We’ve Long Separated Kids from Parents: We Have to Stop

In the last several weeks, our government here in the U.S. has been separating children from parents at the southern border as a political strategy for discouraging migration but mostly for getting funding for a stupid-ass wall. Many, many Americans are outraged but the refrains “this is not America” and “we’re not like this” feel like platitudes to me that grow from insufficient historical knowledge. It’s my argument–one I made at a weeklong workshop at one of our Fanciest Pantsiest Universities recently–that Americans, particularly white Americans, need to own their history and the ways in which they have (or have not) benefited from it. What you’re seeing today is from a very old playbook that has served America’s white supremacist goals for centuries. Today in Tenacious Feminist’s No BS History Corner we’ll talk about the ways family separation has been used for political and capitalist gains: own that history and we can begin to change the present.
Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know this history, or only know bits of it. Our goal, I think, should be to learn as we move forward–to keep learning–and to educate others.
I’ve decided to give you three examples of the U.S. using family separation as a political tool, rather than overwhelm you with its entire history.
American Slavery
The most obvious example–and likely the example you are well aware of–was part of American slavery. Here I’m talking about the chattel system that enslaved Africans and their American descendants. This was a system based on the idea that Africans and African Americans were property–chattel–and could be bought and sold, much as one would other real estate. Over time the defenses for such a system changed from “it’s a necessary evil” to “it’s a positive good, even for the enslaved.” But make no mistake: with all but a few examples, the main purpose of purchasing humans was for labor and thus for money.
Enslaved people wanted and pursued families as best they could under their extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Slaveholders, however, generally disregarded such families and often had no issue separating families by sale, an excruciating loss for all members that reaffirmed the inconsequence of a black family in white America and its white supremacist system. Sale of family members could be for crass financial gain or even as punishment for the person going or left behind. This was routine. It was not illegal. It was encouraged.
After the civil war ended in 1865, families spent decades searching for lost members, using black papers and churches to spread their “lost friends” messages. Most never found their loved ones, since they may have traveled further than they’d even known, or died, in the years since sale. Here’s a database of examples.  This book on the topic is amazing (affiliate link). The years people spent wondering after their families and then, postwar, searching for them is a testament to how important our families are to each other, and how callous and horrific breaking them up for political and economic gain is.
Equally horrific, several slaveholders sought to increase their financial worth by breeding humans like livestock: they’d compel enslaved people to have sex and sell any resulting progeny. This was routine. It was not illegal. It was encouraged. While the entire system of slavery was dehumanizing and brutal, the depths of that dehumanization can really be seen in shit like this.
“Indian Schools”
In the later 19th century–after decades of forcing indigenous people nearly entirely from the eastern seaboard and into reservations in the midwest–whites founded what were then called “Indian Schools.” These schools, founders, supporters and the US government claimed, would solve the “Indian Problem” by making them more (sort of) white–they’d be properly educated (industrial trades, of course, and sewing and housekeeping for women, so as to create a useful servant class), and in the process compelled to sacrifice their culture, including religion. The slogan of the original founder of these schools, after all, was “Kill the Indian, save the man.” While kids weren’t usually just snatched from their parents, they were instead subjected to insidious recruiting that targeted the families of indigenous leaders and often forced them to let their children go. Funded by the government, the goal was to destroy Native America from within.
I use records from one of these schools in my class–I set the students up so that they can dissect what the purpose of the schools is, and how they worked to destroy indigenous existence. They react with horror as they pore over a student record: this particular young man became so much a part of this culture (and so distanced from his own) that as an adult he became a field agent, hunting the Apache during the Apache wars. Wrap your head around the divide and conquer–the long game version–there.
Yet again, we see white America separating families of color for political gain. These schools were brutal, abusive, and designed to eradicate native Americans as cultural groups.
But wait, there’s more.
This is a story that’s different from the others. In the early 20th century, nuns brought white children–primarily those of Irish immigrants, placed in orphanages by destitute parents–by train to Arizona. They were going to place the children with Catholic families–Mexican families in mining areas. Initially, children and families alike were happy, but by the evening white families “rescued” all the children with violent break-ins and kidnappings. The tl/dr? Separating families of color? Fine. Good. Encouraged. Separating white families (implicitly–in truth, it’s not placing white kids with white families here) BAD. Wrong. Horror. Again we have white supremacy in action.
Read this book for more (affiliate link).
Why am I telling you this? Well, I think it’s important that we know our history as Americans. We live in a system that wasn’t created in a vacuum–our present is very much a part of our past. And while many of us are angry, upset, and frustrated, it’s not helpful, exactly, to just shout “This isn’t what America is!” In fact, it’s exactly what America is–what is has been. What it isn’t, though, is what America could be. Our nation is based on fantastic ideals we’ve never lived up to. Let’s own our past by becoming those ideals, truly, in the future.
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Casual Sex(ism), Part II

We haven’t talked about money here on the blog in some time, mostly because the world has been on fire and/or I was buried under end-of-semester stuff and not talking at all. Today, though, we’re talking about casual sexism in the workplace. Casual sexism is a reflection of misogyny—that is, a culture in which prejudice against women is fine and women as people are unvalued—and workplaces have long been bastions of old boys’ clubs and other sexist practices. The corporate world and tech are particularly bad, but academia, health care and other fields offer no exception. (see part I of this series here). Today we’ll feature stock photos of irritated women for effect. Continue reading Casual Sex(ism), Part II

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Casual Sex(ism), I

Sexism, like racism, to many people who either hold privilege or have internalized oppression doesn’t exist unless it’s extraordinarily obvious. These are the people who don’t see racist microaggressions as racist, because someone needs to be wearing a white hood and burning a cross in order for their actions to qualify. Today I’m offering you, dear readers, a lesson in casual sexism: the ways in which actions done sometimes deliberately, sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes without malice intended and sometimes as a “joke” creates and perpetuates sexism in homes, offices, public spaces, and our culture at large. Whereas rape might be “obvious” sexism, today we’re talking about the stuff that makes up the broader cultural contours that inform women they are not welcome, that their interests and concerns don’t matter, that they are less-than in a host of situations. The stories I’ll share below have been mostly submitted via Twitter and have been anonymized to protect the submitters.

This is part 1: some groundwork, then family and social sexisms. Next week we’ll talk casual sexism in the workplace. Get ready to roll your eyes reaaaaaalllly far back in your head.

Continue reading Casual Sex(ism), I

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The Fight Against Chub Rub: The RETURN!

Y’all, we started talking about chub rub about this time last year as the warmer weather came out of hibernation. And I posted twice before forgetting altogether to finish with round three.

In case you’ve forgotten or are new here, I have giant quads in part because I am a strong human and in part because of genetics. Summer can be a nightmare if I wear skirts or shorter shorts.

Part I: I tried deodorant (ha) and slip shorts (HAHAHAHAHAH). No dice.

Part II: Monistat anti-chafe cream–also a no.

The last item I tried was Body Glide and it–largely–works. It goes on kind of like deodorant and generally, as long as I’m not too sweaty, does the job of keeping my thighs from creating their own angry rash. Is it perfect? No. But it’s better than my other options.

Apologies that it took a year, but since it’s going to be in the 80s this week this information felt especially needed.

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It’s TF’s Birthday! (and new things afoot)

It’s Tenacious Feminist’s birthday!

I’ve written 66 posts and featured one guest writer in the last 52 weeks. We’ve parsed many of the issues as they’ve come up during this very odd year, politically speaking, and dug into some standard stuff in feminist discourse as well: bodies, feelings, power. This post about the BS ways people construct “political correctness” might be my favorite of all of them.

The biggest highlight for me in the last year is the TF community that’s begun to grow, both on this blog and on social media.

I cannot thank you all enough for coming by and reading what I’ve written; I’m deeply grateful for our ensuing conversations, and for your company and friendship. Truly. What began as my own outlet for my thoughts with this post and which really got rolling here when I took on the garbage hires at the NYT’s opinion desk has developed into much more than I imagined, and I’m so glad.

Let’s grow!

After consulting with some fellow bloggers, I’ve decided to open up a Patreon for TF’s first birthday. While this might look like I’m just monetizing the blog (not, in itself, necessarily a bad thing), the goals I have in mind are a little more complex.

First, I’ve opened the Patreon to support the costs of running TF. Hosting, domains, various this and thats including image licenses add up. Second, I’d like to begin a fund for potential contributing writers. Writers are not compensated enough or frequently for their work, and if I’m going to think about soliciting others to pen pieces I’d like to be able to offer them something for their time and effort.

The other goals I have are a bit more amorphous and involve, essentially, paying me to do this. Those are long-distance ambitions, tho, but I figured I’d put them up.

To lure you in, I have some bitchin’ rewards.

My favorite are these: smart ass stitchery designed and made by yours truly. You get to take your pick and customize if you’d like. I hope you’re as excited as I am.

So to close, this birthday is, for me, about gratitude. I appreciate our conversations, our shared thoughts, and all of your support. And if you choose to join Erin from Reaching for FI as one of my Patreon supporters, I’m extra super grateful. This is your shoutout, Erin! You’re the best!

Here’s to year two!

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What Kind of Society Do You Want? Let’s Talk Taxes

Lately there have been some skirmishes on ye old Twitter regarding taxes. One side includes people who see taxes as theft and/or will skirt them as much as possible. Another includes those who don’t feel that way. A third wants us peons to thank them for paying taxes.

Continue reading What Kind of Society Do You Want? Let’s Talk Taxes

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On Rape: A Particular, Historical Dogwhistle

In 1905, America was 40 years post-slavery and Jim Crow–a system of unequal everything, from train seats to schools to jobs, and which was held in place by brutal violence–was well-ensconced. Lynching threatened African Americans for damn near everything they did, and Reconstruction–the period post-Civil War that initially held such promise for freed people–came under sharp fire by southern whites as a time of tyranny and lawlessness. That year, Thomas Dixon published The Clansman, a book that gave many white southerners exactly the image it wanted of itself: the South, it said, had been a romantic, chivalrous place destroyed by Reconstruction. Reconstruction, it continued, led to an epidemic of sexual violence by black men against white women, an epidemic the KKK fearlessly righted by lynching those men. The Clansman was a dogwhistle–though purely fiction, it justified racist brutality both in the past and going forward. Yesterday we heard that dogwhistle again as The Man in the High Office (what I’m calling our president now) doubled down on a campaign claim that immigrants coming to America from and through Mexico are rapists–implicitly, of white women, and needing to be stopped. Continue reading On Rape: A Particular, Historical Dogwhistle

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Hey, Let’s Talk about Birth Control (part 1: History)

So in the last week modern medicine has evidently gotten some decent results road testing hormonal birth control for men. It’s still very much in the study phase but the pill functions by lowering testosterone dramatically but suppressing potential side effects (lower libido, breast growth) by including other chemicals that mimic what testosterone does. I’m a little ashamed to say it, but part of me laughs pretty heartily at stories like these in which the potential side effects may limit eventual production and taking of the drug, given how much women on birth control have tolerated over generations. We had to fight to be able to have access to the stuff, and it routinely mucks about with our systems, but we keep taking it:  the costs are much higher for us than for men, generally speaking, without it. Continue reading Hey, Let’s Talk about Birth Control (part 1: History)

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On My Nightstand: Eats of Eden*

Alternating Current cover art, amazon.com

Tabitha Blakenbiller and I might be long-distance, separated by geography and years, sisters.

I read her essay and recipe collection, Eats of Eden, over the last week and marveled at our similar experiences. I first talked to Tabitha a year or two ago when I emailed her about contributing to her blog. My husband had suggested I look her up, given our shared sadness that Walmart bought Modcloth, beloved Modcloth, purveyor of funky vintage-style clothes and accessories. Little did I know that Tabitha and I shared much more than just Modcloth misery. Over the last winter break, stricken with a brutal cold and laryngitis, I watched an entire season of the Great British Baking Show–as did Tabitha, afflicted with strep a year or two prior. We both love going out to eat as much as eating in, and we share a teenage devotion to the Titanic–movie, history, finer details, though as you’ll read, she took that obsession to its furthest extent she could as a 13 year old kid. 19 year old me just went to a local museum. Continue reading On My Nightstand: Eats of Eden*

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Score yourself a TF sticker!

When I first started Tenacious Feminist, I wanted to sell stickers and use the proceeds to fund my hosting services and then donate the remainder to Planned Parenthood. Alas, I only sold a few. I think I put the proverbial cart before the horse–trying to sell merch, even for a good cause, before I had much going on on the site or even a Twitter following. Continue reading Score yourself a TF sticker!

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