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Breaking Down Patriarchy - Amy McPhie Allebest EPISODE 31, 1st June 2021
Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, by Frances Beal, Part 1
00:00:00 01:32:20

Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, by Frances Beal, Part 1

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today’s text is an essay written by Black Civil Rights activist Frances Beal in 1969. It’s called “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female,” and I must say, it kind of took my breath away. It answered some questions that I have had for a long time, and it introduced new questions that I didn’t know I needed to ask, and it gave me a lot to think about. Also, this essay lends itself to discussion of what it feels like to be black and female in America, and so because I want to give my reading partner Rayna Clay Mackay time to share some personal stories, as well as to discuss the text, we’re going to divide this essay into two episodes. And I’m soooo excited to welcome back a fan favorite on Breaking Down Patriarchy podcast, Rayna Clay Mackay. Hi, Rayna!



Rayna: Hi, Amy! 


Amy: Listeners will remember Rayna from our episode on Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech, which Frances Beal mentions here in “Double Jeopardy,” which is a really cool connection. Rayna, I know you said you had read “Double Jeopardy” before, but it was new to me, so I’m really eager to hear your thoughts. But first, could you just tell listeners a little bit about yourself? Specifically I’m wondering if you can tell us a bit more about your family. I remember reading a New York Times article about a member of your family that you posted on Facebook - would you be willing to share a bit about that, and about how your family contributed to make you who you are today?


Rayna: So the article I posted last year was my grandfather’s obituary in the NYT. Rhody McCoy was my mother’s father, and he was a major player in the civil right’s movement. We can talk about him anytime! He raised 6 girls and 1 son (my uncle is the youngest and everyone jokes that if he had been born first, none of the girls would exist!) during the 50s and 60s. He was almost militant in his focus on education as a survival skill for Black people as well as women. He had the same expectation of my mom and her sisters (and subsequently me and my female cousins) that he did of the boys. Which was truly revolutionary at that time and not well known in “popular” culture in regards to Black people. The media and “majority” culture has done a fab job of portraying Black people as lazy, angry, and uneducated etc. That was the antithesis of what I knew in my family and our Black friends.


But to circle back to my parents, my father was a Texan and nuclear mathematician who worked on the atom bomb in the 60s. He had a crisis of conscience (or a mid-life crisis!) and then became a playwright. He and my mom met in NYC off-broadway, and eventually when she moved to SF they reconnected and the rest is history...for a very brief time. He was killed by a drunk driver when I was 9 months old. My mom subsequently lost her mother a little over a year later, and understandably had a very difficult few years. She’s a seeker and was looking for a religious community, and when I was 4, she joined the Church. It was around this time that her talking points deviated slightly from our family in terms of race relations. Growing up, she always told me I could be and do whatever I wanted to be and do. She believed in me 100% and I always felt like my gender was not an issue when it came to accomplishment. But, (and I think this was to help me not feel othered in a majority White church) she really promoted that we are “all alike unto God” and that there is “no color.”  This was super hard for me to reconcile as I clearly looked different than almost every person I interacted with (my mom is super light, most un-enlightened people thought she was Hispanic). She chose to immerse me in “church” culture rather than “Black” culture, so it was an interesting dichotomy.

Amy: Thanks so much, Rayna. [I will probably have some follow-up questions here!]


Just to introduce the text a little bit more… this author and this subject has become significant to me personally.

I first encountered Frances Beal in my class on the Civil Rights Movement last year in grad school. I wrote my final paper on women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and I featured Frances Beal extensively. I found this topic so interesting, so moving, and so relevant that I decided to write my master’s thesis on it! So I approached her essay thinking “oh, I know Frances Beal!” But wow, it was really, really different from what I expected.


In my class we read a giant volume of the works of Dr. King, and then we read about the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was run by Bob Moses, who was (according to those who knew him) the most gentle, loving, peaceful man. And these SNCC workers were trained in unconditional non-violence and the Christian values of “turning the other cheek,” as they integrated lunch counters and did the freedom rides of 1964 integrating interstate buses, and then they worked in rural Mississippi, starting schools and registering African Americans to vote, many of whom had been so suppressed and oppressed that they didn’t even know that Black people had the right to vote. This was incredibly dangerous work, and I bawled my eyes out as I read about Fannie Lou Hamer and Anelle Ponder getting beaten savagely in jail, and SNCC workers being murdered, and young men and women confronting attack dogs and backcountry mobs who used shotguns and bombs. And these young men and women stood tall and proud, strong, but I pictured them with the gentle spirit of Bob Moses and Diane Nash. They called themselves “the beloved community,” and they cultivated what they called “the beloved community” of harmony and equality among them. ALTHOUGH I did just learn that the founder of SNCC, Ella Baker, did support self-defense, and questioned the effectiveness of nonviolence in the face of the extreme, rabid violence of Mississippi segregationists. (She was right to do so!)


My thesis is specifically on how Black women and White women worked together in SNCC in the work of racial justice, but how a schism developed between the women by about 1965, and although most SNCC women participated in and sometimes led the  Women’s Rights movement, they did so mostly separately. I found it striking that women who had loved each other so dearly and worked in such an integrated way in the early 1960’s, separated quite distinctly, and after many of the White women moved  North, what we think of as “the second wave of feminism” began, led by Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem - and also Shirley Chisolm and Pauli Murray… but really it was white feminists in the North who were in the foreground of that movement. Some white women within the movement were better than others - Steinem was certainly more conscious of including all women than Friedan was - but still, “Women’s Lib” of the 1970’s was sometimes quite insular and ignorant, and in some ways it established what we now call “white feminism,” or as Rachel Cargle calls it, “white supremacy in heels.” 

In the meantime SNCC shifted toward Black Power… in fact the President of SNCC at the time, Stokely Carmichael, was the first person to raise his fist at a rally and start chanting “Black Power!” which was a new direction for SNCC. And this essay is really important in understanding how this group of Black civil rights workers were thinking and feeling at the time. So it’s incredibly valuable as a historical document, as well as something that we in the 21st Century can continue to learn from. So anyway, for me personally, I’m still doing research on that schism within the women of SNCC, and on the resulting paths that women took in their approach to women’s rights in the late 60’s. And I want to throw in here that many Black women at this time started using the term “Womanist” instead of “Feminist” because for them “Feminism” meant “white, heterosexual, upper-class”-yup! and felt exclusive. “Womanism” centers on Black women but is inclusive. 


Anyway… this chapter in history (the 1960’s and 70’s) is actually really similar to what happened in the 19th Century with White abolitionist women and their work on Slavery - remember how Elizabeth Cady Stanton went to that anti-slavery conference in London where women weren’t allowed to be seated with the men to listen to the conference, so through her work on racial justice Stanton realized her own oppression, and  left the cause of racial justice in order to fight the battle of gender injustice… but gender injustice toward White women.  So in the 19th century and in the 20th Century, many White women who started out as allies for Black women, ended up abandoning them. 


So Rayna, let’s talk a bit about Frances Beal specifically. 


Rayna:

Frances Beal was born on January 13, 1940, in Binghamton, New York. Her mother was a Russian-Jewish immigrant, and her father was African-American and Native-American. Her parents were political activists, and she describes her upbringing as difficult, but acknowledges its impact on shaping her political consciousness. Her mother taught her that she had a personal and political social responsibility to confront inequalities that she and others are subjected to. 

During college, Frances went abroad to France where she married James Beal and had two children. Frances attended the Sorbonne, and during her time there she became aware of the fight to end France’s colonial domination in Algeria. After six years in France, Frances and James returned to the states and got divorced. 

Beal joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the mid-1960’s, and during her time there, SNCC activities shifted away from its original egalitarianism toward a male-dominated Black Power movement. Beal and her female colleagues worked in and contributed enormously to the Civil Rights Movement, but were sometimes not given the leadership positions that their work warranted. In response, Beal co-founded the Black Women's Liberation Committee of SNCC in 1968, which evolved into the Third World Women's Alliance. Looking back, Beal aired her grievances in the film She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, stating,

“I was in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. You’re talking about liberation and freedom half the night on the racial side, and then all of a sudden men are going to turn around and start talking about putting you in your place. So in 1968 we founded the SNCC Black Women’s Liberation Committee to take up some of these issues.”

During the late 1960’s Beal became aware of the practice of forced sterilization, and  was actively involved in CESA, the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse. This organization fought to help poor women of color who were being disproportionately targeted and coerced into involuntary sterilization.

She actively worked to empower Black women through her political involvement in organizations and positions held on committees. In 1968 Beal composed an essay that addressed the complex relations black women were facing in their collective black struggle, called "Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female". This document became SNCC's official stance on women.

Through her organizing, Beal confronted a range of oppressive regimes that encompassed complex power relations that subordinated and disenfranchised Black women in particular. Her political organizing sought to address structural inequalities and to empower marginalized groups.

 

Amy: Ok, now let’s take a look at Beal’s essay, “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female.” Rayna and I will each share a couple of points that we thought were really important.


First quote:


In attempting to analyze the situation of the black woman in America, one crashes abruptly into a solid wall of grave misconceptions, outright distortions of fact and defensive attitudes on the part of many. The System of capitalism (and its afterbirth...racism) under which we all live, has attempted by many devious ways and means to destroy the humanity of all people, and particularly the humanity of black people. This has meant an outrageous assault on every black man, woman, and child who resides in the United States.

In keeping with its goal of destroying the black race's will to resist its subjugation, capitalism found it necessary to create a situation where the black man found it impossible to find meaningful or productive employment. More often than not, he couldn't find work of any kind. And the black woman likewise was manipulated by the System, economically exploited and physically assaulted. She could often find work in the white man's kitchen, however, and sometimes became the sole breadwinner of the family. This predicament has led to many psychological problems on the part of both man and woman, and has contributed to the turmoil that we find in the black family structure. (166)

So my first thought is to ask you about your lived experience in this “double jeopardy” of being black and female in the United States.

Rayna: That’s a loaded question! The short and simple answer is - it’s complicated! The longer answer is that there is a lot of macro and micro racism/aggression that is a pretty consistent part of my current lived experience and a HUGE part of my history. As we talked about previously, I moved from the Bay Area to Utah County, where I attended high school. I went from a multicultural environment to White suburbia. My HS had 2500 students. I was the only Black student until my senior year when a new family moved in and had a daughter who was Black and a sophmore. So, I was forced to become used to being different. This was difficult, and I had physical illness (migraines and gastric ulcers) as well as disordered eating trying to be as skinny as my White friends, pretending I liked Indigo Girls rather than Missy Elliot, honestly trying to be as “white” as possible. Because I thought the only way to “survive” was to assimilate.

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When I went to BYU, I was one of 300 Black students out of 30,000. Once again, a very similar experience of living amongst a sea of White people! In order to try to be accepted, I developed a sense of needing to be the “model minority.” So I perseverated on doing everything “right,” so that everything I could control assimilated into the greater whole, and hopefully counteract what I couldn’t change.

Having grown up in a family of powerful females though, I couldn’t ever quite mold myself into the “helpmeet” that is a cornerstone of our shared community. So there was always a push and pull. I wanted to have the normal college experiences of dating and hanging out and fun but I found that I was not what the boys wanted. I was either exotic or a friend. Nothing more. I was too smart, too ambitious, and too black. And that was dehumanizing.

Going into medicine was no better honestly. But I am grateful for my HS and college experiences as they helped prepare me to once again gird myself while simultaneously making myself “palatable” for the White majority. The macro-racism started day 1 of medical school when I was told (with such self-assurance!) during orientation by 3 of my new white male colleagues that I had “taken the place of one of their friends because, affirmative action. . .” That blatant racism continued - the counseling office (who helps steer us towards our residency specialties) suggested I go into primary care to “serve my people,” professors taught that minorities had higher pain tolerances and tougher skin, all my textbooks had White patients and pictures of medical conditions on White skin (the only pictures of Black people showed STDs - how wrong is that???). During all of this, being black and female back-fired, because whenever I reached out for help or called out the blatant racism, I was met with “you’re so strong, you’ve got this!” so the pervading attitude of the black woman with the strong backbone was used to basically gaslight me.

I could spend most of the day recounting all of the racist experiences I’ve had as a black female in medicine, but I can sum it up by saying I’m either the housekeeping staff [insert anecdote from last week] or the “sassy, outspoken Dr. Miranda Bailey” which I am neither! But I have learned how to be myself (friendly and upbeat but also super firm), and project in a way that is neither intimidating or subservient.


Amy:

One of the main things I took away from this essay was a new understanding of the linkage between sexism, racism, and capitalism. Until now I hadn’t  read much Feminist academic writing from the 1970’s and afterward, and now that I am I am seeing that those three things are always linked. I understood sexism, I understood racism, and at first I didn’t even really understand how they were linked, but I for sure didn’t understand how capitalism interlocked with sexism and racism. I read Riane Eisler’s The Real Wealth of Nations, and that helped to give me a better idea about the economics angle, but I still didn’t get how those three things worked together. . 

So in this speech when I read that the afterbirth of Capitalism is Racism, and that Capitalism “...found it necessary to create a situation where the black man found it impossible to find meaningful or productive employment. More often than not, he couldn't find work of any kind. And the black woman likewise was manipulated by the System, economically exploited and physically assaulted,” it clicked for me. Same!!!

Capitalism relies on a person having “capital,” which is wealth or assets, which the person then “capitalizes” on, taking advantage of that capital by growing it as big as he can. Basically everyone gets what they can, and makes the most of it, and it’s kind of the survival of the fittest. So I thought about White European and American men from about the 1500’s-1800’s. Some of these men figured out they could get more capital by kidnapping and enslaving people from Africa, and selling them as slaves. These enslaved people, literally chained and raped and beaten and murdered and bought and sold, were used as free labor to increase profit for these White enslavers. They kept all the profits from their businesses without paying for labor. They built the economy of the American South, and arguably the North as well, and arguably many other countries, through trade, on the egregious exploitation of Black people. All in the name of profit. And this system didn’t just vanish with the 13th Amendment - Black people who were freed were not given access to the capital that existed in the world, and through systemic racism they are still kept from equal access to capital. So that’s how racism and capitalism have functioned as interlocking systems of oppression. Exactly, and plays back into me being urged to go into primary care. One - to “serve my people” hard eyeroll, EVERY specialty serves the community, they just want to encourage minorities to serve minorities which is ironic because it goes back to separate but equal. Second, and most pertinent to the link with capitalism - primary care specialties are the lowest paid specialties in medicine. It is the subspecialites and surgical specialties that are represented by White physicians. That is not a coincidence. The “money” is reserved for White physicians. Only 3% of anesthesiologists are black and ~1.5% are black females (sounds like my HS and college percentages!). And while Black people are 13% of the US population, only 2% of ALL doctors are black and female. Female physicians make up over half of the OBs, pediatricians and FP doctors, this is also where Black physicians are most highly represented. So Black women are doing the “work” of medicine without being compensated. Capitalism in medicine has created a more palatable version of slavery.

And then linking capitalism to sexism, we’ve already learned through several books that the system of Patriarchy has always exploited women: in the first place during the Agricultural Revolution men began to control women because they realized if they owned and controlled women’s reproductive capacity they would have a bigger labor force and thus more power. And throughout time men have relied on women doing the domestic work that they themselves did not want to do… but required women to do it for free, without pay. Beal says later:

Women also represent a surplus labor supply, the control of which is absolutely necessary to the profitable functioning of capitalism. Women are consistently exploited by the System. They are paid less for the same work that men do and jobs that are specifically relegated to women are low- paying and without the possibility of advancement. Statistics from the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor show that the wage scale for white women was even below that of black men; and the wage scale for non-white women was the lowest of all:

White Males $6,704 Non-white Males $4,277 White Females $3,991 Non-white Females $2,861 

I looked up the data right now on “LeanIn.org,” and for a every dollar a white man makes, a white woman makes 79 cents, and a black woman makes 62 cents. The median salary for male physicians is $86000 more annually than females.

So perhaps capitalism would be more viable if everyone had equal access to “seed money” that they could invest, but in the system the way it has worked, people who happen to be born White and male - especially if their parents had money - have access to all the world’s resources, and sometimes they not only don’t share it, they actually steal from other people who don’t have as much. So anyway… I finally understand a bit more about how those three things are linked. 

So that wraps up Part 1 of Double Jeopardy. Rayna, thank you so much for being here today!!

And listeners, if you haven’t yet read this essay, I highly recommend it, and I recommend looking up SNCC and learning more about this time in history, and then join us for more analysis and discussion, next time on breaking down patriarchy.


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Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy!  I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we are back to discuss Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, written by Civil Rights activist Frances Beal in 1969. Last week we talked about some history of the Civil Rights Movement, with SNCC and the birth of the Black Power movement, we talked about Frances Beal, we talked about the words “feminism” and “womanism,” and we set this speech, and the experiences of Black Americans in the context of US history, with America’s practice of enslaving African Americans for centuries, and how that continues to shape our culture, often in ways that American citizens - especially white Americans - don’t even realize. So let’s welcome back to the podcast my dear friend Rayna Clay Mackay!


Rayna:

1) We live in a highly industrialized society and every member of the black nation must be as academically and technologically developed as possible. To wage a revolution, we need competent teachers, doctors, nurses, electronic experts, chemists, biologists, physicists, political scientists, and so on and so forth. Black women sitting at home reading bedtime stories to their children are just not going to make it. (170)

This was my grandfather’s mission, and I 100% agree. Representation matters. For all. I don’t completely agree with the last sentence because I feel there is great efficacy in being a stay at home mom, but only if that is what you actively choose. Also only if society is structured in such a way to support that. (Think Nordic societies).

2) I have briefly discussed the economic and psychological manipulation of black women, but perhaps the most outlandish act of oppression in modern times is the current campaign to promote sterilization of non- white women in an attempt to maintain the population and power imbalance between the white haves and the non-white have-nots.

These tactics are but another example of the many devious schemes that the ruling elite attempt to perpetrate on the black population in order to keep itself in control. It has recently come to our attention that a massive campaign for so-called "birth control" is presently being promoted not only in the underdeveloped non-white areas of the world, but also in black communities here in the United States. However, what the authorities in charge of these programs refer to as "birth control" is in fact nothing but a method of outright surgical genocide. 

Threatened with the cut-off of relief funds, some black welfare women have been forced to accept this sterilization procedure in exchange for a continuation of welfare benefits. Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City performs these operations on many of its ward patients whenever it can convince the women to undergo this surgery. Mississippi and some of the other Southern states are notorious for this act. Black women are often afraid to permit any kind of necessary surgery because they know from bitter experience that they are more likely than not to come out of the hospital without their insides. (Both salpingectomies and hysterectomies are performed.)

So medical apartheid is a real thing, and it continues to exist today. Historically the Tuskegee experiment with syphilis is the marker, but there is also the use of Henrietta Lack’s cancer cells (without consent or reparation until recently) as the source of the HeLa cell line which is one of the most important cell lines in medical research. Prominent academic institutions have done highly acclaimed psychiatric studies that purported that Black males are more aggressive, and the morbidity and mortality of Black pregnant women is the highest of all demographics (even when controlled for all other socioeconomic factors). The father of modern-day gynecology based all of his findings from experiments on Black women without anesthesia, so I’m honestly not surprised. History, combined with recent research that shows Black people die earlier than White people (because of the extraction of capital from Black communities), and the fact that Black men are killed without recourse by the police all equal distrust of authority. I read a quote on SM (and now I can’t find it!) that basically said they were tired of the phrase “Black people distrust medicine” and that it should be changed to “medicine, because of its historic mistreatment of Black people, needs to re-earn the trust of the Black community.” I thought that was spot on!



3) Another major differentiation is that the white women's liberation movement is basically middle-class. Very few of these women suffer the extreme economic exploitation that most black women are subjected to day by day. It is not an intellectual persecution alone; the movement is not a psychological outburst for us; it is quite real. We as black women have got to deal with the problems that the black masses deal with, for our problems in reality are one and the same. (174)

This is what I think is the crux of the matter and the reason why the stereotype of the angry black woman persists. THIS is our life. Day in and day out. If you are not angry you are exhausted and if you are exhausted you cannot function and if you don’t function then society has an excuse to spit you up and chew you out and you have “justified” systemic racism. I find it very hard to hear my White acquaintances (and I say acquaintances, because my true friends do not say these things) say how tired they are doing the “work” of dismantling racism or having to participate in “woke” learning sessions etc. They don’t have the burden of this being their life, they can come in and out of these experiences as they may.

Amy: I have a thought and a question for you, Rayna. For me one over-arching point from this essay was this - and it helped me in my master’s thesis where I was asking the question, what happened between the white women and Black women who worked together so closely in the Civil Rights Movement in the early 60’s but experienced a schism by the late 60’s and 70’s? And one part of the answer from my research and from this essay is that some white women thought that all women were having the same experience, and they spoke about men being the enemy, and that included Black men. And what they didn’t realize is that they were asking their Black friends to side with white women in a gender battle, when these Black women’s own dads and brothers and sons were in danger of being lynched. So some Black women - we talked about Pauli Murray last week, and we’ll talk about Angela Davis and Audre Lorde and bell hooks and other Black women who, like Sojourner Truth, fought for racial and gender justice. But from Beal’s essay, what I’m hearing is that white women - including me - need to educate ourselves a lot more about what it’s really like to be Black and female in America, and understand the problem in asking Black women to align themselves with white women instead of with their own male Black family members, whose very lives are in danger. Is that an accurate reading of Beal, Rayna? I know you have sons and a daughter, and you have different concerns for each of them.

Rayna: Response

Amy: That brings us to the end - there are so many important points in this essay that we didn’t have time to cover. But as we wrap up, I want to share one takeaway and then ask you to share the final thoughts for today. The passage I want to read last is this one:

“The black community, and black women especially, must begin raising questions about the kind of society we wish to see established. ...The new world that we are struggling to create must destroy oppression of any type. The value of this new system will be determined by the status of the person who was the low man on the totem pole.” (175) 

As a white person, I want to extend that challenge to all listeners - and especially listeners who are white, and listeners who are men. “The new world that we are struggling to create must destroy oppression of any type. The value of this new system will be determined by the status of the person who was the low man on the totem pole.” 

This reminds me of “the veil of ignorance” thought experiment that we talked about in our episode on Olympe de Gouges’ Declaration of the Rights of Woman.” Pretend we are all on one side of a veil before we’re born, and when we pass through the veil we could find ourselves born into any circumstance. If you are a man, would you be just as excited to be born a girl? If you are white, are you confident that if you were born Black, you would have all the same opportunities and encouragement and safety that you had growing up White? If you grew up in a family of means, would you be just as happy being born in an inner city or rural Mississippi? If not, then as Beal says, we “must begin raising questions about the kind of society we wish to see established.” 

What would you say is one takeaway from this text?


Rayna: There are so many pertinent parts of this piece, it should just be classified as a “guidebook to society!” But in terms of “being” the double jeopardy of black and female I have learned I have to compartmentalize and accept that I alone cannot change all of society’s perception in one lifetime. But! I’ve taken to heart Elaine Welteroth’s quote “when you exist in spaces that weren’t built for you, sometimes just being you is the revolution.”


Amy: Thanks again, etc.


On our next episode of Breaking Down Patriarchy, we will be discussing Gloria Steinem’s speech “Living the Revolution,” which was the commencement address at Vassar College in 1970. This title is powerful because it refers to the fact that in many revolutions people profess that they are willing to die for a cause, but she says that the cause of Women’s Rights - which she says should be described as “humanist” because it includes everyone - is a cause we need to live for, in our everyday lives. You can find the speech online, and I highly recommend reading the whole thing, and then join us for the discussion, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.



Unfortunately, neither the black man nor the black woman understood the true nature of the forces working upon them. Many black women tended to accept the capitalist evaluation of manhood and womanhood and believed, in fact, that black men were shiftless and lazy, otherwise they would get a job and support their families as they ought to. Personal relationships between black men and women were thus torn asunder and one result has been the separation of man from wife, mother from child, etc. 


America has defined the roles to which each individual should subscribe. It has defined "manhood" in terms of its own interests and "femininity" likewise. Therefore, an individual who has a good job, makes a lot of money and drives a Cadillac is a real "man," and conversely, an individual who is lacking in these "qualities" is less of a man. ...The ideal model that is projected for a woman is to be surrounded by hypocritical homage and estranged from all real work, spending idle hours primping and preening, obsessed with conspicuous consumption, and limiting life's functions to simply a sex role.  (167)


A woman who stays at home, caring for children and the house, often leads an extremely sterile existence. She must lead her entire life as a satellite to her mate. He goes out into society and brings back a little piece of the world for her. His interests and his understanding of the world become her own and she cannot develop herself as an individual, having been reduced to only a biological function. This kind of woman leads a parasitic existence that can aptly be described as "legalized prostitution." (167)

I learned from my thesis research that everybody in SNCC was passing around and reading a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Clearly Frances Beal had read it too - these are direct quotes. 

Furthermore, it is idle dreaming to think of black women simply caring for their homes and children like the middle-class white model. Most black women have to work to help house, feed, and clothe their families. Black women make up a substantial percentage of the black working force and this is true for the poorest black family as well as the so-called "middle- class" family. (167)


Black women were never afforded any such phony luxuries. Though we have been browbeaten with this white image, the reality of the degrading and dehumanizing jobs that were relegated to us quickly dissipated this mirage of "womanhood." (167)


[Quotes Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech - it’s the inaccurate version but it captures the message - basically Truth’s message that she does the work of plowing, planting, and hauling, and no one helps her over mud puddles like they do White women - in fact she has borne the lash of the enslaver’s whip. When people talk about women they imagine a genteel White woman… and yet she is a woman too.] (167)

Since the advent of Black Power, the black male has exerted a more prominent leadership role in our struggle for justice in this country. He sees the System for what it really is for the most part. But where he rejects its values and mores on many issues, when it comes to women, he seems to take his guidelines from the pages of the Ladies Home Journal. (167)

Certain black men are maintaining that they have been castrated by society but that black women somehow escaped this persecution and even contributed to this emasculation. Let me state here and now that the black woman in America can justly be described as a "slave of a slave." By reducing the black man in America to such abject oppression, the black woman had no protector and was used, and is still being used in some cases, as the scapegoat for the evils that this horrendous System has perpetrated on black men. Her physical image has been maliciously maligned; she has been sexually molested and abused by the white colonizer; she has suffered the worst kind of economic exploitation, having been forced to serve as the white woman's maid and wet nurse for white offspring while her own children were, more often than not, starving and neglected. It is the depth of degradation to be socially manipulated, physically raped, used to undermine your own household, and to be powerless to reverse this syndrome. (168)

It is true that our husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons have been emasculated, lynched, and brutalized. They have suffered from the crudest assault on mankind that the world has ever known. However, it is a gross distortion of fact to state that black women have oppressed black men. The capitalist System found it expedient to enslave and oppress them and proceeded to do so without signing any agreements with black women. (168)

It must also be pointed out at this time that black women are not resentful of the rise to power of black men. We welcome it. We see in it the eventual liberation of all black people from this oppressive system of capitalism. Nevertheless, this does not mean that you have to negate one for the other. This kind of thinking is a product of miseducation; that it's either X or it's Y. It is fallacious reasoning that in order for the black man to be strong, the black woman has to be weak. (168)

 

Those who are asserting their "manhood" by telling black women to step back into a domestic, submissive role are assuming a counter-revolutionary position. Black women likewise have been abused by the System and we must begin talking about the elimination of all kinds of oppres- sion. If we are talking about building a strong nation, capable of throwing off the yoke of capitalist oppression, then we are talking about the total involvement of every man, woman, and child, each with a highly developed political consciousness. We need our whole army out there dealing with the enemy and not half an army. (169)

There are also some black women who feel that there is no more productive role in life than having and raising children. This attitude often reflects the conditioning of the society in which we live and is adopted (totally, completely, and without change) from a bourgeois white model. Some young sisters who have never had to maintain a household and accept the confining role which this entails, tend to romanticize (along with the help of a few brothers) this role of housewife and mother. Black women who have had to endure this kind of function as the sole occupation of their life are less apt to have these Utopian visions. (169)

Those who project in an intellectual manner how great and rewarding this role will be and who feel that the most important thing that they can contribute to the black nation is children are doing themselves a great injustice. This line of reasoning completely negates the contributions that black women have historically made to our struggle for liberation. These black women include Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells- Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Fannie Lou Hamer, to name but a few. (169)

We live in a highly industrialized society and every member of the black nation must be as academically and technologically developed as possible. To wage a revolution, we need competent teachers, doctors, nurses, electronic experts, chemists, biologists, physicists, political scientists, and so on and so forth. Black women sitting at home reading bedtime stories to their children are just not going to make it. (170)


Economic Exploitation of Black Women

The economic System of capitalism finds it expedient to reduce women to a state of enslavement. They oftentimes serve as a scapegoat for the evils of this system. Much in the same way that the poor white cracker of the South, who is equally victimized, looks down upon blacks and contributes to the oppression of blacks, so by giving to men a false feeling of superiority (at least in their own home or in their relationships with women), the oppression of women acts as an escape valve for capitalism. Men may be cruelly exploited and subjected to all sorts of dehumanizing tactics on the part of the ruling class, but they have someone who is below them- at least they’re not women.

Those industries which employ mainly black women are the most exploitative in the country. Domestic and hospital workers are good examples of this oppression; the garment workers in New York City provide us with another view of this economic slavery. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) - whose overwhelming membership consists of black and Puerto Rican women- has a leadership that is nearly lily-white and male. This leadership has been working in collusion with the ruling class and has completely sold its soul to the corporate structure.

To add insult to injury, the ILGWU has invested heavily in business enterprises in racist, apartheid South Africa- with union funds. Not only does this bought-off leadership contribute to our continued exploitation in this country by not truly representing the best interests of its membership, but it audaciously uses funds that black and Puerto Rican women have provided to support the economy of a vicious government that is engaged in the economic rape and murder of our black brothers and sisters in our Motherland, Africa.

This racist, chauvinistic, and manipulative use of black workers and women, especially black women, has been a severe cancer on the American labor scene. It therefore becomes essential for those who understand the workings of capitalism and imperialism to realize that the exploitation of black people and women works to everyone's disadvantage and that the liberation of these two groups is a stepping stone to the liberation of all oppressed people in this country and around the world. (171)

Bedroom Politics

I have briefly discussed the economic and psychological manipulation of black women, but perhaps the most outlandish act of oppression in modern times is the current campaign to promote sterilization of non- white women in an attempt to maintain the population and power imbalance between the white haves and the non-white have-nots.

2) These tactics are but another example of the many devious schemes that the ruling elite attempt to perpetrate on the black population in order to keep itself in control. It has recently come to our attention that a massive campaign for so-called "birth control" is presently being promoted not only in the underdeveloped non-white areas of the world, but also in black communities here in the United States. However, what the authorities in charge of these programs refer to as "birth control" is in fact nothing but a method of outright surgical genocide. (171)

This method of "birth control" [female sterilization] is a common procedure in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has long been used by the colonialist exploiter, the United States, as a huge experimental laboratory for medical research before allowing certain practices to be imported and used here. When the birth control pill was first being perfected, it was tried out on Puerto Rican women and selected black women (poor), using them like guinea pigs, to evaluate its effect and its efficiency.

The salpingectomy [removal of the fallopian tubes] has now become the commonest operation in Puerto Rico, commoner than an appendectomy or a tonsillectomy. It is so wide- spread that it is referred to simply as la operacion. On the Island, 20% of the women between the ages of 15 and 45 have already been sterilized.

And now, as previously occurred with the Pill, this method has been imported into the United States. These sterilization clinics are cropping up around the country in the black and Puerto Rican communities. These so-called "Maternity Clinics" specifically outfitted to purge black women or men of their reproductive possibilities, are appearing more and more in hospitals and clinics across the country.  (172)

Threatened with the cut-off of relief funds, some black welfare women have been forced to accept this sterilization procedure in exchange for a continuation of welfare benefits. Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City performs these operations on many of its ward patients whenever it can convince the women to undergo this surgery. Mississippi and some of the other Southern states are notorious for this act. Black women are often afraid to permit any kind of necessary surgery because they know from bitter experience that they are more likely than not to come out of the hospital without their insides. (Both salpingectomies and hysterectomies are performed.)

So medical apartheid is a real thing, and it continues to exist today. Historically the Tuskegee experiment with syphilis is the marker, but there is also the use of Henrietta Lack’s cancer cells (without consent or reparation until recently) as the source of the HeLa cell line which is one of the most important cell lines in medical research. Prominent academic institutions have done highly acclaimed psychiatric studies that purported that Black males are more aggressive, and the morbidity and mortality of Black pregnant women is the highest of all demographics (even when controlled for all other socioeconomic factors). The father of modern-day gynecology based all of his findings from experiments on Black women without anesthesia, so I’m honestly not surprised. History, combined with recent research that shows Black people die earlier than White people (because of the extraction of capital from Black communities), and the fact that Black men are killed without recourse by the police all equal distrust of authority. I read a quote on SM (and now I can’t find it!) that basically said they were tired of the phrase “Black people distrust medicine” and that it should be changed to “medicine, because of its historic mistreatment of Black people, needs to re-earn the trust of the Black community.” I thought that was spot on!

We condemn this use of the black woman as a medical testing ground for the white middle class. Reports of the ill effects including deaths from the use of the birth control pill only started to come to light when the white privileged class began to be affected. These outrageous Nazi-like procedures on the part of medical researchers are but another manifestation of the totally amoral and dehumanizing brutality that the capitalist System perpetrates on black women. (173)

The rigid laws concerning abortions in this country are another vicious means of subjugation, and, indirectly of outright murder. Rich white women somehow manage to obtain these operations with little or no difficulty. It is the poor black and Puerto Rican woman who is at the mercy of the local butcher. Statistics show us that the non-white death rate at the hands of the unqualified abortionist is substantially higher than for white women. Nearly half of the child-bearing deaths in New York City were attributed to abortion alone and out of these, 79% are among non-whites and Puerto Rican women. We are not saying that black women should not practice birth control. Black women have the right and the responsibility to determine when it is in the interest of the struggle to have children or not to have them and this right must not be relinquished to anyone. It is also her right and responsibility to determine when it is in her own best interests to have children, how many she will have, and how far apart. (173)

Relationship to White Movement

The white women's movement is far from being monolithic. Any white group that does not have an anti-imperialist and anti-racist ideology has absolutely nothing in common with the black women' s struggle. In fact, some groups come to the incorrect conclusion that their oppression is due simply to male chauvinism. They therefore have an extremely anti-male tone to their dissertations. Black people are engaged in a life and death struggle with the oppressive forces of this country and the main emphasis of black women must be to combat the capitalist, racist exploitation of black people. While it is true that male chauvinism has become institutionalized in American society, one must always look for the main enemy- the fundamental cause of the female condition. (174)

Another major differentiation is that the white women's liberation movement is basically middle-class. Very few of these women suffer the extreme economic exploitation that most black women are subjected to day by day. It is not an intellectual persecution alone; the movement is not a psychological outburst for us; it is quite real. We as black women have got to deal with the problems that the black masses deal with, for our problems in reality are one and the same. (174)

If the white groups do not realize that they are in fact, fighting capitalism and racism, we do not have common bonds. If they do not realize that the reasons for their condition lie in the System, and not simply that men get ...pleasure out of "consuming their bodies for exploitative reasons" (this kind of reasoning seems to be quite prevalent in certain white women's groups), then we cannot unite with them around common grievances or even discuss these groups in a serious manner, because they're completely irrelevant to the black struggle. (174-175)


The New World

The black community, and black women especially, must begin raising questions about the kind of society we wish to see established. ...The new world that we are struggling to create must destroy oppression of any type. The value of this new system will be determined by the status of the person who was the low man on the totem pole. (175) [the “veil of ignorance” thought experiment. “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” -Fannie Lou Hamer]

This will mean changing the traditional routines that we have established as a result of living in a totally corrupting society. It means changing how you relate to your wife, your husband, your parents and your coworkers. If we are going to liberate ourselves as a people, it must be recognized that black women have very specific problems that have to be spoken to. We must be liberated along with the rest of the population. We cannot wait to start working on those problems until that great day in the future when the revolution somehow, miraculously, is accomplished. (175)

 

To assign women the role of housekeeper and mother while men go forth into battle is a highly questionable doctrine for a revolutionary to maintain. Each individual must develop a high political consciousness in order to understand how this System enslaves us all and what actions we must take to bring about its total destruction. Those who consider themselves to be revolutionary must begin to deal with other revolutionaries as equals. And, so far as I know, revolutionaries are not determined by sex.

Old people, young people, men and women must take part in the struggle. To relegate women to purely supportive roles or to simply cultural considerations is a dangerous doctrine to project. Unless black men who are preparing themselves for armed struggle understand that the society which we are trying to create is one in which the oppression of all members of that society is eliminated, then the revolution will have failed in its avowed purpose.

Given the mutual commitment of black men and black women alike to the liberation of our people and other oppressed peoples around the world, the total involvement of each individual is necessary. A revolutionary has the responsibility of not only toppling those who are now in a position of power, but more importantly, the responsibility of creating new institutions that will eliminate all forms of oppression for all people. We must begin to rewrite our understanding of traditional personal relationships between man and woman. All the resources that the black community can muster up must be channeled into the struggle. Black women must take an active part in bringing about the kind of world where our children, our loved ones, and each citizen can grow up and live as decent human beings, free from the pressures of racism and capitalist exploitation. (176)

----

Possibly use this poem, by fellow SNCC worker Fay Bellamy:

I guess what I’m trying to write about is

The pain I feel at this moment. Can one

Write about pain? What I’m also attempting 

To ask is, How does one get used to it?


How many people will have to die before we 

Can make it a two-way street? I’m afraid of 

War, never having known it, but I’m even 

More afraid of how many of our people have 

To die.


I would much rather us die fighting to defend

Ourselves, since we die all the time anyway.


I want to cry but am not able to do so.

With each death we cry a little less.

Soon, we will not cry at all.