Tuesday, February 27, 2007

On Becoming a Feminist, pt 3--The Black History Month Post

**my own thoughts on a much-written about topic**

I just re-read Tera Hunter's To Joy My Freedom for my labor history class. I agree with one reviewer who said that while it is a story about women and work, it is all so a story about women and freedom. At the heart of this book is the story of how working class black women defined for themselves, through work and leisure, what it meant to be freed and later, free. Whites and black bourgeoisie disapproved of the these definitions, but poor black women persisted. They persisted, especially, in the face of white women's frustrations and desires to define black women wholly in terms of their service and relationships to white women.

Much has been said about that last issue, in many contexts. It is in works like Hunter's that re-tell the story of how white women despaired of ever finding "good help" and in Evelyn Nakano Glenn's articles about racial inequality and division in public and private "women's work." It is in books like Korstad's Civil Rights Unionism and Brattain's The Politics of Whiteness that detail how adamant white women were that they not share workspace with black women, and in other books that point to how effective white women workers, often treated as "unorganizable," were in organizing hate strikes.

This desire to define black women in narrow terms that marginalized most of their existence was evident among more progressive white women, too, of course. It is in the stories of overtly racist "first wave" feminists (yes, I'm going to point you to the coverage Deborah Gray White gives to this in Too Heavy a Load) and the somewhat more covertly racist second wave. A few weeks ago, a woman in my class asserted that the response of the second wave to women of color's concerns can be summarized, in part, as, "That's nice, dear. Now let me handle the real issues and you run to get me a cup of tea." That is harsh, yes, but has much truth.

A more generous view of second wave strife can be found in Winifred Breines's The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement. By generous, I mean that Breines imbues white women with a sort of naivete--a desire for a perfect, interracial world that prevented them from understanding the realities of a multi-racial one. I think Breines is perhaps too beneficent in excusing the actions of these women--she implies that many white feminists didn't understand racism, how deeply embedded it was in American life. Neither does she rigorously question why, if the inclusionary "nostalgia" she credits had such a hold on white feminists, were they so exclusionary-of other women of color, of lesbians, of poor women. It is a well-written book, but I still hear the, "Sometimes we do racist things, but we're not racist!"

Cynthia Griggs Fleming's Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Doris Smith Robinson (one of the best gifts I've ever received, btw) has a much different take--she does discuss white women's racism, arguing that, "many of these women struggled to confront the racist stereotypes that their society had accepted so long... some of them lost the struggle," (128). The results were attitudes and condescending behavior that furthered the divide between black and white women activists.

Fleming has an excellent one sentence summation of the "trouble between us": "Being an oppressed black woman has always been quite different from being an oppressed woman in American society." I'd go so far as to change "black woman" to "woman of color." And isn't that what radical women of color have been pointing out for over a century now? When Sojourner Truth asked, "Ain't I a woman?" And the club women who understood that race work was women's work said it. The Combahee River Collective stated it quite eloquently. The works in This Bridge Called My Back, the voices in Listen Up!, the many works by bell hooks (I can't believe I just started reading her in the last year!)--all of these strengthen and reiterate Fleming's assertion, explaining how and why the experiences have been different and how and why those facts were ignored.

Honestly, I believe I leaned towards Breines's understanding when I first came to blogging. I hid that post a long time, embarrassed* at my naivete. Imagine my surprise (yes, I'm finally getting to the point), when I discovered bloggers like BfP, nubian, Black Amazon were still having to make the same arguments. Nostalgia, idealism, and ignorance only go so far. I sensed blatant resistance as noted in the comments here:
I have had too many to count now unfortunate discussions with white sisters in which it was demonstrated conclusively that (a) they are incapable of taking themselves and their experience as white women -- with their oppression stemming from their placement on a ped[e]stal, not from anything remotely like the backbreaking life experiences of most women of color -- out of the center of the discourse; and (b) they have real, emotional, defense mechanisms against accepting the idea of intersectionality -- the indivisible nature of race and gender in women of color -- and that this may mean that their narratives of oppression simply don't line up the same way as narratives of women of color.
And I've seen the evidence, carefully disguised as "but we're all women" and "all oppression begins with the subjugation of women to men" and "how can I be a problem? I'm oppressed, too!" It reminds me of colorblind racism, in a sense. They rely on the sorts of narratives of which Breines's is simply the latest incarnation. Yolanda excerpted one, Susan Brownmiller's In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution which says:

It is fashionable today to criticize the women's movement for being white and middle class from its inception, yet no movement agonized more, or flailed itself harder, over its failure to attract vast numbers of women of color. [elle's eyebrows shoot skyward]...

Belief in human perfectibility was the chief driving force among the Women's Liberation founders. [the aforementioned nostalgia]...

"We didn't feel we had to apologize all the time when the leftists talked about Vietnamese women or black women or poor women. Of course we cared about all those women, but we wanted to care in the context of feminism."...

Criticism is easy [a grain of truth in my classmate's comment?]; working for specific goals in an imperfect, complicated world is hard. The failure to attract poor black women, or poor Hispanic women, or "ghetto women," or "welfare women," would be used as a club against Women's Liberation by its critics with numbing consistency for the next thirty years.

Who are these critics that clubbed Women's Lib? And does Brownmiller not see that she is, in fact, embodying their criticisms by only arguing how it affected the white women and not why it was made? I find Catharine McKinnon's "From Practice to Theory, or What is a White Woman Anyway?" similarly problematic, especially given its dicussion of intersectionality.

My questions, I suppose, are ones that have been asked approximately a trillion times: How are bridges built? How does this affect my identification as a feminist? Do I give up, despite the fact that I love and respect many white women and know some who do understand, at the very least (these links are not exhaustive), that there is a problem created not by nostalgia and utopianism, but by very real racism and classism?

From the point of view of many women of color, white women are incongruously oppressed and privileged--and that privileging is often predicated upon our subjugation. Though they may not have initially fashioned or designed that privilege, they do derive benefit from it--and we feel the results.
*In re-reading, I realize "embarrassed" may be the wrong word--I believe in the sentiment of that post, but think I underestimated much.

Monday, February 26, 2007


It occurs to me that I, an African-American historian (and I mean that both ways), have yet to make a post specifically in honor of Black History Month.

I plan to remedy that soon.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Another Reason I Haven't Completely Given Up on U.S. Politicians

Via Pandagon, Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-WY) on why he stood against a bill "that would have allowed Wyoming to ban recognition of legal same-sex unions"
Under a democracy the civil rights struggle continues today, where we have one segment of our society trying to restrict rights and privelges from another segment of our society. My parents raised me to know that this is wrong.

It is wrong for one segment of society to restrict rights and freedoms from another segment of society. I believe many of you have had this conversation with your children.
And children have listened, my generation, the twenty-somethings, and those younger than I understand this message of tolerance. And in 20 years, when they take the reigns of this government and all governments, society will see this issue overturned, and people will wonder why it took so long.

My kids and grandkids will ask me, why did it take so long? And I can say, hey, I was there, I discussed these issues, and I stood up for basic rights for all people...

...testifying against this bill may cost me my seat...I understand that I may very well lose my election... But I tell myself that there are some issues that are greater than me, and I believe this is one of them. And if standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it. I will let history be my judge, and I can go back to my constituents and say I stood up for basic rights. I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.
"There are some issues that are greater than me."

Can someone brief the president on that?


I'm on the computer.

My own computer.

On my new computer desk.

In my new computer room.

That has doors that close.

So I can work on all my stuff late into the night, when I am so brilliant, without being tempted to fall into the bed just a few feet away.

Today, I feel the possibilities.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Will Someone Please...

...come put my house together? We had three days to get out of the other apartment, so you can imagine the "order" in which we threw stuff into the new place.

I am behind on my e-mails, behind on everyone's blogs (sorry!), and dreading organizing the apartment this weekend. Tuesday and Wednesday, I signed my son's homework agenda after only giving his work a cursory glance to make sure all the problems were done and sending up a quick, "Lord, please let it be right."

If I've never known frazzled before, I know it now. The good news is, I got my computer last Thursday and phone service switched yesterday, so I hope to hook everything up tonight or tomorrow. Plus, the kid's last basketball game is Saturday, so I'll get my weekends back for a few weeks--that will help a lot.

Send me vibes for lots of energy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Academic Opinions

As noted below, I turned in the last chapter. I e-mailed Advisor to let her know I was leaving it in her department mailbox and that I was going to be out of town for the weekend. She e-mailed me back, to say good, remind me that she'd need to see it all together soon, that we needed to start bringing my committee in, and that I needed to find out when was the last possible date I could submit the dissertation to graduate in May. And beside the word "May," she put (or August).

I raised an eyebrow at that--I'd been thinking May and I want to push for it. But, since I've officially drafted all the chapters, I finally believe that I'm going to get the PhD, so August wouldn't kill me... I guess.

Here is where I need opinions. I want all my PhD friends to let me know if May is a reasonable goal--if I bring as close to my A game as possible. I still have to draft the conclusion (the intro exists in fragments); do whatever revisions she and the committee want; some serious crafting on my chapter 2 (because my original chapter five has been collapsed into it); and tighten up the bibliography and notes.

What do y'all think?

Thoughts On the Last Week

So, I managed to stay away from the computer for five whole days. I didn't even check e-mail by phone. My reward--312 e-mails. Very few of them spam.

Well, I finished the chapter--more on that in a moment.

We're in the midst of moving to a larger place. Some family came back with us to Texas on Sunday, so it's been a hectic couple of days.

I made it through the funeral and I want to talk about it because I've been thinking so much about it. When I got to Louisiana Friday night, I went to Sam's wake then to his mom's house. She let me see the funeral program, at which point I noticed she was going to sing. "We're not going to be able to take that," I told her. But she told me, "I want to send my baby off right."

And she did. Sam arrived at the church in a horse drawn carriage and was carried to the front of the sanctuary by attendants who sang "Soon I Will Be Done." That was a little hard to take. But she had requested that our pastor and the other soloists treat the service like a Sunday morning celebration. So there were upbeat songs--no "Precious Lord" or "I Won't Complain," songs that tend to be really hard on a grieving family.

When she got up to sing, she said, "I know people are saying, how is that woman singing at her child's funeral. But if you knew my child, you knew he was a happy person. He was a happy person. So this is for my baby." And she sang "They Got the Word," another fast-tempoed song with an uplifting message.

Still, I had to make myself breathe when they opened the coffin for the final viewing--one of the attendants sang "Open the Floodgates of Heaven." The primary verse is simple, "Lord, I want you to open the floodgates of heaven; let it rain." And just as they lifted the top, he switched the verse to say, "It's raining." I've been replaying that moment since Saturday--I miss him, the thought of him, the silly kid stuff we did--more than I thought I did. I keep thinking about how, one day when we were young and our moms were deep in conversation, I told him I was hungry. He fixed me lunch--a peanut butter and syrup sandwich and I said, "Ugh, Sam, that's nasty. That's why your teeth look like that!" (Several of his baby teeth went missing before he got the permanent ones). But he kept on until I tried the damned sandwich.

And, I'm ashamed to say, I ate every bit of it.

We buried Sam beside his father--he died of a heart attack, too, in his forties. I talked to his mom yesterday. She was mad because she found out from his ex-girlfriend that he knew he had an arterial blockage, that he was supposed to go for more tests or something in Little Rock. His response had been, "I ain't going to no damned Little Rock." "This whole last week," she told me, "I've been asking myself, what didn't he tell me? What didn't I know? And now I know." "They think nothing will ever happen to them," I said.

After a few more minutes, she teased, "You survived my song." "Mm-hmm. I'm glad you didn't sing anything slow." She laughed and said, "I wouldn't have done that. But I asked God for strength, to let me do that for me and Sam. And when I made it through, that did me a world of good. That was all I needed."

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Thank all of you for the well wishes and good thoughts. We've decided to travel home for the funeral--it's Saturday at 2pm--and I'm readying myself for that. For some reason, I really, really, really did not want to go. But I can't not go. I just can't.

In the midst of all these things I occupy myself with--pondering on my feminisms, my dissertation, the death of people I know--I sometimes need a break to just be my normal self-- doing the things in my apartment that won't get done unless I roll up my sleeves or watching TV when I should be writing or even slapping dinner together in a hurried, mad rush. I did all those things in the last couple of days. Sometimes, they aggravated the damned migraine. Sometimes, they made me feel as if I had a life, like I wasn't holding my breath to be finished with the dissertation, at which point my "real" life could begin.

So, here I reconstruct a Tuesday night conversation that is typical of the part of my life not centered around writing and thinking analytically, but around things I've learned from living and being a mom and friend. I find a lot of comfort in that sometimes.

**Phone Rings**
Before I can get much past, "Hello," BF Louisiana, announces breathlessly, "The baby hasn't moved today. My hubby says I'm thinking too hard but I'm worried."
"Not at all? You know sometimes you get so used to it and you don't notice."
"No, usually he acts a fool. And I haven't felt anything."
"Okay. Did you drink some orange juice?"
"Orange juice?" (She sounds like she thinks I'm crazy)
"Mm-hmm. I don't know why, but they always told me to drink orange juice when it felt like the kid wasn't moving."
The kid chimes in, "Really?"
"Get out of grown folk's conversation," I snap. I hear her digging through the refrigerator.
"I don't have orange juice. I have some Sunny Delight. Will that work?"
At this point, I'm second-guessing myself. So I holler for my sister.
"What, girl?" Sis says.
"Remember when they used to tell us to drink orange juice when the baby didn't move?"
"I didn't have that problem. But I remember they told you to drink orange juice. And lay on your side?"
"Which side?"
"How the hell do I know? Which preggie is it?"
"The one in Louisiana!" I turn back to the phone, "Drink some orange juice and lay on your side. That's what they told me."
"And did I move?" the kid asks. I give him my, you gon' get it look, then tell him, "You alive, ain't you?"
"He nosy," BF LA says. "I'm gon' drink this, okay?"
"Ok. And lay down. And call me back."
She called me back in less than an hour. "Girl, thank you. He is flipping and jumping and acting crazy."
"What the hell is it about orange juice?"
"I don't know." Then I hear her hubby say, "Can y'all take y'all paranoid asses to bed now?"
"Shut up!" she says.
Then, she reassures me, "Everything is normal now."

Normal, sometimes, is quite nice.

Monday, February 12, 2007


This morning, I sat in the library, intermittently writing by hand, typing, reading, allowing myself blog breaks. I had a "hunger headache," brought on by my usual skipping breakfast and holding out as long as I can before lunch.

Where I am typing, on the first floor, I have no cell reception. I leave my phone upstairs in my carrel, so that I can see my missed calls.

This afternoon, I had five. Strange, as only my sister and Trinity call me usually, but not alarming. But best friend Louisiana has left a message. "I am calling," she says, "to see if anyone has told you Samuel died."

I don't have much of a reaction, initially. The headache throbs a little bit, but I swallow some orange juice and begin the process of calling to see what happened.

There is a backstory, of course, as there is to most of my ramblings. There were six children born to my mom and her first cousins in my hometown in 1974. I was the only girl, a fact that has meant a lifetime of homework requests, harassment, prying, and unsolicited opinions. Sam was one of the boys, one of the quieter, less intrusive ones. We grew up tight, a bond that didn't survive into adulthood, but I was always glad to see him.

And now he is gone. And I am thinking.

I have known black men from my small town to die. Big Ferg, from this story, was kidnapped and murdered by jackasses who thought he had drugs and money stashed at his house. The grandson of my mom's best friend, who lived next door to us most of my life, was killed by his girlfriend's ex. My classmate's husband died in a high-speed car accident when we were in our mid-20s. Just two weeks ago, a twenty-year-old boy (because that's what he was a silly, hot-tempered, always in trouble, funny, sweet boy) died of an overdose of X and cocaine.

My own father, in thinking about the early deaths of his father and two of his brothers (one of whom died at 34) said to my sister and me, "We have the looks and the brains, but not the time."

So I have seen it, over and over. Accidents, diseases, murders, a suicide.

But it never stops. And I'm never ready. Each time, there is an angry, frustrated, sad, "Why?" bubbling somewhere inside me, making my head pound.

A blocked artery, Trinity told me. That's what she's heard so far. She's going to check on Sam's sister later. "I don't know what else to do," she told me in a small voice, so unlike her.

But I can't help. I don't know either.

Brain Break

I've been thinking about my next introspective post about my feminism, about how it is problematic because of the backs I've used as bridges--the women in my family who have sacrificed and deferred their own dreams, desires, liberation so that I can pursue mine.

But, that will come later as I am tired and see the light at the end of this chapter. In the meantime, a frivolous attempt to delve into my philosophy:

You scored as Utilitarianism. Your life is guided by the principles of Utilitarianism: You seek the greatest good for the greatest number.

"The said truth is that it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.”
--Jeremy Bentham

"Whenever the general disposition of the people is such, that each individual regards those only of his interests which are selfish, and does not dwell on, or concern himself for, his share of the general interest, in such a state of things, good government is impossible.”
--John Stuart Mill

More info at Arocoun's Wikipedia User Page...





Divine Command


Justice (Fairness)










Strong Egoism


What philosophy do you follow? (v1.03)
created with QuizFarm.com

Friday, February 09, 2007

On Becoming a Feminist, pt. 2

**Yes, it's long and I apologize, but if you love me :-) bear with me and read it. I really want your opinions on the last part.**

"Your mama on welfare!"

When you're a black child, growing up where I grew up (and in many other places), that is one of the worst insults other children can hurl at you. Before we can even put into word our biases, before we can fully engage in our own stigmatization of poverty, we know, in the simplest terms, that welfare is racialized, feminized. Shameful.

My mom's mom was a retired domestic and farm worker, relegated to the "welfare" provisions of our social security system. I've mentioned before that she was a cook with unmatched skill. What I haven't mentioned is that she also bought much of her food with food stamps and that during the summers, we were the one who'd have to walk the short distance to the local grocery store to buy the makings of lunch and dinner.

Those were the most humiliating experiences of my young life. Typically, my sister, my cousin Tesha (Trinity's sister) and I would have to go. We never went in together--each day, one of us had a turn and the other two lagged outside, as if people in our small town wouldn't realize we were a group. We went early in the morning, so no one our age would be there and shopped quickly as possible, the shopper of the day dreading the moment she had to tear the appropriate amount out of the booklet and receive her change in paper stamps. It seemed as if the cashier took forever and that the quick scurry out of the store, head down, eyes glued to the tile, was never fast enough.

Eventually, we pretended to overcome the shame in a "radical" way: "Yes, I am in this store with food stamps and I am not ashamed!" as we slapped the stamps on the counter and eyed the cashier. It seemed bold at the time, but it was not. It was more of a "See, I'm not ashamed to do this shameful thing."

As I got older, my behavior morphed from scorn and ridicule to a condescending sort of pity. You know, the kind that expresses itself verbally as "Those poor people. I just don't know what I'd do if I were them" and silently as, "But thank God I'm not!" By the time I was in my MA program, I had the distinct feeling that something was not right about the discourse surrounding welfare and mothers and children who received it. Still, I had not formulated my own theory and while I thought I identified with poor women, part of me wanted it clear that I was not like them.

And then I found some of those works I mentioned here, Linda Gordon's Pitied but Not Entitled, Jill Quadagno's The Color of Welfare, Gwendolyn Mink's Welfare's End, Whose Welfare, and The Wages of Motherhood, Winifred Bell's Aid to Dependent Children, Lisa Levenstein's “From Innocent Children to Unwanted Migrants and Unwed Moms," JoAnne Good's Gender and the Politics of Welfare Reform and so many more.

I learned how white women reformers championed only one mother as deserving of assistance--the widowed, white woman--how they ignored other mothers for fear that they--these never married or abandoned or brown or non-western European mothers--would turn public sentiment against the call for mothers' pensions. I learned how white men crafted the Social Security Act so that people most "deserving" of assistance would be white males attached at some point to the work force, so that there are two tiers--the unemployment insurance and retirement pensions that people "deserve" after having worked--and the "other tier"--the despised welfare programs for people who had not worked or who had been employed in excluded categories. I learned that excluded categories included jobs like teaching, social work, and nursing, thus excluding many women from the top tier, and also domestic and agricultural work, thereby excluding most blacks from the honorable tier. I learned that the later distinctions, that created a top tier category for women who had been married to men who worked in one of the included occupations, meant that many white women got to leave the bottom tier programs.

And I finally knew what was wrong. From its earliest days, the system was designed to leave people of color and women in bottom tier, "handout" categories. It never valued the work of women outside the work place, never acknowledged the right of women to be mothers outside any but the most narrow of confines. It was never meant to be a true system of social provision, characterized as it is with paltry payments and intrusive interrogations. In its most recent forms, it spurs people to question recipients' abilities and rights as parents, an idea I think Fab addresses here:
What can we do in the name of integrity and justice to stop the state’s attempts to destroy low income and people of color by taking children away, by CPS investigations on low income families, the resorting to second class citizenship via one’s lack of access to efficient, free to low cost, friendly and of high quality health care including dentists and psychiatrists–ending the immigration bullshit operation, constant police intimidation of our communities and families, how it is expected that our act of change be done with “grace” and non “angry”, or divisive, dreaming for the better tomorrow and living as our life depended on it, because our integrity is shattered daily by poverty and those out to protect us and the bullshit services for low income people. Where supposed criminal behavior, bad parenting, neglect and abuse is judged upon [by] a middle unaffected class.
If there is ever an experience during which it feels like scales fall away from your eyes, this was it for me. My politics, my self-identification, my thinking--all have changed since.

Which brings me to another point (related, I promise). Considering John Edwards's anti-poverty platform, Nonpartisan asked me did I think Edwards was an urban populist or an agrarian radical. I had to do some quick research (and I'm so grateful NP brought this to my attention) and I found this speech, excerpted at Ezra Klein's
Work gives pride, dignity, and hope to our lives and our communities... To be true to our values, our country must build a Working Society – an America where everyone who works hard finally has the rewards to show for it...
In the Working Society, nobody who works full-time should have to raise children in poverty, or in fear that one health emergency or pink slip will drive them over the cliff.
In the Working Society, everyone who works full-time will at last have something to show for it...
In the Working Society, everyone willing to work will have the chance to get ahead. Anyone who wants to go to college and work will be able to go the first year for free.
In the Working Society, people who work have the right to live in communities where the streets are safe, the schools are good, and jobs can be reached.
In the Working Society, everyone will also be asked to hold up their end of the bargain—to work, to hold off having kids until they’re ready, and to do their part for their kids when the time comes.
And, though his proposals are different and sound wonderful, here is where I have a problem: what is the difference between his rhetoric and that of the Social Security Act framers? Why are the only ones deserving are the ones engaged in paid work? For that matter, why do we still work under definitions of who is or isn't "deserving?"

If we prioritize paid work over all else, ignoring that paid work is not always liberating, honorable, possible, or desirable, what happens to the people included in the 5%+ who are always unemployed in a "full employment" capitalist society? What happens to those that can't or don't work? Why are we steadily trying to fix and fix?

When do we change?
For more of my struggle with the stigmatization of welfare, see here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

On Becoming a Feminist

**The story of how I came to identify as a feminist can’t be summed up as easily as my turn to labor history. This is post one of some ;-)**

Despite my genuine love of hot water cornbread, I don’t cook it. I can’t. It’s never shaped correctly. The outside is not crispy enough. The inside never seems done (though my aunt tells me all the time “The hot water cooks the cornmeal!”) It is a mental block, I know related to a disastrous episode of cooking when I was twelve years old.

My mother put some hot water cornbread on to fry, five pieces in a little black, cast iron skillet, then started to comb my sister's hair. That has always been some task, as her hair is thick and long and required some time to pull into ponytails. Hot water cornbread cooks quickly and my mom called me to check on it and turn it over in the grease.

I was a touch peeved--I'd been caught up in some book I probably had no business reading. But I couldn't display my anger overtly--my mom would've popped the hell out of me with the brush or whatever was close by. Instead, I marched into the kitchen in a nylon slip and jabbed the fork into the cornbread. All five pieces had fried together, so they lifted from the skillet together, then fell back down into the grease. Virtually every drop of boiling oil that was in the skillet splashed out and onto my nylon-clad stomach and thigh. I screamed.

From here, the story gets twisted in my family's collective memory. My mother claims that she jumped up, threw on clothes and rushed me to the ER.

My sister and I clearly remember that she looked at me, told me to take my time, and "Stop hollerin'. You a woman. You gon' get burned plenty of times cooking." Only after I went into the bathroom and tried to pry the nylon away from my bubbling and blistering skin, did she get up to check on me and realize that this was serious.

How, you're wondering, is that related to feminism? See, in the ER that day, suffering from 2nd and 3rd degree burns, and angry about that damned bread, I decided I was not going to be a woman. Not if this is what it entailed.

Later, I thought that was the most ridiculous thing in the world. I laughed at my twelve year old self. Silly girl, how could you not be a woman?

Now, I'm back to knowing exactly what I meant.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The History of One (Aspiring) Labor Historian

In my quest to be the most self-obsessed navel-gazer you know, I've decided I want to do some posts about how the professional and political me came to be.

I came to history by a twisted route which I've re-capped before. My BA is in psychology, so I initially went to grad school in a counseling psychology program (I wanted forensic psychology, but there weren't any universities close by and I wasn't ready to leave home again). I had doubts from the beginning--did I think everyone could be rehabilitated? What if I couldn't help someone? Then they upped the program's requirements to 48 hours and some extensive internships, and I admitted to myself that I just didn't want to do all the for an MS in psychology. I took a quarter to think about it and while I was "off," I took some history classes. They reminded me of how much I'd loved my African American Studies minor, and I thought, "I can do this." I applied for admissions to the history department and got accepted.

Now, my plan was to study the 60s. As an aside, that's been an interesting decade in this country's history. In the 1660s, Virginia was cementing the "peculiar institution." In the 1760s, many Americans were on a course to committing quite the treasonous act. In the 1860s, the Civil War--I can't pithily summarize that. And in the 1960s, the country (or at least the laws of the country) was changing in the most amazing ways, socially, politically, culturally, the result of grassroots efforts, people getting sick and tired of being sick and tired. These were the 60s I wanted to study*--as a black southern woman, I was worshipful of the Civil Rights Movement, curious about the movement for women's rights, and interested in exploring the links between those two. As the daughter of a largely silent VietNam vet, I wanted to know more about that era, how and why it happened. And as someone well-acquainted with Motown Records--because that's what my mom did on Saturdays while we all cleaned; she opened the front and back doors to let in the sun and put on old, scratchy records--I admired the soundtrack of the 60s. And I did study them--I took classes on VietNam and Watergate, on the New South and black women. I wrote papers on the Cuban Missile Crisis and the perspectives of soldiers involved in the VietNam war.

Then I graduated. And that was that. Until, burned out from teaching and continuously, lovingly harassed by my friend John and my old advisor, I decided to work on the PhD. I wanted to return to the safety of the 60s.

My advisors here said, "No." The social movements of the 60s were well-documented, both as grand, large-scale things and as small, community-centered efforts. While re-thinking, I fell in love with Linda Gordon's Pitied but Not Entitled, and Jill Quadagno's The Color of Welfare, and virtually everything I touched by Gwendolyn Mink, and even Winifred Bell's Aid to Dependent Children. "I'll write about welfare in Louisiana," I said. Advisor raised a brow, "Mmm, possible, look into it." But it was hard, because I just didn't know how to do the research and I was a bit unmotivated.

Then I read Jacqueline Jones's Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow. That, along with Pitied but Not Entitled and Deborah Gray White's Too Heavy a Load, are books that I read word for word because I loved them so much. And I knew. I wanted to write about black women's work, in and out of the home. I wanted to write about work that wasn't necessarily liberating or the primary thing by which women defined themselves.

And I knew the poultry industry. I knew about low wages and chicken rashes and finding out on Thursday that you had to work Saturday (plans be damned) and washing the clothes separately and joints aching and being so damned tired. But I also knew about saying "Fuck ConAgra and this job," and slowing down the work and telling the supervisor off and being the best mama you could be and taking time for your children, despite the company's demands and helping the new women on the line.

That, I decided, I could write about. But since I stumbled into labor history, I feel woefully unprepared sometimes. I had to find out for myself about the archives in Madison and at Georgia State and even a few things I needed at UT Arlington. I still am unclear on the "new" versus the "old" labor history. There are bellwethers (book-wise) I'd never heard of before this semester. And my head is swirling with "craft unionism," "industrial unionism," "economic unionism," "pure and simple unionism," "business unionism" and all sorts of distinctions I didn't know. When I talk to the NLRB about my FOIA requests, 90% of the time, I can't be clear, because I don't fully understand the way all of it works.

But, increasingly, I think I made the right choice.**
*Though, if I had to choose, wailing and weeping, another 60s, it'd be the 1860s. Since I heard professors say, "No law or person "freed" the slaves. They freed themselves. They stole themselves away from the plantations," I've been intrigued. That's bold and wonderful, "stealing yourself away."

**Though, after the dissertation becomes a book, I will revisit my 1960s. I want to write a biography of Diane Nash one of the founders of SNCC, whom I've admired since I first read about her.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Crash, pt. 2

Well, Best Buy couldn't back the hard drive up. So, I'm on the verge of saying f*** it and just sending it off for service. However, I talked to one of the manufacturer's technicians and she says I should try somewhere else. "After all," she said (and I swear I'm not lying), "there has to be a way. The FBI could get it no matter what."

I mentally ran through my list of influential contacts, realized none was an FBI agent to my knowledge, and returned to my initial dilemma: keep trying to back it up or just get it fixed before my head explodes?


Monday, February 05, 2007


Who knew their significance? Pantyhose, or stockings as we called them, were a part of a my life from eighth grade on. I liked them at first--they made me feel grown-up. But then, after a while, the shortcomings of living in a small town and having your stockings bought at a grocery store by a mother who refused to spend more than a buck fifty on them became apparent.

My stockings were always in one of two wrong places--bunched at my ankles, as cheap ones are wont to do (I hated those damned Brown Sugar ones) or mid-thigh, because they didn't tend to sell stockings for the plus-sized woman at grocery stores. My mother would say, "Just put on your girdle. It'll hold 'em up." Only, just as she was frugal in the pantyhose department, my mom wasn't spending a lot on foundation garments. So my little cheap girdle would either start rolling down with the stockings or the stockings would win from the start as the girdle refused to come up. In either case, I'd end up with hose torn in the seat and down the thighs. The next Sunday, my mother would grumble and complain as she had to dash to the grocery store for more.

Even when I got a bit older and started venturing to Wal-Marts in neighboring towns for the Just My Size and finally to Lane Bryant, my travails continued. Who made those colors for them? I was not quite pecan, tan, coffee, or new brown. So, I either came out with the too-light ones that we called "old lady" stockings or the too dark ones that were equally unappealing.

And I was hard on pantyhose. No matter what I did, how careful I was, they ran. Like a world-class sprinter. That clear nail polish bit never worked for me. All I'd get were sticky white patches on my leg where I hastily applied it.

So, it made perfect sense to me to give them up. One day, I just stopped buying them. I'll still buy tights when it's cold or to match something, but hose? Nuh-uh. Besides, I like the feel and color of my legs. And, when I'm not thinking about how abysmally knock-kneed I am, I'm pretty happy.

My family had fits. My mom and Trinity, no great surprise as they are old-fashioned. But even my sister raised a brow at my new refusal to wear stockings to church. According to my mother, going bare-legged was akin to going with your head uncovered on the first Sunday. If I'm getting dressed before she leaves, she still says, "Oh... you're not wearing stockings?" In that voice that pretends to be asking an innocent question but is, in reality, making a judgment. Trinity simply says, "Girl, I don't know what you're going to do when you get a real job," again, in a voice that's masked as joking.

They also express concern: "Don't your legs get cold?" "You're going to be sick!" (As if my skirts are all that short). And when that doesn't work, my mom resorts to a little shaming--"You gon' have the wind whipping all up in your tail," to which I responded in an aggravated fit one time,

"Mm-hmm. It feels good!"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Book Meme

Gwyn tagged me. Here's what I have to do:

1. Grab the book closest to you.
2. Open to page 123, look down to the 5th sentence.
3. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog.
4. Include the title and the author's name.
5. Tag 3 people

So, given the fact that the book that's closest to me doesn't have 5 sentences on page 123, (it has 2-and-a-half, and then the notes start) I have to cheat. I can either pick up another book or go with what is on page 123 of this one. I think I'll do the latter.
[The United Labor Unions gained a] stronger national network to support their organizing as well as an entry into a union movement that they hoped to influence in a progressive direction.

Many of the organizers who had loitered at subway stops and laundromats, waiting for home health care workers, would make their way into the ranks of the AFL-CIO reformers, bringing with them their new appreciation for community-based organizing tactics. They were but one stream of social justice unionists who increasingly pushed a hesitant trade union movement toward a renewed commitment to act for all workers, organized or not.
Vanessa Tait, Poor Workers' Unions: Rebuilding Labor From Below, (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2005): 123.

Update: Forgot to tag three people. I tag Julie, justme, and WWWMama (if y'all haven't done it).

Friday, February 02, 2007


I'm trying to catch up on everything!

The 47th edition of the History Carnival is up at one of my fay-voh-right places, Progressive Historians. I had to take a quick peek at David Parker's History Ain't What It Used to Be. For historians like me, that is an exceedingly good thing. :-)

The 16th edition of the Carnival against Sexual Violence is up at abysstohope. Some included posts:
In What we're really talking about posted at F-Words, we get a discussion about how the way we choose which rape victims to believe reflects on us and our assumptions about gender and power.
In EIGHT COMMON Myths ABOUT CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE posted at Sadly Normal, we get an article that deals with beliefs which harm victims and survivors and allow perpetrators to pretend they are the real victims.
In Rape Blindness posted at Abyss2hope, I discuss a common definition of rape that only recognizes obvious force and ignores most rapes between people who know each other.
Please stop by and read.

What the Hell is Wrong with the Police?

That's what I was blogging about before I was so rudely interrupted. First, the Florida woman who reported a sexual assault and then was arrested for an old fine. Arrested and denied a second dose of EC.

Then yesterday, I saw that a Kansas City woman miscarried after she was arrested, while telling the police she was pregnant and bleeding.

The Florida woman's arrest works in at least two ways to deter women's reporting of sexual assault-- the actual arrest/loss of freedom and the old tried-and-true impugn the victim's character. But I am bothered by a link I see between these cases. Do you just lose all rights to reproductive freedom when they slap the cuffs on you? You can't have a second dose of EC because of your jailer's religious convictions? You don't deserve medical care for your pregnancy? All because of fines and warrants?

I want someone with better analytical skills than I to talk about this.


Of the computer sort. A particularly nasty one from which I could not avert my eyes. In the middle of typing a post, my computer froze. And then, millimeter by millimeter, AOL started minimizing. Ctrl Alt Del did nothing to unfreeze it, so I switched it off.

And that was the end of that.

It will come on, but windows won't load. Mind you, this is a week after I lost my flash drive!

But, the dissertation chapters are saved elsewhere, so I didn't come apart at the seams... initially. I thought, well, it's still under warranty and, as this last chapter is due next week, not having a computer in the house might be a good thing.

Then it got serious. First of all, I can send it back to the company, but I have to have the stuff on my hard drive recovered/saved, because whatever they were going to do was going to wipe everything clean. So yesterday, I took it to the the Geek Squad at Best Buy and paid too much to back the hard drive up. And they won't have it back to me til Saturday, so I can't send it off til Monday probably.

Then, last night, I found myself sitting around glassy-eyed and shivering. What the hell could I do with myself?

Finally, the last damn straw--I got outbid at the last minute on e-bay for a sea lion I wanted for the Noah's Ark Baby Shower (all caps, that's how serious this is). We're decorating with pairs of animals and I have one Discovery Channel sea lion. I desperately wanted the other one, but someone outbid me!

So, now, I am perturbed (isn't that a horrible word? I'm quite perturbed by it). And my sister missed a late afternoon e-mail from her Curriculum Coordinator so she called this morning from work to tell me, "You can't send that computer off. Find out how much they'll charge just to fix it at Best Buy. I'll pay half." She's perturbed, too. Tempted as I was, I told her that would defeat the purpose of the warranty.

So here I am, having driven up to my university, jeopardizing my 11 am salon appointment, just to use the computer. I need an intervention. For real.
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...