Eyes on the Prize

A couple of weeks ago, in the wake of Ralph Nader’s widely reported remarks, I decided to take the plunge and discuss race issues in America, and within the contexts of both this election and Nader’s remarks. Full disclosure: I am white. But I think I have some unique insights to offer into some of what is going on this year, because, as I wrote a few weeks ago:

…it probably helps to be familiar with black culture if you are white, and white culture if you are black. I spent a significant chunk of my childhood as a minority white in a Louisville projects, and a lot of my family members are black or mixed-racial. That’s the kind of experience-through-osmosis I’m talking about. It’s probably more accurately defined as poor culture, the most integrated culture in America.

As you can see from comments in that thread, I’m not always right about it, but I’m never going to learn if I don’t even try. And so I also wrote about how difficult it is to talk about race issues in America as a white person:

It really is difficult in America to talk about race issues if you are white. There are reasons for that, including the fact that white people aren’t yet good at it because they don’t have much practice at it. It’s pretty much a taboo subject to really try to analyze as if you have any authority. And as a result of this inarticulate attempt at participating in the discussion, as white people, we run the risk of offending black people just by claiming any insight into the issues at all. That sometimes leads to being called racist, which is an especially hurtful, if somewhat understandable, charge to make, especially against someone who has actively worked for or supported Civil Rights, and has traditionally seen themselves as sympathetic to, and willing to do something about, the complaints of black Americans.

With all of that as the continuing caveat in our bold attempts at discussing this issue, I’d like to talk about something that I think is coming, and that I don’t think people are giving much thought to yet. If we don’t consider this early and often, we will end up with egg on our face over it, I believe. Consider this the warning bell, then.

Generally speaking, I think it is unwise to discuss racial and gender issues together in the context of this primary season. I think it unnecessarily conflates the two, because there were two entirely separate dynamics in play. The fact of sexism hurt Hillary Clinton, of that there can be no legitimate doubt. However, the fact of racism benefited Obama, and I think that is equally beyond doubt. So how did we get to this place where those things could happen? The fights for female and black freedom began in the same places in America, at roughly the same times. And yet, black men won the vote 60 years before women did. The Civil Rights movement might have started out as a black movement, but within a decade that movement had spread to encompass human rights for a large and disparate number of oppressed people, though no group was as large as the women’s movement.

At a certain point, the women’s movement eclipsed the black Civil Rights movement, and that’s why legislation on behalf of black issues slowed down and legislation on behalf of women’s issues picked up as we entered the 1970s. Had it not been for that women’s movement, you could have forgotten about the right to an abortion in this country. And the ERA failed to pass by a hair, thanks to folks like Phyllis Schlafly, who made it okay for men of privileged to protect theirs.

So if women had the momentum coming out of the 1960s, how did we end up here again? How is it that, pitting the identity causes against each other, black history seems to have (for now) won again?

As a teacher, the answer seems obvious to me. While not the sole factor, a major factor in the reality that Americans of all colors are far more sympathetic to racial sensitivity than they are to sexual and gender sensitivity is education. Two things happened in that wake from the 60s: Feminism experienced a backlash on many levels, most notably the political, and black Civil Rights enjoyed a legislative Renaissance of sorts that allowed their story to be placed in the schools and the public consciousness. Those two things are the reasons for such laws as the national holiday that is Martin Luther King’s birthday, Black History Month, and such pathetic realities as the fact that “welfare reform” is even a term.

If you have kids, or are a teacher yourself, you know what I’m talking about. Every January for, it often seems like, all of January, it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. all day every day. Every social studies and history lesson focuses on that struggle, every English assignment’s subject is of the man himself or the movement he led. Every other school has a play or a musical about his life during that month. Then, in February, during Black History Month, the whole thing is repeated, this time with black historical figures.

Did you even know? Where you even aware that March is Women’s History Month? Do your kids come home during that month, breathless, to tell you all about the lesson on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or who Lucretia Mott was? Does your daughter come home to tell you how one day, when she grows up, she’ll be a Lucy Stoner? That she was positively inspired by the story of Emma Goldman? That thank god women like Alice Paul came before her to fight for her? Have you ever heard any child utter the name Betty Friedan?

Do you see now why we couldn’t compete? Yes, I believe the word you are stumbling for is indoctrination. For nearly 30 years American kids across the land have been indoctrinated to feel sympathetic towards, and be inspired by, black cultural struggles and issues. In their schools. Every year. I’m not opposed to it, and I’m not even remotely suggesting it’s wrong; I’m actually standing here in awe at what black folks have achieved with their sympathetic legislatures and armies of factually armed teachers. I’m a little envious.

But I am not kidding myself that the woman’s movement did anything to prevent that same thing from taking place for them. They tried to create that too. But the power structure found it much more expedient to point to the progress they were making in the black movement as a way to appease whole groups of every color, finding it much safer to respond to a 13% faction as opposed to a 51% faction. There it is for you. It’s about the math.

Now, that is not the half of it, and I’ve tried to keep this pretty simplified so people can follow where I’m going, which is into the very near future. Remember those 30 years? How many voters do you think the school systems in America produced during that time? Do you think it’s safe to say that half of todays voters have been exposed to the Narrative of Black History? By either living through the Civil Rights movement, or by the acculturation they received via the education system? Three quarters? I don’t know, and I’m too lazy to look it up. But it’s a HUGE number, of that I am sure.

Now, follow that logic right to the night of August 28th, Mile High Stadium, the 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. 75,000 people in attendance, this show will be broadcast by every single major news cable outlet, by the commercial networks, and who knows who else. Picture the next day, the editorials you’ll see, the swelling chests, the boastful, ironic pride that a man with bad character will have been nominated based on the color of his skin. But that’s not how they’ll tell it. It’ll be the other way around. And can you guess who’s going to love that? That’s right–30 years worth of indoctrinated voters. Why will they love it? Because it is the continuation of an old, beloved tale.

You watch for it. If we don’t get movement at the Convention, we’re going to have to fight that monster for November. And if your feelings are hurt because you’ve been called a racist now, well sister, brother, you better prepare yourself, because you ain’t seen nothing yet. Nothing invokes the mob more than when they feel you are robbing of them of history in the making, because that is the national bedtime story, and everybody wants their scene in it, and they want the next chapter yesterday.

There are other factors at play, and I suppose we’ll get to them in the coming weeks, but I thought I should warn you, because I haven’t seen this impending phenomenon discussed anywhere else.

I’ll be slowing down on blogging in the coming days. Busy with a move, I won’t have as much time, and I’ve been blogging pretty furiously for over a week now, and I think I’m flying too fast these days. I’m getting comments on things I wrote weeks ago, so I’ll be taking the hint and letting things sit for a while so they can be digested.

16 comments on “Eyes on the Prize

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    Excellent post, annabellep! You touched on a subject that has been verboten over the years. Women have been subjagated to the second tier for so long that if and when we do cry out to be heard, we are pushed back so swiftly and suddenly that heads spin.

    Keep speaking out. Your voice needs to be heard.

  2. luc says:

    i suppose the loud crescendo of this is the civil war and what a god awful bloody mess from hell that it was.

  3. a teacher says:

    Well articulated. A difficult issue to organize into a brief posting, and you did it nicely.
    One thing that struck me about the civil rights movement was how quickly it morphed into “you have nothing in common with me, so don’t try to tell me you know anything about oppression or poverty.” That shut out anyone who was white, regardless of their personal experience or intentions, and made participation in a racially mixed group working on issues of public education or providing care for persons with HIV, for example, difficult to impossible. When whites were subjected to ridicule or shouted down in a mixed group, it was understood to be a their due, a form of reparations for the years of slavery blacks endured.
    The impact of this position on the educational systems in African American communities is significant. The question of how to effect change-offer the best education to everyone- has not yet been answered.

  4. a teacher says:

    I didn’t address the topic of Hillary as a candidate in the above post. What I did not articulate is how much I agree with what Annnabellep wrote, and that agreement comes from my own experience.

    I believe Annabellep’s observation, quoted below, is a logical extension of what I expressed in my own post.

    “If we don’t get movement at the Convention, we’re going to have to fight that monster for November. And if your feelings are hurt because you’ve been called a racist now, well sister, brother, you better prepare yourself, because you ain’t seen nothing yet. Nothing invokes the mob more than when they feel you are robbing of them of history in the making, because that is the national bedtime story, and everybody wants their scene in it, and they want the next chapter yesterday.”

  5. annabellep says:

    Thank you for your comments Teacher. I appreciate that this resonated with you. I’ve been worried about it for some time. Thanks Pat and luc!

  6. Ciardha says:

    And note, almost all of the people spoken about during Black History Month are men. Black women barely get a passing notice. It’s really Black Men’s History Month.

    Let’s make sure in our celebrations of Women’s History Month that we do recognize women of all races and time periods- especially the feminist women.

    I’ve tried to get more recognition of Women’s History Month at the library where I work at (yes, lots of programs for Black History month, but again, almost all about men…) but it’s been a long slog uphill. I’ve worked in the library system 14 1/2 years, and progress has been very slow- but I’ve dealt with that all my life on women’s issues.

  7. Steven Mather says:

    Excellent piece. Please post this with others. It might help many of us be less clumbsy.

    Thank you.

  8. josgirl says:

    Not to be insulting but, duh.
    The issue of sexism and misogyny is complicated because most of the oppressed are forced to live with their oppressors for at least some portion of their lives, if not all of it.
    We can choose to disassociate ourselves from the reality of racism fairly easily.
    Some even manage to live their lives as if racial bigotry and prejudice simply don’t exist.
    The realities of sexism are far more up close and personal, so much so that we become desensitized.
    That is, until something as major as this year’s election takes place and the horror becomes as visible as Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement made the reality of racial hatred by televising it.
    The manipulation of emotions by those in power who use the MSM to do their dirty work has been in play forever.
    The Underground Railroad would have stopped dead in its tracks if not for the active participation of white Americans who often faced the same potential reprecussions as those they sought to help.
    The Civil Rights Movement was always a coalition of Americans with people like Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Charlton Heston (yeah, that Charlton Heston) and other celebrities lending their famous voices, and Violet Liuzzo, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner sacrificing their very lives in the struggle.
    All that being said, the “duh” part comes into this long comment of mine because of the obviousness of the reason Barack Obama was drafted, crafted and molded into a presidential candidate this year.
    He’s black.
    Or close enough.
    Electing him, in the minds of those who planned this coup, would legitimize the DNC as the party of the people without a doubt.
    Who could dispute that this party was the true representative voice of the progress and potential of America if they nominated an African American forty years after RFK predicted such a thing would be possible in that timeframe.
    Especially on the anniversary of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech?
    Are you kidding me?
    Who could resist?
    He’s not qualified?
    So what, he’s black!
    He’s inexperienced?
    So what, he’s black!
    He’s really, really, unqualified and inexperienced?
    Well, you get the idea.
    What these master marketeers didn’t bank on was the sophistication and intelligence of the American people.
    That a significant portion of the electorate would be insulted by such blatant tokenism and symbolism to the point of rebellion never crossed these people’s minds.
    So now, here we are, with the fake representation of MLK and RFK’s dreams about to explode egg in the faces of the geniuses who tried to huckster a propped up, phony vision of the hope for America’s future, making them increasingly more desperate every day to hold onto their “dream.”
    Every ruse they try, every lie they tell just makes their sham seem even more pathetic.
    Pitting sexism against racism is just one of the ruses, another trick.
    Don’t fall for it.
    It detracts from the fact that Hillary Clinton is a better candidate simply because she’s a better candidate.
    If the pity pushers pull that off, they win.

  9. annabellep says:

    Fantastic comment josgirl. I can always count on you to get my brain going. I know it’s a “duh” but most people haven’t even considered this angle. And they should. Often.

    I appreciate your input, so thanks. And thank you Steven, Ciardha and others!

  10. josgirl says:

    Good morning Annabelle.
    Thank you for the compliment, but you started it. :)
    At midnight when I should have been asleep, I made the “mistake” of reading your post and feeling compelled to stick my two cents in.
    As long as people are willing to be honest, even if it hurts, we’re making progress.
    Thank you for not only having the courage to take a chance to grow but for dragging us along with you.

  11. caffinequeen says:

    Very well written post and thouagh it is both insightful and factual you have written it in a very non-threatening way! Good for you! I tend to get a bit um, strident? Angry? among other things.

    Great comments here too!


  12. caffinequeen says:

    Jeez! I should check my spelling before i post!

    ..though it is both insightful …

  13. Annie Oakley says:

    That is a profound insight, Anna Belle. As a woman who was a nontraditional student, I have something to add. This indoctrination was not only an identification with the struggle of civil rights, but a simultaneous stereotyping of white culture. I came to realize in college that many young students seemed to assume I had spent my life in white robes attending lynchings. It made them feel pretty smug to place the racism onto an older generation while exonerating themselves.

    I actually have a LOT to say about this, but since I just drove up, I will shush now. Thank you, though, for this thoughtful piece.

  14. […] History Month. It follows Black History Month, which is in February. As I detailed in my post Eyes on the Prize, black historical narratives have found their way into the classroom via this vehicle of BHM. Black […]

  15. […] Eyes on the Prize: I wish this post had gotten more attention. I had just been blogging a month when I wrote it, so my audience was still quite small. I think it could have had a greater impact if it had gotten more attention. I still think that one of the biggest missed opportunities of this election was the awakening of the sleeping feminine giant via the vehicle of historical narrative. Apparently some people (I’ll not name names, but they know who they are if they ever read this blog, which I doubt) thought I was crazy and/or stupid to pursue this avenue. Whatever; there was precedent, which I detailed in this post. Still one of my favorites. […]

  16. […] race to turn the Democratic Party on a dime in the mid-1960s. As I suggested in a 2008 essay called Eyes on the Prize, they have even used the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. to seed a mindset in the young to […]

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