hurt, I will grieve it, and wish it was otherwise. But everyone else is
already being hurt, killed, jailed unfairly, abused by police, told they’re bringing this violence
upon themselves by revolting incorrectly (or, let alone revolting, by eating candy on a walk home
alone incorrectly, putting their hands up and saying “don’t shoot” incorrectly, dressing
incorrectly, playing with a toy gun incorrectly, peacefully protesting incorrectly). So, if I, or the
ones I love get hurt, or even killed, so be it. I don’t want it to happen, but so be it. My favorite
Talking Heads song in the one where everyone is dead and the earth is covered in flowers.