Feb 29 2012

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan

Jean Rankin was a wife and mother of thirteen children living in a modest home overlooking the Ohio river in what was the “free state” of Ohio. Through her window she could see a clear and gorgeous view of Kentucky, where thousands of enslaved African Americans lived under the cruel system of American chattel slavery.

For forty years, leading up to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, Jean and her husband John opened their home to offer food, lodging and directions further north to nearly 2000 fugitive slaves seeking freedom.

As a mother, and as an American woman who descended from enslaved Africans, I am awed and humbled by this family. When I think about putting my own freedom and my own children’s lives at risk to serve others, it is a frightening, daunting idea.

While researching this subject of whtie anti-racists in American history, I am finding hundreds of stories of courageous and inspiring people like the Rankins who have been left out of mainstream hero worship. I hope you will agree that it is time to remedy that omission. These are amazing American heroes our children should know about.

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan is an homage to anti-racist white Americans whose lives embodied the ideals of “freedom and justice for all” that our forefathers prescribed at the birth of this nation. Why have they been excluded from our national memory? What has their absence done to our collective psyche in terms of race relations?

The idea for this project came, in part, from an article I read about a young girl named Lisa McClelland who tried to start a “Caucasian Club” at her high school. Long story short—for her own safety, she eventually had to change schools.

Prior to her exile to another campus, the 15-year-old insisted her proposed club would be “a positive organization dedicated to honoring diversity” and a place to learn more about what it means to be white.

Amid the firestorm of controversy Lisa sparked, a KKK representative welcomed her to join their group, and the local NAACP spokesman slammed her idea, calling it racist in name, if not intent. He said,

“When we use the word ‘white’ or ‘Caucasian,’ it has always been associated with racial bigotry. Using that term opens up old wounds…”

What message is sent to young people with the omission of white anti-racist heroes from our national history? White Americans will not (should not?) bother themselves with issues of racial justice?


Jun 30 2008

For Us, By Us

LUCRETIA AND JAMES MOTT ARE MY HEROES!

 

Imagine you lived during a time when the clothes you wore were produced by slave labor. Oh… wait… that’s right… if you’re the average American, (or the average Earthling for that matter) it is highly likely that at least one of the garments you’ve worn in the past week (perhaps what you have on right now) was produced by a worker who earned far less than a living wage.  For evidence of this, please read the story below:

Indian ‘slave’ children found making low-cost clothes destined for Gap Kids
Child workers, some as young as 10, have been found working in a textile factory in conditions close to slavery to produce clothes that appear destined for Gap Kids…
(click here to read the article) 

Knowing this is widespread, and knowing that clothing is not something you can live without…

What would it take for you to commit to never again purchase or wear fabric or clothing that was produced unethically?

I asked myself that question today, and, to be honest with you, I haven’t arrived at a firm resolution yet. I want to change my life so that it mirrors what I know I believe, and yet I’m wondering how hard it might be to find and buy clothing that is cruelty-free.  With the price of gasoline going sky high, and my budget already stretched to capacity, can I afford to forego inexpensive clothing for something that is guaranteed to have been produced justly?  And then there’s the question of consistency. If I’m going to worry about how my clothing is made, shouldn’t I be worried about how my food is harvested?  How about the furnishings in my home?  At a certain point it becomes overwhelming — and that is probably why so many of us turn a blind eye.

Which is one of the many reasons I a.d.m.i.r.e. abolitionists Lucretia and James Mott.

In the decades leading to the end of legal chattel slavery in America, James and Lucretia Mott were fierce abolitionists who saw slavery as an evil to be opposed at every opportunity. Not only did they open their home to escaping slaves, the couple refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods.

Lucretia was known for her skill as an orator, and spoke publicly for abolition, despite repeated threats against her home and family.

African American Abolitionist Frederick Douglas wrote of Lucretia:

“Foremost among these noble American women, in point of clearness of vision, breadth of understanding, fullness of knowledge, catholicity of spirit, weight of character, and widespread influence, was Lucretia Mott of Philadelphia. Great as this woman was in speech, and persuasive as she was in her writings, she was incomparably greater in her presence. She spoke to the world through every line of her countenance. In her there was no lack of symmetry–no contradiction between her thought and act. Seated in an anti-slavery meeting, looking benignantly around upon the assembly, her silent presence made others eloquent, and carried the argument home to the heart of the audience.

I shall never forget the first time I ever saw and heard Lucretia Mott…The speaker was attired in the usual Quaker dress, free from startling colors, plain, rich, elegant, and without superfluity–the very sight of her, a sermon. In a few moments after she began to speak, I saw before me no more a woman, but a glorified presence, bearing a message of light and love from the Infinite to a benighted and strangely wandering world, straying away from the paths of truth and justice into the wilderness of pride and selfishness, where peace is lost and true happiness is sought in vain. I heard Mrs. Mott thus, when she was comparatively young. I have often heard her since, sometimes in the solemn temple, and sometimes under the open sky, but whenever and wherever I have listened to her, my heart has always been made better and my spirit raised by her words; and in speaking thus for myself I am sure I am expressing the experience of thousands.”

To learn more about Lucrtia and James Mott visit one of these links:

James and Lucretia Mott: Life and Letters By Anna Davis Hallowell, Lucretia Mott
http://www.gwyneddfriends.org/mott.html

As I read, and write about this awesome woman (and her husband who supported her work), I am inspired to get off the fence I’ve been on for so long.  I pledge to educate myself about this issue and work to become a part of the solution.

I am a descendant of slaves whose forced labor produced goods that made rich people richer.  Isn’t it a dishonor to them to buy or wear clothing that makes rich people richer at the expense of the disenfranchised and the desperate?

Here’s my poem about it:

For Us, By Us

kneel beside her now
this brown sister
sweat drenched
work weary
perpetually underfed

taste a drop of her sorrow
this Creator’s child
leg shackled
to desperation
freedom be her dread

ache to lift her burden
workhorse woman
baby tied
to bowed back
with rags from massa’s wife

scream out justice for this
soul survivor
hands weary
scarred and wageless
clinging to so-called life

we could end her slavery
invisible daughter
piece-worker
anonymous
sweatshop whore

call her name, haiti
dominca, mexico
she be nafta’s slave
serving two gods
hers, and, yes, brother, yours

condemn her masters
karan, levi,
brooks brothers
and, sadly,
your own f.u.b.u

hey, brother
she’s your sister
your daughter
your mother

hey,

brother

nice

suit