black history

Terms of Endangerment and Inequality within the Church ( Black History Reflection)

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Focus on Poverty and Inequality:

Even before the downturn in the economy, the most pressing social issues in black communities were poverty, especially among children, and continuing inequities in educational and employment opportunities. The recession made a bad situation worse, including among black middle-class families affected by steep declines in public-sector jobs.

Some black religious leaders are advocates because they know that the best efforts of churches are insufficient; we need charitable public policies.
Many black churches have seen their own finances plummet along with those of their members. Still, most of those churches continue to offer direct assistance to communities, by providing food, clothing, housing assistance and other services. Some black religious leaders also are advocates on economic and equality issues precisely because they know that the best efforts of churches are insufficient; we need charitable public policies.

In the post-civil rights era, protest or public policy advocacy in black churches is often made visible in the press only during electoral seasons or during political controversies, particularly around issues related to sexuality. What that obscures is the quiet, constant work of politically progressive black ministers and parishioners not only on economic and education issues, but also on criminal justice and health care reform — and, yes, even on the inclusion and protection of sexual minorities.

Just as in the civil rights movement, a minority within a minority has taken on that work, offering an alternative voice and vision now as then. These are the “invisible institutions” rendered publicly mute by excessive coverage of the flamboyance and excesses of “prosperity gospel” churches.

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Even before the emergence of the civil rights movement with black churches at its center, African American religion and progressive politics were assumed to be inextricably intertwined. In her revelatory book, Barbara Savage counters this assumption with the story of a highly diversified religious community whose debates over engagement in the struggle for racial equality were as vigorous as they were persistent. Rather than inevitable allies, black churches and political activists have been uneasy and contentious partners.

From the 1920s on, some of the best African American minds—W. E. B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Benjamin Mays, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Mary McLeod Bethune, Charles S. Johnson, and others—argued tirelessly about the churches’ responsibility in the quest for racial justice. Could they be a liberal force, or would they be a constraint on progress? There was no single, unified black church but rather many churches marked by enormous intellectual, theological, and political differences and independence. Yet, confronted by racial discrimination and poverty, churches were called upon again and again to come together as savior institutions for black communities.

The tension between faith and political activism in black churches testifies to the difficult and unpredictable project of coupling religion and politics in the twentieth century. By retrieving the people, the polemics, and the power of the spiritual that animated African American political life, Savage has dramatically demonstrated the challenge to all religious institutions seeking political change in our time.

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Among developed nations, America stands out as an exceptionally religious country. While other wealthy nations grow ever more secular, the U.S. remains devoted to religion. New research on religion, however, finds that the U.S. may not be so exceptional after all. There is growing evidence linking religiosity to income inequality—countries where there are more haves than have-nots tend to be more religious than more egalitarian societies. The U.S., for all its wealth, is also a land of vast economic inequality. America’s wealth exceeds that of European countries, but this wealth is spread out as unequally as it is in Uganda or Jamaica. And it is this high level of inequality that may help explain the so-called exceptional level of religiosity.

At least since Voltaire, scholars have predicted that religion would eventually be extinguished. It was seen as being ill-fitted for an enlightened, modern, rational world. Early sociologists saw society moving through an inevitable process of secularization. Eventually, went the theories, society would rid itself of the remnant of primitive superstition. Such theorists are still waiting for their Godot. Despite incredible rises in education, science, medicine, and overall quality of life during the 20th century, religion remains a common part of life around the globe.

In light of this continued vitality, a new take on secularization has emerged. Pippa Norris (Harvard) and Ronald Inglehart (Michigan) wrote in their book Sacred and Secular that people are more likely to be religious when their lives are at risk. Nations with harsher poverty are more likely to be religious; wealthier nations tend to be more secular.

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Of course, material insecurity is not the only reason for religion. There are some societies that clearly buck this pattern. On one side are impoverished countries that have low levels of religiosity. China and Vietnam are the primary examples. Through force, these countries have been able to clamp down on religion (though not completely extinguish it). In the other direction, the major exception to the rule is the United States. Based on wealth, education, and other measures of development, the U.S. should be far less religious than it is. Indeed, America should be one of the least religious nations on earth.

But it isn’t. Far from it. Religion continues as a prominent part of American life.

The reason may be due to inequality. The U.S. economy is distributed much more unequally than other Western economies. By the most common measures of inequality, the U.S. is ranked as the 39th most unequal economy (out of 136 countries). The U.S. is ranked near Uganda, Jamaica, Cameroon, and Cote d’Ivoire. Turkmenistan, Mali, and Cambodia have greater income inequality than the United States. Canada is ranked 101st; the entire European Union is ranked 111th. Sweden is considered the most equal nation.

Within the U.S., we can see the same pattern. States with high inequality, (e.g., states in the Mississippi Delta region) are also some of the most religious. States with more economic equality (e.g., states in New England and the Mountain West) are some of the least religious.

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In conducting this study I have found that the U.S. is typical of countries with such high inequality. The U.S. is not unusually religious—it is typical for a country with such high inequality. We examine a dozen measures of religiosity, including prayer, church attendance, belief in God, and the self-identification of “religious people.” In each case, inequality leads to greater religiosity.

One possible explanation for this pattern is that the wealthy are more attracted to religion in unequal societies because religions can justify their elevated positions. Where there is inequality, the poor are poorer and the wealthy are wealthier. With more poverty, is there a greater need for religion? The evidence for this is thin. In unequal societies, the rich are also religious. By some measures, the wealthy grow more religious and the poor become less religious where there is higher inequality. And with wealthy investors, religion is able to grow among the poor, preaching a message that helps keep the wealthy and the poor in their place.

We can see this trend among the wealthy in America. David Campbell (Notre Dame) and Robert Putnam (Harvard) report in their book American Grace that religion is far from dying among those with education and wealth. Income is unrelated to church attendance. College graduates in the U.S. are more likely to attend church than those with just a high school diploma. Moreover, over the past thirty years—decades during which inequality has risen—church attendance among those without college educations has dropped while attendance among college graduates has remained steady.

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These findings do not paint the most flattering portrait of religion. Tom Reese of the blog epiphenom said our research “is the first really solid, empirical evidence that the rich use religion as a tool to keep the poor in their place.” That is one interpretation, though we would caution that the wealthy are unlikely to be cognizant of this relationship. Rather, religions that thrive in unequal societies are likely ones that appeal to the wealthy—religions in unequal societies are more likely to seek out the rich young ruler, not the widow with only a few copper coins.

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Television( #1 Device Of The Enemy) Black History Reflection

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Considerable public concern has arisen over the issue of media diversity, as it is generally accepted that mass media has strong social and psychological effects on viewers. Film and television, for example, provide many children with their first exposure to people of other races, ethnicities, religions and cultures. What they see onscreen, therefore, can impact their attitudes about the treatment of others. One study found, for instance, that two years of viewing Sesame Street by European-American preschoolers was associated with more positive attitudes toward African and Latino Americans. Another study found that white children exposed to a negative television portrayal of African-Americans had a negative change in attitude toward blacks.

Throughout the 20th Century, minorities have made significant strides towards autonomy and equality in American society. From the right to own land to the right to vote, and further still, the squelching of Jim Crow era segregation in the South. These advances are part of who we are as Americans, yet it seems they have not fully infiltrated the collective whole of American society. Despite the political rights and power that minorities have obtained, the supremacist ideologies and racist beliefs that were indoctrinated into the American psyche are just recently being reversed. However, these ideas that were ingrained in the mindset of Americans for so long have given way to a less conscious variant of segregation. No longer is it the blatant practice upheld by the law and celebrated with hangings and beatings, but instead it is a subtle practice that is the “crown jewel” of the entertainment, media and film industries. We might not see confederate flags flying in parks or signs relegating colored people to separate facilities, but we do see minorities cast as criminals and leeches to “white upper-class” America. It is the Paramount Pictures, NBC’s, ABC’s and Universal Studio’s of the world that are the propagators of the negative stereotypes and inescapable stigmas that many thought were left behind once the shackles of segregation were broken. Unfortunately, they are resurfacing in our sitcoms, newscasts and big screen movies. Historically, the portrayal of minorities in movies and television is less than ideal. Whether its appearing in disparaging roles or not appearing at all, minorities are the victim of an industry that relies on old ideas to appeal to the “majority” at the expense of the insignificant minority.” All blame, however, cannot be placed on the white males who run the industry, for a small number of black entertainers perpetuate these stereotypes as well. Even though they defend their actions as an “insiders look” into the life of a certain minority group, they are guilty of the same offenses that opponents have indicted the media, film and entertainment industries of. We cannot contribute to the viscous cycle that is the unconscious racism of the media, film and entertainment industries; instead we need to break the cycle and formulate a new industry that is more representative of the reality that is American society today.

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“Even today the motion picture has not quite outgrown its immaturity. It still uses talented Negro players to fit into the ~d stereotypes of the loving Mammy and comic servant…”

-Edith J. R. Isaachs in “TheaterArts, “August, 1942

Blacks have been treated as second-class citizens since the inception of this country. Forcibly brought here as slaves to the white man, blacks have never been treated as completely equal to whites. Stereotypes of blacks as lazy, stupid, foolish, cowardly, submissive, irresponsible, childish, violent, sub-human, and animal-like, are rampant in today’s society. These degrading stereotypes are reinforced and enhanced by the negative portrayal of blacks in the media. Black characters have appeared in American films since the beginning of the industry in 1 888. But blacks weren’t even hired to portray blacks in early works. Instead, white actors and actresses were hired to portray the characters while in “blackface.” (http:/www.moderntimes.com/palace/black/open.htm). By refusing to hire black actors to portray black characters, demeaning stereotypes were being created as blacks were presented in an unfavorable light. In addition, blacks were purposely portrayed in films with negative stereotypes that reinforced white supremacy over blacks. This has had a tremendous effect on our society’s view of blacks since motion pictures have had more of an impact on the public mind than any other entertainment medium in the last ninety years. (Sampson 1977; 1)

The media sets the tone for the morals, values, and images of our culture. Many people in this country, some of whom have never encountered black people, believe that the degrading stereotypes of blacks are based on reality and not fiction. Everything they believe about blacks is determined by what they see on television. After over a century of movie making, these horrible stereotypes continue to plague us today, and until negative images of blacks are extinguished from the media, blacks will be regarded as second-class citizens.

We have come a long way since 1914, when Sam Lucas was the first black actor to have a lead role in a movie for his performance in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1915 is a significant date in motion picture history because D.W. Griffith released The Birth of a Nation, which supported the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group based predominately in the southern United States, and is possibly the most anti-black film ever made. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) worked very hard to try to ban the film due to its vicious portrayal of blacks as subhuman compared to the glorified Ku Klux Klan. The Birth of a Nation was important because it led to the creation of a new industry that produced “race films” for African-Americans. (http://www.moderntimes.com/palace/black/introduction.htm) These portrayed blacks in a positive light and 4’ddressed some social concerns of the community. Before “race films,” blacks were nothing more than “shufflin, shiny-faced, head-scratchin’ simpletons with bugged out eyes who leaned on brooms and spoke bad English”, but after the introduction of “race films,” blacks were depicted with more dignity and respect. (http://www.ardmoreite.com/stories/070798/ent_blacks.shtml) In order for blacks to ensure that they would have positive roles and stop reinforcing negative stereotypes through film, they had to make their own movies.

Noble Johnson, born April 18, 1881, in Marshall, MO, died January 9, 1978, in Tucaipa (San Bernadino), CA, was an actor and a producer, appearing in numerous films starting in 1916. On May 24, 1916, Johnson was ambitious enough to create his own movie company and became the president of Lincoln Motion Picture Company. This was the first movie company organized by black filmmakers. The first movie produced by Lincoln Motion Picture Company was The Realization of a Negro ‘5 Ambition and was released in mid 1916. It was the first film produced in America that featured blacks in dramatic non-stereotyped roles. (Sampson 1977; 2) It portrayed a Tuskegee graduate leaving the South and getting an admirable position from a white racist businessman for saving the man’s daughter. The second production was titled A Trooper of Troop K and was released in January of 1917. It attempted to build race pride by “showing that Afro-Americans were allied militarily with Anglo-Americans.” (Rhines 1996; 21) Lincoln Motion Picture Company was an all-black company and was the first company to produce films portraying blacks as real people with real lives. In the past, Blacks had been relegated to roles of slaves, rapists, and stupid buffoons.

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Noble Johnson’s brother, George, was responsible for the marketing of Lincoln. The Johnson brothers wanted the films to cater to a wider audience, but they were primarily booked to play in schools, special venues at churches, and the few “colored only” theaters that existed. By 1920, Lincoln had finished five films. Noble Johnson was split between his acting and producing career and was forced to give up the presidency of the company to pursue a career at Universal. Lincoln productions became so popular and had such high demand that Lincoln management decided not to wait for the returns from the films already produced to make additional films, but accepted an offer for financial backing by a white financier, P.H. Updike. Lincoln attempted to target as wide an audience as possible with their brochure, which read, “The Company will not only produce pictures entertaining to Negroes, but to all races. Our market is as large as we make it; the world is our field…” (http://www.mdle.com/ClassicFilms/Guest/lincoln.htm) Although the ambitious company was very talented, white audiences were simply uninterested at the time and the company was doomed to failure.

Another black-owned independent film company that produced “race movies” was the Micheaux Film Corporation. It was founded in 1918 by Oscar Micheaux, in Chicago, as the “Micheaux Film and Book Company Corporation. Oscar Micheaux was born January 2, 1884, in Metropolis, Illinois. In 1908, at the age of 24, Micheaux began writing novels about his life experiences as a homesteader and the few people that he knew. His first book was The Homesteader, and proved to be immensely popular. Noble and George Johnson approached Mieheaux to purchase the film rights to The Homesteader. Micheaux despised films that portrayed blacks negatively and stereotypically. Micheaux offered to direct his adaptation, but the Johnson brothers refused so Micheaux decided to produce the film himself. His first film, The Homesteader was produced in 1919 and was financed by fellow farmers, who were both black and white. Between 1919 and 1940, Micheaux produced over 35 films covering a wide variety of subjects, including the racism of Jim Crow laws, racial solidarity, assimilation, and the politics of skin color. He offered a wide-ranging look at black life in early ~ America by portraying blacks in melodramas, gangster stories, musicals, and dramas about social problems without resorting to stereotypes. (http://www.mdle.com/ClassieFilms/SpecialFeature/feb597.htm)

Micheaux rejected typical Hollywood roles for blacks. He frequently showed blacks in positions of power, authority, and respectability. He offered fully developed black characters as opposed to the simplistic, cruel stereotypes of mainstream film. On many occasions, he presented controversial subjects, such as lynching, in his films. Much like the Johnson brothers’ films, blacks would only see Micheaux’s films when they were originally released, not society at large. His films were shown in big-city ghetto houses in the North and at segregated theaters in the South as well as black churches, schools, and social organizations. In 1929, “race movies” made by black producers started to die out and Hollywood saw an opportunity. The mainstream movie industry began producing films with black casts for black audiences. The Micheaux Film Corporation ceased operations in the late 1940s, but Micheaux left a legacy – all of his films were independently made and inspired other blacks to be independent. (http://www.mdle.com/ClassicFilms/SpecialFeature/feb597.htm)

The first Hollywood film to feature an all-black cast was Hearts in Dixie, which was produced in 1929 and directed by Paul Sloane for Fox. “This film introduced to wider audiences, one of the film industry’s most polemic figures ever -Stepin Fetchit.” (http://www.moderntimes.comlpalace/black/introduction.htm) In the film, the audience is introduced to the faithful black plantation workers, toiling hard in the fields all day and relaxing at night by singing and dancing. Stepin Fetchit typifies the lazy, but goodnatured slave, unwilling to work, but forgiven for his errant ways. When the white boss playfully” kicks Fetchit in the rear-end, Fetchit grins broadly and winks slyly at the audience. This is an example of the typical screen ‘darkie.” Fetchit, a ‘black clown,” is a ‘good nigger,” lazy and shiftless, yet “all right at heart. Most importantly, he “knows his place. (Noble 1969 [1948]; 50) Fetchit’s depiction of blacks is extremely degrading and demeaning. Blacks across the country were presumed to fit Fetchit’s stereotype of being lazy, stupid, foolish, and yet well intentioned. For those who had never encountered black people before, but had seen a Stepin Fetchit film, they were left with a warped, skewed view of blacks by Fetchit’s performance.

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Stepin Fetchit was born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Perry in Key West, Florida, in 1902. He studied for the priesthood before turning to show business. He acquired his name from a racehorse that he won money on, Step and Fetch it.” The first film he appeared in was Show Boat for Universal. Fetchit rocketed to fame with ‘his wide-grinned inanity, shuffling and dawdling,” eternalizing the American concept of the “darkie.” Hearts in Dixie was Fetchit’s first starring role. His immense talent was generally used by the majority to reinforce the stereotype of the lazy, stupid, good-for-nothing Negro. (http://www.moderntimes.com/palace/black/introduction.htm) Most black Americans had a love/hate relationship with Stepin Fetchit. While he was an extremely talented entertainer and a pioneer in the film industry for blacks, at the same time, he reinforced horrible stereotypes of blacks as buffoons. In 1952, the Hollywood movie studios announced that they would stop the casting of Stepin Fetchit characters in future films because they did not want to risk offending blacks. (Sampson 1977; 248-250) Although Hollywood stated that they would not cast Stepin Fetchit characters any longer, this was not entirely true. The stereotype of blacks perpetuated by Fetchit would be present in Hollywood in one form or another for many many years to come.

Even the roles that blacks have in films produced today are sometimes reminiscent of those degrading “darkie” roles that Stepin Fetchit played so well. In the recent comedy, Nothing to Lose, starring Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence, it is abundantly clear that Hollywood has yet to abandon those negative stereotypes of blacks first created in the early 20th century. Robbins plays Nick Beam, a nice ad-executive, who loves his wife dearly. He is “the quintessential white guy, a square straight and narrow, while Lawrence plays the “wise-ass, street-smart black guy.” One day, Nick comes home from work to find his wife in bed with another man. Distraught, he drives the streets of LA aimlessly until he finds himself the victim of an attempted carjacking by Lawrence. (http://www.salonmagazine.som/july97/entertainment/nothing970718.html)

In the film, the white guy lectures the black guy about the immorality of armed robbery (“You are a bad person”) and the black guy ridicules the white guy for his wimpiness (“You don’t have the respect of your woman”). The Hollywood tradeoff is evident. The “white guy gets to be virtuous and the black guy gets to be cool.” Throughout the whole movie, Lawrence plays the part of the court jester sidekick to “Robbins’ lanky aristocrat, trading full humanity and dignity for sassing rights.” Lawrence essentially plays the part of a modern day Stepin Fetchit. In one scene, Lawrence jumps from the car and dances around comically screaming “My ass done fall asleep I dint know an ass could fall asleep!” (http://www.salonmagazine.som/july97/entertainment/nothing970718.html) Lawrence’s character perpetuates the existent negative stereotypes of blacks as buffoons and yet no one seems to notice or mind.

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Negative stereotypes of minorities in film can be found in Hollywood as recently as May 19, 1999, with the release of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” Many of the extraterrestrial creatures have ethnically tinged caricatures. One character, Jar Jar Binks, has created quite a conflict. An amphibious creature with floppy ears surprisingly similar to Rastafarian dreadlocks, he has a wide nose, bulging eyes, and fat lips, speaks in a Caribbean-style pidgin English and acts as the stupid, bumbling, good-for-nothing sidekick to the Jedi Knights. “Wall Street film critic Joe Morgenstern called Jar Jar ‘a Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hoofs, crossed annoyingly with Butterfly Mequcen,”‘ a reference to a slave servant in “Gone with the Wind.” Additionally, “Los Angeles Times critic Eric Harrison said the primitive tribe that Jar Jar belongs to – the Gungan – is ruled by a fat, buffoonish character, seemingly a caricature of a stereotypical African chieftain.”‘ Media arts professor Daniel Bernadi from the University of Arizona is troubled by the role that Jar Jar plays in the movie. “‘He really is sort of your ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy,’ Stepin Fetehit, loyal, bumbling colored other???. Even when he saves the day, he does it by accident, so his heroism is sort of a joke, and what makes it more problematic is he does it in the service of ‘whiteness.”‘ ( The legacy left by Stepin Fetchit is still evident in movies today. Hollywood loves to employ the stereotype of the lazy, loyal, stupid, bumbling, black buffoon. Sub-consciously obsessed with the reinforcement of negative stereotypes of blacks and positive stereotypes of whites, Hollywood may never abandon the “nigger” role in its films.

Perseverance: Alice Walker Kept Hope Alive: Black History Portrait

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Writer and activist Alice Walker (b. Feb. 9, 1944) made history as the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her seminal novel The Color Purple (1982), for which she won the National Book Award. American Masters presents Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, premiering nationally Friday, February 7 at 9 p.m. on PBS in honor of Walker’s 70th birthday and Black History Month. Filmmaker Pratibha Parmar’s new documentary tells Walker’s dramatic life story with poetry and lyricism, and features new interviews with Walker, Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones, Gloria Steinem, Sapphire and the late Howard Zinn in one of his final interviews.

American Masters — Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth charts Walker’s inspiring journey from her birth into a family of sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia, to the present. The film explores Walker’s relationship with her mother, poverty, and participation in the Civil Rights Movement, which were the formative influences on her consciousness and became the inherent themes in her writing. Living through the violent racism and seismic social changes of mid-20th century America, Walker overcame adversity to achieve international recognition as one of the most influential — and controversial — writers of the 20th century.

Delving into her personal life, Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth reveals the inspiration for many of her works, including Once (1968), The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), Meridian (1976), The Color Purple (1982), In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983), Possessing the Secret Joy (1992) and Overcoming Speechlessness (2010).

Praised and pilloried, Walker has driven people to express joy as well as anger and ruthless vilification over her art, personal views and global human rights advocacy. As seen in the film, Yoko Ono awarded her the 2010 LennonOno Peace Award for her ongoing humanitarian work. American Masters analyzes these aspects of the self-confessed renegade’s life and career.

American Masters — Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth is one of 50 films that form part of Women and Girls Lead, a public media campaign spearheaded by the Independent Television Service, that harnesses the power of documentary film to showcase extraordinary women and girls who are changing the world. The initiative features groundbreaking women like Alice Walker, who refuse to submit to gender stereotypes or compromise her form of artistic expression.

Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth Production Credits
Director Pratibha Parmar’s past works include feature film Nina’s Heavenly Delights (2006) and the documentary Warrior Marks (1993), based on the book of the same name that she and Walker co-authored.

Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth is a Kali Films LTD and Kali8 Productions LLC and American Masters for THIRTEEN production in co-production with Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation and the Independent Television Service and in association with Artemis Rising Foundation. Pratibha Parmar is writer, director and producer. Shaheen Haq is producer. Babeth M. VanLoo, Eve Ensler, Regina Kulik Scully and Deborah Santana are executive producers. Pratibha Parmar, Paul Monaghan and Linda Peckham are editors. Original music composed by Tena R. Clark and Tim Heintz with featured music by Christen Lien. Andy Shallal is associate producer.

For American Masters: Susan Lacy is executive producer. Stephen Segaller is executive-in-charge. For Independent Television Service: Sally Jo Fifer is executive producer.

American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, Anne Ray Charitable Trust, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers. Funding for Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth is provided in part by National Endowment for the Arts, Ms. Foundation, Berkeley Film Foundation, Rosenthal Family Foundation, Schwab Charitable Fund, Integrated Archive Systems, Inc., Screen South (UK Film Council), and Astrae Lesbian Foundation for Justice.

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Cast your Fears Aside: Find The Hero Inside Of You ( Black History)

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Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, America continues the battle, with 48.8 million people stuck below the poverty line as Congress argues about how much to cut food stamps and stops unemployment checks to millions of the long-term unemployed.

Need and poverty continue to be familiar to many.

“We must now fight to make poverty illegal,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in an interview with The Blade last week. “The reason why you have such a radical gap between wealth and poverty [is] we stepped away from the war on poverty and extended the subsidy to the wealthy.”

To fight poverty today, Mr. Jackson said in the telephone interview, President Obama “needs to address income and equality. If you enforce the law of compliance and affirmative action, you’ll have a fairer distribution of resources and contracts. The government itself must enforce its own law of a fair distribution.”

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The Rev. Robert Culp, pastor of Toledo’s First Church of God, one of the largest African-American congregations in the city, said that 50 years ago the fight against poverty and racism was a fight against the system.

“The laws of the land permitted, allowed, almost encouraged racism and the kinds of discrimination and prejudice that happened,” he said. “The real progress of these last 50 years has been primarily changing the law.”

Mr. Jackson agreed: “The key to change is the law. After all, slavery was legal. Jim Crow was legal. Denying people the right to vote was legal. We had to fight to change the laws.”

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in his January, 1964, State of the Union address a few months after a speech by Dr. King. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in his January, 1964, State of the Union address a few months after a speech by Dr. King.

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Mr. Jackson’s work toward economic justice dates from the inception of the war on poverty. An ordained Baptist minister, he is a civil rights elder — one of those closest to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from 1965 until his assassination in 1968. Dr. King gave a speech in August, 1963, on poverty, and then President Johnson declared war on poverty in his January, 1964, State of the Union address.

The war on poverty “opens in Athens, Ohio, in Appalachia,” with President Johnson speaking there, Mr. Jackson said. That helped to “remove white-based fear. He deracialized the debate,” Mr. Jackson told The Blade, pointing out that President Johnson’s “next speech was affirmative action, to include women and people of color.”

The Rev. Robert Culp, pastor of Toledo’s First Church of God, one of the largest African-American congregations in the city, said that 50 years ago the fight against poverty and racism was a fight against the system.

“The laws of the land permitted, allowed, almost encouraged racism and the kinds of discrimination and prejudice that happened,” he said. “The real progress of these last 50 years has been primarily changing the law.”

Mr. Jackson agreed: “The key to change is the law. After all, slavery was legal. Jim Crow was legal. Denying people the right to vote was legal. We had to fight to change the laws.”

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in his January, 1964, State of the Union address a few months after a speech by Dr. King. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in his January, 1964, State of the Union address a few months after a speech by Dr. King.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
Mr. Jackson’s work toward economic justice dates from the inception of the war on poverty. An ordained Baptist minister, he is a civil rights elder — one of those closest to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from 1965 until his assassination in 1968. Dr. King gave a speech in August, 1963, on poverty, and then President Johnson declared war on poverty in his January, 1964, State of the Union address.

The war on poverty “opens in Athens, Ohio, in Appalachia,” with President Johnson speaking there, Mr. Jackson said. That helped to “remove white-based fear. He deracialized the debate,” Mr. Jackson told The Blade, pointing out that President Johnson’s “next speech was affirmative action, to include women and people of color.”

Mr. Culp will speak on the topic at 2 p.m. Feb. 22 at the McMaster Center in the Main Library, 325 Michigan St., as part of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library’s Raising Awareness Black History Month celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He is the co-chairman of the Toledo Community Coalition, which, along with The Blade, is sponsoring the “Changing Minds & Changing Lives: Combating Racism” community forums.

Opportunities

“Equal educational opportunity and equal adequate economic opportunity are important,” Mr. Jackson said. Even today, “people feel a sense of desperation, with the scapegoats and people manipulated by fear. Many whites fear if you have affirmative action, your jobs will go from men to women, from white to black.

“Our jobs did not go from male to female, they went from here to yonder. [It’s] because of cheap labor, it comes back to cheap labor abroad. There are products made in those markets and sold back here. The truth is, the largest employer was General Motors. Now it’s Walmart. The shrinking does not come from racial injustice and inequality; it comes from economic forces.”

“I certainly agree that it’s economic,” said Sister Virginia Welsh, director of the Padua Center in Toledo, which, among its activities, works with children in trouble “so they have other options, to keep them in school, keep them educated so they can get a job.”

“There is institutionalized racism,” she said, racism that keeps people of color in poverty. “They can’t get jobs. Education in the center city schools is below par and the kids are not going to get a job, and that keeps them in the cycle of poverty.”

Role of racism

Injustice and inequality are present in racism today, Mr. Jackson said. And, he said “there’s no doubt” that sentiment against President Obama in the country and in the Republican Party is based in racism.

“Some of it is not even subtle, challenging his character, challenging his religion, challenging his birthplace, the attempt to make him marginal, the attempt to deny him legitimacy — ‘You’re not one of us.’ — Of course, it is fueled by race. Look at the states most fervent against him; they were against the civil rights law,” he said.

There is great irony, Mr. Jackson said, in the race-oriented objectors who, he said, “are beneficiaries of the civil rights law. Without the law, you wouldn’t have the New South, high-tech industry [there]. Without the civil rights law, you wouldn’t have the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons. You wouldn’t have had the Olympics in Atlanta.”

“The whole South changed because of success in removing barriers of fear,” Mr. Jackson said. “Now people are living out the new law, and their worst fears were never realized.”

Johnson’s impact

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the law and society, Mr. Jackson told The Blade, crediting President Johnson for leading the legislative effort.

“One must not dismiss Lyndon Johnson. If Dr. King only had the dream, minus the new law, it would have become like vapor, like the wind. Lyndon Johnson fulfilled the dream with the new law,” he said. “His intervention changed the application of racist law.

“We couldn’t rent a hotel room in the Holiday Inn; we couldn’t enter Howard Johnson through the front door,” Mr. Jackson said. “It took us nine years to get to a civil rights law, driven by Lyndon Johnson. King raised the issue of righteous indignation, and Lyndon Johnson brought forth the legislation to match the indignation.”

The battle ahead

Fifty years after the expression of Dr. King’s dream of an equal America, “the real battle presently to me is moral and spiritual,” Pastor Culp said.

“The majority do not realize that racism is in the very fabric of America, and no matter how hard we scrub it, the stain may not be removed — it’s another generation or two ahead of us,” Pastor Culp said. “We’re beginning to really see the source of our American dilemma. We’ve been treating the symptoms. The real deal is racism.”

The Toledo spiritual leader said the issues of race and poverty come down to the nature of man. “He’s got to feel equal or superior to his fellow man, and you cannot deal with that on a legal basis. It has to become the will of man that has to be impacted and changed.”

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Black woman empowerment / Sadie and Maude

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black women

We can say “Peace on Earth.” We can sing about it, preach about it or pray about it, but if we have not internalized the mythology to make it happen inside us, then it will not be. -Betty Shabazz

All great achievements require time. -Maya Angelou

Some subjects are so complex, so unyielding of facile insight, that it will not do to think about them in the ordinary way. Black women, their lot and their future-is for me such a subject. Thus, the new crop of literature concerning women – attuned to the peculiar relationship between white women and white men in America – has inspired me much, but less than the poetry of the great black poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, who writes for me and about me. Take, for example Miss Brooks’ poem, “Sadie and Maude,” * a sad ballad that in a few stanzas touches in some intimate respect all of us who are black women:

Maude went to college.
Sadie stayed at home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine-tooth comb.
She didn’t leave a tangle in.
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chits
In all the land.

Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maude and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.

When Sadie said last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie had left as heritage
Her fine-tooth comb.)

Maude, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.

*Gwendolyn Brooks, Selected Poems, Harper & Row, N.Y. 1963

Sadie and Maude are blood sisters, each in her own way living the unrequited life of the black woman. Sadie has two children out wedlock, but the Sadies of this world also include black women who have been married but have lost their husbands in America’s wars against the black family. Maude “went to college” – or wherever black women have gone over the years to escape the perils of living the nearly predestined half-life of the black woman in this country. Maude, the “thin brown mouse” lives alone rather than incur Sadie’s risks or risk Sadie’s pleasures.

The difference in the lives of those two women cannot conceal the over-riding problem they share – loneliness, life lacking in the chance to develop a relationship with a man or satisfactory family relationships. The complexities of the problems facing black women begin to unfold. Not on1y must we work out an unoppressive relationship with our men; we must – we can at last – establish a relationship with them de novo.

In this respect, we conceive our mission in terms that are often different from the expressed goals of many white women revolutionaries. To be sure, our goals and theirs in their general outlines are same, but black women confront a task that is as delicate as it is revolutionary. For black women are part of a pre-imminent struggle whose time has come – the fight for black liberation. If women were suddenly to achieve equality with men tomorrow, black women would continue to carry the entire array of utterly oppressive handicaps associated with race. Racial oppression of black people in America has done what neither class oppression nor sexual oppression, with all their perniciousness, have ever done: destroyed an entire people and their culture. The difference is between exploitation and slavery. Slavery partakes of all the worst excesses of exploitation – and more – but exploitation does not always sink to the miserable depths of slavery.

Yet black women cannot – must not – avoid the truth about their special subservience. They are women with all that that implies. If some have been forced into roles as providers or, out of the insecurity associated with being a black woman alone, have dared not develop independence, the result is not that black women are today liberated women. For they have been “liberated” only from love, from family life, from meaningful work, and just as often from the basic comforts and necessities of an ordinary existence. There is neither power nor satisfaction in such a “matriarchy.” There is only the bitter knowledge that one is a victim.

Still the stereotypic image of matriarchy has basic appeal to some black men who, in their frustration may not see immediately the counter-revolutionary nature of such a battle cry. To allow the white oppressor to share the burden of his responsibility with the black woman is madness. It is comparable to black people blaming Puerto Ricans for competing with them for jobs, thus relieving the government of the pressures it must have to fulfill its duty to provide full employment. Surely, after hundreds of years black men realize that imprecision in detecting the Enemy is an inexcusable fault in a revolutionary.

But our problems only begin with the reconstruction of the black family. As black men begin to find dignified work after so many generations, what roles will their women seek? Are black people to reject so many of white society’s values only to accept its view of woman and of the family? At the moment when the white family is caught in a maze of neurotic contradictions, and white women are supremely frustrated with their roles, are black women to take up such troubled models? Shall black women exchange their ancient insecurity for the white woman’s familial cocoon? Can it serve us any better than it has served them? And how will it serve black men?

There is no reason to repeat bad history. There is no reason to envy the white woman who is sinking in a sea of close-quartered affluence, where one’s world is one’s house, one’s peers one’s children, and one’s employer one’s husband. Black women shall not have gained if Sadie and Maude exchange the “fine-tooth comb” and the “old house” for the empty treasures white women are today trying to turn in.

We who are black have a chance for something better. Europeans who came to this country struggled to be accepted by it and succeeded. Occasionally they changed America – for the better and for the worse – but mostly they took it as it was, hoping it would change them. Black people imitated this process pitifully, generation after generation, but were just so much oil on all that melting pot water. Today we are close to being true outsiders, no longer desiring to get in on any terms and at any cost. Racial exclusion has borne ironic fruit. We are perhaps the only group that has come to these shores who has ever acquired the chance to consciously avoid total Americanization with its inherent, its rank faults. On the road to equality there is no better place for blacks to detour around American values than in foregoing its example in the treatment of its women and the organization of its family life.

With black family life so clearly undermined in the American environment, blacks must remake the family unit, not imitate it. Indeed, this task is central to black liberation. The black male will not be returned to his historic strength – the foremost task of the black struggle today – if we do not recreate the strong family unit that was a part of our African heritage before it was dismembered by the slave-owning class in America. But it will be impossible to reconstruct the black family if its central characters are to be crepe paper copies acting out the old white family melodrama. In that failing production, the characters seem set upon a course precisely opposite to ours. White men in search of endless financial security have sold their spirits to that goal and begun a steady emasculation in which the fiscal needs of wife and family determine life’s values and goals. Their now ungrateful wives have begun to see the fraud of this way of life, even while eagerly devouring its fruits. Their even more ungrateful children are in bitter rejection of all that this sort of life signifies and produces. White family life in America today is less than a poor model for blacks. White family life is disintegrating at the moment when we must reforge the black family unit. The whole business of the white family – its softened men, its frustrated women, its angry children – is in a state of great mess.

But it would be naive to think that the temptations aspects of this sort of life are incapable of luring black people into a disastrous mockery. The ingredients are all there. We are a people in search of what for us has been the interminably elusive goal of economic security. Wretchedly poor for 350 years in a country where most groups have fattened, we could come to see the pain of much of white family life as bearable when measured against the tortures we have borne. Our men, deliberately emasculated as the only way to enforce their servile status, might easily be tempted by a family structure which, by making them the financial head of the household, seemed to make them its actual head. In our desperation to escape so many suffering decades, we might trip down the worn path taken by so many in America before us.

If we are to avoid this disaster, the best, perhaps the only, place to begin is in our conception of the black woman. After all, the immediate tasks of the black man are laid out for him. It is the future role of the black woman that is problematical. And what she is allowed to become – or relegated to – will shape not simply her future but that of the black family and the fate of its members.

If she is forced into the current white model, she is doomed to the fate of the “Empty Woman” about whom Miss Brooks has also written:

“The empty woman had hats
To show. With feathers. Wore combs
In polished waves. Wooed cats.”
If so she will be unfit for the onerous responsibilities she must meet if the struggle for black freedom is to bring us out of our ancient bondage into a truly new and liberated condition.

In any case it is too late for any group to consciously revert to old familial patterns of male dominance and female servility. Those roles have their roots in conditions of life that are rapidly disappearing, and especially so in this country. If the woman’s place has historically been at home, it was at least in part because there was much work to be done there, and as the natural custodian of the children, it seemed logical for her to do it. But today there is neither so much work to be done there, nor so many children. Doitall appliances and technology are making housework a parttime job, freeing millions of women to do something else. An increasing array of birth preventatives has released women from the unwanted multiples of children it was difficult to avoid in the past. The effect on the family of these work and child liberating phenomena will reverberate in ways we still cannot foresee.

Yet it is certain that the institution of the family will under”: radical alteration largely through the new roles women will have to seek. With birth preventatives and with world overpopulation, many couples will rethink whether it is wise to have children at all. And even though most may choose to have children, it is doubtful that it will any longer be Prestigious or wise to have very many. With children no longer the universally accepted reason for marriage, marriages are going to have to exist on their own merits. Marriages are going to have to exist because they possess inherent qualities which make them worthy of existing, a plane to which the institution has never before been elevated. For marriage to develop such inherent qualities, the woman partner heretofore oriented toward fulfilling now outmoded functions will have to seek new functions. Whether black or white, if American women are to find themselves, they must begin looking outside the home. This will undoubtedly lead them into doing and thinking about matters now pretty much reserved for men. Inevitably, women are going to acquire new goals and a new status.

We who are black are taking up the longdelayed work of familybuilding at an historic moment in history. We embark upon this goal at a time when the family institution in America is in a state of great flux. This is fortunate happenstance, for had we been about this task in the years immediately following World War II, we might have fallen into the mold which today traps white families, and especially white women.

As it is, we have a chance to pioneer in forging new relationships between men and women. We have a chance to make family life a liberating experience instead of the confining experience it more often has been.

We have a chance to free woman and with her the rest of us.

Black Women and the Struggle for Liberation

In the early part of the sixties, social scientists became more and more interested in the family structure of blacks. Unemployment and so called crime among Blacks was increasing and some of these “scientists” decided that the problems of the Black community were caused by the family pattern among Black people. Since Blacks were deviating from the “norm” more female heads of households, higher unemployment, more school “dropouts” these pseudoscientists claimed that the way to solve these problems was to build up a more stable Black family in accord with the American patriarchal pattern.

In 1965, the U.S. government published a booklet entitled “The Negro Family The Case for National Action.” The author (U.S. Dept. of Labor) stated, “In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarcal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole.” According to this theory, the institution of slavery led to a breakdown in the Black family and the development of a socalled matriarchy, in which the Black woman was “dominant.” This “matriarchal” structure was held responsible, in turn, for contributing to the “emasculation” of the Black man. In other words, as these people would have it, the oppression of blacl people was partly caused by the chief victims of this oppression, Black Women!

This myth of the Black Matriarchy has had wide spread influence, and is even widely believed in the Black community today. It is something we have to fight against and expose. To show just how wrong this theory is, let’s look at the real condition and history of the socalled dominant Black woman.

Under slavery, once arriving on American soil, the African social order of Black people was broken down. Tribes were separated and shipped to different plantations. Slaves underwent a process of de-socialization and had to adopt a new culture and language. Black men greatly outnumbered Black women. Sociologist E.F. Frazier indicates in his book The Negro Family In the U.S.,that this probably led to “numerous cases of sex relations between Negro slaves and indentured white women.” The “marriage” rate between Black men and white women became so high that interracial marriages were banned.

Prior to this time, Black men were encouraged to marry white women in order to enrich the slavemaster’s plantation with more human labor. The Black man in some instances was able to select a mate of his choice. However in contrast, the Black woman had little choice in the selection of her mate. Living in a patriarchal society, she became a mere breeding instrument. Just as Black men were chained and branded under slavery, so were Black women. Lying nude on the slave ship, some women gave birth to children in the scorching hot sun.

There were economic interests involved in the Black women having as many offspring as she could bear. After her child was born, she was allowed to nurse and fondle the infant only at the slavemaster’s discretion. There are cases of Black women who greatly resisted being separated from their children and having them placed on the auction block even though they were subject to flogging. And in some cases, the Black woman took the life of her own children rather than subjit them to the oppression of slavery.

The Master’s Household
There are those who say that because the Black woman was in charge of carin for the slavemaster’s children, she became an important figure in the household. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Black woman became the most exploited “member” of the master’s household. She scrubbed the floors, washed dishes, cared for the children and was often subjected to the lustful advances of Miss Ann’s husband. She became an unpaid domestic. However, she worked outside as well. Still today, many Black women continue to work in households as underpaid domestics. And as W.E.B. DuBois stated in his essay The Servant in the House, “The personal degradation of their work is so great that any white man of decency would rather cut his daughter’s throat than let her grow up to such a destiny.”

In this way arose the “mammy” of Black women an image so embedded in the system that its impact is still felt today. Until recently, the mass media has aided in reinforcing this image of portraying Black women as weighing 200 pounds, holding a child to her breast, and/or scrubbing floors with a rag around her head. For such a one, who was constantly portrayed with her head to the floor and her behind facing the ceiling, it is ludicrous to conceive of any dominant role. Contrary to popular opinion, all Black women do not willingly submit to the sexual advances of white men. Probably every Black woman has been told the old myth that the only ones who have had sexual freedom in this country are the white man and the Black woman. But, in many instances even physical force has been used to compel Black women to submit. Frazier gives a case in his book where a Black woman who refused the sexual advances of a white man was subdued and held to the ground by Black men while the “Master” stood there whipping her.

In some instances, Black women stood in awe of the white skin of their masters and felt that copulation with a white man would enhance her slave status. There was also the possibility that her mulatto offspring would achieve emancipation. Her admiration of white skin was not very different from the slave mentality of some Blacks which caused them to identify with their master. In some cases, the Black woman who submitted herself sexually played a vital role in saving the life of the Black man. If she gave the master a “good lovin’,” she could sometimes prevent her husband from being horsewhipped or punished.

“Emancipation”
The myth that is being perpetrated in the Black community states that somehow the Black woman has man aged to escape much of the oppression of slavery and that all avenues of opportunity were opened to her. Well, this is highly interesting, since in 1870 when the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed citizens the right to vote, this right did not apply to the Black woman. During reconstruction, those Blacks who served as justices of the peace and superintendents of education, and in municipal and state governments, were men. Although the reconstruction period was far from being an era of “Black Rule,” it is estimated that thousands of Black men used their votes to help keep the Republicans in power. The Black women remained an the outside.

To be sure, the Black man had a difficult time exercising his right to vote. Mobs of whites waited for him at the voting booth. Many were threatened with the loss of jobs and subjected to the terror of Klan elements. The political activity for the Black an was relatively ephemeral, but while it lasted, many offices fox the first time were occupied by them. The loose ties established between Black men and women during slavery were in many cases dissolved after emancipation. In order to test their freedom, some Black men who remained with their wives began flogging them. Previously, this was a practice reserved only for the white master. In the later part of the 1860s and early 70s, female heeds of households began to crop up. Black men who held Jobs as skilled craftsmen, carpenters, etc., were being driven out of these occupation. Since the Republicans no longer needed the Black vote after 1876, the “welfare” of Blacks was placed in southern hands. Black men found it very difficult to obtain jobs and in some instances found employment only as strikebreakers. Black men, who were made to feel “less of a man” in a racist oppressive system, turned toward Black women, and began to blame them for the position they occupied.

The Black woman, in some cases, left to herself with children to feed, also went looking for employment. Many went to work in the white man’s kitchen. DuBois in the same essay mentioned earlier, The Servant In the HOLLY, gives a vivid portrayal of the exploitation of domestic workers. He speaks of the personal degradation of their work, the fact that they are still in some instances made to enter and exit by the side door, that they are referred to by their first name, paid extremely low wages, and subjected to the sexual exploitation of the “master.” All this proves that because the Black woman worked, it did not make her more “independent” than the white woman. Rather, she became more subject to the brutal exploitation of capitalism as Black, as worker. as woman.

The “Free” Labor Market
I mentioned earlier that after emancipation Black men had a difficult time obtaining employment, that after emancipation he was barred from many of the crafts he had been trained in under slavery. The labor market for Black women also proved to be a disaster. Black women entered the needle trades in New York in the l900s, as a cheap source of labor for the employers, and in Chicago in 1917, Black women who were willing to work for lower wages, were used to break a strike. There was general distrust between Black and white workers, and in some cities, white workers refused to work beside Black women and walked off their jobs.

The Black woman has never held high status in this society. Under slavery she was mated like cattle and mere breeding instrument. Today, the majority women are still confined to the most menial and lowest paid occupations domestic and laundry workers, file clerks, counter workers, and other service occupations. These lobs in most cases are not yet unionized.

Today, at least 20 percent of Black women are employed as private household workers, and their median income is $1200. These women have the double exploitation of first doing drudgery in someone else’s home, and then having to take care of their own households as well. Some are forced to leave their own children without adequate supervision in order to earn money by taking care of someone else’s children. Sixtyone percent of Black married women were in the labor force in 1966. Almost onefourth of Black families are headed by females, double the percentage for whites. Due to the shortage of Black men, most Black women are forced to accept a relationship on male terms. In Black communities there sometimes exists a type of serial polygamy a situation where many women share the sme man, one at a time.

Black is Beautiful
As if Black women did not have enough to contend with, being exploited economically as a worker, being used as a source of cheap labor because she is a female, and being treated even worse because she is Black, she also finds herself fighting the beauty “standards” of a white western society. Years ago it was a common sight to see Black women wearing blond wigs and rouge, the object being to get as close to the white beauty standard as one possibly could. But, in spite of the fact that bleaching creams and hair straighteners were used, the trick just didn’t work. Her skin was still black instead of fair, and her hair kinky instead of straight. She was constantly being compared to the white woman, and she was the antithesis of what was considered beautiful. Usually when she saw a Black man with a white woman, the image she had of herself became even more painful.

But now, “Black is beautiful,” and the Black woman is playing a more prominent role in the movement. But there is a catch! She is still being told to step back and let the Black man come forward and lead. It is ironic that at a time when all talents and abilities should be utilized to aid in the struggle of national liberation, Stokely Carmichael comes along and declares that the position of women in the movement is “prone.” And some years later, Eldridge Cleaver in referring to the status of women said they had “pussy power.” Since then, the Black Panther Party has somewhat altered its view, saying “women are our other half.” When writing their political statement, the Republic of New Africa stated they wanted the right of all Black men to have as many wives as they can afford. This was based on their conception that this is the way things were in Africa. (In their publication The New Africa written in December 1969, one of the points in their Declaration of Independence seeks “to assure equality of rights for the sexes.” Whether this means that the Black woman would be allowed to have as many husbands as she can afford, I have no way of knowing.)

Abortion and Birth Control
So today, the Black woman still finds herself up the creek. She feels that she must take the nod from “her man,” because if she “acts up” then she just might lose him to a white woman. She must still subordinate herself, her own feelings and desires, especially when it comes to the right of having control of her own body. When the birth control pill first came into use, it was experimentally tested on Puerto Rican women. It is therefore not surprising that Third World people look at this example and declare that both birth control and abortion is a form of genocide a device to eliminate Third World people. However, what is at issue is the right of women to control their own bodies. Enforced motherhood is a form of male supremacy; it is reactionary and brutal. During slavery, the plantation masters forced motherhood on Black women in order to enrich their plantations with more human labor.

It is women who must decide whether they wish to have children or not. Women must have the right to control their own bodies. And this means that we must also speak out against forced sterilization and against compelling welfare mothers to accept contraceptive methods against their will. There is now a women’s liberation movement growing in the United States. By and large, Black women have not played a prominent role in this movement. This is due to the fact that many Black women have not yet developed a feminist consciousness. Black women see their problem mainly as one of national oppression. The middle class mentality of some white women’s liberation seem to be irrelevant to Black women’s needs. For instance, at the November 1969 Congress to Unite Women in New York, some of the participants did not want to take a stand against the school tracking system fearing that “good” students thrown in with “bad” ones would cause the “brilliant” students to leave school, thus lowering the standards. One white woman had the gall to mention to me that she felt women living in Scarsdale were more oppressed then Third World women trapped in the ghetto! There was also little attempt to deal with the problems of poor women, for example the fact that women in Scarsdale exploit Black women as domestics.

The movement must take a clearer stand against the horrendous conditions in which poor women are forced to work. Some women in the movement are in favor of eliminating the state protective laws for women. However, poor women who are forced to work in sweatshops, factories and laundries need those laws on the books. Not only must the State protective laws for women remain on the books, but we must see that they are enforced and made even stronger.

Women in the women’s liberation movement assert that they are tired of being slaves to their husbands. confined to the household performing menial tasks. While the Black woman can sympathize with this view, she does not feel that breaking her ass every day from nine to five is any form of liberation. She has always had to work. Before the Emancipation Proclamation she worked in the fields of the plantation, as Malcolm X would say, “from can’t see in the morning until can’t see at night.”

And what is liberation under this system? Never owning what you produce, you are forced to become a mere commodity on the labor market. Workers are never secure, and their length of employment is subject to the ups and downs in the economy. Women’s liberation must relate to these problems. What is hampering it now is not the fact that it is still composed of mainly white middle class women, Rather it is the failure to engage in enough of the type of actions that would draw in and link up with the masses of women not yet in the movement., including working and Third World women. Issues such as daycare, support for the striking telephone workers, support for the laws which improve working conditions for women, and the campaign to free Joan Bird are a step in the right direction. I don’t feel, however, that white women sitting around a room, browbeating one another for their “racism,” saying, “I’m a racist, I’m a racist,” as some women have done, is doing a damn thing for the Black woman. What is needed is action.

Women’s Liberation must not isolate itself from the masses of women or the Third World community. At the same time, white women cannot speak for Black women. Black women must speak for themselves. The Black Women’s Alliance has been formed in New York to begin to do this. We felt there was a need for a revolutionary Black women’s movement that spoke to the oppression of Black women as Blacks, as workers, as women. We are involved in reading, discussion, consciousness raising and taking action. We feel that Black women will have a difficult time relating to the more bitter antimale sentiment in the women’s liberation movement, fearing that it will be a device to keep Black men and women fighting among themselves and diverting their energies from the real enemy.

Many Black women realize it will take both men and women to wage an effective struggle. However, this does not negate the necessity of women building our own movement because we must build our struggle now and continue it after the revolution if we are to achieve real emancication.

When the Third World woman begins to recognize the depth of her oppression, she will move to form alliances with all revolutionary forces available and settle for nothing less than complete destruction of this racist, capitalist, male-dominated system.