Archive for September, 2007

My Sister’s Keeper

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

This week’s “Within the Quote” features a short media clip by a former student of mine from Spelman College, now graduate student at the University of Chicago. She observed the relative lack of national attention paid to black women who are victims of sexual violence and created this video clip to make sure that in our rush to rescue our men in Jena, Louisiana that we not forget black women who have been dealt injustices by the system as well. It shouldn’t have to be an either/or situation.

The movement must be big enough to come to the rescue of our men when they are in threat of hanging from a judicial hangman’s noose and be able to come to the aid of its women when we are victimized by sexual violence and are in threat of being stripped of our dignity by the legal system.

Document The Silence!

Was It Worth It?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Enough about love. Let’s talk about hate.

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most shameful days in U.S. history, the day when 1200 members of the National Guard had to be called up to escort nine black teenagers past throngs of angry, jeering whites into their high school. It was September 25, 1957. The six female students and three male students would come to be known as “The Little Rock 9.” The high school was Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I don’t know if in my teens I had the courage of the Little Rock 9 to face racial hatred head-on. There were a handful of white kids in my high school, but I don’t remember them much. I’m sure there were black students who gave them hell, but I wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t because I was Christian and believed in loving everyone. There just weren’t enough whites in my high school to make me feel intimidated. It wasn’t until I stepped onto the predominantly white, Brahmin New England campus where I went to college that I came face to face with feelings of racial inferiority, insecurity, intimidation, and longing to escape.

For a long time I kept a 1957 news clip of one of the Little Rock 9, Elizabeth Eckford, on my desk. Her clothes and hair are typical of the way colored girls in the South dressed back then. Her tight black shiny curls were supposed to be proof of her acceptability. I imagine Elizabeth’s mother in the kitchen doing her daughter’s hair the night before, determined to show that her child was from a decent, respectable family deserving to attend all-white Central High. But how do you prepare a child emotionally and spiritually to face hatred?

Elizabeth Eckford wore dark shades on September 4th, the morning of the Little Rock 9’s first attempt to enroll in their new school. Tears must have been in her eyes as she made her solemn stride through the sea of hateful white faces gathering around her. She felt betrayed. She had arrived at Central High School alone. The Little Rock Nine were supposed to go together, but their meeting place was changed the previous night. But the Eckford family had no phone. Elizabeth didn’t know and found herself facing the cruel, jeering white crowd alone. By the time she met up with her 8 classmates on yesterday and mounted the platform to speak, she had done a lot of soul searching. She was no longer wearing dark shades.

Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Patillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown Trickey, and Thelma Mothershed Wair

For years none of them would speak of the trauma that happened to them at Central High. It hurt too much. The scalding in the girl’s shower, the regular body slams into the locker, being pushed down flights of stairs, the spittings, the nasty comments of teachers, getting doused with acid in the chemistry lab. “We were just nine scared kids,” said one of them on yesterday. No one is trying to be a hero when you are in high school. It’s enough just to get through World Civs.

For the first time in 50 years all members of the Little Rock 9 came together to immortalize that fateful date in civil rights history. It took some doing. It took a lot of forgiving to get there. Forgiving the past, forgiving their parents, forgiving each other, forgiving their communities, forgiving the city of Little Rock, forgiving the governor, forgiving the country. The Little Rock 9 came together to relive the memories and to remind a nation that would rather forget.

Fifty years later, take a look at the school district in your city and it’s probably obvious that issues of race, segregation and education remain unresolved in America.

Was it worth it?

I think back on the black students I’ve taught over the years, Xers and Yers, post-desegregation babies, and wonder. Was it really worth it? They don’t identify with being called black or African American – some of them. They don’t fit in the world of whites, they don’t fit in the world of blacks – some of them. They’ve read Shakespeare and the Bhagavad Gita and score off the chart on the ACT, but they don’t know who A. Phillip Randolph or Mrs. Daisy Bates were and resent Black History month celebrations– some of them. I think about the racial tensions that spilled over there in the high school in Jena, Louisiana, and wonder. Was it worth it?

Let’s Fall In Love

Monday, September 24th, 2007

The success of television shows like “Sex in the City,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Wife Swap,” and “Trading Spouses” suggests that we are fascinated with marriage. We can’t get enough of peering into and speculating about what goes on behind closed doors between a woman and her husband. The drama playing out on our television screens, like the greater ongoing cultural debate on marriage, demonstrates that we are caught up in a clash between the myth of marriage and the reality of marriage.

It’s been over a month since the story of Juanita Bynum and Thomas Weeks’ marital woes hit the news, and there’s no sign of the public losing interest in the drama. Every day a new video clip, another news link, finds its way into my box. The details slowly emerging suggest that the marriage between Bynum and Weeks was anything but story book. Which only proves that marriage may be made in heaven, but it’s left to couples here on earth to work out the details.

With so many marriages ending (often in scandal and sometimes with violence) in divorce, and with those who remain married at a loss to be able to explain how they manage to hold it together, it’s a wonder anyone still dreams of getting married. But plenty women still envision themselves someday as a bride. After all, Mother Nature doesn’t give a twit about the divorce rate, or about domestic violence, or about marital drama. Mating is a powerful biological instinct. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated flees do it. It’s just that humans call it “falling in love.” And when we fall in love, we prefer to mate for life. Too bad Mother Nature didn’t equip us with a gene that could make the more likely task of “un-mating” simple and painless. That’s where birds, bees, and other creatures have one over on us. When humans fall out of love, break up, or divorce, there’s bound to be lots of finger pointing. We’ve got to come up with a moral behind our break-ups to make them make sense to us.

Now that Weeks’ rage has subsided and Bynum’s physical bruises have begun to heal, both parties are doing what they do best as televangelists which is to use the camera to paint themselves in a positive light. My friends who have never been married are eager to assign blame. Weeks makes that easy to do since he’s the one who threw the punches, and no thinking woman can overlook that fact. But those of us who have been married know that what makes or breaks a marriage is a much more complicated truth. Weeks insinuated at his latest news conference that marriage to an ambitious woman like Bynum was no stroll in the park. He’s probably right.

Marriage has changed drastically more in the last 30 years than in the last 3,000. Part of the drastic ways marriage has changed are embodied in the Bynum-Weeks marriage (um, divorce), which is why we can’t help picking over what we think we see.

It’s the story of a story book wedding that was supposed to be the story book reward to a woman who swore off her earlier promiscuous lifestyle and resolved to wait on God for her soulmate. Is God to blame? It’s the story of a marriage of a wife and husband who share the same profession in a culture accustomed to men selecting women of lower social rank than themselves to marry. Here the wife is an internationally known evangelist. How does a man raised in a tradition which teaches that women are subordinate to men pair up (mate) with a woman who is better known and more financially successful than himself?; and how does an ambitious, driven woman who claims to believe the same negotiate the delicate topography of the male ego? And finally, in recent days, it’s the story of the battered evangelist-wife sitting poised and well-coiffed before the camera, talking about God, resolved about ending her marriage, convinced that she’s found the springboard to launch the next phase of her career. Meanwhile on another side of town, the bishop-husband appears before the camera contrite, talking about God, looking somewhat befuddled by all that’s happened, confessing his love for his wife, and admitting that he wants his marriage and doesn’t want to divorce.

We’ve come a long way, baby. I think.

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated flees do it. It’s just that humans call it falling in and out of love.

Slay Her

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Our greatest gift as women, our ability to connect with others, can, if not balanced with self-care, become also our worst liability. We are nurturers, but sometimes we overnurture. We reach out when we should sometimes hold back a while longer. We go out of our way to make sure everyone else is happy when we should have let the chips fall where they may and let everyone clean up their own mess.

Referring to the internal female voice that keeps a woman enslaved to duty and forever putting herself at risk in order to rescue others, Virginia Woolf, the English novelist, describes the syndrome and prescribes a drastic remedy. She recommends slaying the woman within who perches herself at your ear chattering incessantly about duty, role, obligation, responsibility and sacrifice. Listen to her and the folks around you will never change. Listen to her and you’ll always be wondering what your life might have been like, if only…

“She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg: if there was a draft she sat in it– in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others…I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be handed up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defense. Had I not killed her, she would have killed me.”