“Bow to the woman,” or Revisiting the racism of white feminism.

I’ve been told that my post yesterday quoting from writings and speeches by Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was “a cheap shot” and “ineffectual.” Apparently there are no connections to be made between the political stances of the leaders of the suffrage movement in the mid-19th century and their ideological great-grand daughters now. I dressed down the LiveJournal commenter for his rudeness, primarily, but also his lack of critical analysis, which, despite the cop-out he offered in apology, has nothing to do with his race (white) or his gender (male). What it does have to do with is the lack of attention anyone is paying to the history of American feminism, and how that history is influencing the ways this presidential race is being framed by white women, Clinton’s most strident supporters on almost every blog and message board I’ve seen.

The guy who commented and I are cool now, but I thought it might be worthwhile to expound a bit–connect the dots, as it were–for anyone else who’s missing my point.

There’s nothing cheap at all about quoting one of the leaders of the proto-feminist movement who, when it looked like black men might vote before white women, in the midst of the terrorism against black people that followed the Civil War, decided to draw a line in the sand–despite the fact that Douglass was her co-vice-president of the Equal Rights Association and continued to support [white] women’s suffrage. (The voting rights of black women were, of course, not even on the table. Just ask Sojourner Truth. Ain’t she a woman?)

Stanton and the MAJORITY of the suffrage movement opposed the passage of the 15th Amendment on the same grounds that underlie the various editorials and statements that have come from no less than Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Erica Jong, Roseanne Barr, and most recently Geraldine Ferraro: a fundamental sense of entitlement on the part of white women to walk through that “celestial gate” into the White House before “Sambo.”

To drive home this point, I will quote from “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” And Other Conversations About Race by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College and former professor of psychology at Mount Holyoke College:

Several years ago, one young White woman wrote the following sentence…: “I am in favor of affirmative action except when it comes to my jobs.” I wrote in response, “Which jobs have your name on them?”

The sense of entitlement conveyed in the statement was striking. Of course, she wanted to get the jobs she applied for, … yet she seemed to assume that because she wanted them, they belonged to her. She assumed that she would, of course, be qualified for the job, and would therefore be entitled to it. What was she thinking about the candidates of color? She did not seem to take into account the possibility that one of them might be as qualified, or more qualified, than she was. The idea that she as a White woman might herself be the recipient of affirmative action was apparently not part of her thinking. While she expressed a desire for equity and justice, she also wanted to maintain her own advantage.

And so, this is what we’re reading and hearing in the media–the same assumptions are being made about how much Senator Clinton “deserves” the presidency (why, exactly?); the same argument abounds that the success of black men has somehow exceeded that of white women in government and corporations (patently false); the same claims of Senator Obama being unqualified and his successful candidacy the result of “affirmative action” (a charge that could easily be lobbed at Senator Clinton as well); the same erasure of black women from the discourse, except for when we’re being insulted or our experiences exploited. (In Jong’s effusive memorializing of mistreated female leaders, she notably leaves out Shirley Chisholm’s presidential run in 1972. Steinem and Morgan both talk about imaginary black female candidates as though we haven’t had them before–and don’t have one now in Cynthia McKinney, running for the Green nomination.)

One would think that after 150 years, white women might have gotten over such divisive politics. But while white feminists have surely made strides, recognizing their own racial privilege is not one of them.

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Those who forget history will be doomed to repeat it.

All quotes below pulled from Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis….

Frederick Douglass, in an article titled “The Rights of Women” published in his abolitionist newspaper North Star, July 1848:

In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for men. We go further, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for men to exercise, it is equally so for woman. All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman, and if that government only is just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the law of the land.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionist and suffragist, in a letter to the editor of the New York Standard, December 1865:

Although this may remain a question for politicians to wrangle over for five or ten years, the black man is still, in a political point of view, far above the educated white women of the country. The representative women of the nation have done their uttermost for the last thirty years to secure freedom for the negro; and as long as he was lowest in the scale of being, we were willing to press for his claims; but now, as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see “Sambo” walk into the kingdom first. As self-preservation is the first law of nature, would it not be wiser to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, and when the constitutional door is open, avail ourselves of the strong arm and blue uniform of the black soldier to walk in by his side, and thus make the gap so wide that no privileged class could ever gain close it against the humblest citizen of the republic?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton speaking at the first annual meeting of the Equal Rights Association, May 1867:

With the black man, we have no new element in government, but with the education and elevation of women, we have a power that is to develop the Saxon race into a higher and nobler life and thus, by the law of attraction, to lift all races to a more even platform than can ever be reached in the political isolation of the sexes.

Frederick Douglass speaking at the Equal Rights Association convention in 1869:

When women, because they are women, are dragged from their homes and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have [the same] urgency to obtain the ballot.

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Ain’t I a woman?

There’s a lot I have to say about what came up in yesterday’s post. Those who asked for a longer essay might get it, when I have more time, which may be when I’m dead. But I think I should at least clarify a few things in the meantime:

— I was, in fact, not thinking only of or even primarily about burlesque.

— Burlesque is one of the tropes I’m thinking of, but again, not the only one.

— Women get objectified. Period. Whether we’re dancing on a box at Pop Roxx or are on a stage at Hubba Hubba Revue. The difference? How we use that space, how we subvert that objectification. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that burlesque is just about naked girls.

— I was thinking also of some of the reasons I didn’t go to the Femme Conference a couple years ago–I don’t feel particularly reflected in that identity as I’ve seen it defined, discussed, or presented.

— I remember going to the Great Dickens Fair with whittles and being disappointed during The French Postcards that the whole theme was about imperialism and exploitation of the “exotics” of the East. I mean, yes, in Victorian London, that would have made sense, but honestly–at this point, can’t people come up with something smarter, wittier, more subversive, especially in a national climate where people from the Middle East and South Asia are already being exoticized and dehumanized?

— One of the problems with things retro is that shit used to be a lot more blatantly racist and sexist. So, if you can’t find a way around that, you might want to leave the past in the past.

— I’m thinking of conversations I’ve had with trans women about other trans women who they didn’t think “worked hard enough” to pass–by not doing things I don’t do, not because I don’t “have” to or haven’t been told to but because that’s not how I choose to construct my identity as a woman, especially when it means denying my identity as a black woman.

— I participated in the Big Bad Blond Wig Bar Crawl… in the Marina a few months ago. It was fun, and as much as I thought I’d feel like a punchline wearing a Marilyn Monroe wig, I didn’t. I rocked that shit.

— And while I respect Dorothy Dandridge and Josephine Baker for what they accomplished when they accomplished it, I also am aware of the sacrifices they made. I don’t want to straighten my hair, lighten my skin, or wear a skirt of bananas. And in 2008, I shouldn’t have to.

— I really, really, really wish Harlem Shake Burlesque were still an active troupe. I do look forward to seeing how Alotta Boutte interprets the 80s theme at the next HHR.

— I have an idea for a Diana Ross act.

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Owning it.

Being in a social scene that is as given to performance and costuming and general, unadulterated dumb as mine sometimes provides reminders of just how limiting being black and female can be when it comes to performance. When certain mainstream or classical tropes are revisited, even within subcultural performance and even as parody, they’re often still reaffirmed as an immovable standard against which all else is cast. I think of the return of the blonde bombshell as the ultimate feminine ideal and how the Vargas girls have been experiencing a renaissance in everything from tattoos to fashion spreads in the last few years. In some ways, I will always feel estranged from and barred access to this iconography. And unless it’s done delicately, the irony of my attempting to subvert these tropes ends up looking less like parody than farce. And I don’t want to be a punchline.

As for what’s inspiring this train of thought (which is a lot less frustrated than it may seem–my brain is doing that teasing-out thing that it does quite often when I get a little whiff of something interesting and abstract and contradictory within my world) is an opening act that I’m participating in next Friday at Hubba Hubba Revue. Now, this is an act that I may have simultaneously thought up alongside those who put it in motion, but for me to participate will require… effort. What effort? Slicking back my hair.

This should be interesting.

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Not what I imagined.

Erica Jong concludes that “we’re” stealing Jewish men because they’ve been circumcised:

Ever wonder why Jewish boys are so fucked up about sex? Ever wonder why they fall for mile-high models from Slovenia who wear those big cold crosses? Ever wonder why they like Chinese girls, Chinese-American girls, Blonde shiksa cheerleaders from Kansas? Or those cool black models who dance like Beyonce?

… The mothers usually run in the other room crying. But they get blamed for it anyway. And Jewish women bear the brunt ever after. Either they marry you and run around with Diana Ross or Beyonce or Naomi Campbell — or they marry Sandra Oh or Lucy Liu or Yoko Ono and she converts.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erica-jong/next-time-boychick-we-ta_b_83994.html

Let’s forget for a minute that the vast majority of American males are circumcised, only a small percentage of whom are Jewish. Let’s forget also that an eight-day-old Jewish boy child is far less likely to remember his “mother, father, grandfathers and grandmothers looking on, teary eyed” during the bris than the majority of girls who undergo female circumcision between the ages of 4 and 10 years. But that’s not so big a deal, according to Jong, because “at least women have other things to think about than their pussies — like children, like politics, like writing.”

And apparently I’m not supposed to notice Jong’s racist implication that black women are only good enough for extra-marital affairs while Asian women may be lucky enough to actually marry these cultural traitors. I guess I also shouldn’t mention the fact that black AND Asian women can actually be Jewish. (In fact, I’m clearly hallucinating my own ancestry, that of several other black Jewish women I know, and the huge number of Ethiopian Jews–perhaps I bumped my head last night and am having an episode.)

Oh, I could go on, but I don’t have the time. Maybe when I’m done working and phone-banking for Just Cause and looking for a new home for my dog, I’ll spare a moment to fuck with Jewish women by screwing their men. Hey, it’s their fault for getting their sons circumcised in the first place. Karma is a bitch, and so am I.

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I’ll say it once, and I won’t say it again.

I won’t mock Clinton for getting choked up on camera.

But as for the “MLK was great, but we wouldn’t have had the Civil Rights Act passed if it weren’t for LBJ” bit…. Are you fucking kidding me?

And then we’ve got Gloria Steinem’s whining and divisive defense of Hil in the NYT filled with such gems as “Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women,” the whole while claiming not to be “advocating a competition for who has it toughest” and that “the caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together.” Is that so?

Let us not even address the fact that plenty of white women jumped the abolitionist ship and instead waved flags of racist rhetoric when they realized that black men might win the vote before them. And no, the suffrage of black women wasn’t being discussed at all, either by their men or those white proto-feminists whose ideological descendants would later benefit far more from affirmative action programs than either black men or women do–so much so that their sense of entitlement to seats in universities encouraged two of them to charge the University of Michigan with “reverse racism” for maintaining race-based admissions policies.

But if I don’t vote for Hillary, I’m apparently a traitor to my gender: “some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system.”

And as for the furor over which candidate is more experienced–Barack Obama entered electoral politics before either John Edwards or Hillary Clinton, running for the Illinois Senate in 1995. (Here is a great article from whittles written about him that year that gives his credentials as a community organizer and activist as well as some insight into his racial politics.) And if we really want to buck sexism in our analysis of Clinton as a candidate, can we all please stop substituting her marriage to Bill for years of real political experience? Being married to the President doesn’t make her a politician. It makes her a politician’s wife.

And finally, what the hell is wrong with supposedly progressive folks talking up Ron Paul like he’s the second coming? He’s anti-choice. He’s anti-affirmative action. He’s anti-immigrant. He is, in fact, an isolationist, though he keeps denying it. (If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…) Just to be clear, here–the man wants to amend the Constitution to do away with citizenship as a birthright.

He also would like to do away with the Departments of Education and Energy, and of course, the IRS.

He’s voted in support of bills that prohibit adoption by same-sex couples. He’s pretty fully on the “Christians are being oppressed by the secularists” bandwagon.

So, what are the pros, here?

And with that, I’m done.

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When hands turn to fists. (written 6/23/2006)

Exhausted but awake. Hi, insomnia!

Thinking about how a lot of what’s been discussed in my journal and elsewhere this week about bisexuality (particularly as it pertains to women) and how it has a lot to do with gender and gender performance–maybe even more than orientation.

Thinking about how identity/politics get coopted for marketing purposes (feminism vis a vis the Spice Girls and “GIRL POWER”; female homosexuality vis a vis t.a.T.u., the Russian “lesbian” duo–who, as far as I’m concerned, have earned a place in hell solely for their cover of “How Soon Is Now?”).

Thinking about growing up with a lesbian for a mom in less-than-tolerant days and places than 2006 in San Francisco–thinking of promotions not given, jobs lost, telling landlords her partner was a “roommate” instead of a lover because they wouldn’t have rented to us otherwise. Hell, that was in Berkeley. Thinking about how shortly after we moved to Florida, two of my friends needed to sit me down to tell me they’d seen my mother kissing her “friend”–them expecting me to what? Freak out? Kill myself? Well, they were really upset by it. And wasn’t I? Thinking about how having a lesbian for a mom meant I needed to go see the “TRUST” counselor in junior high, who ironically broke confidentiality and told my science teacher, who then used that bit of knowledge and an empty classroom as a way of–but I don’t even feel like getting into that.

Thinking about the first girl I knew of who came out in my high school (as bi) and how scandalous it was, how people talked about her–Ew! I can’t believe she kisses girls. How do they have sex? She probably has AIDS–and this in Miami Beach, the first municipality in the country to pass a law prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians. (Progressive, but what of queer people who identify as neither?) Thinking about how a couple of years later, after Madonna had her affair with Ingrid Casares and bought a house in Miami, bisexuality became chic and trendy enough for a couple of the rich girls in my senior class to start holding hands in the hallways because it “made guys horny.”

Thinking about my mother telling me when I was 15 that I was rebelling by being straight. Thinking about her mocking me when I was 20 and told her I was bi–It’s a phase. You’ll get over it. Thinking about my best friend from high school telling me, when I came out to her, that I only thought I was bi because my mother was a lesbian–and then later telling me she was bi, but that she couldn’t ever have a real relationship with a woman because she wanted to work in politics some day.

Thinking about how K almost got kicked out of high school in Huntington Beach for taking a girl to prom in 1991. Thinking about how I got harassed walking with my arm around my first real girlfriend on the boardwalk in Huntington Beach in 2000. Thinking about how a good friend of mine and her trans husband got sexually assaulted and beaten outside a bar in Santa Cruz last year. Sometimes blue states can still give you the blues.

And I think that’s maybe enough thinking for now. The insomnia just cried “uncle.”

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catchin' up with depeche mode (written 12/13/2003)

actually, no. i’m not listening to it. but i am thinking of catchin’ up, since i’ve largely been silent for the last week or so.

but i have been writing. on BART, a lot. i’ll post some fragments of what’s come up later. but first, i’ll post what i wrote today, while sitting on the train at 2:20 this afternoon, heading into the city to look at an apartment, and then later, riding back to work in walnut creek:

the people who ride the train from concord to the city in the middle of gray, rainy days scare me. they’re so… white. they’re so… suburban. living my life in the bay area, it’s easy to forget that these people, in their j. crew sweaters and rosy cheeks, exist. currently, there’s a guy sitting just over my shoulder saying he doesn’t understand feminism. “women are actually in the majority, so why should they need our sympathy?” he says it, just like that. he’s got that salesman sleaziness about him: a too-easy smile, a neat, republican haircut. there’s oil in his voice. if he’s not a salesman, he must be a lawyer.

(no offense to the lawyers i know, but you guys went to law school. i’m sure you know what i mean.)

i’ve been thinking about law school a lot lately. while my roommates and i were crafting a letter to the landlord about this place, i realized i was pretty good at it. i’d already done a bit of research into california housing code and the legal remedies for tenants whose landlords refuse to perform repairs. so much of it comes down to logic, which can, at times, be my strong suit. at the same time, something about it all scares me. that day in particular, i was pretty stressed out, about work, my meeting the next day, my apartment, and my family, not to mention my feature that night at the berkeley slam, from which i’d just returned when we wrote the letter. on top of all that, i was tipsy at the time. i could see myself being so cutthroat about it all, so mercenary–not that i didn’t have good reason (and still don’t) to be pretty pissed off about my bathroom flooding, constantly–but still, i’m not sure i like myself in “legal” mode. which would be my mode all the time if i went to law school and became an attorney. uncompromising, tactical-minded, and combative.

maybe i’m already all those things. if i were a man, i bet no one would mind, including me. but i’m a woman, and we’re not supposed to be law enforcers, but peacemakers. we’re supposed to be placating and soft and easily manipulated. we’re supposed to bend like willows.

i’m not those things. i have sharp edges.

i am hard, unforgiving, strongly-principled, and often self-righteous. i’m too stiff to bend, but i’m brittle and break often, far more often than i’d like. my hands blindly reach for the pieces, and i pull myself together, somehow, over and over again. as i get older, the chips are more obvious, the cracks more apparent. i imagine that light passes through me like pine needles, or stained glass. i try to find the beauty in that prism, but it’s getting harder as the days go by.

like me.

—-

… i just signed a lease on a tiny studio apartment in the mission. i think i’m in shock. the space is pretty small, but it’s clean and freshly painted. three blocks from BART, two blocks from dolores park, one block from daphne, and across the street from the elbo room. the landlord is a strange guy with a thing for writers, but he’s friendly…. i don’t know if i trust him, but i’m quickly coming to the following conclusion: fuck trust. give me a JD.

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Two for the show.

I anticipate all kinds of fun shenanigans as I migrate miscellaneous rantings and writings from LiveJournal. Aside from the age of some of the writing (I capitalize the first words of sentences now!), my life simply is not the same as it was a year, or five, ago. People and places and jobs have come and gone. How am I the same? I’m not sure, but a lot of what’s migrating over here are writings about things that seem to always live somewhere on the top of my brain, at the surface of my heart.

And of course, there will be more. There’s always more.

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