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Est. April 5, 2002
April 19, 2018 - Issue 738

Women and Women
Separate and Unequal

"Women understand structural bias toward men
(white men, in particular). Women recognize this
institutionalization of gender bias in language.
Women acknowledge the ways women have been
trained/educated to believe in and therefore play
the role of an abiding companion
within a patriarchal narrative."

When the feminists began to be very articulate and write articles and march and go to meetings in camps and have magazines and so on, I always said that’s interesting. They’re having these huge meetings about feminism and the power of women, and they’re leaving all their Black maids at home.

Toni Morrison, Interview, 2013, The New York Public Library

I listen to women. Since the re-boot of #MeToo in 2017, I’ve found it interesting to hear women speak and write about the ways women have had to placate men. Women have been expected to remain silent when being told how this world operates. Women this. Women that.

Hemingway really did love women! Take our word for it! Besides, he’s an honored member of the American literary canon!

And so women decided to no longer acknowledge Hemingway as the great and almighty American writer. He’s a misogynist! Period. Some women going so far as to no longer requiring their students to read the writer’s works.

The women didn’t seem to notice how Ernest Hemingway portrayed Robert Cohen, the Jewish character, in The Sun Also Rises. And did the women confer with Black women or Latina women as to how to respond to Hemingway’s misogyny or his preconceptions toward Jews or people of color? The women who voted for 45 and who supported the alleged pedophile, Roy Moore, didn’t ask Black women what they thought of these white men. In fact, 53% of white women thumbed their nose at women of color in that November presidential election. The current occupant in the White House knew these women would understand what he didn’t even attempt to disguise in coded language: Mexican men rape white women!

And I’ll come back to Hemingway in a minute.

Women understand structural bias toward men (white men, in particular). Women recognize this institutionalization of gender bias in language. Women acknowledge the ways women have been trained/educated to believe in and therefore play the role of an abiding companion within a patriarchal narrative. Yet, to recognize that the majority of women on the planet are women of color, that is, women who are not women, is somehow incomprehensible. When it comes to understanding racism existence in the US, some of these same women become downright indignant: how dare we consider them anything other than sisters in the struggle.

To not recognize that similar if not the same language used to uncover the structural and systemic violence of sexism against women is also similar if not the same language used to uncover the structural and systemic violence of racism against people of color is troubling. Incomprehensible to me, and to women of color at least since Sojourner Truth!

We women are undermined and silenced! We women are discredited and disrespected! Women’s knowledge is “subjugated”! How is “mankind” inclusive of women?

So I’m willing to bet that in most cases - this conveniently imposed blindness, this sudden expression of ignorance - is deliberate. Whatever you want to call it, the results are the same: it’s convenient and painless means of forgetting, having to own up to culpability in the very act of sidestepping historical responsibility as a member of that racial group of conquerors. It requires privilege, that is, racial privilege. Self interest, too! Self interest makes the difference most every time.

We’re saying enough is enough. We’re tired of pandering to the status quo. Tired of going along to get alongto our detriment. Nothing changes, except we get older, tired. I should have said this when the librarian recommended a book her book club is reading. I don’t remember if she volunteered this information or if I asked her. But, as she was describing the book, I could see it! I could see how such a book is marketed for a book club of mainly women. Progressive, maybe. Democratic. White.

It sounded like another version of Out of Africa.

It’s written by a woman. Set in Africa.

Oh, I said. Caught off guard again. On the other hand, why would this librarian think I would be interested in such a book, set in Africa, written by a woman?

I can’t come into the library after police have shot dead another young Black life and express my sorrow or anger. In fact, anything I say about any murder of our young will be greeted with a stoic expression from any one of the women librarians. I’m to understand by the stoic expression that the librarian can’t make a comment. But if I came in, as I have, and mention hearing about the domestic abuse charges against Johnny Depp or Casey Affleck, if I say to the attending librarian, that I don’t want to view this or that film featuring either of the actors - well, that’s okay. That will get a response. It’s about women. Domestic abuse or sexual assault against women…

Even while my heart is breaking as I watch the police video of Stephon Clark being shot 22 times. As a woman, I can’t share this event with another woman!

I told the librarian to request the book for me. Put it on my account! We do pander. I do. Too much. And when I had time to check the title, which I can’t recall now, it is as I expected. Well, I’ve been to Africa too! I taught a year in Ethiopia, and I’m trying to write of my experiences—and where’s the market for our stories?

Why not a book written by a Black African women - a Nigerian, an Ethiopian, a Gambian - on saying, cooking Injera for a community of elders? Are there no Black African nurses or doctors? No Black African archaeologists or geologists? Are we to believe that there are no Black African travel writers on the whole continent of Africa?

I know there’s a tradition of Black African women writers - Bessie Head, Buchi Emecheta, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Tsitsi Dangarembga among others. Why aren’t the works of these writers offered as reading material for these book clubs?

I’ve read and studied some travel literature out of Africa written by white Europeans, including Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the discourse surrounding this work. Europeans learned of Africa and its people from merchants, seamen, and missionaries who wrote of their experiences. The image of Africa as a dark, mysterious, black hole of sorts, on this Earth’s surface, did much to justify and legitimize the theft of that continent of its resources, but also most important, of its people—and the rights of the survivors of this pillage to achieve their full potential as human beings.

Not once does the canonized author, Conrad, in Heart of Darkness, (1899), refer to the African people as people—African people. “But suddenly as we struggled round a bend there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage.”

Soon, however, the narrator, Marlow, wonders about the worst of it—the slowly dawning knowledge that these creatures are “not inhuman.” But that these howling, leaping, and horrid faces, he writes, might actually be kin to us, Europeans. This might be an expression of their “humanity.” Like you and me, reader! “[T]he thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly.”

And Conrad, in Congo Diary and Other Uncollected Pieces, (1890), records encountering three women, one appeared to be an “albino,” with “horrid chalky white and pink blotches. Red eyes. Red hair. Features very Negroid and ugly.”

And George Washington Williams, a Black American and self-made intellectual, in an open letter to King Leopold II, regarding the “truth, the whole truth,” writes of the ugliness of the King’s troops. “Your Majesty’s Government has been, and is now, guilty of waging unjust and cruel wars against natives, with the hope of securing slaves and women, to minister to the behests of the officers of your Government.”

Williams writes of witnessing “brutal” acts by Belgian soldiers “who give no quarter to the aged grandmother or nursing child at the breast of its mother.”

In his travel-memoir set in Africa, Swedish writer Sven Lindquist notes (“Exterminate All the Brutes”) that Conrad couldn’t have avoided hearing of the “ceaseless genocide that marked his century...It is we who have suppressed it. We do not want to remember. We want genocide to have begun and ended with Nazism. That is what is most comforting.”

I thought it would be a “teaching moment.” A by the way, because I’m rushing in and off to a doctor’s appointment. That book, I checked it out, whatever week that was. And removed the request. We, I said, we are tired of reading the Out of Africa type books.

It’s by a woman, the librarian says again.

Yes, but… and I’m moving back, away from the counter, toward the library’s door. I’m running late. But, I am tired. We’re tired of the white account of their time in Africa.

Well, sorry you feel this way.

No, it’s not me - alone.

How many times have I been here with women? I could suggest she read The Guardian July 22, 2016 article, “Let’s Get More Travel Stories on Africa by Africans,” written by Elliot Ross, Lydia Ngoma, and Samira Sawlani, in which the authors, critiquing Louise Linton’s travel-to-Africa-memoir, call for travel stories set in Africa written by Africans—thank you! Because enough is enough! Because, my dear fellow woman, 200 years worth of travel narratives written primarily by white Europeans as well as white Americans is enough!

This can’t be so difficult for a younger generation of women to comprehend!

So one of the writers of the article I mentioned above, Sawlani, who is not Lenore Daniels, writes: “while there is no shortage of travel writers from diverse backgrounds, their experiences are rarely seen in the mainstream media. Such stories would provide a more authentic and badly needed alternative to the cliched, often patronising tales by ‘white saviours,’ with their echoes of Kipling and Conrad.”

And it doesn’t matter if they are male or female! But she can’t imagine what I’m thinking nor has she heard or read the thoughts of Black women critics and theorists since the 1970s.

But, yes, I’m tired of it. I’m not alone. I say. But it’s fine for you. (And, no, it’s informed opinion. Literature is my subject).

Then the librarian adds something interesting. She says, I don’t want to fight with you, Ms. Daniels.

I’m thinking, fight? She’s using the word, fight? And “Ms. Daniels”--is this yet a road sign to another fissure, particularly in this country?

Alright, I’ve dared to speak as a Black women. I’ve dared to speak back to a woman! So I’m violent! A bad girl! What doesn’t need articulation and what is understood is that I’m not playing the role of the “good” Black woman. Or, better - girl. I didn’t stay in character, responding to the “good” and, of course, non-racist protagonist, with a nothing more than a smile and a bow.

How to maintain the illusion of innocence if I refuse to play by part to perfection?

So I must want a “fight”!

I’m trying to get to a doctor’s appointment. For a moment, I look at her, at a bit of a distance now, wondering what does she see?

It’s a teaching moment, I say as I’m opening the library door and exit.

Many in the younger generations could benefit from a public library system and librarians who are unafraid and willing to challenge racial as well as gender discrimination - but for the self interests. Too many fear losing their positions, income. Or losing funding from other self-interests groups intent on maintaining the racial imbalance…

I’d rather read Hemingway’s 1935 hunting memoir Green Hills of Africa! At least with Hemingway, he doesn’t pretend to care much about the Africans he encounters; he’s pursuing “big game” as a hunter on the safari. (Unfortunately)! According to C.G. Poore, critiquing the book for the The New York Times in 1935, “Africa is thoroughly in the book.” That is, Hemingway gives us the hyena and the big lions, Simba, included, writes Poore. It’s about the pleasures, he adds, of drinking and writing. That’s Hemingway! No illusions must I maintain for the benefit of women who refuse to see that women are more than Anglo and more than American.

Besides, Hemingway served me well during the years in the 1980s when I taught English 099, 100, and 101 for the City Colleges of Chicago. I reached out to Hemingway for his 3-4-page short stories, his nearly adjective-free, simple vocabulary and short sentences. And the subject matter of his stories—humans in trying situations, surviving—mirrored our circumstances and helped us communicate with one another beyond the patriarchal glare.

Women can write about their travels to Africa. These women are exercising a certain freedom, aren’t they. In the meantime, I don’t have to read them. And so…

Fifty years ago this year, the Kerner report, looking at race relations in the US, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the subsequent riots and unrest in cities across the country, concluded that the US was divided. Two societies existed—one Black and one white. “Separate and unequal.”

Separate and unequal. Seems to suit some just fine.

Just a few days ago, on April 10th, many of us heard the news that we lost a long-time community organizer, agitator. A fighter supreme! In one of her last group emails, there was Kiilu Nyasha calling us to action: “We have to step up to the plate, folks!”

We do because the fight for justice and equality never ends for women of the world who’ve had enough. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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