Archive for the ‘feminism and black women’ 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?

Mighty Poor Mouse that Aint’ Got But One Hole To Run To

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

I know, I know: here it is three days later and I’m just now coming on to the blog to say something about the national holiday we just celebrated known as Labor Day. Hey, what can I say? I was working.

As someone who for all practical purposes is self-employed, let me pause here and thank God for keeping work pouring in to my office. Thank you God for every invitation to speak, write, lecture, conduct workshops, consult that lands on my desk (even those I have to turn down). Have ministers, writers, and public speakers like myself been affected by the downturn in the economy? You betcha. But when you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for as long as I have (seniority has it benefits), and learned long time ago the wisdom of knowing how to do lots of different things (so as to generate multiple streams of income), you manage to eke by in times like these.

To quote my great aunt Dora, “It’s a mighty poor mouse that ain’t got but one hole to run to.”

In fact, here’s to the many jobs I’ve had in my lifetime. Cleaning houses (yep, worked alongside my stepmother when I was a teen); Dairy Queen (in high school); factory assembly line (summer college job that paid me a whopping $400 a week); college work study in the library and the astronomy lab; housesitting and hospital admissions clerk (in graduate school); my first job after college as an accountant/auditor; stockbroker (my second job); seminary job (my longest gig); minister and public speaker (my sacred gigs); writer (my dream gig);  academic and writing consultant (my recent gig); mother and wife (my most infuriating, and yet most satisfying gigs).

black rosie the riveterAs you can see, not all the jobs I’ve held down were glamorous. Actually, most of them weren’t. But each did its “job” in shaping me and in instilling in me a sense of competence, self-confidence, and  self-reliance.  I’ve worked since I was a teenager, something completely foreign to the teenager-who-lives-in-my-house who thinks  a job is something you go out and get so you can buy extra pairs of earrings and those shoes your Mom won’t buy for you. She knows nothing as a teen about work, like I do, as something you have to do to feed and clothe yourself because your parents simply can’t afford to because of all the other mouths in the house to feed.

I know some of you have wondered on occasion why a feminist/womanist writer, minister, scholar like myself keep bringing up quilting, cooking, and other domestic talents once thought beneath thinking, professional women. It’s because I’m worried. I’m worried because no body seems to know how to DO anything anymore. I meet women in crazy abusive relationships who can’t break away because their  work as receptionists or schoolteachers don’t bring in enough income to build the stash they need to finance their escape. And they don’t know how to do anything else to supplement their income. I know women who brag that they can’t cook or sew, and then wonder why they can’t  save any money. I repeat: I’m worried. I worry about the boys in my neighborhood who dream of earning a scholarship to a Division I football college next year even though they can barely read and have no trade to fall back on.

I broke off a relationship with a guy who was in law school many years ago precisely because he couldn’t Do anything.  Except read law books. He couldn’t change a tire, change the oil in the car, or change a light bulb.  He was as scared of roaches as I was. Okay, so there were other things about him I didn’t like. But my point remains: I don’t bond well with folks who can’t be counted to be able to Do anything in times of disaster.

Labor Day week offers us all a chance to meditate on the changing nature of work in America. Back when factories dominated, Labor day posters were filled with beefy forearms. That’s because work on assembly lines relied on brawn. Labor Day boasted of men and women who didn’t mind flexing their muscles to earn a living for their families. Remember Rosie the rosie the riveterRiveter, that famous depiction of the archetypal American woman who took up working in war factories during World War II to help their country, to feed their families, and to fill assembly line positions once held by men who were off at war? Rosie the Riveter became a feminist icon in the US, and a herald of women’s economic power. You don’t need muscle to work on most jobs in America these days, but you do increasingly need a high IQ and white collar know-how to make a comfortable living in this country.

Make no mistake about it, work is changing in America.  The labor market has suffered its most wrenching changes in a generation over the last year, shedding millions of jobs and permanently changing the employment landscape in this country. But the downturn in the economy is only partially to blame for what many see as a seismic shift taking place in employment and the economy in this era.   Work is changing, and who works and who doesn’t is changing. In the not so distant future, experts say, good jobs will only be available to individuals with complex skills in fast-growing sectors like information technology or medical technology. The most drastic changes will be the irreversible disappearance of jobs that tended in the past to provide rewarding employment for average human beings, with average intelligence, and average schooling.  Like everybody you and I know. Assembly line work, for example. Equally worse will be the irreversible loss of jobs on the lower rungs of skill and wages, jobs that used to offer marginal groups in society — the minimally educated and immigrants–a chance to support their families through wage employment.

I drive up to the airport and look for my favorite baggage attendant, the one who usually sprints out to my car when he sees me and helps me with my bag because he knows who the weekly travelers are that tip well for prioritizing getting them checked in and moving quickly to their gate. But he’s not there this time. Economic and technological forces have stripped him of his job. I drag my luggage inside the terminal and check myself in with the swipe of my credit card there at the kiosk and wonder how he’s making it these days.

One call to my cable provider and the problem with my HD channels was fixed by the technician by a flick of the button there in her carrel. No cable guy had to be dispatched to my house.

I worry about the teenager who can’t snag a job this school year bagging groceries down at the local supermarket because of people like me who prefer fast and easy self scanning machines to waiting in languid and long lines for a clerk to scan my groceries and a teen to bag them.

Did I mention that the only reason I’m pretty good at googling and finding the answers to software and hardware problems I encounter is because I don’t like haggling with computer customer service representatives in India who pretend to know and speak English and obviously don’t when you have a dilemma requiring more than “please reboot your computer” as the answer?

I tell that teenager-who-lives-in-my-house that one of the benefits of learning to clean her room, along with the rest of the house, is that she may find such a skill handy one day when she needs a side hustle like a cleaning business to supplement the income she hopes to make from that high powered office job she thinks she’s going to land as a result of all the degrees she’s banking on her parents paying for. “You better come in here and learn how to prepare these dishes I’m making and pay attention to these stitches I’m sewing because the world is changing” I yell across the house. “Get an education, but you better be in a position to generate multiple streams of income. You pretty now, but you won’t be pretty forever. Shaking your booty for a living don’t pay but so much. When one gig falls through (whether that be lover or employer), you better know how to create your own wealth so you can feed your self girl.”

To quote my Aunt Dora, “It’s a might poor mouse that ain’t got but one hole to run to.”

The Death of A Liberal

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

I never thought I’d live to see the day when the word “liberal” was a bad word. Progressive is the preferred appellation these days to describe those who believe in justice and fairness for all. But debating the difference between “liberal” and “progressive” is not why I came on the blog today.

With last night’s passing of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts comes the end of an era. The death of Camelot, again? Yes. The death of the Kennedy franchise in politics? Yes. But also the death of old line liberals  and old fashioned liberalism Senator Ted Kennedyin this country. For years there you could find portraits of  Kennedy’s older brothers, John and Bobby, along with that of Martin Luther King, on the walls of black homes, black business, and on the fans of black churches. “Good white folks” are what black folks white folks like the Kennedys. Meaning they were the kind of white folks you could count on to speak up on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised.  I will resist the urge to romanticize what documents  amply show, which is that Ted Kennedy, like his brothers before him, was a very imperfect of a man. But the last of the Kennedy dynasty did manage to do something his brothers before him did not, and that was to die the death of a patriarch. Ted Kennedy died both patriarch of the Kennedy clan and patriarch of a particular era in American political history.  Patriarch, you say? Yes, patriarch. Meaning Kennedy lived long enough to outlive his sins and to ascend to the ranks as  sage and icon in his profession.  Sure, he died with one of his lifelong goals, universal health care, within reach though struggling on Capitol Hill. But you can bet that he managed to accomplish lots of good in his 47 years in Congress.

Anybody here remember an  old song from the 60s written as a tribute to Abraham (Lincoln), John (Kennedy), Martin (King) and Bobby (Kennedy) whose politics left them murdered at an early death? Ted Kennedy outlived King and his brothers, but he couldn’t outlive the influence of the era in which they lived and worked. The song captured the hopes (and tragedies) of that era . Scroll down and click to hear the late Moms Mabley’s beautiful rendition of “Abraham, John, Martin and Bobby.”

Here are the song’s lyrics.

Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed lotta people but it seems the good they die young
You know I just looked around and he’s gone

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed lotta people but it seems the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone

(brief instrumental interlude-organ)

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed lotta people but it seems the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone

Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free
Some day soon, it’s gonna be one day

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John

Remembering Prathia (1940-2002)

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Prathia In 1962 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was visiting Terrell County, Georgia speaking to a congregation whose church building had recently been burned to the ground by the Klan. The name of the church was Mt. Olive Baptist Church. In the service was a young SNCC worker and college student, Prathia Hall.  She had distinguished herself as someone with great oratory talents and possessing a strong religious background, so she was on the program that night to pray.  As she prayed Prathia drew on her talents as the daughter of a Baptist preacher and began to intone her own vision of the future by peppering her prayer with the phrase, “I Have A Dream.” King was impressed; and as ministers often do King would later go on to incorporate an inspiring phrase he heard from someone into his own speeches. By late1962 the phrase, “I have a dream” had become a fixture in sermons King frequently gave as he traveled the United States.

So who was Prathia Hall?

Prathia Hall grew up in Philadelphia. Her father, Reverend Berkeley Hall, was a Baptist minister and a passionate advocate for racial justice. She left her undergraduate studies at Temple University to join the throng of college students who were heading south to be freedom fighters and to take part in the movement taking place there. Prathia joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and eventually became one of the first women field leaders in southwest Georgia.  Prathia would later go on to become a preacher, following her father’s footsteps as a Baptist minister. She helped break barriers for women’s leadership in the Baptist church by distinguishing herself as an outstanding preacher. In 1962 she was the first woman to be received into the membership of the Baptist Minister’s Conference of Philadelphia. After her father’s death Prathia accepted the call of Mount Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia to come and pastor the church her father once pastored.

Prathia later enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary where I met her. We were classmates, she focusing on ethics while I focused on biblical studies.  I remember the long talks we had about God, ministry, life, love, and the struggle for justice. I don’t recall her making any special effort to impress me with her SNCC credentials. Neither do I recall her saying a word about having influenced ML King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.  She was always in great demand as a speaker even while she was still a graduate student at Princeton, probably because she had been speaking and preaching for a long time before she arrived at Princeton. I got a chance to watch Prathia juggling studies, pastoring, her travels as a speaker, along with her most important job of being single mom to two rambunctious teenagers. I would often go down from Princeton to Philadelphia to preach for her at Mt. Sharon Baptist on those Sundays when she had to be out of town. Prathia Hall (Wynn) eventually graduated from Princeton with a Ph.D. in ethics, specializing in womanist ethics, theology, and African-American church history.

In 1962 Prathia Hall inspired the imagination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  by lending him a phrase(”I Have A Dream”) that would become a staple of his preaching and the signature of his life work. It seems only fitting decades later that Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall would go on to become an associate professor at Boston University School of Theology, holding the Martin Luther King Jr. Chair in Social Ethics. Prathia Hall died on August 12, 2002, following a long illness.

I am remembering Prathia Hall this week.