Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, by Frances Beal, Part 2
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we are back to discuss Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, written by Civil Rights activist Frances Beal in 1969. Last week we talked about some history of the Civil Rights Movement, with SNCC and the birth of the Black Power movement, we talked about Frances Beal, we talked about the words “feminism” and “womanism,” and we set this speech, and the experiences of Black Americans in the context of US history, with America’s practice of enslaving African Americans for centuries, and how that continues to shape our culture, often in ways that American citizens - especially white Americans - don’t even realize. So let’s welcome back to the podcast my dear friend Rayna Clay Mackay!
1) We live in a highly industrialized society and every member of the black nation must be as academically and technologically developed as possible. To wage a revolution, we need competent teachers, doctors, nurses, electronic experts, chemists, biologists, physicists, political scientists, and so on and so forth. Black women sitting at home reading bedtime stories to their children are just not going to make it. (170)
This was my grandfather’s mission, and I 100% agree. Representation matters. For all. I don’t completely agree with the last sentence because I feel there is great efficacy in being a stay at home mom, but only if that is what you actively choose. Also only if society is structured in such a way to support that. (Think Nordic societies).
2) I have briefly discussed the economic and psychological manipulation of black women, but perhaps the most outlandish act of oppression in modern times is the current campaign to promote sterilization of non- white women in an attempt to maintain the population and power imbalance between the white haves and the non-white have-nots.
These tactics are but another example of the many devious schemes that the ruling elite attempt to perpetrate on the black population in order to keep itself in control. It has recently come to our attention that a massive campaign for so-called "birth control" is presently being promoted not only in the underdeveloped non-white areas of the world, but also in black communities here in the United States. However, what the authorities in charge of these programs refer to as "birth control" is in fact nothing but a method of outright surgical genocide.
Threatened with the cut-off of relief funds, some black welfare women have been forced to accept this sterilization procedure in exchange for a continuation of welfare benefits. Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City performs these operations on many of its ward patients whenever it can convince the women to undergo this surgery. Mississippi and some of the other Southern states are notorious for this act. Black women are often afraid to permit any kind of necessary surgery because they know from bitter experience that they are more likely than not to come out of the hospital without their insides. (Both salpingectomies and hysterectomies are performed.)
So medical apartheid is a real thing, and it continues to exist today. Historically the Tuskegee experiment with syphilis is the marker, but there is also the use of Henrietta Lack’s cancer cells (without consent or reparation until recently) as the source of the HeLa cell line which is one of the most important cell lines in medical research. Prominent academic institutions have done highly acclaimed psychiatric studies that purported that Black males are more aggressive, and the morbidity and mortality of Black pregnant women is the highest of all demographics (even when controlled for all other socioeconomic factors). The father of modern-day gynecology based all of his findings from experiments on Black women without anesthesia, so I’m honestly not surprised. History, combined with recent research that shows Black people die earlier than White people (because of the extraction of capital from Black communities), and the fact that Black men are killed without recourse by the police all equal distrust of authority. I read a quote on SM (and now I can’t find it!) that basically said they were tired of the phrase “Black people distrust medicine” and that it should be changed to “medicine, because of its historic mistreatment of Black people, needs to re-earn the trust of the Black community.” I thought that was spot on!
3) Another major differentiation is that the white women's liberation movement is basically middle-class. Very few of these women suffer the extreme economic exploitation that most black women are subjected to day by day. It is not an intellectual persecution alone; the movement is not a psychological outburst for us; it is quite real. We as black women have got to deal with the problems that the black masses deal with, for our problems in reality are one and the same. (174)
This is what I think is the crux of the matter and the reason why the stereotype of the angry black woman persists. THIS is our life. Day in and day out. If you are not angry you are exhausted and if you are exhausted you cannot function and if you don’t function then society has an excuse to spit you up and chew you out and you have “justified” systemic racism. I find it very hard to hear my White acquaintances (and I say acquaintances, because my true friends do not say these things) say how tired they are doing the “work” of dismantling racism or having to participate in “woke” learning sessions etc. They don’t have the burden of this being their life, they can come in and out of these experiences as they may.
Amy: I have a thought and a question for you, Rayna. For me one over-arching point from this essay was this - and it helped me in my master’s thesis where I was asking the question, what happened between the white women and Black women who worked together so closely in the Civil Rights Movement in the early 60’s but experienced a schism by the late 60’s and 70’s? And one part of the answer from my research and from this essay is that some white women thought that all women were having the same experience, and they spoke about men being the enemy, and that included Black men. And what they didn’t realize is that they were asking their Black friends to side with white women in a gender battle, when these Black women’s own dads and brothers and sons were in danger of being lynched. So some Black women - we talked about Pauli Murray last week, and we’ll talk about Angela Davis and Audre Lorde and bell hooks and other Black women who, like Sojourner Truth, fought for racial and gender justice. But from Beal’s essay, what I’m hearing is that white women - including me - need to educate ourselves a lot more about what it’s really like to be Black and female in America, and understand the problem in asking Black women to align themselves with white women instead of with their own male Black family members, whose very lives are in danger. Is that an accurate reading of Beal, Rayna? I know you have sons and a daughter, and you have different concerns for each of them.
Amy: That brings us to the end - there are so many important points in this essay that we didn’t have time to cover. But as we wrap up, I want to share one takeaway and then ask you to share the final thoughts for today. The passage I want to read last is this one:
“The black community, and black women especially, must begin raising questions about the kind of society we wish to see established. ...The new world that we are struggling to create must destroy oppression of any type. The value of this new system will be determined by the status of the person who was the low man on the totem pole.” (175)
As a white person, I want to extend that challenge to all listeners - and especially listeners who are white, and listeners who are men. “The new world that we are struggling to create must destroy oppression of any type. The value of this new system will be determined by the status of the person who was the low man on the totem pole.”
This reminds me of “the veil of ignorance” thought experiment that we talked about in our episode on Olympe de Gouges’ Declaration of the Rights of Woman.” Pretend we are all on one side of a veil before we’re born, and when we pass through the veil we could find ourselves born into any circumstance. If you are a man, would you be just as excited to be born a girl? If you are white, are you confident that if you were born Black, you would have all the same opportunities and encouragement and safety that you had growing up White? If you grew up in a family of means, would you be just as happy being born in an inner city or rural Mississippi? If not, then as Beal says, we “must begin raising questions about the kind of society we wish to see established.”
What would you say is one takeaway from this text?
Rayna: There are so many pertinent parts of this piece, it should just be classified as a “guidebook to society!” But in terms of “being” the double jeopardy of black and female I have learned I have to compartmentalize and accept that I alone cannot change all of society’s perception in one lifetime. But! I’ve taken to heart Elaine Welteroth’s quote “when you exist in spaces that weren’t built for you, sometimes just being you is the revolution.”
Amy: Thanks again, etc.
On our next episode of Breaking Down Patriarchy, we will be discussing Gloria Steinem’s speech “Living the Revolution,” which was the commencement address at Vassar College in 1970. This title is powerful because it refers to the fact that in many revolutions people profess that they are willing to die for a cause, but she says that the cause of Women’s Rights - which she says should be described as “humanist” because it includes everyone - is a cause we need to live for, in our everyday lives. You can find the speech online, and I highly recommend reading the whole thing, and then join us for the discussion, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.
Unfortunately, neither the black man nor the black woman understood the true nature of the forces working upon them. Many black women tended to accept the capitalist evaluation of manhood and womanhood and believed, in fact, that black men were shiftless and lazy, otherwise they would get a job and support their families as they ought to. Personal relationships between black men and women were thus torn asunder and one result has been the separation of man from wife, mother from child, etc.
America has defined the roles to which each individual should subscribe. It has defined "manhood" in terms of its own interests and "femininity" likewise. Therefore, an individual who has a good job, makes a lot of money and drives a Cadillac is a real "man," and conversely, an individual who is lacking in these "qualities" is less of a man. ...The ideal model that is projected for a woman is to be surrounded by hypocritical homage and estranged from all real work, spending idle hours primping and preening, obsessed with conspicuous consumption, and limiting life's functions to simply a sex role. (167)
A woman who stays at home, caring for children and the house, often leads an extremely sterile existence. She must lead her entire life as a satellite to her mate. He goes out into society and brings back a little piece of the world for her. His interests and his understanding of the world become her own and she cannot develop herself as an individual, having been reduced to only a biological function. This kind of woman leads a parasitic existence that can aptly be described as "legalized prostitution." (167)
I learned from my thesis research that everybody in SNCC was passing around and reading a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Clearly Frances Beal had read it too - these are direct quotes.
Furthermore, it is idle dreaming to think of black women simply caring for their homes and children like the middle-class white model. Most black women have to work to help house, feed, and clothe their families. Black women make up a substantial percentage of the black working force and this is true for the poorest black family as well as the so-called "middle- class" family. (167)
Black women were never afforded any such phony luxuries. Though we have been browbeaten with this white image, the reality of the degrading and dehumanizing jobs that were relegated to us quickly dissipated this mirage of "womanhood." (167)
[Quotes Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech - it’s the inaccurate version but it captures the message - basically Truth’s message that she does the work of plowing, planting, and hauling, and no one helps her over mud puddles like they do White women - in fact she has borne the lash of the enslaver’s whip. When people talk about women they imagine a genteel White woman… and yet she is a woman too.] (167)
Since the advent of Black Power, the black male has exerted a more prominent leadership role in our struggle for justice in this country. He sees the System for what it really is for the most part. But where he rejects its values and mores on many issues, when it comes to women, he seems to take his guidelines from the pages of the Ladies Home Journal. (167)
Certain black men are maintaining that they have been castrated by society but that black women somehow escaped this persecution and even contributed to this emasculation. Let me state here and now that the black woman in America can justly be described as a "slave of a slave." By reducing the black man in America to such abject oppression, the black woman had no protector and was used, and is still being used in some cases, as the scapegoat for the evils that this horrendous System has perpetrated on black men. Her physical image has been maliciously maligned; she has been sexually molested and abused by the white colonizer; she has suffered the worst kind of economic exploitation, having been forced to serve as the white woman's maid and wet nurse for white offspring while her own children were, more often than not, starving and neglected. It is the depth of degradation to be socially manipulated, physically raped, used to undermine your own household, and to be powerless to reverse this syndrome. (168)
It is true that our husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons have been emasculated, lynched, and brutalized. They have suffered from the crudest assault on mankind that the world has ever known. However, it is a gross distortion of fact to state that black women have oppressed black men. The capitalist System found it expedient to enslave and oppress them and proceeded to do so without signing any agreements with black women. (168)
It must also be pointed out at this time that black women are not resentful of the rise to power of black men. We welcome it. We see in it the eventual liberation of all black people from this oppressive system of capitalism. Nevertheless, this does not mean that you have to negate one for the other. This kind of thinking is a product of miseducation; that it's either X or it's Y. It is fallacious reasoning that in order for the black man to be strong, the black woman has to be weak. (168)
Those who are asserting their "manhood" by telling black women to step back into a domestic, submissive role are assuming a counter-revolutionary position. Black women likewise have been abused by the System and we must begin talking about the elimination of all kinds of oppres- sion. If we are talking about building a strong nation, capable of throwing off the yoke of capitalist oppression, then we are talking about the total involvement of every man, woman, and child, each with a highly developed political consciousness. We need our whole army out there dealing with the enemy and not half an army. (169)
There are also some black women who feel that there is no more productive role in life than having and raising children. This attitude often reflects the conditioning of the society in which we live and is adopted (totally, completely, and without change) from a bourgeois white model. Some young sisters who have never had to maintain a household and accept the confining role which this entails, tend to romanticize (along with the help of a few brothers) this role of housewife and mother. Black women who have had to endure this kind of function as the sole occupation of their life are less apt to have these Utopian visions. (169)
Those who project in an intellectual manner how great and rewarding this role will be and who feel that the most important thing that they can contribute to the black nation is children are doing themselves a great injustice. This line of reasoning completely negates the contributions that black women have historically made to our struggle for liberation. These black women include Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells- Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Fannie Lou Hamer, to name but a few. (169)
We live in a highly industrialized society and every member of the black nation must be as academically and technologically developed as possible. To wage a revolution, we need competent teachers, doctors, nurses, electronic experts, chemists, biologists, physicists, political scientists, and so on and so forth. Black women sitting at home reading bedtime stories to their children are just not going to make it. (170)
Economic Exploitation of Black Women
The economic System of capitalism finds it expedient to reduce women to a state of enslavement. They oftentimes serve as a scapegoat for the evils of this system. Much in the same way that the poor white cracker of the South, who is equally victimized, looks down upon blacks and contributes to the oppression of blacks, so by giving to men a false feeling of superiority (at least in their own home or in their relationships with women), the oppression of women acts as an escape valve for capitalism. Men may be cruelly exploited and subjected to all sorts of dehumanizing tactics on the part of the ruling class, but they have someone who is below them- at least they’re not women.
Those industries which employ mainly black women are the most exploitative in the country. Domestic and hospital workers are good examples of this oppression; the garment workers in New York City provide us with another view of this economic slavery. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) - whose overwhelming membership consists of black and Puerto Rican women- has a leadership that is nearly lily-white and male. This leadership has been working in collusion with the ruling class and has completely sold its soul to the corporate structure.
To add insult to injury, the ILGWU has invested heavily in business enterprises in racist, apartheid South Africa- with union funds. Not only does this bought-off leadership contribute to our continued exploitation in this country by not truly representing the best interests of its membership, but it audaciously uses funds that black and Puerto Rican women have provided to support the economy of a vicious government that is engaged in the economic rape and murder of our black brothers and sisters in our Motherland, Africa.
This racist, chauvinistic, and manipulative use of black workers...