He was privileged as one of the “Talented Tenth,” but a true ally to poor African-Americans. He was a newspaper editor and a Black Radical who alienated the full-range of the political spectrum, from Woodrow Wilson to Booker T. Washington to other Black Radicals. He believed the good was the enemy of the perfect but left a legacy that inspired the actions of activists of the Movement. He was William Monroe Trotter, and today we learn about him through his own words.
On September 5th, Janesaunt posted at The Orange about Jennifer Riley Collins, who is running for AG for Mississippi (this is the diary) and the intentional structural difficulties faced by African-American candidates in MS. In the course of preparing her diary, JA discovered and shared some of the grossly racist history of MS and especially the ways in which their constitution is written to ensure the continuance of white supremacy. My history antenna immediately started tingling, and I wanted to take a deeper look at Mississippi’s constitution and history. As so often happens, I meandered a bit in my reading, so what follows is more stream-of-consciousness than a primer on MS. But mostly, it’s a reminder that the Civil War has never ended; it’s just the battlefields and choice of weapons that have changed.
I wasn’t paying much attention to Twitter this past weekend, so I am grateful that Sis Dee’s Sunday post (1619. The 400th anniversary of the real founding of America.) brought the 1619 Project to my attention. I haven’t yet read all the articles, but what I have read reinforces the shameful truth in Dee’s comment, “Much of what is being presented in this series is information that is still not being taught in our schools.” It’s a simple, straightforward truth, and yet, as I peruse Twitter, I’m seeing reactions that range from outrage to even more outrage from too many White commenters. I was immediately reminded of Michael Eric Dyson’s statement in his powerful book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America:
You certainly have an insatiable thirst for history, but only if that history justifies whiteness. Most black folks can’t help but notice what many white rarely wish, or are compelled to see: you embrace history as your faithful flame when she kisses you, and yet you spurn her as a cheating mate when she nods or winks at others. (p. 65)
In fact, before I finish reading the articles in the 1619 Project, I’m going to reread Dyson’s book first, especially the chapter that contains the section on the five stages of white grief. The outrage being expressed about a telling of history that is not white-centered is predictable, and Dyson says there is only one way to overcome white defensiveness: to repent of whiteness. This post explores Dyson’s diagnosis and prescriptions for healing. Please be mindful that I write this through the racial lens of a white woman, but a white woman who sincerely wants to repent of her whiteness.
Promotional still from the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, published in National Board of Review Magazine; November 1939.
On December 20, 2018, the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 passed the Senate by unanimous consent. After 200 attempts since 1882, this was the first federal anti-lynching legislation to pass in the Senate. It was passed again by unanimous consent in the 116th Congress in February 2019 and sent to the House, where it has been referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. (Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2019) If passed by the House and signed by the Current pResident, the legislation will be historic and unfortunately, still necessary:
Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., drafted the bipartisan legislation, which defines the crime as “the willful act of murder by a collection of people assembled with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any person.” It also classifies lynching as a hate crime that would warrant enhanced sentences.
“It’s a travesty that despite repeated attempts to do so, Congress still hasn’t put anti-lynching legislation on the books,” Booker said in a statement. “This bill will right historical wrongs by acknowledging our country’s stained past and codifying into law our commitment to abolishing this shameful practice.” African-American Senators Introduce Anti-Lynching Bill
I was reminded of this legislation when I was considering the lengths to which white supremacists will go to retain power, which in turn reminded me of a previous anti-lynching bill and the 6-week filibuster. That story follows.
Over the weekend, a Bill Maher-initiated hashtag on Twitter caught fire amongst too many on the Left. It was a play on a racist slur used by 45* against Sen. Warren, and far too many failed to realize that playing with the words of a racist slur was not clever, but an extension and reiteration of the essential racism. For once, I found myself in the position of understanding how unacceptable the hashtag was without having it spelled out to me, but as I saw white person after white person repeating the hashtag (and often arguing with those who asked that they stop), it was an object lesson in privilege trumping good politics, good citizenship, and good sense. I also realized that a fair number of tweeters stopped using the hashtag when asked without really understanding the layers and nuances of why the hashtag was offensive. That’s another privilege that comes with Whiteness, but it’s in understanding subtleties that White folk can learn to be better allies. For this post, I’m going to look not just at a stereotype that few would have trouble recognizing as racist, but at some of the underlying assumptions that are less recognized but no less harmful.
Dr. James Cone at the 174th Convocation of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (9 September 2009)
On April 28, 2018, James Hal Cone, considered a father of black liberation theology, died at the age of 79. I never knew Dr. Cone, but I spent most of my adult years knowing of him. He taught at my college for several years; by the time I started, he had moved on and been at Union Theological Seminary for a number of years as a rising star of black theology. His departure for Union made it possible for my alma mater to hire a new religion professor, a friend of Cone’s, who became my mentor as a pre-seminary student. It was because of this friendship between a white early church theologian and a black liberation theologian that I first learned of and started reading Dr. Cone’s works, and his second book (published in 1970 and revised in 1986), A Black Theology of Liberation is one that I keep close on my headboard bookshelf. But why is Dr. Cone someone to be remembered? These are my reasons.
In a moment of semi-panic because I had no clue what I was going to write, I turned on the television in the hopes distraction would mitigate the writing block and lead to clear thinking. It was a serendipitous choice. Independent Lens on PBS was airing “I Am Not Your Negro”, based on James Baldwin’s last and unfinished manuscript, Remember This House. It’s been years since I’ve read anything by Baldwin, but the documentary reminded me of his eloquence and passion. When we have a crude, inarticulate racist in the White House, and toadies not only willing, but eager, to justify hatred through contortions and misrepresentations of history, it seems a good day to listen to James Baldwin. His truths still resonate.
Note: I have tried to use YouTube videos with a closed captioning option; though imperfect, the overall sense is generally intact.
Fannie Lou Hamer, American civil rights leader, at the Democratic National Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 1964
I didn’t watch the Golden Globes on Sunday, but I have watched Oprah’s speech. For me, the line that resonated the most is the sentence used as the title of this post: “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” I was also gratified that Oprah recognized and honored Recy Taylor. Today I’m going to focus on another woman who spoke her truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, but instead of providing a bio and background information, which is readily found on the internet, I’m just going to let her speak.
The title of this post was not inspired by electoral politics directly; it was inspired by the passing of Mrs. Recy Taylor last week. As I read her story in a series of tweets by Danielle McGuire***, (author of At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance-A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power), I realized I had never heard her story before. Over the past few years, I’ve been learning that’s a problem common to/in my whiteness; with white supremacy; with centering whiteness in our history and our media. I can’t solve this problem, but I can shine a light on areas lost to me due to white-centering. I suspect that many of you do not share my ignorance; from you I ask your forbearance as I provide very basic overviews of things which should not be new. For the rest, I invite you to share with me in exploring the fullness of our history. This post is intended to pique your curiosity, not provide a comprehensive history. Today’s focus will be on the Combahee River Collective.
What follows is a personal reflection, addressed as much to myself as to the Village. Make of it what you will…
Bill Maher said something grotesque last week, and social media blew up. In what has become a predictable pattern on Twitter (and DK and just about any other platform), people of color and allies said, “No. White folk can’t use that word.” White folk whined, “Hypocrites! If black folk can say it, why can’t we?” Persons of color responded, “Look it up…lots of explanations out there already”, while white people yelled, “No, YOU explain it to me!” And then there were the subtweets and discussions about whether using racist language makes one a racist, with never-ending cross-talk as individuals claimed conflicting definitions of racism. And so it went.
I chose to mostly ignore the arguments for several reasons. First, I don’t particularly like Bill Maher, don’t watch him, and don’t generally listen to him. Secondly, if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that when issues of race and racism come up, listening to persons of color is important and necessary, so I didn’t feel I had anything to add to the “discussion.” Finally, I generally considered it just another moment of a loudmouth white guy saying something stupid, and really, is that anything new?