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.
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
Can Republicans repeal Obamacare without imposing the greatest costs on the older, white, blue-collar voters who put Trump into office?
As congressional Republicans race to repeal and replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, one of their principal challenges is finding an alternative that does not expose older and less affluent white voters at the core of Donald Trump’s electoral coalition to greater costs and financial risk.
The paradox of the health-reform debate is that many of Obamacare’s key elements raised costs on younger and healthier people who generally vote Democratic as a means of limiting the financial exposure of older and sicker people, even as older whites have stampeded toward the GOP. Conversely, many of the central ideas common to the Republican replacement plans would lower costs for younger and healthier adults while exposing people with greater health needs, many of them older, to the risk of much larger out-of-pocket costs, even if it reduces the health-insurance premiums they initially pay.
After an unexpected loss in November, Democrats are nowhere near ready to take on the president-elect.
For Democrats and other progressive types, Winter Is Coming. Scratch that. Winter has hit—full force—and hordes of White Walkers are now wilding across the land.
It’s not merely that the party’s presidential dreams were crushed. Defeat came at the hands of a chest-thumping reality-TV star with the attention span of a toddler on speed to whom the norms of civilized society, much less politics, don’t seem to apply. Donald Trump’s jerkiness is central to his appeal, and for whatever cocktail of reasons—fear, awe, confusion—even many of the guy’s detractors find him hard to resist.
How the heck is non-Trump America supposed to forge an effective opposition to such a character, especially when his political team controls all the levers of power?
Is there room in the movement for people who morally object to abortion?
Updated on Monday, January 16 at 4:05 p.m.
Pro-life women are headed to D.C. Yes, they’ll turn out for the annual March for Life, which is coming up on January 27. But one week earlier, as many as a few hundred pro-lifers are planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, which has been billed as feminist counterprogramming to the inauguration.
With organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring the event, pro-life marchers have found themselves in a somewhat awkward position. What’s their place at an event that claims to speak for all women, but has aligned itself with pro-choice groups? With roughly a week to go before the march, organizers also released a set of “unity principles,” and one of them is “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”
Why some people are withdrawing from mainstream society into “intentional communities”—and what the rest of the country can learn from them
VIRGINIA— For the last eight years, Nicolas and Rachel Sarah have been slowly weaning themselves off fossil fuels. They don’t own a refrigerator or a car; their year-old baby and four-year-old toddler play by candlelight rather than electricity at night. They identify as Christian anarchists, and have given an official name to their search for an alternative to consumption-heavy American life: the Downstream Project, with the motto to “do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
As it turns out, exiting the system is a challenging, time-consuming, and surprisingly technical process. Here in the Shenandoahs and central Virginia, a handful of tiny communities are experimenting with what it means to reject the norms of contemporary life and exist in a radically different way. They seem to share Americans’ pervasive sense of political alienation, which arguably reached an apotheosis with the election of Donald Trump: a sense of division from their peers, a distrust of government. The challenges of modern politics—dealing with issues like climate change, poverty, mass migration, and war on a global scale—are so vast and abstract that it’s difficult not to find them overwhelming. But instead of continuing in passive despair, as many Americans seem to do, the people in these communities decided to overhaul their lives.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
When it comes to basic policy questions such as the minimum wage, introductory economics can be more misleading than it is helpful.
In a rich, post-industrial society, where most people walk around with supercomputers in their pockets and a person can have virtually anything delivered to his or her doorstep overnight, it seems wrong that people who work should have to live in poverty. Yet in America, there are more than ten million members of the working poor: people in the workforce whose household income is below the poverty line. Looking around, it isn’t hard to understand why. The two most common occupations in the United States are retail salesperson and cashier. Eight million people have one of those two jobs, which typically pay about $9–$10 per hour. It’s hard to make ends meet on such meager wages. A few years ago, McDonald’s was embarrassed by the revelation that its internal help line was recommending that even a full-time restaurant employee apply for various forms of public assistance.
Surfing the app on a trip back home can be a way of regressing, or imagining what life would be like if you never left.
My parents moved out of my hometown almost as soon as I left for college, and therefore I am obsessed with the idea of other people’s hometowns. Over any major holiday or break from a work schedule, hometowns become a sort of time travel, a way for people who have made adult lives elsewhere to return to their origin story.
Going home for the holidays can act as a kind of regression. Most of us know people, whether our friends, our partner, even our own parents, who suddenly turn into their teen or pre-teen self once they step foot in the house where they grew up. My mom used to say that whenever my dad got within 50 miles of his mom’s house, he suddenly became a teenage boy. Our hometowns become a kind of permission and hideaway, a place where we don’t have to be ourselves, where our actions don’t count and we get to be briefly less visible than we are in the adult homes we’ve made for ourselves elsewhere, the places where we expect ourselves to take action and achieve things and move upward through each day. For many of us, hometowns allow the luxury of a brief period of stasis, a rare few days of doing nothing.
Billy Barr moved to the Rocky Mountains four decades ago, got bored one winter, and decided to keep a notebook that has become the stuff of legend.
It was a year into his life alone in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains when Billy Barr began his recordings. It started as a curiosity, a task to busy his mind during the winter. By no means, Barr told me, having skied down from his cabin to use the nearest phone, did he set out to make a vital database for climate change scientists. “Hell no!” he said. “I didn’t know anything about climate change at the time.”
In 1973 Barr had dropped out of college and made his home an abandoned mining shack at the base of Gothic Mountain, a 12,600-foot stone buttress. The cold winds blew through the shack’s wood slat walls as if they didn’t exist; he shared the bare dirt floor with a skunk and pine marten, his only regular company for much of the year. Barr had moved from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains precisely because of the solitude, but he couldn’t escape boredom. Especially that first winter. So he measured snow levels, animal tracks, and in spring the first jubilant calls of birds returning. He filled a notebook with these observations; then another notebook. This has continued now for 44 years.
King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," published in The Atlantic as "The Negro Is Your Brother" and excerpted below, was written in response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. It stands as one of the classic documents of the civil-rights movement.
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of "outsiders coming in"