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.
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.”
According to Franklin, what mattered in business was humility, restraint, and discipline. But today’s Type-A MBAs would find him qualified for little more than a career in middle management.
When he retired from the printing business at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin set his sights on becoming what he called a “Man of Leisure.” To modern ears, that title might suggest Franklin aimed to spend his autumn years sleeping in or stopping by the tavern, but to colonial contemporaries, it would have intimated aristocratic pretension. A “Man of Leisure” was typically a member of the landed elite, someone who spent his days fox hunting and affecting boredom. He didn’t have to work for a living, and, frankly, he wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine arts of indolence, retirement, he said, was “time for doing something useful.” Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of “The First American” in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most “useful” was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure.
Climate change means the end of our world, but the beginning of another—one with a new set of species and ecosystems.
A few years ago in a lab in Panama, Klaus Winter tried to conjure the future. A plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, he planted seedlings of 10 tropical tree species in small, geodesic greenhouses. Some he allowed to grow in the kind of environment they were used to out in the forest, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Others, he subjected to uncomfortably high temperatures. Still others, unbearably high temperatures—up to a daily average temperature of 95 degrees and a peak of 102 degrees. That’s about as hot as Earth has ever been.
It’s also the kind of environment tropical trees have a good chance of living in by the end of this century, thanks to climate change. Winter wanted to see how they would do.
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.
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.
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.
The past is beautiful until you’re reminded it’s ugly.
Taylor Swift’s music video for “Wildest Dreams” isn’t about the world as it exists; it’s about the world as seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment. In the song, Swift sings that she wants to live on in an ex’s memory as an idealized image of glamour—“standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset.” In the video, her character, an actress, falls in love with her already-coupled costar, for whom she’ll live on as an idealized image of glamour—standing in a nice dress, staring at a giant fan that’s making the fabric swirl in the wind.
The setting for the most part is Africa, but, again, the video isn’t about Africa as it exists, but as it’s seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment—a very particular nostalgia and kind of entertainment. Though set in 1950, the video is in the literary and cinematic tradition of white savannah romances, the most important recent incarnation of which might be the 1985 Meryl Streep film Out of Africa, whose story begins in 1913. Its familiarity is part of its appeal, and also part of why it’s now drawing flack for being insensitive. As James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa write at NPR:
Understanding social norms for the phone means accepting the fact that the things we call "phones" are actually computers.
When the telephone was new, it was a sensation. And not an altogether positive one. Sure, it was a machine that enabled a person to speak—as if by magic—to another person in another place in real time. But also, what if ghosts were sneaking through the line? This was a real concern.
Another panic point: What if the telephone created an entire “race of left-eared people,” as The New York Timesreported in 1904. “Watch a telephone for half a day, and it will be seen that almost every person that uses the instrument will place the receiver to the left ear.”
Along with questions about the physical and supernatural effects of the telephone came deliberations about etiquette. What was the proper greeting? (“Ahoy hoy,” was Alexander Graham Bell’s pick. Thomas Edison preferred “Hello.”)
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.