The Personal is Political: Notes on Liberation

by Starr Davis. photography by Deun Ivory.

When I think of liberation, as a Black woman, I consider who and what I have allowed to build mental real estate in my body. The wealth that stems from our personal and spiritual lives, is what gives birth to our political bodies. It was Angela Davis who said, “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” I say to that, we must also talk about liberating our political relevance, as bodies who have too long been constructed to work silently in the shadows of our sufferings.

A bodily decision should never be a political decision, and yet in this country, it always has. The thoughts in a woman's mind when she considers whether she is, or isn’t ready to carry life, are far from hypothetical or rhetorical. So, when laws are passed, forbidding our dreamscapes, or decisions on what we are to do with our bodies as women. When women are imprisoned or sentenced to death, for protecting their bodies or children or men from the hands of injustice. Or when figures, such as Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, are speaking giftedly with an emotional and political consciousness surrounding world issues and presses are downplaying their rhetoric, I wonder what that penitentiary of fear looks like and what capacity it can hold

There are a few mental notes to keep in mind during this political climate. These notes below have helped me deconstruct fear, lies, and conspiracies that were taking ownership of my life. The breakdown of false ideologies and practices have helped me reach a healthy understanding of how to navigate my confidence and show up as a political being today:

1.     What laws are governing your body? Trauma is often a blind spot of our emotional authority and confidence. Chrissy Matta, MA wrote in Psych Central, “Traumatic events can leave us feeling unsafe.  They can disrupt our beliefs and assumptions about the world. Your sense of your ability to control your life may be shattered. You may question how much influence you have over your life and your life choices.” Unpacking traumatic events, even verbal abuse, can be very freeing and effective. Seeing a therapist or a counselor were on my to-do list this year. The current climate of the government drove me to a comfortable place of fear that I have often battled as a trauma victim. Understanding my triggers have helped me become better at formulating a political opinion out of conscious intellect instead of fear.

2.     What traditional religious beliefs in your community, are rooted in toxicity that causes shame instead of forgiveness? Earlier this year, I took a vow to read the Bible for myself, and not to take the word of a pastor for truth. True story, I attended a church service in Manhattan a few months ago where a guest preacher was speaking. He was an Asian man, who had traveled the world preaching the gospel. As he begins his sermon he says, “The new abortion law that just passed in New York is worse than slavery in the U.S.” He was referring to The Reproductive Health Act that eliminates many restrictions of abortion procedures that are documented to help ensure care of patients. When I heard his very absurd religious statement, I asked myself, “Do I walk out? Or should I stay to hear if he still has anything meaningful to say regarding my spiritual journey with God?” I opted for the latter. How many times have we allowed our beliefs to keep us from embracing what we know in our hearts to be right or wrong? That was one of the best decisions I made for myself spiritually. I have been careful to listen in services from then on or to speak out within the community whenever the opportunity presents itself. The wealth that stems from our personal and spiritual lives, is what gives birth to our political bodies.

3.     In the age of social media challenges and tests, what quizzes or test results are you using to identify yourself? Towards the end of 2018, I took the love language test, to find out how I love others and how I expect to be loved. The results were that my strong languages were touch and quality time. Those results began to govern my life and perspective over my relationships. I became fixated on finding someone who identified in those ways, instead of understanding that people are different, and languages change. I, like most people, blame myself often for breakups and mistakes underlying relational connections. However, going to therapy I learned that the best way to love is to simply let people be who they are, starting with me. Was I allowing myself to be completely free in being who I am? Did I even know who I was? When I took the love language test again, just for fun to see if something had changed, it indeed had. I was now a person who identified with gifts and quality time. What happened to touch? Nothing, it just wasn’t a high identifier of love on my emotional chart at the time. Where does intuition come in when we are trying to find direction in communication with ourselves and others?

4.     How is your upbringing whether poverty-stricken or privileged, affect your political views when it comes to voting on local and national matters? I will be the first to tell you, growing up in a low-income single-parent household is not the life I would wish on anyone. James Baldwin once said, “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” The poverty mindset must be deconstructed in layers. That first layer, being the lie that you are not enough. In Michelle Obama’s memoir, she mused on how growing up with little means left her feeling a need to compensate for everything she never had once she was successfully living ‘the life’ her parents worked so hard to provide her. This only ended up with her feeling alone in the world, often like something was missing. Though we are all rooting for the agenda that dismantles poverty, are we seeing both sides of the policies needed to reach those goals? Is your poverty background keeping you from seeing other viewpoints?

5.     Who or what are you listening to, whether music, TV shows or friends that are fueling your ability to generate decisions. I love living in a high society world of instant communication with friends and family, but I find myself yearning for the downtime where I can hear myself think. When I was struggling with an important decision to relocate back to my home state, most of my friends were encouraging me to go back. Their words penetrated my psyche, causing me to rethink my new life in New York. After having lunch with a new friend, she simply asked me, “What gives you more peace, staying or leaving?” The answer was, staying. Nothing is wrong with trusting the unknown. Such a simple question from someone who I only knew for a short period of time, gave me a fresh perspective over my life ahead. A fresh voice in your life is not always one to fear of feel threatened by. It’s like opening up the window to a new opportunity to be enlightened. 

It is important to know who we are to be influential. Make it your personal agenda to fill the breeches where things have been left open, to make way for fresh ideas for navigating your life in a way that brings social and political change and impact.

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Starr Davis is a poet, playwright and professional writer whose work has been featured in multiple literary magazines such as The Rumpus, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Transition Magazine. Her monologues, poetry, and short stories have awarded her literary fellowships such as The Brooklyn Poets Fellowship, Slice Literary Conference Fellowship, and The Eckerd College Scholarship. A previous Editorial Assistant for Black Bridge Magazine and Writing Mentor for nonprofit organizations such as Writopia and Seeds of Fortune, Davis serves within the writing community to tutor marginalized groups of young writers. Her work has been performed at The Billie Holiday Theatre, The CUNY Graduate Center, and the Nuyorican Poets Café. She currently lives in the Bronx, where she is working on a novel. Follow her on Twitter and her website to stay updated.