The program said D.J. Hudson, a self-styled “queer womanist activist and community organizer,” was going to speak at Tuesday’s Voices of Sophia breakfast on “exploring womanist ethics as a tool for resistance in the Black Lives Matter struggle.”
However, in light of the recent massacre at the Pulse night club in Orlando, she said, “I need to speak what’s on my heart.”
Her new address was titled, “Tears as a Counterbalance to Laughter: Grief and Justice.”
“In Orlando it was queer Latina/ Latino. It was queer black folks. [It was] our people,” said Hudson, a non-violence and direct-action consultant with Soulforce, an organization based in Nashville that she said “works to end the political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people through relentless nonviolent resistance.”
“Womanism saved my life, and wasn’t something I could learn in a book,” she said. “It was something I’d learned my whole life, being raised by many active black women. We can learn to crystalize what we already know from our lives and experiences.”
Hudson listed Orlando, Charleston and punitive laws against transgender people among recent injustices suffered by LGBTQI Americans. “We have a lot to grieve,” she said. “Those of us committed to justice don’t often slow down enough to see how constructive grief is, how it leads us to justice.”
Speaking about the powerful grief she felt after her grandmother’s funeral, and her Missionary Baptist family’s instruction not to be saddened by her death but to celebrate her life, Hudson said she needed to mourn. “Grief is a counterbalance to joy,” she said. “It allows us to be our full selves. We can’t run from grief.”
After the murders in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, she said, “It was hard to see the fetishization of the forgiveness by these black people. It was hard to see them lift up forgiveness, but not enter into the grief and rage … they were feeling.” Hudson said feeling deeply is a hallmark of empathy and grief, anger and pain, all of which are part of the natural process of [responding to] tragedy. She said she thinks the media have a hard time dealing with such feelings in minority populations.
“Our capacity to feel is not something we can fear,” she said. “I believe we have to be there, because grief allows us to grow closer to one another. If we are in a hurry to move past it, to rush on, we miss a lot of critical information.”
In the case of the Orlando massacre, she said it was necessary to draw close to community and community values: “There’s no strategy for us to overcome this sort of hate for queer, bi, non- binary people. Our grief calls us to listen and inspires us to do important things. I needed to tell my own story to myself, and find the root of the healing I needed.”
Hudson said womanist theology has much to teach the church about “woundedness, wilderness and work,” referring to Jesus’ time in the desert as “rooting down into the base of his tradition; he needed to be closer to God.”
Finding the “root” of belief and purpose can help us channel feelings of grief, pain, anger and rage, she said. “Grief shows us what we long for, because it reveals the people we long for,” she said.
“Grief shows us what’s important; it gives us perspective on what really matters. Grief brings us face-to-face with rage in a way we need to deal with it. In the justice arena, we fear anger because we feel it may bring us too close to the power we are opposing.
“We have the right to feel rage for those we’ve lost – not only those lost last week in Orlando, but from AIDS, police violence, negligence and poverty. Rage is a means of legitimate struggle. Sometimes rage and anger keeps us honest.”
Circling back to the power of community and connection, she concluded, “I don’t want to be too heavy, but [we can] call upon what’s already in us – to call upon what we feel. The accountability we have for one another is what will keep us strong.
“The power of what we feel when we grieve is just as strong as the power we feel when we are strategizing and organizing.”
The breakfast at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)was sponsored by Presbyterian Voices for Justice, the result of a merger of two progressive, justice- oriented Presbyterian organizations, the Voices of Sophia and the Witherspoon Society.