Posts tagged Frederick Douglass

Revolution Day

Other than setting off explosions and taking strong drink, indulging in nationalist nostalgia is probably the most popular way to celebrate July 4th in the U.S. of A. It is, we are told, a day to sing national hymns, pledge our allegiance, have a parade, say a few words about the glory of this old Union, and fly the military colors from every available flagpole. We are told that it is, above all, a day sanctified for celebrating the birth of a new nation.

No it isn’t.

July 4th is not the anniversary of the birth of a new government; it is the anniversary of the ignominious death of a tyranny. On July 4th, 1776, there was no such thing as the United States of America, and the events of that day did nothing to create it. The regime under which we live today was not proclaimed until almost a decade later, on September 17, 1787. What was proclaimed on July 4th was not the establishment of a new government, but the dissolution of all political allegiance to the old one. All for the best: in this secessionist republic of one, we see no reason to celebrate the birth and rise of a foreign power; and in any case a transfer of power from London to Washington, from King George III to President George I, is no more worthy of celebration than any other coup d’etat. What is worth celebrating is this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it …. [W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

— Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

That is, the revolutionary doctrine that we all, each of us, are the equal of every puffed-up prince and President—that as such you, personally, have every right to refuse the arbitrary orders of tyrants—to ignore their sanctimonious claims of sovereignty—to sever all political connections if you want—and to defend yourself from any usurper who would try to rule you without your consent. There is no man or woman on this earth who has the natural right to rule over you, and you have every right, whenever and wherever you will to do so, to oppose, withdraw, resist, and thus stand aright as a free and sovereign human being.

The logical conclusion of the radical equality proclaimed by the Declaration is not, however, what Jefferson or any of the other quasi-revolutionists thought it was. It is not home rule, and it is not republican government. It is not majoritarian democracy or the elective kingship that passes for the Presidency today. It is not democratic government or limited government; it is not any kind of government at all. If you, personally, are equal in rightful authority to your would-be rulers, and so have every right to tell them where they can go promulgate their law; if you, personally, have every right to refuse their demands and nullify their authority over you, at your discretion; if you have every right to withdraw your allegiance, and every right to defend yourself if they should come after you; then the logical conclusion is not popular sovereignty, but individual sovereignty, for each of us, which is to say, anarchy. So when a self-styled Progressive Patriot like Russ Feingold, arbitrary Senator over the state of Wisconsin, utters something like this, in opposing the efforts of the efforts of the arbitrary Congress over the United States to implement an unapologetically tyrannical regime of government eavesdropping and surveillance:

I teased some of my colleagues and said we can celebrate the Constitution on July 4th and maybe when we come back you’ll decide not to tear it up.

… We should applaud the political cause, but recognize the reasons given for the counter-historical bunk that they are. July 4th had nothing to do with begging the existing government to abide by the promises supposedly made in its own Constitution, or with trying to get the powers that be to exercise their better natures. The throne of the Constitution, or of the Law, or of the Majority, is no more dignified or sacred than the old thrones of the Czars and Sultans. Let’s not bow and scrape before them. William Lloyd Garrison, for one, knew what this Revolutionary anniversary was all about, and 154 years ago today, in Framingham, Massachusetts, he showed how you ought to celebrate the Constitution on July 4th:

The rally began with a prayer and a hymn. Then Garrison launched into one of the most controversial performances of his career. To-day, we are called to celebrate the seventy-eighth anniversary of American Independence. In what spirit? he asked, with what purpose? to what end? The Declaration of Independence had declared that all men are created equal … It is not a declaration of equality of property, bodily strength or beauty, intellectually or moral development, industrial or inventive powers, but equality of RIGHTS—not of one race, but of all races.

Massachussets Historical Society, July 2005

We have proved recreant to our own faith, false to our own standard, treacherous to the trust committed to our hands; so that, instead of helping to extend the blessings of freedom, we have mightily served the cause of tyranny throughout the world. Garrison then spoke about the prospects for the success of the revolutionary spirit within the nation, prospects he regarded as dismal because of the insatiable greed, boundless rapacity, and profligate disregard of justice prevalent at the time. He concluded his speech by asserting, Such is our condition, such are our prospects, as a people, on the 4th of July, 1854! Setting aside his manuscript, he told the assembly that he should now proceed to perform an action which would be the testimony of his own soul to all present, of the estimation in which he held the pro-slavery laws and deeds of the nation

— from Thoreau: Lecture 43, 4 July, 1854

Producing a copy of the Fugitive Slave Law, he set fire to it, and it burst to ashes. Using an old and well-known phrase, he said, And let all the people say, Amen; and a unanimous cheer and shout of Amen burst from the vast audience. In like manner, Mr. Garrison burned the decision of Edward G. Loring in the case of Anthony Burns, and the late charge of Judge Benjamin R. Curtis to the United States Grand Jury in reference to the treasonable assault upon the Court House for the rescue of the fugitive—the multitude ratifying the fiery immolation with shouts of applause. Then holding up the U.S. Constitution, he branded it as the source and parent of all the other atrocities,—a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell,—and consumed it to ashes on the spot, exclaiming, So perish all compromises with tyranny! And let all the people say, Amen! A tremendous shout of Amen! went up to heaven in ratification of the deed, mingled with a few hisses and wrathful exclamations from some who were evidently in a rowdyish state of mind, but who were at once cowed by the popular feeling.

— from The Liberator, 7 July 1854 (boldface added)

Today is not a day for nationalist bromides; least of all is it a day for government or its laws or its foot-soldiers. It’s a day for radicals and revolutionaries. A day to proclaim independence, and a day to remember that the American Revolution, if it was worth anything, is far from over. Here is how Frederick Douglass, a refugee from Southern slavery who became one of the United States’ most celebrated orators, put it back in July of 1852:

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth! To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America! I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, there will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and lo offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength, than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

— Frederick Douglass (1852): What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

And let the people say, Amen.

Happy Revolution Day. Let’s shut off the Lee Greenwood, and take down that damned flag. It’s time to celebrate the day under a new banner. One which reads:

All power to the people!

And:

No truce with Kings!

And:

Anarchy is the radical notion that other people are not your property.

Other orations:

Quotes for the Day: Ezra Heywood and Frederick Douglass

Perhaps apposite, under the circumstances.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother [sic] abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? … At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

— Frederick Douglass (1852), What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

And:

A cruel kindness, thought to be friendly regard, assumes to protect those who, by divine right of rational being, are entitled, at least, to be let alone. We are not among wild beasts; from whom, then, does woman need protection? From her protectors.

— Ezra Heywood (1873), Uncivil Liberty: An Essay to Show the Injustice and Impolicy of Ruling Woman Without Her Consent

Over My Shoulder #40: bell hooks on plantation patriarchy, black feminism, and black men’s relationship to masculinity. From We Real Cool.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from the first chapter of bell hooks’s We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity.

When we read annals of history, the autobiographical writings of free and enslaved black men, it is revealed that initially black males did not see themselves as sharing the same standpoint as white men about the nature of masculinity. Transplanted African men, even those coming from communities where sex roles shaped the division of labor, where the status of men was different and most times higher than that of women, had to be taught to equate their higher status as men with the right to dominate women, they had to be taught patriarchal masculinity. They had to be taught that it was acceptable to use violence to establish patriarchal power. The gender politics of slavery and white-supremacist domination of free black men was the school where black men from different African tribes, with different languages and value systems, learned in the new world, patriarchal masculinity.

Writing about the evolution of black male involvement in patriarchal masculinity in the essay Reconstructing Black Masculinity I write:

Although the gendered politics of slavery denied black men the freedom to act as men within the definition set by white norms, this notion of manhood did become a standard used to measure black male progress. The narratives of Henry Box Brown, Josiah Henson, Frederick Douglass, and a host of other black men reveal that they saw freedom as that change in status that would enable them to fulfill the role of chivalric benevolent patriarch. Free, they would be men able to provide for and take care of their families. Describing how he wept as he watched a white slave overseer beat his mother, William Wells Brown lamented, Experience has taught me that nothing can be more heart-rending than for one to see a dear and beloved mother or sister tortured, and to hear their cries and not be able to render them assistance. But such is the position which the American slave occupies. Frederick Douglass did not feel his manhood affirmed by intellectual progress. It was affirmed when he fought man to man with the slave overseer. This struggle was a turning point in Douglass’s life: It rekindled in my breast the smoldering embers of liberty. It brought up my Baltimore dreams and revived a sense of my own manhood. I was a changed being after that fight. I was nothing before—I was a mannow. The image of black masculinity that emerges from slave narratives is one of hardworking men who longed to assume full patriarchal responsibility for families and kin.

This testimony shows that enslaved black males were socialized by white folks to believe that they should endeavor to become patriarchs by seeking to attain the freedom to provide and protect for black women, to be benevolent patriarchs. Benevolent patriarchs exercise their power without using force. And it was this notion of patriarchy that educated black men coming from slavery into freedom sought to mimic. However, a large majority of black men took as their standard the dominator model set by white masters. When slavery ended these black men often used violence to dominate black women, which was a repetition of the strategies of control white slavemasters used. Some newly freed back men would take their wives to the barn to beat them as the white owner had done. Clearly, by the time slavery ended patriarchal masculinity had become an accepted ideal for most black men, an ideal that would be reinforced by twentieth-century norms.

Despite the overwhelming support of patriarchal masculinity by black men, there was even in slavery those rare black males who repudiated the norms set by white oppressors. Individual black male renegades who either escaped from slavery or chose to change their circumstance once they were freed, often found refuge among Native Americans, thus moving into tribal cultures where patriarchal masculinity with its insistence on violence and subjugation of women and children was not the norm. Marriages between Native women and African-American men during reconstruction also created a context for different ways of being and living that were counter to the example of white Christian family life. In southern states enclaves of African folk who had escaped slavery or joined with renegade maroons once slavery ended kept alive African cultural retentions that also offered a subculture distinct from the culture imposed by whiteness.

With keen critical insight Rudolph Byrd, co-editor of the anthology Traps: African American men on Gender and Sexuality, offers in his groundbreaking essay The Tradition of John the mythopoetic folk hero John as a figure of alternative masculinity. Byrd explains:

Committed to the overthrow of slavery and the ideology of white supremacy, John is the supreme antagonist of Old Massa and the various hegemonic structures he and his descendants have created and, most disheartening, many of them predictably still cherish. In John’s various acts of resistance are reflected his most exemplary values and attributes: motherwit, the power of laughter and song, self-assertion, self-examination, self-knowledge, a belief that life is process grounded in the fertile field of improvisation, hope, and most importantly, love. And his aspirations? Nothing less than the full and complete emancipation of Black people from every species of slavery. These are the constitutive elements and aspiration that together comprise the tradition of John. In these days of so many hours, it is a mode of black masculinity grounded in enduring principles that possess … a broad and vital instrumentality.

Clearly, the individual black males who strategized resistance to slavery, plotted paths to freedom, and who invented new lives for themselves and their people were working against the white-supremacist patriarchal norm. They were the men who set the stage for the black male abolitionists who supported more freedom for women. Alexander Crummell in his address before the Freedman’s Aid Society in 1883 spoke directly to a program for racial uplift that would focus on black women, particularly on education. He announced in his address that: The lot of the black man on the plantation has been sad and desolate enough; but the fate of the black woman has been awful! Her entire existence from the day she first landed, a naked victim of the slave-trade, has been degradation in its extremest forms.

Frederick Douglass spoke regularly on behalf of gender equality. In his 1888 talk I Am a Radical Woman Suffrage Man he made his position clear:

The fundamental proposition of the woman suffrage movement is scarcely less simple than that of the anti-slavery movement. It assumes that woman is herself. That she belongs to herself, just as fully as man belongs to himself—that she is a person and has all the attributes of personality that can be claimed by man, and that her rights of person are equal in all respects to those of man. She has the same number of senses that distinguish man, and is like man a subject of human government, capable of understanding, obeying, and being affected by law. That she is capable of forming an intelligent judgment as to the character of public men and public measures, and she may exercise her right of choice in respect both to the law and the lawmakers… nothing could be more simple or more reasonable.

Nineteenth-century black leaders were concerned about gender roles and exceptional black men supported gender equality. Martin Delaney stressed that both genders needed to work equally for racial uplift.

Like Frederick Douglass, Delaney felt that gender equality would strengthen the race, not that it would make black females independent and autonomous. As co-editors of the North Star, Douglass and Delaney had a masthead in 1847 which read right is of no sex—truth is of no color. At the 1848 meeting of the National Negro Convention Delaney presented a proposal that began: Whereas e fully believe in the equality of the sexes, therefore…. Without a doubt black males have a historical legacy of pro-women’s liberation to draw upon. Even so there were black male leaders who opposd Douglass’s support of rights for women. In the essay Reconstructing Black Masculinity I state that most black men recognized the powerful and necessary role black women had played as freedom fighters in the effort to abolish slavery, yet they still wanted black women to be subordinated. Explaining further:

They wanted black women to conform to the gender norms set by white society. They wanted to be recognized as men, as patriarchs, by other men, including white men. Yet they could not assume this position if black women were not willing to conform to prevailing sexist gender norms. Many black women who had endured white-supremacist patriarchal domination during slavery did not want to be dominated by black men after manumission. Like black men, they had contradictory positions on gender. On one hand they did not want to be dominated, but on the other hand they wanted black men to be protectors and providers. After slavery ended, enormous tension and conflict emerged between black women and men as folks struggled to be self-determining. As they worked to create standards for community and family life, gender roles continued to be problematic.

These contradictions became the norm in black life.

In the early part of the twentieth century black male thinkers and leaders were, like their white male counterparts, debating the question of gender equality. Intellectual and activist W.E.B. DuBois writing on behalf of black women’s rights in 1920 declared: We cannot abolish the new economic freedom of women. We cannot imprison women again in a home or require them all on pain of death to be nurses and housekeepers. … The uplift of women is, next to the problem of color and the peace movement, our greatest modern cause. Influenced by the work of black woman anti-sexist activist Anna Julia Cooper, DuBois never wavered in this belief that black women should be seen as co-equal with black men. Despite the stellar example of W.E.B. DuBois, who continually supported the rights of women overall, black males seemed to see the necessity of black females participating as co-equals in the struggle for racial uplift with the implicit understanding that once freedom was achieved black females would take their rightful place subordinate to the superior will of men. In keeping with sexist norms, sexist black folks believed that slavery and racism sought the emasculation of Afro-American men and that the responsibility of black folks to counter this, that black women were to encourage and support the manhood of our men.

As editor of the Women’s Page of the newspaper the Negro World, Amy Jacque Garvey, wife of the radical thinker Marcus Garvey, declared: We are tired of hearing Negro men say, There is a better day coming while they do nothing to usher in that day. We are becoming so impatient that we are getting in the front ranks and serve notice that we brush aside the halting, cowardly Negro leaders…. Mr. Black Man watch your step! … Strengthen your shaking knees and move forward, or we will displace you and lead on to victory and glory. This passage gives a good indication of the fact that educated black women struggled to repress their power to stand behind their men even as they were continually questioning this positionality. Outspoken women’s rights advocates in the latter part of the nineteenth century, like Anna Julia Cooper, were more militant about the need for black women to have equal access to education and forms of power, especially economic power.

Throughout the 1900s black men and women debated the issues of gender equality. White-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s refusal to allow black males full access to employment while offering black females a place in the service economy created a context where black males and females could not conform to standard sexist roles in regard to work even if they wanted to. It was the participation of black women in the workforce that led to the notion that black women were matriarchal leaders in the home. In actuality, black female workers often handed their paychecks over to the males who occupied the patriarchal space of leadership in the home. Simply working did not mean black women were free. The gender roles that black folks formed in the twenties, thirties, and forties were complex. It was not a simple world of black women working and therefore exercising power in the home. Many contemporary black folks forget that in the world of the eraly twentieth century black people were far more likely to live with extended kin. A black woman who worked as a maid, a housekeeper, a laundress, etc., was far more likely to give her money toward the collective good and not for her own use or power.

While social critics looking at black life have continually emphasized the notion that black men were symbolically castrated because black women were often the primary breadwinners, they have called attention to the reality of the working black woman giving away her earnings. Not all black families cared about black women earning more as long as black males controlled their earnings. And now that a vast majority of white women in this nation work and many of them earn more than their white male spouses, the evidence is there to confirm that men are less concerned about who earns more and more concerned about who controls the money. If the man controls the money, even if his wife is wealthy, the evidence suggests that he will not feel emasculated. Black men and women have always had a diversity of gender roles, some black men wanting to be patriarchs and others turning away from the role. Long before contemporary feminist theory talked about the value of male participation in parenting, the idea that men could stay home and raise children while women worked had already been proven in black life.

Black women and men have never been praised for having created a diversity of gender roles. In the first essay I wrote about black masculinity more than ten years ago the lengthy arguments I made are worth quoting again here:

Without implying that black women and men lived in gender utopia, I am suggesting that black sex roles, and particularly the role of men, have been more complex and problematized in black life than is believed. This was especially the case when all black people lived in segregated neighborhoods. Racial integration has had a profound impact on black gender roles. It has helped to promote a climate wherein most black women and men accept sexist notions of gender roles. Unfortunately, many changes have occurred in the way black people think about gender, yet the shift from one standpoint to another has not been fully documented. For example: To what extent did the civil rights movement, with its definition of freedom as having equal opportunity with whites, sanctioned looking at white gender roles as a norm black people should imitate? Why has there been so little positive interest shown in the alternative lifestyles of black men? In every segregated black community in the United States there are adult black men married, unmarried, gay, straight, living in households where they do not assert patriarchal domination and yet live fulfilled lives, where they are not sitting around worried about castration. Again it must be emphasized that the black men who are most worried about castration and emasculation are those who have completely absorbed white-supremacist patriarchal definitions of masculinity.

Black people begin to support patriarchy more as more civil rights were gained and the contributions black women made to the struggle for black liberation were no longer seen as essential and necessary contributions.

— bell hooks (2004), We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, pp. 2–12.

Over My Shoulder #39: Garrison on radicalism, electoral abolitionism and third-party politics. From Henry Mayer’s All On Fire.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from Henry Mayer’s masterful biography, All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. I was re-reading it recently because of an interesting debate over the Ron Paul campaign on LeftLibertarian2, in particular some interesting comments by Brad Spangler, who has been beating the anti-electioneering drum for some time, to the effect that he thought support for Ron Paul represented progress in people who would be otherwise be state liberals or state conservatives, but that the real shame was when radical libertarians, who ought to know better got sucked in to the same constitutional-statist song and dance.

Garrison agreed with [Abby Kelley and Stephen Foster] that the allure of the presidential campaign threatened the movement’s identity. Abolitionists should not bow down to the house of Rimmon, alluding to the parable (2 Kings 5:18) illustrating the dangers of false worship and conformity with outmoded rituals and reprehensible customs. The first duty of abolitionists, he concluded, was to avoid becoming Republicans. To the Fosters’ intense annoyance, however, he argued that the amount of conscience in the party and the sectional basis of its opposition to the slave power made it a political entity that the movement had to take seriously. Kelley conceded that the party may be the work of our hands, but she insisted that such progeny, like other children, required a great deal of reproof to bring it up in the way it should go. Garrison agreed, but sweetly added that, as in child-rearing, it was important to praise the party when it tried to do good work, as it had on the issue of nonextension.

That Garrison accorded the Republicans a measure of respect he had never conceded to the Liberty Party remnant should come as no surprise. He always had more interest in politicians who lifted themselves toward an acknowledgment of moral principles than he had in moralists who lowered themselves into partisan activities. For the Republicans to support and elect candidates willing to condemn slavery as wrong would be productive agitation, for it created something where nothing had previously existed. For Gerrit Smith to advance himself as a presidential candidate was ludicrous, in Garrison’s view, for he had no practical organization and demeaned himself in the futile process of making one. For Frederick Douglass to make persistent attacks on Garrisonian abolition as passé—as a phase of moral education through which the movement had inevitably traveled en route to more enlightened forms of practical agitation—was more than a continuation of their personal feud; it was the old Liberty Party idea that a token candidacy offered a greater opportunity for moral agitation than did the prophetic apostleship of Garrison. While the Republican nonextensionist approach had the virtue of exposing the constitutional compromises that prevented abolition, moreover, the Smithites continued to dwell, Garrison believed, in the realm of constitutional fantasy. They tried to claim the Framers as architects of an antislavery politics and advanced all sorts of schemes—a congressional repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, a reconstruction of the federal judiciary through the appointment of antislavery judges, the fixing of a date certain for abolition in the states and federal control of states in default—that had no chance of peaceably breaking the national political deadlock and, far from saving the Union, would make a military confrontation inevitable. Theirs was an oblique disunionism that masked itself behind the facade of constitutional interpretation. For Garrison the special work of abolition lay not in adopting the model of politics, but in creating a redemptive vision. We see what our fathers did not see; we know that they did not know.

Powerful organizations never espouse great reforms, the editor told a December 1855 meeting called to celebrate the desegregation of Boston’s public schools after a decade-long struggle by abolitionists of both races. Social reform, he said, begins in the heart of a solitary individual and grows strong among humble men and humble women [who], unknown to the community, without means, without power, without station, but perceiving the thing to be done … and having faith in the triumph of what is just and true, engage in the work…. He always regarded the abolitionists as a saving remnant who would create the preconditions for reform. Theodore Parker compared such non-political reformers either to the windlass that raises the anchor while the politicians haul in the slack or to the spinners and weavers who make the material from which politicians cut their clothes, but Garrison found the humblest metaphor of all in the baking of bread. By and by, he said with the apostle Paul, the little leaven leavens the whole lump … [and] this is the way the world is to be redeemed (1 Cor. 5:6). The most popular metaphor for the progress of reform in the 1850s, however, drew from both mechanics and nature. The world moves, people said, having found a shorthand way of remarking social change that evoked at once the lever of Archimedes and the stubborn faith of Galileo that the earth itself revolved in obedience to higher laws.

—Henry Mayer (1998), All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, pp. 456-457.

I guess I’m just funny that way…

Here’s today’s Boondocks re-run. It may be of interest if you’ve been following recent exchanges in the comments section.

The Boondocks for 2007-02-02

Jazmine: Why aren’t you coming to our cookout on the Fourth?

Huey: I don’t know if your parents told you this, Jazmine, but we weren’t freed on Independence Day.

Huey: Apparently one of the rights America won from the British was the right to hold slaves and oppress others. I see little reason to celebrate.

[Pause.]

Jazmine: Oh, you can find the downside to anything.

Huey: Like chattel slavery? Yeah, I guess I’m just funny that way.

On a related note:

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? … At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

— Frederick Douglass (1852): What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?