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.
Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city's publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city's police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.
The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today's riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
In Baltimore, where 25-year-old Freddie Gray died shortly after being taken into police custody, an investigation may uncover homicidal misconduct by law enforcement, as happened in the North Charleston, South Carolina, killing of Walter Scott. Or the facts may confound the darkest suspicions of protestors, as when the Department of Justice released its report on the killing of Michael Brown.
What's crucial to understand, as Baltimore residents take to the streets in long-simmering frustration, is that their general grievances are valid regardless of how this case plays out. For as in Ferguson, where residents suffered through years of misconduct so egregious that most Americans could scarcely conceive of what was going on, the people of Baltimore are policed by an entity that perpetrates stunning abuses. The difference is that this time we needn't wait for a DOJ report to tell us so. Harrowing evidence has been presented. Yet America hasn't looked.
Does Adam Sandler have an expiration date? Does his particular brand of slapstick—humor that's infused with a wan self-deprecation, that manages to be simultaneously silly and sociopathic, that once found Sandler punching Bob Barker in the face while informing him that "the price is wrong, bitch"—hold up? Is Sandler's own price now, finally, wrong?
Recent events would suggest yes. Late last week, in the course of filming Sandler's newest project, the made-for-Netflix Western spoof The Ridiculous 6, a Native-American cultural advisor and several performers and extras walked off the set in protest. (Sample characters: Beaver Breath, No Bra, Sits-on-Face. Sample line: "Say honey: how about after this, we go someplace and I put my peepee in your teepee?") As Allison Young, a Navajo actress who quit after being asked to do a scene "requiring her to fall down drunk, surrounded by jeering white men who rouse her by dousing her with more alcohol" told the Indian Country Media Network, “We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’”
Atheism is intellectually fashionable. In the past month, The New York Times has run severalstories about lack of faith in its series on religion. The New Yorker ran an article on the history of non-belief in reaction to twonew books on the subject that were released within a week of each other in February. The veteran writer, Adam Gopnik, concludes this:
What the noes, whatever their numbers, really have now … is a monopoly on legitimate forms of knowledge about the natural world. They have this monopoly for the same reason that computer manufacturers have an edge over crystal-ball makers: The advantages of having an actual explanation of things and processes are self-evident.
This is a perfect summary of the intellectual claim of those who set out to prove that God is dead and religion is false: Atheists have legitimate knowledge, and those who believe do not. This is the epistemological assumption looming in the so-called “culture war” between the caricatures of godless liberals and Bible-thumping conservatives in America: One group wields rational argumentation and intellectual history as an indictment of God, while the other looks to tradition and text as defenses against modernity’s encroachment on religious life.
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.
At a large distribution center located north of Boston, a robot lifts a shelf holding merchandise and navigates it through the warehouse to the workstation of an employee who then picks the item needed for an order and places it in a shipping box. Incoming orders are processed by a computer that sends picking requests to sixty-nine robots. Then, the robots deliver storage units to roughly a hundred workers, saving the workers the task of walking through the warehouse to find the items. In other distribution centers, this is work that warehouse workers do.
The distribution center, run by Quiet Logistics—a company that fills orders for sellers of premium-branded apparel, is featured in the60 Minutes episode “Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?” In the segment, Steve Kroft poses the following question to Bruce Welty, the CEO of Quiet Logistics: "If you had to replace the robots with people, how many people would you have to hire?" Welty estimates that he would have to hire one and a half people for every robot, and that the robots are saving him a lot of money.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
On Monday afternoon the funeral for Freddie Gray took place in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray died last week from spinal injuries suffered while in Baltimore Police custody. After the funeral, against the wishes of the Gray family, some peaceful demonstrations took place, but other protests became violent, devolving into chaotic clashes.
“People skills” are almost always assumed to be a good thing. Search employment ads and you will find them listed as a qualification for a startling array of jobs, including Applebee’s host, weight-loss specialist, CEO, shoe salesperson, and (no joke) animal-care coordinator. The notion that people smarts might help you succeed got a boost a quarter century ago, when the phrase emotional intelligence, or EI, entered the mainstream. Coined in a 1990 study, the term was popularized by Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book . Since then, scores of researchers have shown how being in touch with feelings—both your own and other people’s—gives you an edge: compared with people who have average EI, those with high EI do better at work, have fewer health problems,and report greater life satisfaction.