Archive for the ‘Ruby Sales’ Category

Whose Image Is It Anyway?

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

When I read Ruby Sale’s reaction to last night’s Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actress” going to Mo’nique for her role in the controversial “Precious”, I thought to myself, “this is a post for Something Within.”

What say you, is Mo’nique’s role in “Precious” anything for black women to leap up and celebrate about here during Women’s History Month?


Many Black people, even Black feminists, seem happy and excited that Mo’nique won an Oscar. I must admit I am not among this group. As a matter of fact, I am stunned at our contradiction. HOW CAN WE CELEBRATE THE SUCESS OF A BLACK ACTRESS WHO MAKES IT ON THE BACKS OF BLACK WOMEN? What I mean is how can we celebrate a Black actress who accepts a role in movies that represents Black women as bad mothers as did Precious and the movie Backside. Is her individual success more important than the consequences of feeding the public images of Black women as whores, immoral and unloving mothers and parents who love dope more than their children? I am not denying that this type of Black woman exist. Nor am I saying that all representations of Black women must avoid our failures. I am saying however that these narratives and representations are dangerous in a popular culture where this is the pervasive image.

Miss MoWhen Black actresses sign on to a script like Precious, they fertilize these lies and locate their work within the contemporary lie of Black women welfare queens that Ronald Reagan created and the conservatives used to the hilt as another example of Black immorality and bad parenting. Conservatives used the misrepresentation of Black women to carry out punitive and racist public policies. Mo’nique cannot have it both ways. Nor can we! She had a perfect opportunity to represent and she failed us. It does not make her right because White Oscar members give her legitimacy. As Audre Lorde said our “wants do not make our actions holy.” Our hunger for fame should never exceed our hunger to advance ourselves and the race with dignity while creating grounds of resistance and reaffirmation that preserve and extend our liberties. In other words, what is the end game of Black art in a society where Black is a dirty word and oppression is a silent killer that touches all of our lives?

I’m A Community Organizer, and I Bet You Are Too

Monday, September 8th, 2008

I join progressive bloggers today in honoring the great work that community organizers do and in saying that, contra Sarah Palin, community organizers are changemakers and have made critical contributions to American organizer

What are some things community organizers do?

Anyone who has volunteered to help register voters is a community organizer.

Anyone who has volunteered to pick up people and transport them to the voting poll, to a cleaner and better hospital than the one they usually go to, to a cleaner and better supermarket because the one in their neighborhood is a rip off.

Anyone who has tried to organize a group for a cause is a community organizer.

Anyone who has spoken out about injustice, whether writing into a campaign, talked to their friends, or made a phone call is a community organizer.

Says sister progressive blogger, Sojourner’s Place:

Whether it be HIV/AIDS or Apartheid in South Africa or genocide in Darfur or Voting Rights, community organizers have played an integral part and had significant impact these issues and instigated change. To discount the significance and importance of Community Organizers, is to discount the significance and importance of what it means and is to be American.

For it is the Community Organizer who accepts the challenge and ofttimes thankless and dangerous position to go up against the status quo. It is the Community Organizer whose very life is dedicated to leaving the pile higher that it was found regardless of the cost. Yet, it is the Community Organizer who finds him or herself in the throes of ridicule, obstacles, and obstructions.

Community organizers, says, Prof BW DO in fact have responsibilities:

Community organizers are sometimes unpaid and more often underpaid for the work they do. Their hours are long as they have to accommodate constituents, emergencies, and changes in strategies and venues. They develop some of the strongest coalition building skills of anyone involved in civic work because they have to work closely with ideologues, establishment, rich, poor, the hurt, the angry, the apathetic, and the uncaring to accomplish their goals… More than that, many community organizers have been the first and strongest defense against the assault on the rights of marginalized people.

Come to think about, I too AM a community organizer.

I’m working with folks on my street to do something about the house across the way that some overzealous builder started building last year but went bankrupt and abandoned six months into the project and has now become an eye-sore street and a danger to kids in the neighborhood who like climbing its inside rafters to get a view of the city as the house sits on a hill.

I recently signed on to help register to vote the under-served residents who live around my church and to see to it that the members of my church know where to go in their neighborhoods and how to make certain ahead of time that they haven’t been dropped, because of some inconsistency, from the voting records.

After living in this neighborhood for over ten years I only recently spotted a nice neighborhood park that I’d like to take daily walks in (rather than driving 10 miles across town to walk around the university track), But I think the city should cut back some of the hedges, bushes, and growth surrounding the park to make it more safe for women to walk alone. I think I’ll see if there are others in the community who think the same and are willing to help start a petition to take downtown.   Fannie Lou

Here’s to the memory of the hundreds of community organizers, especially the women talk about a lot on this blog, whose fire breathing work on behalf of justice made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Contra Sarah Palin, community organizers are changemakers.

Think about, Miriam, Deborah, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Lydia. I bet you’ve done some organizing, agitating, disseminating information, marching, and speaking truth to power in your lifetime.

I bet you can can come up with something you’ve done (or are currently doing) that’s said to the powers that be ”Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” If you haven’t, just hold on: these hard economic times we’re living in are gonna make prophets and community organizers out of all of us before it’s over.

Anybody wanna give a shout out to some community organizer that you know of or to some comunity project you’re working on and the many volunteers who work with you on the project?

Happy Birthday to a Freedom Fighter

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

They let us out of jail, and there was no one there to meet us.

It was one of those hot, southern, sticky days when you can look down and see little waves coming up from the pavement. We were hot. We were thirsty. There was a little store on the corner, a store that we had gone in many times. So someone decided that Jonathan Daniels, Father Morrisroe, Joyce Bailey, and myself should go and get the sodas for the group. We started over to get the sodas, and for a moment we hesitated, but we continued and got to the door, and there was Tom Coleman, standing there with a shotgun, threatening, first of all, “B*&ch, I’ll blow your brains out,” because I was in front and Jonathan was behind me. Things happened so fast. The next thing I know, there was a pull and I fell back. The next thing, there was a shotgun blast and then another shotgun blast, and I heard Father Morrisroe moaning for water. And I thought to myself, this is what dead is. I’m dead.

Ruby Sales did not die on  August 20, 1965. But her friend Jonathan Daniels did. In the split second it took to push Ruby aside, Jonathan, a white Episcopalian seminarian who’d left school in ‘65 to join other young freedom workers in Alabama in registering blacks to vote, took the shot meant for Ruby and fell to his death on the ground. Ruby, a student at Tuskegee Institute, had just turned 17 the month before.  Jonathan’s murder left Ruby traumatized.  After all, the two young freedom workers had just spent a week together in a Lowndes County jail, along with Stokely Carmichael and others, singing and keeping each other’s spirits up until they could be freed. Ruby was so shaken by the events of August 20, 1965 that it would take seven months for her to find her way to talk again.

Despite death threats against her and her family, Ruby resolved to testify at the trial of Tom Coleman, the white sheriff’s deputy who fired a bullet meant for her. Ruby was determined to find the words to speak for Jonathan and others who were being crushed daily by injustice. Coleman was acquitted by a jury of 12 white men, but the outcome of the trial led to reform of the segregated procedures that were used to pick juries in Alabama.Ruby

When asked how she got involved in the Movement, says Ruby:

I was a student at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee.  And Gwen Patton who was President of the Student body, — actually the first elected woman of the student body, —played a major role in galvanizing students to participate in a march of Tuskegee students to Montgomery. [Tuskegee students demonstrated in Montgomery after the “Bloody Sunday” beating of the Selma marchers on the Edmund Pettus bridge.] And of course, [the march] was supported by the younger faculty and at that time Dean [Bertrand] Phillips. So that’s how I got involved.

Like many other veterans of the southern Freedom Movement when Ruby Sales declared that “The movement saved my life,” she’s expressing a truth that became a testimony of those who entered the Movement as teenagers or young adults. The Movement gave their young lives meaning, purpose, and focus.

After years of teaching and activism Ruby found herself in 1994 enrolling in the school her friend Jonathan Daniels was enrolled in at the time of his death, Episcopal Theological School (now Episcopal Divinity School). At EDS, Ruby struggled with the meaning of her life’s calling, her identity as a woman, as a Christian, as a prophet of hope and as a child of the freedom movement. She graduated from seminary and decided against seeking the church’s ordination, content to draw on the memory of the remarkable community of sharecroppers and common folk back in Lowndes County who had adopted her and taken her and others like Jonathan in during the Movement as ordination and inspiration enough for her life’s work of being a freedom fighter and witness to the struggle.

Something Within is happy to salute here on her 60th birthday– activist, theologian and veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, Ruby Sales. Thank you Ruby for not allowing the Tom Colemans of the land to silence you forever.

The Grief We Bare, The Hope We Share

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Special thanks to my friend Ruby Sales, activist, poet, archivist, fierce thinker and founder of Spirit House, for contributing today’s column here on Something Within.

I have been thinking about grief. Back women’ grief that is. Far too many Black women wear an aura of grief that cuts across class, color, sexuality, age, religion and sexual choices. Initially, I thought of it as individual grief that reflects personal unhappiness. But, something about the pervasiveness of the grief chewed at me. It dawned on me that perhaps I am witnessing collective grief or social grief that is connected with the uncertainty of meaning place and identity in a changed world that fragments and diminishes Black women’s identities and roots. Where do we move and how do we stand in a world that claims to be beyond race, gender or sexuality? This declaration obliterates the main ingredients of our lives and generates in many of us unspeakable, internalized and incoherent loss.

I do not know about others, but I know that I still wake up every morning Black, female and lesbian (or bi depending on what day you catch me and how the spirit moves me). Everywhere, at home and in other parts of society, I feel the weight of racist, sexist and heterosexist slander, practices and policies. Yet, the media, and all other instruments of state propaganda, sometimes even our families, leaders, teachers, ministers and best friends, tell us that our grief is solely personal and comes from our individual defects or baggage. 

Count the number of magazines and advertisements that tell us that we will experience unspeakable happiness and fulfillment if we lose thirty pounds, wear the right clothes, eat right foods, choose the right man or follow a “successful” person’s guide to making it. Almost every TV channel shoves the lives of the rich and famous at us as appetizers to feed our hunger and grief. Reality after reality shows further our loss and grief by fragmenting our relations to each other in round after round of contests that reaffirm the message that only mean- spirited and women- hating women win and prosper.

I don’t deny that Black women sometimes engage in behavior that further adds to their grief. But I do think to solely focus on our personal defects robs our grief of social roots and saves the power brokers from moral, social or spiritual responsibility for the chaos and injustice that they perpetuate on us, our communities and other communities around the world.

Daughter of DustAccording to the propaganda of the powerbrokers, women create dysfunctional families, especially Black women whom they slander as the most unfit mothers. According to the popular rhetoric, we bear and raise urban beasts, hoodlums and morally and socially deficient children. They tell us that family flaws mean that everything is broken. If the family is sick, then our mothers are sick; it also stands to reason that we must be a sick person and a sick race or gender. Collectively, we all lose because this blame game robs us of one of the important historical cornerstones of Black survival and hope. No, families are not perfect and some have perpetrated monstrous harm upon some of its members. Rather, I am saying that we must view families within social optics.

All around me I hear the words of our dear dead sister, June Jordan, the poet and my friend, “Everywhere we go the tide seems low.” This is nothing new for Black women. We have navigated low tides from captivity, enslavement, southern apartheid, northern racism and a 21st century capitalist technocracy. 

Today the world calls us whores, immoral mothers, welfare cheats, and b*tches, and we believe them  Our children gang up on us on the world stage in discordant rap sounds of bitches, whores and bad mamas. Even our daughters tell us in monolithic fire spitting words that to be a black woman is to be crazy or in far too many instances unloving authoritarians. In many ways, the culture of whiteness diminishes our images in their eyes. We are no longer for each other a family and a resource. 

And, we weep for our lost children whom we feel that we can no longer protect in a capitalist technocracy that reduces their lives to unessential waste. How do we help them find the meaning of their individual and collective lives under this weight? As a matter of fact, how do we find meaning in our own lives?

Can we collectively find the will, vitality, hope, courage and reason that led Black women to declare in 1915 that they could carry their “burdens in the heat of the day?” We are here today because they did! This is not to say that they were perfect and unbruised by the blows both inside our community and in the nation. ExasperatedYet, Mamie Garvin Fields captured the vitality of their daring and their spirits when she concluded that everywhere she looked in the Black community there was something to do. She saw our collective condition in 1915 not only as a burden but as an opportunity to play a major role in shaping the American project of democracy and community building. As Black women, we still must work “in the heat of the day.” For the community of grieving Black women, we do not stand without tools and examples. There is a balm” in our legacy that will offer comfort in this mean and unjust world. If only we will recover, renew and expand this tradition? Who will “join this standing up?”

© Ruby Sales, New York, April 11, 2008