by Micah (To'Londa) Torres '18. Performed in housemeeting on Martin Luther King Day. The quote that inspired it is included at the end.
It’s about an hour since the grand jury’s decision in the Darren Wilson case in Ferguson was announced, and I’m still feeling sucker punched despite being among the millions who had anticipated the decision and the millions more who could tell it was coming once prosecutor Robert McCulloch began his bizarre preamble to the announcement. Besides sharing their own anger, anguish, sadness, or frustration, teachers on my Twitter and Facebook timelines have also been wondering what on Earth they’re going to tell their students tomorrow.
We’re on Thanksgiving vacation, so I don’t have that immediate worry, but I do need to think about what we might do upon our return in December. As it happens, one of the six students in my Humanities 7 class who still has to present on her second Focus Question after break wrote her essay on racism and white supremacy. She had been unafraid to tackle difficult questions, including white privilege. And her essay included a powerful moment when the white resident of a predominantly black neighborhood, made the statement that “There’s no need to be careful if you treat people as human beings.” At that point, she saw a black woman emerge from a nearby house and added, loudly, “As long as you don’t have a gun in your hand, I’m okay with you.” (Huber)
(an address to the school on Columbus Day)
“Bra-burning. Man-hating. Angry and unattractive. Such stereotypes have shadowed the women’s movement over the past few decades — and a slew of young, fashionable celebs are working to clarify feminism’s true definition.” (Fairchild) Setting aside for another day the question of why such a stereotype may have come to life and remained, in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, so persistent, Caroline Fairchild raises a good question in her article “Will young celebrities make feminism ‘cool’?” Besides noting Emma Watson’s epic speech at the UN launching the “He for She” campaign, Ms. Fairchild mentions Taylor Swift’s recent realization that she has been a feminist all along and Beyoncé’s performance at the VMAs backed by the word “feminist” in huge block letters.
Feminism, many analysts note, has been waging an uphill battle for years to define itself as being in general far more inclusive than it is typically portrayed. I’ve certainly seen many students over my three decades here echo Ms. Swift’s sentiment when she said, “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.” (Swift, quoted in Thomas)
written on May 3, 2014, the day of Northampton's annual Pride celebration
Last fall, when one of my advisees was given the chance to write about what she liked about this school, she focused on growing up with a bunch of annoying brothers and how great it was to be in the dorm and feeling sisterhood. When shared with other people, the line always draws a laugh, but it can also cause a moment of introspection.
Three years ago, when working on my annual Martin Luther King Day piece, I wanted to connect his dream that children in the U.S. might “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” to similar dreams for social justice for other axes of diversity. As it happened, once we had published the piece and I had spoken in housemeeting, a discussion emerged on Twitter about whether or not these very kinds of connection were appropriate or appropriation. Concerned, I wanted to seek out opinions, and seized on an interchange between two of my friends, John Spencer and José Vilson, to bring up the question. I emerged from that short discussion believing that I needed to focus more specifically on racism in any future Martin Luther King Day speeches, and I believe I have done so for the most part (2012 - 2013 (less so) - 2014). But in the process of reacting to that 2011 post, I added another cringe-worthy moment to a long and ever-growing list.
However much I might have tried to disguise it to myself at the time, what I did was unfair to José and John, and perhaps especially to José as a person of colour. Through my actions, I was making them responsible for teaching me rather than going out and educating myself. In the process, in other words, I was not being an effective ally in the anti-racist fight for social justice, however well-intentioned I may have been. I’ve tried never to do that again - which is not to say there haven’t been other cringe-worthy moments since. Hopefully, though, they are at least becoming fewer and further between.
An address to the school delivered on Martin Luther King Day.
May my tweets reflect my compassion & if/when they don’t may I have enough self-awareness to reign myself back in. #Amen
- Sister Outsider
These days, it seems that making a sincere, genuine, heartfelt apology is becoming something of a lost art. Far too often, the transgressor manages to include the phrase “I’m sorry” without ever accepting any personal responsibility, often including the word “if” to increase the fudge factor. Yet, an apology that reads essentially “I’m sincerely sorry if anyone was offended by my actions despite my obviously good intentions” just doesn’t cut it, especially when followed by a long explanation of those good intentions and little to no consideration whatsoever for the genuine hurt and/or anger experienced by other people as a direct consequence of those specific actions.
The first voice you hear on the trailer for the Dark Girls documentary is a young woman saying, “I can remember being in the bathtub asking my mom to put bleach in the water so that my skin would be lighter and so that I could escape the feelings that I had about not being as beautiful, as acceptable, as lovable.” She never completes the comparison. She doesn’t have to.
The movie’s website asks “Has anything really changed since the days of American slavery when dark-skinned Blacks were made to suffer even greater indignities than their lighter skinned counterparts?” and by way of response, states “Ask today’s dark Black woman.” Of the women’s interviews, co-producer D. Channsin Berry noted, “These ladies broke it down to the degree that dark-skinned ‘sistas’ with ‘good’ hair vs. dark-skinned women with ‘kinky’ hair were given edges when it came time for coveted promotions.”