Link Love – A Historian :)

Spurred on by a comment on my NIU post the other day, I went over to check out a blog I was unaware of entitled: Historiann: History and Sexual Politics 1492 to the Present. As a historian, of course, I laughed just reading that title. However, the reason I am writing this post is not insular disciplinary amusement, but rather two posts that I think my readers should read: Heartbreaking. Now Where is Our Outrage and Jacking the Internet for the Forces of Evil.

Heartbreaking addresses the NIU situation with references to articles and research on male violence, masculinity, and homophobia within the context of large scale school shootings. As we try to grapple with the recent, multiple, school shootings, as well as the coming anniversaries of others, I think it is important to look to the existing research on the subject and try to formulate better ways of addressing disaffection, isolation, and violence. I’ve argued that “gang violence” shootings at school are a different category because the targets are predetermined and related to a specific relations and/or interactions beyond the desire to create mayhem; yet, it might also be worthwhile to read books on the phenomena in order to cull why some gang members, or individuals with single person conflicts, choose violence on school grounds as the place to solve their problems. In other words, perhaps reading around the topic will give us better insight into both issues.

I would also argue that when you are done with the sociological texts mentioned in Heartbreaking, that you might want to move into the psychological ones written about identity formation, pathology, and development particularly within the realm of abuse literature. Oddly enough, yesterday I went in search of the latest DSM with a friend who needs it for a job interview, the conversation that ensued only strengthened my belief that knowledge in this arena is helpful in multiple others including academe. (The DSM has its problems, its implications in queer history among them, and certainly isn’t something you should go out and buy as a non-provider. I would also argue against popular psych books for the most part.)

Jacking the Internet, calls into question one of two widely disbursed letters in support of Hillary Clinton written by prominent white feminists. The Morgan letter, which I only referenced briefly in my own posts but which others have been dissecting for some time, apparently misattributed a quote to Harriet Tubman in order to harness the voice of a powerful black female historical figure in order to silence expected criticism about the lack of intersectionality in Morgan’s construction of gender or her racialized depiction of black female understanding of gender oppression.

The whole thing reminds me of an episode of NCIS I watched last night, where the Director of NCIS (a white woman, in an expensive evening gown and enough jewelry to open a small shop) demands to be let into the operating room where only doctors are allowed. Despite a large sign that says she cannot enter and with little regard for the consequences of violating the protocol either for the health of the patients inside or for the continued employment of the working class nurse/receptionist, who is black, the Director asserts both race and class privilege to get her way. A Black nurse (overweight, in her white jacket and ugly floral scrubs indicating her position, jewelry free) tells her the rules and refuses to let her in. The Director pulls out her credentials and looks down her nose. The black woman rolls her eyes and repeats the rules. The Director then calls Condoleezza Rice, or Condi as she calls her without skipping a beat, snorting at the nurses assertion that calling the President would not change the rules. One word from Condi and the Director’s privilege to act in elitest and offensive ways when she isn’t getting her way are restored. The message, both subtle and overt, are quite clear and oddly like calling up a black female historical figure in anticipation of black female opposition to one’s privilege at their expense.

I have said this before, there are real issues of sexism, misogyny, and inequality involved in the depiction, reportage, and reception of Hillary Clinton in this election and in her overall career. The logic of the oppression that she is experiencing is lost on no one familiar with gender oppression, and would certainly not be lost on anyone unfamiliar if credible examples were used to illustrate them. An easy way to appeal across race and class to women for Clinton is to make a solid argument about gendered oppression and the fear of female leadership that we must not allow to impact the outcome of the primaries or the final election. Arguing for gender consciousness in the electoral process is not the same as arguing against racial consciousness. Nor does such an argument rely on hierarchies of oppression that demean the oppression or commitment of marginalized women. It also allows us to work within our commonalities as women for gender equity regardless of our candidate of choice.

Returning to NCIS again for a moment, I think we can also see how this option works in the same ER situation. Moments after the Director’s power play, a distraught lab tech named Abby comes in requesting the same thing. She is also white but lacks the same economic or social capital of the Director. After frantically trying to express herself, all the while deferring to the rules and the nurse, Abby simply begs for an exception. The same black nurse, clearly seeing how distraught she is (and also thinking her somewhat freakish) lets Abby in. In this instance, Abby does not assume race and class privilege no exert either in an attempt to get what she wants. Instead she appeals to the logic of the situation, both the necessity of restricted operating areas in a hospital and the position that the nurse will be in if she breaks the rules. Rather than seeing the nurse as an ignorant and/or defiant obstacle to be demeaned and dismissed, Abby recognizes their common class position and their potential for common gender action; race does not blind her to the potential for sisterhood. As a result of the respect and equality she affords the nurse, Abby gets what she needs without conflict or lasting oppressive rifts.

In the case of the Morgan article, there is no such understanding of commonality despite her repetition of this phrase in her letter and in her published texts. Her only defense for the quote is that her source was bad. Someone else made it up first & presumably for the same reasons: to argue that black people oppress themselves through willful or unintentional ignorance or internalized oppression. Thus the intent behind the use of the quote, which Morgan is guilty of, is part of the real problem. The quote shifts blame for racial oppresion from the ways in which certain segments of society are erasing us from the political landscape or demeaning our ability to understand and participate in it from multiple vantage points & places it squarely on the backs of oppressed people of color. And that part of Morgan’s argument is ultimately what has caused conflict and pain in feminism now and in the past. If she had made a solid argument based on gender with the understanding that gender is multiplied by and multiplicative of other oppressions, she would not have needed to demean black women’s gender consciousness, solidarity, or experience of oppression to make her point. When she and others choose racialized arguments over intersectional ones they also hurt the Clinton campaign more than they help.

I encourage you all to read the Jacking the Internet post not only for the important insight into how this quote came to be, but also for what it tells us about how history is perverted through repetition. The post also address
es how the internet contributes to the misappropriation or wholesale rewrite of histories and what that means for the way we remember and re-member the past. As many of us are using the internet as an open format for documentation we must also consider the important lessons of interrogating our sources and triangulating data. On that level, Historiann’s post is a good reminder on how to support an argument properly. (And yes, I love that this post inadvertently argues that racialized argument construction does not aid one in finding proper data nor in making a proper argument. ha!)


2 thoughts on “Link Love – A Historian :)

  1. Prof. BW, I know you know this book, but I just want to put it out there for your readers that Nell Painter’s now 12-year old biography of Sojourner Truth (__Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol) is brilliant 20 different ways, but one of her major contributions is to illustrate the myth-making uses to which Truth has been put by white feminists. It’s kind of sad that Morgan fell prey to that old canard of ventrioloquizing Truth in the serivce of her own argument.And, full confession: I caucused for HRC earlier this month, but it seems to me now (2 weeks later) that Obama clearly had a superior strategy, and his organizational skills totally kicked HRC’s at least in my state. I always say that nothing succeeds like success, and Obama’s “fresh start” rhetoric is sounding more appealing to me as some of the same old Clinton team make some of the same old mistakes/gaffes…

  2. I actually have some issues with the intro to Painter’s book where she says Sojourner came to her in a dream . . . but I defer to the African-Americanist Historians on this one and they seem to be in agreement that it is solid scholarship as far as I know.

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