Author and activist Valerie Kaur teaches how to love in a time of darkness
Grief. Rage. Imagination. Three intangible things that many have become more intimate with than expected in the past few months. These are emotions and experiences that often come naturally in times of hardship. Valerie Kaur, a Sikh racial justice activist, lawyer, educator, filmmaker, author, and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, would know — she has been documenting and challenging acts of hatred and division for nearly 10 years, and she has been paying attention.
The award-winning Kaur spoke on grief, rage, and re-imagination at the 10th anniversary of the Critical Diversity Studies (CDS) Forum. The forum, which began in 2011, brings together speakers who align with the CDS program’s intersectional focus on the significance of diversity. Whereas past forums have featured a variety of speakers under a common theme, this year’s virtual forum hosted only one, and the theme was simple: A Time For Revolutionary Love.
According to Kaur, this kind of love is anything but simple. Kaur spoke primarily of love as a laborious process, one that, when taken on, has the power to bring positive change to an “incredibly dark” time for our country. The Critical Diversity Studies Forum committee, according to the event’s co-chair Angeline Vuong, asked Kaur to speak with this idea of change in mind.
“What can we do to pledge to live in a way that is open, in a way that is radical love for ourselves, for our opponents, for those who are in harm’s way and who are vulnerable?” Vuong said, noting that Kaur’s idea of love is an intersectional force, similar to the intersectionality of Critical Diversity Studies. “[Love] kind of connects across the board. And you can express love and act in love in various different ways if you are social justice-minded.”
Kaur began the event by inviting the audience not to feel alone. She asked everyone to feel a connection to the earth beneath them and to imagine their roots digging into the ground and entangling with one another. Kaur urged people to picture their ancestors — “someone who inspires you to be brave” — and participants filled the Zoom chat with dozens of names A few minutes later, audience members chatted message after message of encouragement, the whispers which they said they had heard from those same ancestors.
In bringing people together, Kaur emphasized that a powerful tool of solidarity is forged. Hence, the title of her recent novel, “See No Stranger: A memoir and manifesto of revolutionary love.” According to Kaur, togetherness is essential for love, but even before that, togetherness is essential in her first teaching: grief. “When we grieve together, it means we are brave enough to let another person’s story in our hearts,” she said. Collective grief has prefaced some of the most powerful social movements, Kaur said, because it opens the space for collective action and organizing.
Her second teaching regards another gripping emotion: rage. “So much of our grieving is laced with rage because we know that it should not be this way,” she said. And yet, “Our rage is loaded with information, it shows us what is worth protecting what is worth fighting for.” Kaur pointed out how women are taught to suppress their rage, while men are often taught to allow it to overcome them, and neither situation is a safe expression. She said it is important to find “safe containers” rage, whether that is throwing pillows, yelling to a friend, or having a dance party every night as she does with her son. Only once rage has been expressed can you harness it to make change, Kaur said.Kaur’s presentation drew from her new book and from elements of her 2017 TED talk, “3 Lessons in Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage,” as well as from her own experiences speaking with different people around the country — including some of her opponents, whose worlds differ hugely from her own. Here, she found the importance of her third teaching, reimagination, something she said that everyone could do. Kaur highlighted the role of institutions in injustice and said that reimagination is imperative if these institutions are going to change. She invited the audience to partake in this labor of change. “If we can see it we can begin to feel it, if we feel it, we can begin to live into it,” she said, after which, she broke into a beaming smile, loosened her dramatically-posed fingers, and said casually, “Get out and vote!”