On Zami & the Difference Between Surviving & Living

Reading Audre Lorde's "Zami: A New Spelling of My Name" (amazon link), I come across a passage that relates so closely to a recent conversation in my local monthly study group where we discussed the difference between people being forced to live in survival mode versus a reality where survival is not one's primary concern and where one has the privilege of just... living.

It also relates to my recent post (link) exploring "forced separation" as an alternative path to spiritual growth for many urban communities in the U.S. Of course, that links closely to the idea of a "vision quest" or "spirit walk" in many indigenous-American communities, which of course link to similar practices in indigenous-African communities, specifically the one we've been reading about in our group, which was undertaken and written about by Malidoma Patrice Some in his book "Of Water And The Spirit".

Survival mode has its rules about navigating and surviving oppression. Some folks live their entire lives in this mode. Where as some folks have the privilege of living in a healthy, safe, pro-active self-and-community building mode that allows them to express their total humanity without self-imposed (albeit necessary when in survival mode) limitations, disciplines, and restrictions.

In this passage from Chapter 8 of "Zami", Audre Lorde examines her mother's self-imposed survival mode and she examines the effects that living in that mode had on her mother's view of reality, as well has the effect that her mother's teachings had on her:

(Zami: A New Spelling of My Name) As a child, the most horrible condition I could contemplate was being wrong and being discovered. Mistakes could mean exposure, maybe even annihilation. In my mother's house, there was no room in which to make errors, no room to be wrong.

I grew Black as my need for life, for affirmation, for love, for sharing -- copying from my mother what was in her, unfulfilled. I grew Black as Seboulisa, who I was to find in the cool mud halls of Abomey several lifetimes later -- and, as alone. My mother's words teaching me all manner of wily and diversionary defenses learned from the white man's tongue, from our of the mouth of her father. She had had to use these defenses, and had survived by them, and had also died by them a little, at the same time. All the colors change and become each other, merge and separate, flow into rainbows and nooses.

I lie beside my sisters in the darkness, who pass in the street unacknowledged and unadmitted. How much of this s the pretense of self-rejection that became an immovable protective mask, how much the programmed hate that we were fed to keep ourselves a part, apart?


"Fair, fair, what's fair, you think? Is fair you want, look in god's face... Child, why you worry your head so much over fair or not fair? Just do what is for you to do and let the rest take care of themselves... Look, you hair all mess-up behind from rolling around with foolishness. Go wash your face and come help me dress this fish for supper."