I’ve decided to no longer blog here. I wish you all continued interesting dialogue and fruitful community.
Paul Gilroy was a big deal when I was in graduate school. In the paper I’m preparing for the OAH, I make an oblique reference to Gilroy. As I’m battening down the hatches on that article, I got to wondering how the twenty first century has treated Gilroy, particularly his foundation shaking Black Atlantic. So I did a little searching and was oh so pleased to find an August 2009 article entitled “The Black Atlantic: Exploring Gilroy’s legacy” by Lucy Evans in Atlantic Studies.
The abstract to the article is
Last week, Clark Atlanta University hosted a commemoration of the life and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois. See the welcome and opening statement of chair Stephanie Evans here. She said
“The following words were Dr. Du Bois’s final prayer to the Ancestors. I find it worthy of our meditation for his birthday. ‘In every name of God bend out and down, you who are the infinite majority of all mankind and with your thoughts, deeds, dreams and memories overwhelm, outvote and coerce these remnants of human life…. Let your memories teach these willful fools all which you have forgotten and ruined and done to death. Teach us…there is no Dream but Deed, there is no need but Memory.'”
The website for the conference is here.
Tonight, I listened to Vandana Shiva discuss Earth Democracy. Her organization’s website explains that concept;
“We need a new paradigm to respond to the fragmentation caused by various forms of fundamentalism. We need a new movement, which allows us to move from the dominant and pervasive culture of violence, destruction and death to a culture of non-violence, creative peace and life. That is why in India, Navdanya started the Earth democracy movement, which provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family, we are connected to each other through love, compassion, not hatred and violence and ecological responsibility and economic justice replaces greed, consumerism and competition as objectives of human life.”
PBS is showing a film about “Makers: Women who Make America” starting this week.
“MAKERS: Women Who Make America tells the remarkable story of the most sweeping social revolution in American history, as women have asserted their rights to a full and fair share of political power, economic opportunity, and personal autonomy. It’s a revolution that has unfolded in public and private, in courts and Congress, in the boardroom and the bedroom, changing not only what the world expects from women, but what women expect from themselves. MAKERS brings this story to life with priceless archival treasures and poignant, often funny interviews with those who led the fight, those who opposed it, and those first generations to benefit from its success. Trailblazing women like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey share their memories, as do countless women who challenged the status quo in industries from coal-mining to medicine. Makers captures with music, humor, and the voices of the women who lived through these turbulent times the dizzying joy, aching frustration and ultimate triumph of a movement that turned America upside-down.”
P.S. Added the picture at 10:47
In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins argues that all African American women’s “intellectual work has aimed to foster Black activism.” When I first read that, I had the instant reaction of–that’s not the case. Black women think about many things, among them relationships like motherhood and beauty (the first two things that came to mind). Collins goes on to argue that when black women teach their children how to deal with racism, they are engaging in activism–so motherhood as a form of activism.
I was pondering beauty because Juliette Derricotte writes about it frequently in her letters (as I’ve written about before on this blog). Then I read this title passage from The Color Purple by Alice Walker:
“Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to get attention we do, except walk?
“I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing.”
Shug was teaching Celie to rejoice in nature’s beauty as a way of overcoming the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her husband. Natural beauty as a form of activism.
I don’t have time today to write more about this, but I am now looking for how Black women’s thought is connected to activism rather than trying to prove it is not. Or perhaps, I am still somewhere in the middle, where things do not need to be forced to be activism that are not, but neither am I neglecting things that are.
I was asked to give a talk to undergrads about the historiography of race and gender in U.S. History. Given my interests, I have narrowed that down further to “The Course of Black Women’s Intellectual History” (since the Historiography of History was too much of a mouthful). See my prezi here.
I’m going to start with three questions:
- What is historiography?
- Who are intellectuals?
- How have black women changed the historiography of U.S. Intellectual History?
In my prezi, I put these questions on the book in the picture to the side. This is my painting that is hanging in my office and I thought it was a nice symbol of black women’s intellectual history. Perhaps it is also slight self-promotion of my own artwork, but hopefully no one minds. Continue reading
I was visiting Linda Kerber’s essay collection by that name (1997) this week and came across this passage;
“Indeed, whatever topics we were drawn to, everyone who taught women’s history perforce became an intellectual historian. We had to ask what different generations had meant by the terms they used: how they had conceptualized the categories of male and female, man and woman, or how the meaning of the term ‘feminism’ itself had changed over the course of the century. When people in the nineteenth century spoke of ‘The Woman Question,’ what did they mean? Does woman suffrage’ mean the same as ‘women suffrage’? Over the decades, the conceptual questions grew in complexity. To what extent have concepts like ‘feminism’ been implicitly located in racialized standpoints? What is the difference between sex and gender? To what extent is gender a social construction? To teach even the most basic narratives, we had to engage these questions. That was true in the early 1970s and it’s even more true now; feminist scholars cannot ignore theorists of language or historians of ideas.”
It sometimes seems that we take gender analysis for granted and don’t see it as automatically a form of the history of ideas–ideas about self, cultural proscriptions, and the ideas that motivate society. Do you view gender analysis this way? Is gendered analysis the thing that defines the intellectual history of women? Are we reifying gender difference by defining an intellectual history of women?
I just finished teaching a J-term course entitled “Free At Last: The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement” and thought I would outline my course here in case anyone finds it of interest. J-term was a 18 day course (2 hours of in-class time everyday) in January. Students are required to take a course their freshmen year, which was the level I was teaching. Having just graded the finals, I have to say I was very pleased with the level of work. However, this has to be one of my favorite all time lines on a final exam (I asked an extra-credit question about what they learned about giving presentations and writing history papers in this class):
“By writing history papers in class I was able to learn one major thing; Context is important.”
Seriously. One of my students wrote that. I didn’t pay her or anything. I am so stoked.
For the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Luther College, we had the privilege of welcoming Ula Taylor. She is an associate professor at UC Berkeley and author of The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey, about Marcus Garvey’s second wife, who sustained the movement after his exile from the US and after his death. She developed the idea of “community feminism.” She defines community feminists as
“women who may or may not live in male-centered households; either way, their activism is focused on assisting both the men and women in their lives—whether husbands or sisters, fathers or mothers, sons or daughters—along with initiating and participating in activities to uplift their communities.
Despite this helpmate focus, community feminists are undeniably feminists; their activism discerns the configuration of oppressive power relations, shatters masculinist claims of women as intellectually inferior,and seeks to empower women by expanding their roles and options.”
She is now working on a book about women in the Nation of Islam. Her talk last night asked the perplexing question–why would anyone join the Nation of Islam after Malcolm X’s death? The unspoken recesses of that question are–the Nation of Islam was responsible for the death of beloved leader Malcolm X, so why would someone join the organization? She did an excellent job of aiming the talk at the diverse cross-section of folks who attended last night, so background material had to supplant much of her new conclusions. However, there were a couple that were intriguing.
She argued that many activists had become disillusioned with black power, particularly when national leaders began charging exorbitant rates for appearances, while Nation of Islam leaders would speak for free. She also argued that black consciousness and self-love did not fill bellies, while the economic programs of the Nation of Islam, which included restaurants, apartments, and farms, did. Finally, she argued that Elijah Mohammed’s leadership drew people in.
I’m in the point in the chapter about Derricotte going around the world in 1928-29 where I have arranged primary sources into a narrative, done initial analysis, and gotten feedback from peers. What it is missing is an overall structure to contain the chapter, particularly after she leaves India and travels through East Asia (Singapore, China, Korea, and Japan). I’ve spent a lot of time and a conference paper thinking about Derricotte in India, but haven’t spent as much time analyzing her time in East Asia. So I thought I would use this space to try to force myself to explain what that part of the chapter is about. I should say that this is part of my writing strategy–to write my way towards a thesis rather than imposing a hypothesis onto the material before analysis. I forget that sometimes and it feels like a failure to have so much written without an overarching structure, but it is in fact a step towards success.
The chapter as a whole argues that Derricotte is both a Westerner and a person of color and that different situations bring out each side of her identity. Seeing the able and beautiful brown bodies in India brings out her connection to them. She delights in the magnificence of the Maharajah because it shows a brown king “doing things up to the notch” in front of her Western friends. At the same time she says she loves the British for giving her a warm bath and a clean house after an exhausting day of experiencing the Ganges. She also criticizes Western missionaries, not for trying to Westernize India, but for not living up to Western Christian values of charity and kindness, especially in their treatment of their servants.
The next point I make is that Derricotte fulfills and transforms the expectations of Western travel writers. As Nayar writes, English writers used their descriptions of India as a way of controlling and bounding the land. They praised the beauty of the land, but in a way that promoted the transformations that Britain had achieved. Derricotte also praises the marvelous and worries over the poverty, but she is also attuned to the desires of Indians themselves for the future of their land and their individual lives.
As you can see, even as I try to write about the chapter as a whole (which starts in Harlem and traces Derricotte’s journey through Europe,the edge of Africa, throughout India, to East Asia, Hawaii and California), my claims tend to be about the Indian portion of her journey because this is the portion I’ve thought through the most.
As I was rereading what I had already written about Derricotte in East Asia this morning, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. Derricotte does not feel the same connection with East Asian bodies as she does with the brown bodies of India (which look so much like her own mixed-race body). She also focuses much more on the Westernization she spies in East Asia, in part because it is more rare than in the parts of India she visited. Throughout her trip, she tended to stay with and socialize with YWCA missionaries; however, she had more opportunities to live with and talk with Indians than she did with East Asians. She was in India for a month, while she was only traveling through East Asia on her way home. She focused much more on the role of Christian missionaries in East Asia, praising them for their fortitude whereas in India she criticized them for their hypocrisy. She continued to be struck by the contrast between beauty and poverty, using “ugly” and “beautiful” instead of “good” and “bad” for her moral descriptors. The beauty of the forbidden city even led her to consider the beauty that an imperial government can accomplish that a democracy cannot, contrasting the joy she felt seeing the city with the impoverish hordes outside of its gates, many of whom had been impoverished by the building and upkeep of the forbidden city. Was the beauty of the city worth it?
She was also less focused on political matters in East Asia than in India, where she frequently pondered the relationship between Britain and India. She seemed less concerned by the influence of the West on China, Japan, and Korea, although she did praise the YWCA for always having a Chinese administrator. She wanted to see the locals embrace Christianity for its own sake, and did not see Christianity as an imperial force. This links back to my definition of Derricotte as “Christian Internationalist.”
Hmmmm. I still have a ways to go to organize the section effectively, but I think this writing through the comparisons has been helpful. Thanks for “listening!”
A caveat: I don’t have kids. I do have a niece and three nephews and I spent yesterday with them and their new toys. I’m curious what you all think about the kinds of toys you give to children and the gender distinctions that go with them. When I was thinking about trying for kids a few years ago, I read a ton about gender expectations placed on children. Some of that was about the “princess” trend. Is it a wonderful celebration of femininity? An empowerment of girl decision making (there are few princes in the princess world–it’s all about the girls and their choices)? Or a kind of scary expectation that girls be hyper feminine? Or something in between? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
I got my niece an American girl doll for Christmas. I probably shouldn’t have spent the money, but I had always wanted one as a girl (my uncle got me one of the sets of the books, and I loved them) and it was so exciting to have someone to buy it for. I had a bit of a funny shopping experience with it and in the spirit of Christmas week, I’ll be a bit more informal on the blog and tell it to you. I had to go to Minneapolis to fly out to my parents home in Phoenix. In order to get cheap parking, I had to spend the night at a hotel. I decided to spend the extra few hours I had a the Mall of America. I walked through the doors, passed a few oh-so-typical stores, turned a corner and there in all its maroon glory was the American Girl Store! I quickly texted my mom (she’s been wishing we could get an American girl for my niece as well). I wandered through the store in a daze. The clothes! The history! The clothes! The sweet little girl faces and the crazed look in mom and dad’s eyes as they shopped. I finally decided to get two books, a catalog, and a pair of glasses and tell my niece she could decide which doll she wanted for her birthday. I texted mom that. Then I sent my brother the info and told him I’d love to get my niece a doll, but didn’t feel like I could spend that much on all the boys. He texted back that it was ok not to spend an even amount on them all and I should get the doll if I felt like I had the money. So I went back inside and wandered around again, this with that expectation of purchase that can be so much more intense than the simple gaze of appreciation and longing. I texted back and forth with my mom and she said she really thought my niece would prefer a contemporary doll over a historical doll. I wanted to not make this about me, but about my niece, so I finally thought yes, maybe I should get the contemporary doll (but then do I get a doll that looks like her or one that is a different ethnicity? Given who I am, I preferred the beautiful black dolls, but would she?). I had five minutes to make up my mind before the store closed, so I grabbed a contemporary doll that looked like my niece, exchanged her for the books, and left.
I kept the glasses because one of the reasons I wanted to get a doll was to help my niece become a little more in favor of her own glasses. For whatever reason (I don’t live close enough to spend enough time with her to know), she hates her glasses. I was hoping that seeing a doll wearing glasses would help her see that the could be beautiful too.
The next morning my phone was dead and the nearest phone store was in the Mall of America. I realized, you know, the reason I love the American girl dolls is because of the history and the stories that accompany them. So I took the contemporary doll with me and decided to exchange her for Molly–a little 1940s doll with glasses.
Yesterday afternoon, we arrived with doll, legos, and cars in tow. I was probably more excited than the kids, but also knew I couldn’t push it. She had to like and accept the doll without any pressure from me. But after she unwrapped it, she sat and listened with rapt attention while I read the first chapter of the book. And then later she changed the clothes into the little dress mom and I made for her. I went into her room and was glad to see she had been playing with the doll on her own, but sad to see the glasses flung off. She came in and said, oh, here’s her pink glasses! I was going to put them on with her other dress. Then, while she was telling me how to style Molly’s hair, she picked up the book and started reading it for herself! (She’s only six and it’s a book for an 8 year old). She very carefully put a bookmark in the book when she was done.
Ok, so why am I telling you all this, other than that it is the day after Christmas and this is what I’m thinking about rather than historical scholarship (which I intend to do later today)? I write a lot here about teaching undergraduates about history, but I’m curious what you mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents think about teaching kids about history. Is the American Girl doll a good way to teach history? Is there something similar for boys? Is there any way to escape the incessant urge for girls to be homemakers and boys to be violent in the toy aisles? The comments are open!!
Oh, and here’s one of the articles I read about the princess culture and a feminist mom.