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.
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
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)
Today we’re going to talk about an important historical phenomenon that just won’t die, though we don’t talk about it as people used to. Today we’re talking about fears of the “contagion of liberty,” those insidious beliefs of our mythologized founding fathers (lo, the paternalism!) which limited their rhetoric about the republic and freedom to them and their buddies. Continue reading TF’s No BS History Corner: Fear of the “Contagion of Liberty”
Last week was a personally rough week. I didn’t post much as I dealt with stuff. I was thinking about a Monday post about that jackass at Google, until that seemed like the second or third most important story of the week–escalating tension with North Korea being another, and Charlottesville a third. So here we are.
What you might not know about me is that I’m a professional historian by trade. I know US history pretty well, and I know its social contours–its constructions of power based on constructions of race and other issues–particularly well. I’m a historian of women–that’s my own work–but I teach the whole kit and kaboodle. And while I’m sorry for some that they found the events of the last week shocking, as someone who teaches US history for a living, well, the most I can say is that I’m horrified while not surprised.
In 1852, escaped slave and extraordinary orator Frederick Douglass gave his speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” in Rochester, NY, in those days a hotbed of radical activism. In his speech, Douglass reminded his audience of the achievements of 1776, praising the men who achieved liberty from England and parsing, to some extent, their philosophy for doing so. Then he launched into the meat of his argument: that liberty did not extend to the enslaved, that they could not partake in the joy of the holiday for it did not apply to them. At one point, he calls out his audience for their bullshit in a way reminiscent of some current argumentative frameworks, to wit:
“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?”