Black feminists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries felt a tension between wanting the rights of men and wanting the choice to be ladies
One reason to be for "Women's Rights" is that it can boost your longevity. Susan B Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton had long lives of activism. And then there's Anna Julia Cooper, who lived to 105, who was actually born a slave, witnessed Reconstruction, Redemption, the Harlem Renaissance, Brown vs. the Board, the Birmingham Boycott and the March on Washington. Essentially, she saw the entirety of the second American Revolution. Cooper died eleven years before I was born, four years before my eldest sister.
History will humble you. Phenomena -- like slavery -- that you think (or would like to think) is native of a bygone era, suddenly becomes your yesterday. Think of this like this. Anna Julia Cooper was born a little more than twenty years after the death of the last founding father. And yet she nearly outlived Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. And she did it during a remarkable span of human history. She saw the end of chattel slavery, the birth of television and movies, the earliest computers, and the destruction of Hiroshima. I hope she got a chance to fly.
All of that is an aside to my point here. Here are a few quotes from nascent black feminists from Stansell's book that struck me.
Anna Julia Cooper, on the necessity of black women getting the vote:
You do not find the colored woman selling her birthright for a mess of pottage
Nannie Helen Burroughs on the same subject:
The Negro woman needs to get back by wise use of it, what the Negro man has lost by misuse.
Burroughs on black men offering no protection from rapacious white thuggery:
White men offer more protection to their prostitutes than Black men offer to their best women.
Fanne Barrier Williams on the same subject:
For the most part the chivalry of colored men for colored women has in it but little heart and no strength of protection.
Reading these quotes, I was taken back to an old complaint among the former planters. After emancipation, many black women in the South refused to work in the fields. They were not lazy. But they wanted to be afford the luxuries and protection of ladies. High among them, I suspect, was protection from rape. It's too much to say that they all pined for ladyhood -- but I think they pined for the choice; something they hadn't enjoyed during slavery.
If you read Paula Giddings' biography of Ida B. Wells, you find that "ladyhood," Victorian values, and chivalry are all deeply important to her. This is a woman who traveled the South with a pistol while investigating lynchings and once got into a brawl when they tried to forcibly remove her from the "Ladies' Car" on the train.
In this desire for choice (and really a desire for freedom), a want for some possibility of gender roles but a determination not to be chained to them, there has long been an implicit critique of black manhood. If black females have not had the opportunity to be ladies, part of the problem is that black males have never truly behaved like men.
Much of my admiration for Wells comes from her willingness to offend anyone. She scandalized the South by asserting that white women, in many of the cases she investigated, weren't rape victims but were involved in consensual affairs with black men. Then she attacked white men as cuckolds driven by anger and shame in the knowledge of their own forcible transgressions across the color-line. She did not spare black men, who she believed were failing at their primary duty -- defense of their families from predators.
There are many strains at work here. This notion that black men had fallen down on the job --both in the handling of ballot box and the cartridge box -- arises during one of the most dishonorable portions of American history. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, government stood by, and in some cases assisted, a shockingly lethal campaign of white terror. The targets were the tools of black social uplift -- the churches, the schools -- and the homes of its leadership. Abandoned by your country, you would like to be able to fall back on your family. But in the most basic duty -- defense from rape, murder, and robbery -- black men were often helpless.
This must have been tremendously frustrating to black women. I don't think history bears out Cooper's and Burroughs' claim of voter fraud. But I imagine supporting black male suffrage, as so many black women did to the exclusion of themselves, and then seeing it rendered utterly meaningless in much of the country, must have been a source of anger. The vote was a great power, and with it came great responsibility.
This tension between wanting the rights of men and wanting the choice to be ladies, echoes down through the years. I am sure more learned people than me have written on this. But I see it in the whispered disappointment with Michelle Obama among some feminists. I see it in how so many progressive black women (including my wife) ardently supported the Million Man March. I see it in my mother, who would agree with virtually every plank of the feminist platform, if there were such a thing, but would never identify herself as a feminist.
I imagine this drives a lot of self-declared feminists crazy -- you agree with all the policies I'm out here battling for but you scorn my name. There's always this talk about "messaging" among the various liberal camps. I'm sure some of that is at work with black people, but I also think we've always been different.
Our families begin in rape and violence. Anna Julia Cooper, like Frederick Douglass, like Booker T. Washington, like Archibald Grimke, was the child of a slavemaster. We proceed, through history, besieged by terrorists and trampled by government policy. We have rarely had the chance to feel at home, and thus seriously consider, at length, what home means. None of the black kids I grew up with in Baltimore can really understand suburban angst. The "walkable city" was how they lived. Density was the projects.
But I digress. My point is that it's understandable that black women -- who were forced to be modern women before it was cool -- would have one foot in the world of progress and another in the world of tradition.
Again, these are just thoughts. This is not completist. It is not a dissertation, and it isn't our last conversation on the subject. Please fill in the gaps -- and while at it, act like you've been here before. I assure you we are coming back.
FEMA Director Craig Fugate on why the Katrina response failed, why it’s important to talk about “survivors” instead of “victims,” and why citizens can’t just wait for the government to save them in a huge disaster
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and the forthcoming Between the World and Me.
The man who made computers personal was a genius and a jerk. A new documentary wonders whether his legacy can accommodate both realities.
An iPhone is a machine much like any other: motherboard, modem, microphone, microchip, battery, wires of gold and silver and copper twisting and snaking, the whole assembly arranged under a piece of glass whose surface—coated with an oxide of indium and tin to make it electrically conductive—sparks to life at the touch of a warm-blooded finger. But an iPhone, too, is much more than a machine. The neat ecosystem that hums under its heat-activated glass holds grocery lists and photos and games and jokes and news and books and music and secrets and the voices of loved ones and, quite possibly, every text you’ve ever exchanged with your best friend. Thought, memory, empathy, the stuff we sometimes shorthand as “the soul”: There it all is, zapping through metal whose curves and coils were designed to be held in a human hand.
Fractured by internal conflict and foreign intervention for centuries, Afghanistan made several tentative steps toward modernization in the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, some of the biggest strides were made toward a more liberal and westernized lifestyle, while trying to maintain a respect for more conservative factions. Though officially a neutral nation, Afghanistan was courted and influenced by the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, accepting Soviet machinery and weapons, and U.S. financial aid. This time was a brief, relatively peaceful era, when modern buildings were constructed in Kabul alongside older traditional mud structures, when burqas became optional for a time, and the country appeared to be on a path toward a more open, prosperous society. Progress was halted in the 1970s, as a series of bloody coups, invasions, and civil wars began, continuing to this day, reversing almost all of the steps toward modernization taken in the 50s and 60s. Keep in mind, when looking at these images, that the average life expectancy for Afghans born in 1960 was 31, so the vast majority of those pictured have likely passed on since.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
In Beijing, China marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and its role in defeating Japan, by holding an enormous military parade and declaring a new national holiday. The spectacle involved more than 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware, and 200 aircraft.
In Beijing, China marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and its role in defeating Japan, by holding an enormous military parade and declaring a new national holiday. The spectacle involved more than 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware, and 200 aircraft of various types, representing what military officials said were the Chinese military's most cutting-edge technology. While the entire event was a show of strength, Chinese officials insisted the message was about peace, with the logo displayed on posters featuring an image of a dove.
What do Google's trippy neural network-generated images tell us about the human mind?
When a collection of artificial brains at Google began generating psychedelic images from otherwise ordinary photos, engineers compared what they saw to dreamscapes. They named their image-generation technique Inceptionism and called the code used to power it Deep Dream.
But many of the people who saw the images reacted the same way: These things didn’t come from a dream world. They came from an acid trip.
The computer-made images feature scrolls of color, swirling lines, stretched faces, floating eyeballs, and uneasy waves of shadow and light. The machines seemed to be hallucinating, and in a way that appeared uncannily human.
The idea behind the project was to test the extent to which a neural network had learned to recognize various animals and landscapes by asking the computer to describe what it saw. So, instead of just showing a computer a picture of a tree and saying, "tell me what this is," engineers would show the computer an image and say, "enhance whatever it is you see."
How the Islamic State uses economic persecution as a recruitment tactic
Before Islamic State militants overran her hometown of Mosul in June 2014, Fahima Omar ran a hairdressing salon. But ISIS gunmen made Omar close her business—and lose her only source of income. Salons like hers encouraged “debauchery,” the militants said.
Omar is one of many business owners—male and female—who say ISIS has forced them to shut up shop and lose their livelihoods in the process. The extremist group has also prevented those who refuse to join it from finding jobs, and has imposed heavy taxes on civilians.
“ISIS controls every detail of the economy,” says Abu Mujahed, who fled with his family from ISIS-controlled Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria. “Only their people or those who swear allegiance to them have a good life.” When they took over Deir al-Zor, ISIS gunmen systematically took control of the local economy, looting factories and confiscating properties, says Mujahed. Then they moved in, taking over local business networks.
Some people see threats even when none are present. Strangely, it can make them more creative.
For much of his life, Isaac Newton seemed like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In 1693, the collapse finally arrived: After not sleeping for five days straight, Newton sent letters accusing his friends of conspiring against him. He was refraining from publishing books, he said at one point that year, “for fear that disputes and controversies may be raised against me by ignoramuses.”
Newton was, by many accounts, highly neurotic. Brilliant, but neurotic nonetheless. He was prone to depressive jags, mistrust, and angry outbursts.
Unfortunately, his genius might have been rooted in his maladjustments. His mental state led him to brood over past mistakes, and eventually, a breakthrough would dawn. “I keep the subject constantly before me,” he once said, “and wait till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”