Monday, January 14, 2008

Black or female?

Yesterday's NY Times had an article that reminded me of the book All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave edited by Akasha "Gloria" Hull (who has a short fiction piece in Age Ain't Nothing but a Number), Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith.
The article asked the question about the Democratic candidates: Who will make history first, a black man or a white woman? The article explored the linked movements of women's rights and civil rights, and the historical friction about which group would get the right to vote first: black men or white women.

When I was a little girl, I remember my parents and their friends (all black) having a friendly argument on the topic of the presidency. The women believed a black man would be president before a woman of any color. The men believed that a white woman would be president before any black man.

As Olufunke and I were discussing the article via email yesterday, I couldn't help but notice the missing element of the Times article and of my parents' conversation: What about black women? Where do we fall?

Some of the quotes from Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were shameful. For those who don't have access to the Times, here are a couple paragraphs from the article:

"One bitter case from the 19th century involved a split between the abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the women’s rights’ pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton was herself a fervent abolitionist, and a close ally of Douglass, who later confined herself to the cause of women’s equality. These ideals would eventually clash, resulting in increasingly divisive rhetoric that reached a harsh climax after Stanton condemned the 15th amendment — which gave black men the right to vote but left out women of all races — as something that would establish 'an aristocracy of sex on this continent.' She also alluded to the 'lower orders' like Irish, blacks, Germans, Chinese.

During a heated meeting in New York City’s Steinway Hall in 1869, Stanton wondered, 'Shall American statesmen ... so amend their constitutions as to make their wives and mothers the political inferiors of unlettered and unwashed ditch-diggers, bootblacks, butchers and barbers, fresh from the slave plantations of the South?' At which point, Douglass rose, paid tribute to Stanton’s years of work on civil rights for all, and replied, 'When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung from lampposts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and rage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down... then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.'"

Need I point out the double dis for black women? On one hand we're part of the "lower orders," on the other hand, it's completed ignored that black women's children were torn out of their arms and their brains dashed upon the pavement and all the rest.

I hope in this election we can move past the either/or paradigm. In 2008, must we still remind people of what Soujourner Truth made clear in 1851?


Lisa said...

My stepmother and I had a long conversation about the odd place that we are in history now, specifically with regard to black history. While we thought that it was definitely necessary to promote black history as a study in and of itself, we also wondered when does the time come that there is only our American history where the significance of what any minority group in this country has done becomes part of the whole story. Your post about the museum here in Denver and Madame CJ Walker got me thinking that way -- I was thinking that I was proud of her as a woman and that I do consider what happened here to be "our" collective history. I know I'm being idealistic, but the sooner that we become "we" and we don't have to divide ourselves into smaller and smaller subgroups of people, the sooner the color and sex of a person will cease to be an issue. Am I over optimistic? Probably, but I'll continue to hope.

Carleen Brice said...

Optimism is good. "Keep hope alive."

Larramie said...

It definitely feels as though we're at a crossroads but will the country take the path less traveled this summer at the Convention or in November? I honestly don't know.

iyan and egusi soup: said...

a much needed discussion; thank you. patricia williams (columbia law school) was on charlie rose last night, and made some very good points on this issue. here's a link to an article, which captures much of what she had to say: .

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post Carleen.

Lisa, I too hope that we can one day look at all of American history, regardless of race or gender, as our collective history. But while ever much more is made of our differences than our similarities, we are not yet getting there.

Lafreya said...

Thank you for putting into words what I have been struggling with in my thoughts.

Sherry said...

I enjoyed reading this...I had been thinking this myself...Obama...Hilary...and then I thought to myself, "why couldn't it be a black woman running against Hilary"....

Carleen Brice said...

Larramie, I'm really curious to see how the convention goes--it's in Denver this year!

Olufunke, Thanks for the link. Did you see Tayari Jones had links to other discussions of the topic too.

Rebecca, Sad, but true. Not there yet. At least not all of us.

Lafreya, Thanks for your comment!

Sherry, There was a time before this war was so botched that even Republicans hate it that they were talking about putting Condi up against Hillary. It would have been interesting to have the opportunity to vote against a black woman (which I definitely would have done).