INVESTING IN OUR INTELLECT
WORDS BY JOSH RIVERS
As a queer Black man who has struggled a great deal at the intersection of his identities, I’ve found much solace in literature and the arts and in the attendant hunt for representation and meaning in my life. The nuggets I’ve found whilst foraging on the likes of Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Essex Hemphill and Marlon Riggs (to name but a few) have nourished me when a diet that consisted of predominantly white gay “culture” left me starved. If someone like me – with the intellect, privilege and resources to learn, participate and grow – has found it hard to readily uncover himself and his worth in a white world, then it’s not hard to imagine that other more marginalised people might find it hard to sustain themselves, too.
Being gay is very uneven ground upon which to build something with someone else. Even if you both care about the same things, you have to have your own reasons for caring about what you care about. It’s not enough to have a shared concern with the economic ruin of our country. For example, an affluent white gay man and I have very different reasons for that concern: the austerity that those in power continue to inflict on this country affects him and me in very different ways. And so, cultivating my intellectual acuity has also helped me see where I invest my energy: whether in friendship, love or business partners, the need to seek out our own, people who understand from where we’ve come and how we might best get to where we’re going, becomes most vital.
“My intellectual diet has given me back my vitality, my eagerness to succeed, and a more potent understanding that even when I fail — perhaps especially when I fail — the only person who can bring me back from that failure is me.”
Aside from what I build with others, my own intellect has been the most rewarding and sustaining investment. It was reading Audre Lorde’s Your Silence Will Not Protect You that helped me stand back up after I’d been knocked down. It’s perhaps more apt to describe it as a flattening, such was the force of the winds of the outrage that ensued when tweets from my past were discovered. The outrage, the offense, made sense to me: the things I said were abhorrent. While I had moved on and grown up and used the anger I once harboured to be a force for good, I hadn’t thought about how I’d done that. I knew my rage rose when I thought about young men like me, assaulted and taken advantage of, confused in the world, unsure of why the things that happened to him happened. Why they continued to happen. “Anger is loaded with information and energy,” writes Audre. So in the months that followed, I dove head-first into as many books as I could. It was, in part, a way to escape, a way to quiet my mind. It was also a search in earnest, a form of data-gathering. It was a way to make sense of the world. Thumbing back through her book and many others, the marginalia reveal a young man, slowly but surely, finding the inspiration he needs to speak again. As I re-situate myself, taking time to make sure I’m healing properly, I feel I finally understand the power of my intellect – a power I’d only ever partially harnessed.
As a result, I understand more fully that because I learned to quiet my navigating voice, there was much else I didn’t address. You see, our pursuit of the intellectual teaches us not only to focus on what we’re passionate about, but to address and heal wounds that have long been ignored. We learn that where it hurts most is the wound we should tend first, because hang ups from childhood have a habit of showing up in very public ways; and that there are voices like ours out there, should we decide to seek them. How we thrive at the intersection of queer and Black, how we build the future we all deserve to live in, has become a much better focus of my intellectual pursuits.
“It was reading Audre Lorde’s Your Silence Will Not Protect You that helped me stand back up after I’d been knocked down.”
Whether it was falling in love with love again through Louis de Bernieres’ trilogy or crying atop Castle Montjuic in Barcelona listening to Dr Brené Brown talk to Oprah about how we bring shame into the light, I’m most stirred intellectually by that which stirs me emotionally. My intellectual diet has given me back my vitality, my eagerness to succeed, and a more potent understanding that even when I fail – perhaps especially when I fail – the only person who can bring me back from that failure is me. In short, the truest guide on my journey and the light I need to find my way back home is actually coming from within.