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Saturday, November 21, 2015



When and Where I Enter:
The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America

This 21 year old book is awesome. It was copyrighted in 1984, during the Reagan administration, a dozen or so years after the end of the Civil Rights Movement.

I'd already read Giddings'  "Sword Among Lions," her biography on Ida B Wells.  That book made me curious about the Black Women's Club Movement that began to develop a few decades after slavery among middle-class, black women.  I was amazed to figure out that black women and black men of that time (late 1800s to 1920s) were so much closer to feminist equality in their approach to life than we are now.

I've been thinking that slavery and  the poverty immediately following slavery forced black men and black women to work as a team toward advancement without hard divisions in gender roles.

There was gender bias in the black community, don't get me wrong.

However, black women of the time had fresh memory of slavery in their own heads from experience or from the oral history of their mothers to keep them from accepting or expecting their men to treat them like second class citizens - unlike white women.  Black women had to work to support the family just like the black men did.

Maybe black men had a fresher memory of domination as well for a while, too fresh to reproduce it in the direction of black women---for a short time anyway.

Black women of the late 1800s and 1920s created their own clubs and political organizations and led the anti-lynching fight. Ida B Wells did some of the first sociological studies in this country on lynching. More importantly, she knew how to affect southern white money. She traveled outside this country to where the primary cotton buyers were, England, and got anti-lynching resolutions passed there. As a result,  whites in Memphis --a location that was a primary cotton producer of the world-- were shamed into stopping lynching cold. There was no lynching at all for 20 years straight after Ida B Wells trips. Lynching was reduced across the country from all time highs.

The NAACP ( Ida B Wells one of the founders) copied her methods and used the anti-lynching issue to establish itself.

But this book gave me so much more of an overview of black history from a black female perspective that was nothing short of amazing to read. The book covers the period from slavery through The Civil Rights movement.

Blacks are divided by class just like everybody else. But it was interesting to read that people had to work to overcome that. Music was one of the things used to bring different classes of blacks together. It was a calculated and deliberate thing using music to unite black people at protests, not just a black people love music thing like I was always taught (--put this in the stereotypes black people like to believe along side the big dick one)

How sexism and poverty come together to create black women's achievement in school was made clear too. It was so obvious I couldn't believe I hadn't just come to it myself.

Black men used to quit school to support the family by getting blue collar jobs. Black women would couldn't do the same thing. At domestic jobs they were paid little or nothing, and raped besides. In order for black women to bring more money into the home, they had to get more education and leave domestics jobs.

In other words, blue collar black women (domestics) made a lot less money than black men in blue collar jobs. In white collar "women's jobs," teachers and social workers, black women better off than un-credentialed female domestics, yet still didn't make as much money as un-credentialed black men. At one point during the 60s, despite black women having more education, black women were still, on average, making 75 cents for every black male dollar.

And THIS, according to The Moynihan Report was part of black women emasculating black men and destroying the black family. Earning a wage that was critical to the family's survival and earning a wage so close to her husbands (remember it's 1965) was undermining of his masculinity.That's just one of many stereotypes about black women created by men of all colors between during the mid 20th century.

According to the author (and others)  The Moynihan Report was reviewed by many black male civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, prior to publication. So, Moynihan must have been quite shocked at the nasty reaction he got from the black community.

I'm not sure if The Moynihan Report was the first attempt to shift the effects of white racism onto black culture via the black woman, complete with black cosigning, but it surely wasn't the last.

Regarding colorism, the book was very light on this point. I know THIS book wasn't about THAT. But the book would have been a little more perfect if the author had been frank or detailed about linking middle class blackness and being light-colored, and how that came right out of house-slave/field hand. The color divide continued/continues from slavery through the 1960s to now --only most black people don't realize that historically, this is also a class divide. 

a highly rated supplemental book that addresses race, color and class 

Also, not examining the class/color divide could leave some thinking that whiteness adds IQ to the black race, just as white racists who keep saying "Obama is part white ya know" seem to believe. White racists will believe anything, I know. But a hole in our history can leave some blacks believing this as well.  We cannot afford to leave gaps where more internalized racism can get in.

Since Giddings was so brave in other sections of the book and covered so much of black history in general in order to give context to black women's history, it just seems odd to have skipped over the colorism link to class as it didn't exist.

Paula Giddings also explained much about shifting gender roles for women, of course, but also for men.

For some reason it never really occurred to me that men had a shift in ideals in regards to what "a real man" looks like, a shift that was independent of wanting equality.

There was a shift from men wanting to be
establishment/corporate/always in a suit/ideal dude (1920s - 50s?)
who did all for his family out of a sense of duty
independent dude who did
what he wanted,
when he wanted
including open promiscuity (a word generally not applied to men but it applies)

And this shift in male consciousness in the country affected black men as well.

Early in The Civil Rights Movement black women were still respected as leaders but that shifted as a result of changing ideals in masculinity, as "macho"   More overt forms of domination became seen as "true masculinity."  Shutting women down became good. As Giddings eventually points out, quite convincingly,  Black Civil Rights groups lost power at the very same time lost respect for black women's leadership.

The books also details the failings of white feminists.

Through this book I understood decision by decision how white suffragists/feminists of the 1920s through to white feminists of the 1980s turned to away from the issues of black women....

- to court southern white women (at anti-lynching's expense)

- to court anti-feminist white women (1980s, a lot of them southern white women I think)

- and even to court black men (Frederick Douglass)

RATHER THAN COURT black women for support on various issues.

And because of white women's failures to be what we call now call "intersectional,"  they have failed  at different national efforts decade after decade after decade. But the author, via other black feminists quoted (Angela Davis/Kathleen Cleaver)  make it clear that while our struggle is very different from white women...

- due to our earlier history with anti-black racism

-  due to our common goals against oppression with black men
(a link white women don't have)

-and our tendency to embrace one another despite class,

...that some of our ultimate goals are the same.  

I say that only some of our goals are the same because white feminists, mostly middle class or better, are married to a man that is perfectly capable of supporting her on his income alone. That leaves the white feminist to focus on things like abortion and slut shaming to the virtual exclusion of all else.

Black women, in the 1960s for example, were trying to figure out why they were only being paid 75% of what black men were being paid when they had more education as a group even then. (Black women have been closing that gap since this book was written though)

For black women our sexism/patriarchy struggle is different, according to Giddings, because black women have had to work side by side with black men (not a step behind like white women) due to higher rates of poverty among blacks. However, the biggest reason that black women's sexism/patriarchy struggle is different is that black women are completely intolerant of chattel treatment from black men due to chattel treatment from white men during slavery.

Black women refused to change masters from white men to black men, especially during the early days of our freedom in the U.S. And black men appear to have been, at the change of the 19th century, a lot more sensitive to this than they are today.

By comparison, large numbers of white women appear to have tolerated property status from white men, on and off for decades, for so long as an imaginary pedestal was involved.

Therefore we as black women have been "naturally" feminist in mindset before the word "feminist came to exist. The average black women may hate the word "feminism" as much or more as the average white woman because they put "feminism" the "like white people box," ironically enough.

However, black women have less tolerance for sexism than women of any color.  Black women's rates of remaining single and high rates of divorce prove this. We are, in my opinion, less conscious than the black women at the turn of the 19th century but our inability to tolerate the following is forever:


The author solidly makes the point that sexism is just as real as racism. From where I sit this is obvious.

Unlike white women, black women have never had the expectation while growing up that they are not going to fully participate in life as a fully functioning adult. Even if a black woman decides she will marry, work inside the home, and be the primary raiser of the children, if a black man dies --and they die often in the U.S.-- a black woman knows she will have to stand up and take over making of the living while still feeding the children. Black women, collectively, have had to be more dedicated to education and making a living. to sustain the self and the family that depends on her.

Gloria Steinhem once said that Black Women created feminism. In the moment when I first heard her say that, I thought she was shining the black female reporter on. I've come to the conclusion since that Glo was right on the money that particular time.

At the end of the book, Giddings makes the point that both the civil rights movement and the feminist movement stopped moving in significant ways when black women's needs were not (among many other things) taken seriously and black women withdrew.

I''m still thinking about that last bit. But I think the creation of the Black Lives Matter Movement, by three black women, just might prove she's right about this.