In order to illustrate the Syro-Phoenician woman’s comeback to Jesus in Mark 7, I quoted Sojourner Truth’s famous speech ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ and I wish I could have read the whole thing. I would have loved to have quoted the whole thing. It’s an amazing example of showing the power of truth and justice through unbecoming or improper ways. That’s what some authors have called the power of sass. Sass is a deconstruction of the power hierarchy and status difference, punching through the boundaries and puffed up roles of self-importance. When those structures are deflated and exposed, the genuine and indisputable truth or justice stands out. The low-status person cannot hide behind big words, degrees, titles or influence. They only have the justice or the truth they are proclaiming. So, when the low-status person calls out for justice, then the listeners either agree with justice or not. People will agree because it’s true, not because they can curry favor.
Sass is a dangerous tactic, because when low-status speak up, they are exposed. Their only defense is truth or justice of their case – and in an unfair world, often that is no protection.
As you read the speech, notice how Sojourner reinforces her outsider status. She emphasizes her ‘uneducated’ accent. She speaks with a downhome patois. But at the same time, she speaks as though her position – the position of a black, female former slave, is the true position of strength – and the men are the one who should be nervous.
She speaks of her suffering and struggle, not as a sign of her low status, but as evidence of her dignity – and she says that she had a direct line to Jesus. She speaks of Jesus – with a level of intimacy and connection. When men said that women couldn’t have the vote because Christ was a man. But she flips it around, in a sassy way. She says that Christ came from God and from women, and men had nothing to do with it.
She talks about Eve, the mother of all. And men argued that Eve was deceived and so couldn’t be trusted with the vote. But Sojourner uses that as a strength – if Eve could turn the world upside down herself, imagine what all the women in that room could do.
I think we could all follow Jesus and learn to listen to sass when it comes our way. Let’s not use our status or position to protect us from truth when it comes from an ‘improper place’.
And here’s the speech. Don’t miss the mic drop at the end. Great way to end a speech.
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.