Uncategorized – Barbara Beckwith http://www.barbarabeckwith.net Writer and Activist Tue, 06 Jun 2017 18:33:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Honoring Black women activists http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2017/01/16/honoring-black-women-activists/ Mon, 16 Jan 2017 20:46:07 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/?p=572 On Martin Luther King Jr Day, I want to honor these young Black women:

  • 3 young women, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors (two are queer), who started #Black Lives Matter, launching the BLM movement
  • 2 young women leading Black Lives Matter in Boston and in Cambridge – Stephanie Guirand and DiDi Delgado
  • 2 students, Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau whose video is changing Boston Latin School
  • 2 Black high schoolers (and 2 white men) who chained themselves to the Cambridge City Hall front door to insist on expanded affordable housing
  • Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, a bi-racial man, who knelt during the National Anthem to support Black Lives Matter’s protests, and those that followed, including high school athletes
  • Shay Stewart-Bouley, who leads Community Change Inc
  • Bree Newsome, who responded to white supremacist David Root’s slaughter of 9 Black worshippers at a prayer service, by scaling the 30-foot flagpole in front of the South Carolina statehouse to take down the Confederate  flag – the flag was permanently removed the next month
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Democracy is taking a pause http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2017/01/08/democracy-is-taking-a-pause/ Mon, 09 Jan 2017 00:41:40 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/?p=569 “Democracy is taking a pause but is not dead yet. We need to reflect on where it should go so it can continue to grow.”  – John L. Hodge, author of How We Are Our Enemy – and How to Stop, and Overcoming the Lie of “Race” http://www.johnlhodge.com

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Recent essays and blog posts http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2016/08/08/recent-essays-and-blog-posts/ Mon, 08 Aug 2016 16:05:53 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/?p=565 Read some of my 2016 essays at

www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2016/07/26/women-and-aging-barbara-beckwith
www.wbur.org
/cognoscenti/2016/…/dads-letters-to-mom-barbara-beckwith
Blog post: www.ccae.org/content/white-people-challenging-racism

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Faux Pas http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2016/01/23/faux-pas/ Sat, 23 Jan 2016 15:47:24 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/?p=561 My husband and I visit France often. We stay with French friend, read French newspapers, and in between visits, stay au courant via French TVs. We adopt, while in France, that smooth gait that the French develop from years of constant perusal by cafe-goers.

Still, we stumble, linguistically, each time we visit.

On a recent trip on bicycles in the Midi-Pyrennees, we pedaled up to a crossroads in the town of Lauzerte, just as a young boy on a bike approached the same intersection. Jon gave him a magnanimous wave to go first. Jon’s words, however, inadvertently conveyed the opposite message. Instead saying of “Vas y” (go ahead), Jon called out “Va t’en” – telling the boy to scram. The boy rushed off in tears.

Our pronunciation is part of the problem: Jon’s, at least, is so good that people assume he’s a native and that his word choice is deliberate. Each faux pas, each “tu” instead of “vous” to address a stranger, is taken as rudeness. On another bike trip, Jon stopped to buy salve to treat painful chafing, the result of too many hours on a too-narrow bike seat. Since his problem was of the diaper rash sort, he asked, with an impressively nasal final syllable, for “Desitin.” The pharmacist gave him a blank look. So Jon tried to explain that it was used for babies: “pour un bebe avec une probleme de la cul” which literally translated means, “for a baby’s problem with his ass.” The shocked pharmacist responded sharply: “Non, monsieur! On dit les fesses!” – the proper word for bottom. Jon had used language more appropriate to pornography. We hoped they assumed we’d just been reading Balzac.

If his authentic accent gets Jon into trouble, my use of esoteric words backfires, as well. At an elegant restaurant in a castle that was once the residence of the Marquis du Rochegude, I told the waiter that I’d like to check the bouquet of my husband’s wine before ordering my own. To do so, I used a verb – flairer – that I’d recently found in an advanced French vocabulary list. Unfortunately, that verb applies not to a connoisseur’s delicate sniff, but to the snort of a horse. The waiter reared back, then corrected me — sentir is the word I should have used. We left a large tip.

Most often I trip up over words that sound the same but aren’t: cognates. Recently, while being driven around by new acquaintances to see the churches of Mende, I tried to start a conversation about religion by asking the fashionably dressed woman next to me: “Etes vous religieuse?” Her eyebrows shot up, her mouth blew out a “bouf.” “Ah, but I am Jewish – how could I be?”

To my embarrassment (“croyante” was the word I should have used), I’d just asked her if she were a nun.

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http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2015/10/11/546/ Sun, 11 Oct 2015 17:25:23 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/?p=546 Everyday Racism: Questions & Quandaries – 3rd in What Was I Thinking? essay series (2015)

Table of Contents

Who’s Beautiful? Who’s Not? Who is attractive? And who decides? A news article about “jolie laide” still grates on me.

What’s Behind the Power of a Stare? When is a “long look” okay, simply rude, or even racist?

Why Read Slave Narratives? My students borrow my racism-related books, but never select a slave narrative. Why?

In the Face of Resistance: A Lay Facilitator’s Experience: What to do when students in my anti-racism class resist its basic premise?

It’s My Job, Not His, to Counter Anti-Semitic Stereotypes: My husband, who is Jewish, doesn’t fret over lingering prejudices, while I need to unravel each one.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves About the People Who Came Before Us: I heard one family story growing up, then discovered a truer story.

Is Racism Too Entrenched to Be Defeated? Can we end racism? If not, should we keep trying?

Racial Justice Books Worth Reading: Here’s Why: These eighteen books are about looking at our lives through the lens of race, examining deeper dimensions of racial justice pioneers, getting our facts straight, learning from collective experiences, and imagining lives through fiction.

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My Review of Books I read on our Aug 2015 Reading Weekend, Great Barrington, MA http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2015/09/08/my-review-of-books-i-read-on-our-aug-2015-reading-weekend-great-barrington-ma/ Tue, 08 Sep 2015 23:57:13 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/?p=532

Novel

The Meursault Investigation, by Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud (The Other Press, 2015; first published in 2014 in France). Stunningly told in the 2nd person, from the perspective of Musa, the brother of “the Arab” killed by Meursault in Camus’ novel L’Etranger. Musa  talks to whoever will listen in a bar, Ancient Mariner-like. He is haunted by what he sees as the acclaimed French Algerian author’s  ignoring the humanity, even the name, of the man he killed for no reason.  The reviews I read after our reading weekend talk of Daoud’s “revenge” plot but ignore (except for Irish Times) what I saw: the confusing conflation of Camus as author and Camus ‘s character Meursault.

I saw it as a brilliant recreation in Musa of the same anomie as Meursault; the same existentialist view, the same godlessness, inability to act, and unjustified killing. The “voice” is compelling: it makes me want to read more novels written in the 2nd person. I am reading Daoud again, and L’Etranger, as well, and have ordered Camus’ autobiography Le Premier Homme (but in English).

Narrative Non-fiction:

Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America by Helen Thorpe (Scribner, 2009). I finished this book I’d been reading at home. The author follows four talented and smart girls through high school, focusing on their struggle to go to college and get professional jobs. The book makes clear that the two “without papers” are hampered and hemmed in at every turn, while the two who “have papers” face challenges as well, including to their friendships.  The girls’ struggles to fulfil their potential seem heroic to me.

Memoir

Lost Among the Baining: Adventure, Marriage, & Other Fieldwork, by Gail Pool (University of Missouri Press, 2015). Loved this book, which appears to be but is more than an account of an anthropological expedition, more than a travel book, more than a memoir. I can relate to Gail, a woman who “follows her husband” Jeremy as I did when Jon  worked in labs abroad (London and Cambridge, Paris and Naples). Jeremy wants to study gender roles among New Guinea’s Baining, a little studied group, but his expectations of the studiable aspects of their lives prove elusive: they don’t seem to have gender roles, myths, rituals, religions. Gail slogs with him through the jungle, then struggles with what to do when they get there. They argue. They cope. After 16 months, they return to the U.S. Disillusioned, Jeremy abandons anthropology, goes in to computer work. Gail has children and struggles as a writer, haunted by her experience in her 20s but unable to put it into a novel. In 2008,  Jeremy is invited to New Guinea for a conference. They take an even more onerous (they are now in their 60s) boat/jeep/walk back to the Baining, which gives Gail enough perspective to write this book. Pool writes in the first person, which adds immediacy to her story. She ends with this reflection:

“What a mark these quiet people made on our lives. How they awed and angered and frightened us with how little they seemed to need, threatening everything we thought, even thinking itself. There was a before and after the Baining, and after, nothing felt the same. There we are at the end of our field trip, running in fear and anger from what the Baining seemed to have revealed about life and ourselves….We can’t change the past, but we have given it a different ending, which has changed the story itself. We are no longer afraid, we are no longer angry, and we are no longer running. We see no need for judgments – one culture against another – and no choice between them that we ever could have made. From here, we no longer blame the Baining for not being who anthropologists thought they should be. And from here, we no longer blame this journey for leaving us in exile, which now feels like a place of our own. We aren’t Baining. We have never quite come home. But our battles – with the Baining and one another – have ended. And somehow everyone has won.”

The Theft of Memory: On Losing My Father, One Day at a Time, by Jonathan Kozol (Crown, 2105). Kozol describes his parents’ later years (they live to be 102), as his mother becomes frail and his father, a former neurologist,  struggles to communicate despite Alzheimers, often writing in the form of doctor’s memos.

“Repair repetitions. Hope: Advise and continue treatment plan. Hope: in catastrophe. Legs: Recovery. Continued recent status of. Note: Loss of Certain Figures. List: History of HLK poses a number of several histories and multiple fine retardants.”

Kozol’s father reveals, at age 88, his cognitive problems to his son but doesn’t let his wife know until long after. A broken hip sends him to a nursing home, where he stays for 6 years, after which Kozol,  who’d for years been largely absent, writing and traveling extensively, moves his father back into his parents’ Cambridge home, to be cared for 24/7 by a series of wonderful caretakers (well, one not wonderful). When $ for caregivers ran out, Kozol makes up the difference. Kozol discovers as he looks through his father’s papers, that his patients included Eugene ONeil and that he’d evaluated Albert DeSalvo (The Boston Strangler) and Patty Hearst. He ponders his relationship with his parents over the decades, and, ever the institutional critic, describes the bad care his father got from his geriatrician (and at MGH).

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau/Random House, 2105). Coates writes this book to his teenaged son; it’s as fiery and eloquent as James Baldwin.

[On school] “The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.”

It began to strike me that the point of my education, was the process that would not award me my own especial Dream but would break all the dreams, all the comforting myths of Africa, of America, and everywhere, and would leave me only with humanity in all its terribleness.

For “people who think they are white” [Coates uses this identifier throughout his memoir], forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of the theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them the suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down hear with us, down here in the world.

My great error was not that I had accepted someone else’s dream but that I had accepted the fact of dreams, the need for escape, and the invention of racecraft.

Perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered.

Forgiving the killer of Prince Jones [young black man killed by Virginia police officer who claimed Prince had tried to run him over with his jeep] would have seemed irrelevant to me. The killer was the direct expression of all his countries beliefs.

I knew that Prince George County police had killed Elmer Clay Newman, then claimed he’d rammed his own head into the wall of a jail cell. And I knew that they’d shot Gary Hopkins and said he’d gone for an officer’s gun. And I knew they had beaten Freddie McCollum half-blind and blamed it all on a collapsing floor. And I had read reports of these officers choking mechanics, shooting construction workers, slamming suspects through the glass doors of shopping malls. And I knew that they did this with great regularity. These shooters were investigated, exonerated, and promptly returned to the streets, where, so emboldened, they shot again.

Our current politics tell you that should you fall victim to such an assault and lose our body, it must somehow be your fault. Trayvon Martin’s hoodie got him killed. Jordan Davis’s loud music did the same. John Crawford should never have touched the rifle on display. Kajieme Powell should have known not to be crazy. All of them should have had fathers—even the ones who had fathers, even you.

Now I personally understood my father and the old mantra – “either I can beat him or the police.” I understood it all – the cable wires, the extension cords, the ritual switch. Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that American made. That is a philosophy of the disembodied, of a people who control nothing, who can protect nothing, who are made to fear not just the criminals among them but the police who lord over them with all the moral authority of a protection racket.

This need to be always on guard was an unmeasured expenditure of energy, the slow siphoning of the essence. It contributed to the fast breakdown of our bodies. It is truly horrible to understand yourself as the essential below of your country.

I have raised you to respect every human being as singular, and you must extend that same respect into the past. Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind as active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers  the way the light falls in one particular spot in the wood, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite seasons who excels at dressmaking and knows, insider herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.

I wanted you to have your own life, apart from fear – even apart from me. I am wounded. I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.

Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God, and Real Estate in a Small Town, by Sarah Payne Stuart (Riverhead, 2015).  I had started this book and read the last half this weekend. Stuart’s sardonic and overgeneralized view of WASPy Concord, MA, verges toward the snarky, although she mocks herself as much as she mocks what she sees as the town’s pervasive WASP/Pilgrim mores, and her parents’ enthusiastic collusion with them. Her memoir starts:

If you come from New England, the creeping certainty that you are a bad person is always with you.

I had been taught as a child not to want things – as my mother and the Concord matriarchs would call anything new and unnecessary.

We were not a present-y family – our discomfort tracing back to the Puritans who made a point – though what point I do not know – of treating Christmas like an ordinary day.

I might have welcomed the Indians attacking, so guilty was I about my bragging. l “Materialistic, mercenary, “house-proud” – the damning adjectives of my parents’ generation ran accusingly through my brain.

And yet she kept buying houses (a photo of each starts each chapter), repeating the failings she sees in her town and family:

My identity has been a poor one – based on a silly family pride that has not deserved itself for many generations, on raising my children in houses we can’t afford, on having my parents at hand to monitor my successes and failures.

He too [her husband] had been weaned from milk bottle to gin bottle on the icy Calvinistic belief that you were either good or bad, with no recourse to the comfort of priest or confessional.

One frosty morning, a brigade of ferociously frill-less women in L. L. Bean coats descended upon us. These were the women of the Concord Historic Districts Commission and just about every other commission in town (on the census they list their occupations, terrifyingly, as: volunteer). … Suddenly we doubted ourselves: why were we spending money on our house instead of saving it? Why, for that matter, had we never saved anything? These women had saved throughout their entire lives – they were saving now. They carpooled to get here; they don’t touch the guest towels in my powder room, but emerge shaking their hands dry. They’ve saved on clothes, on face creams, on Scotch tape, on Christmas presents, on wrapping paper, on demonstrations of affection.

I don’t know whether I want people to think I’m rich or I’m poor, frugal, extravagant, or generous. I feel miserable when I spend money and sad when I don’t.

Stuart weaves in Concord’s famous authors Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau and especially Louisa May Alcott and the reality of the beleaguered author of Little Women: “As much as I delight in hating Bronson Alcott, the sad truth is, when it comes to houses and the deeply shallow joy we take from them – we are one.”

She mocks her own family:

Somehow it was my mother who was always the center of our disdain. My mother whom I aped doing the jerk or the twist at a jazz party, churning up and down like a corkscrew with gritted teeth; my mother, whom we laughed at, manufacturing chores for us that would have been easier for her to do herself; my mother who, we laughed, stupidly trusted me with my pot-smoking brothers at the house when she and my father were away for a weekend.

A professional photographer had been engaged at hideous expense to take a hideous photograph to be hideously framed or each member of the family – only three years hence to be tossed in attics due to sundry uncoupling.

She recounts, in her persistent sardonic tone, the mental problems of her mother, her brother, and her son. And yet I do admire snarky sentences of the kind I would never think to write, like this, describing what’s in her deceased mother-in-laws’ dresser drawer —  “a writhing snake pit of old panty hose.”

And her description of her own self-pride and downfall upon publication of her first book :

I sauntered around town, modestly smiling at everyone….. when[the esteemed Concord matriarch] addressed me [in the supermarket], not by my childhood nickname, but at last, at last (!) by my writing name – “Sarah Payne Stuart!” – I had whirled around aglow, only to hear her exclaim, “You have my cart.”

Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Charles M. Blow (Houghton Mifflin, 2105). NYT columnist describes being raised in Louisiana in poverty by a mother (his father was mostly absent) who raised five boys, eventually earning degrees that allowed her to support them. Blow fantasized about boys; but could never say so; the worst thing a black kid could be called was a “punk” (gay). He was traumatized and further silenced when his mother berated him for his walk, when his older cousin abused him and then threatened to say he was a punk, when an uncle groped him. All this made him feel that HE was wrong, not those who had wronged him. He became known for his athletic and intellectual brilliance, and at his historically black college, joined a fraternity after torturous hazing that the then allowed to continue when he became the frat’s president. By the end of his memoir, he is married with kids, and comfortable as a bisexual.

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URLs for my Writing Process Blog Tour http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2014/05/26/urls-for-my-writing-process-blog-tour/ Mon, 26 May 2014 15:49:07 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2014/05/26/urls-for-my-writing-process-blog-tour/ www.suekatz.typepad.com,
www.lesliebrunetta.com,
www.barbarabeckwith.net,
www.cddbooks.com,
www.lisabraxton.org,
www.terryfarish.com

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Recommended Reading: A Memoir http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2014/02/27/recommended-reading-a-memoir/ http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2014/02/27/recommended-reading-a-memoir/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 16:39:11 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2014/02/27/recommended-reading-a-memoir/ If you’ve been enlightened by Tim Wise’s White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, or intrigued by my white privilege-related essays, do read Debby Irving’s memoir, Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, just out in 2014.

The book’s cover is of a happy little girl at dinner, surrounded by silver, crystal, and gauzy curtains. The word WHITE stretches across the width of the book’s cover; the subtitle makes clear that although race isn’t real, biologically, the stories we tell ourselves about “race” result in powerful and damaging realities.

Irving looks back at incidents in her life from age five on, as a way to understand her own race and class privileges, of which she was unaware until well into her 40s.

When she did learn about race and class privilege, she didn’t do so entirely on her own. Throughout her memoir, she acknowledges the range of people she learned from, and profiles each in the mentor section of her website, www.debbyirving.com.

She’s frank about her stereotyped thoughts; even as an adult she catches herself feeling mistrustful of her new chiropractor when she sees that he is a person of color. She examines her racial and class privilege in every area of her life but also learns that, since “nearly all of my thoughts are born of the culture in which racism is embedded,” it makes no sense to wallow in guilt.

Irving manages to be witty about her own shortcomings, including missteps in speaking up against another’s racism: “I got all puffy and angry like I thought an anti-racist activist should.” As for class privilege, she learns most from her husband Bruce: his “talking to the nuns” story is particularly both funny and apt.

She’s a great story teller, writing as if she’s talking directly to you. Her metaphors are as illuminating as Peggy McIntosh’s image of an invisible backpack full of unearned privileges, which white people carry wherever they go. Irving compares her years-long avoidance of authentic interaction with people of color to the electrical fencing systems people use to “zap” their dogs to train them to stay in the yard. “For decades the racially charged Zap sent me scampering back to my comfort zone. Rather than examining the source of the social tension I felt around people of color, I retreated to my social comfort zone – other white people.”

I couldn’t put her book down because her stories made me think about similar incidents in my life. She ends each chapter with questions, in effect, asking the reader: “I’ve showed you mine, now you show me yours.”

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Why Read Slave Narratives? http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2013/09/27/why-read-slave-narratives/ Fri, 27 Sep 2013 23:16:59 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/?p=346 I bring an array of books to the People Challenging Racism class I co-lead, offering to loan them during the semester. These books include memoirs by formerly enslaved men and women. But none of the students – young, old, white or of color – asks to borrow any of these personal accounts of bondage. I understand their reluctance: I wouldn’t have either, until recently. Yes, I’d read about slavery. But I’d never considered going to the source: the wide range of slave narratives available both in books and online. My avoidance dates back decades, to the Roots mini-series. I couldn’t watch more than the initial show, so appalled was I by the graphic scenes of whippings, and by a horrific punishment I could never have imagined: metal grills clamped over slaves’ faces that allowed them to neither talk nor eat. I had also turned away from accounts of the Holocaust. In both cases, I feared that they’d be solely about bondsmen and bondswomen stripped of dignity, agency, and humanity. My change of heart and mind started with a plaque I noticed in front of a house in my neighborhood in Cambridge (MA). Installed as part of my city’s new African American Heritage Trail, it marked the home of Harriett Jacobs, who, more than 150 years ago, self-published under the pseudonym Linda Brent, a memoir of her enslavement, escape, and life as an emancipated woman. As a fellow writer, I was intrigued. So I put my qualms aside, and read Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself, and then a dozen other books penned by men and women who had endured bondage. I found that yes, they describe the horror of forced labor, rape, hunger, thirst, 16-hour workdays, illiteracy, and brutality. But they’re also a testament to endurance and resistance. Jacobs wrote about being sexually harassed by her owner, a common oppression that was rarely acknowledged. It caused her to flee, hiding in the nearby home of her emancipated grandmother. For seven years, she stayed in its attic crawl space, watching her children at play, and writing decoy letters to be conveyed to New York City and re-mailed back South so that her master would think she’d reached a free state. She eventually did escape by boat to the North, although her owners continued to pursue her. The wives of slave owners come off little better than their husbands in these “fugitive slave” memoirs. Jacobs was regularly beaten by her master’s wife, who blamed her simply for being the object of her husband’s lust. Wives often insisted that children born of such unions be sold to far away plantations. Many would use imagined infractions as an excuse to whip any slave their husbands forced into sex. Each man or woman who owned slaves had a choice to treat them well or harshly. Frederick Douglass learned a few letters of the alphabet from his mistress until her husband told her to stop. Douglass then turned to Baltimore street urchins, trading pieces of bread for lessons and using Tom Sawyer-worthy stratagems. He’d declare: “I can write better than you can” and then copy whatever words they wrote down. To my surprise, enslaved people not only found ways to educate themselves, they also often boldly fought back against abuse, despite the risk. Douglass, after resisting a severe whipping by a “slave breaker” overseer, bested his oppressor in a two-hour struggle and was never beaten again. The experience, he wrote, “rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood.” His memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, is now considered an American classic. Most slave narratives, I discovered, are not only testaments to resistance, they’re also gripping, even thrilling, accounts of strategically brilliant escapes. Light-skinned Elizabeth Craft disguised herself a white man and traveled by rail with her “slave” – actually, her darker skinned husband. She wrapped her arm in bandages to avoid signing her name, since she could neither read nor write. Henry Brown escaped slavery by arranging to be crated up and shipped, by wagon, railroad, and steamboat, to Philadelphia. His Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, was published in 1949. The next year, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act legalized slave-catching in free states. To escape bounty hunters, he fled to England, where he republished his book and gave hundreds of anti-slavery lectures. One of the plethora of largely unread slave narratives is sure to be seen, if not read, by mainstream American. Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years A Slave came out as a movie in 2013. Northrop was a free Black man living with his family in Saratoga Springs, NY — educated, employed, and an accomplished violinist – when two white men persuaded him to join them on an entertainment tour and helped him secure papers to certify him as a free black man. Northrup woke one day without those papers, chained in a slave pen, having been drugged and delivered to a slave trader. Northrup’s insistence that he was a free man was met with a flogging that nearly killed him. Sold at an auction block within sight of the White House, he spent the next 12 years abused by a series of plantation owners. His family searched for him fruitlessly: the slave trader had changed his name to “Platt” to deceive anyone trying to find and free him. The man who finally did free him was a white Southerner who opposed slavery. He helped Northrup send letters to Northerners to confirm his status as a free man, and showed up one day with a sheriff to free him. Reunited with his family, Northrup became a fervent abolitionist, giving talks about his experience throughout the Northeast to gain support for the movement. Why hadn’t I known about enslaved people’s resistance, or about the thousands of slaves who managed to escape? Why had I absorbed only their victimhood? Back in the 1950s, most textbooks focused on the politics and economics of slavery, ignoring the human cost. I grew up viewing slaves as degraded by their experience ala Gone with the Wind, just as I viewed Jews as compliant when herded into boxcars and gassed in ovens. Just after reading Northrup’s harrowing tale, I read similarly eye-opening accounts of Holocaust survivors, including A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France. Caroline Moorehead documents how ordinary women in concentration camps resisted their captors and devised ways to help each other survive. They made paste that would put color in an ill woman’s face so she wouldn’t be “selected” for execution. They documented the Nazi’s atrocities on stolen paper that they hid in cracks between bunks. One woman, assigned to help with an experiment on the uterus of a Jewish woman, instead drugged her, reported that she was dead, and smuggled her into another camp. Assigned to forced labor in munitions factories, they committed small acts of sabotage, loosening screws, mixing salt into grease, dropping fragile equipment, and burning out motors: “We did all we could to be “intelligently stupid.” Enslaved people resisted in parallel ways. They “forgot” to put out fires, sabotaged equipment, feigned illness, ran away for weeks — returning only when guaranteed better treatment. Some resorted to mutilating themselves, to suicide, or to killing their children to save them from life in bondage. Accounts of survivors of both slavery and the Holocaust are testaments to the dignity and agency of people deemed less than human. “Those who were defined by law and custom as less than human literally wrote themselves into human existence,” writes scholar Richard Newman. We need these stories to balance our images of victims with counter images of resilience and resistance. And to know what forms of resistance we, too, are capable of, when humanity requires it in the face of inhumanity.

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My 2nd booklet on race-related essays is out http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2012/10/23/my-2nd-booklet-on-race-related-essays-is-out/ http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2012/10/23/my-2nd-booklet-on-race-related-essays-is-out/#comments Tue, 23 Oct 2012 19:56:34 +0000 http://www.barbarabeckwith.net/2012/10/23/my-2nd-booklet-on-race-related-essays-is-out/ My 2nd booklet of personal essays, What Was I Thinking? Digging Deeper into Everyday Racism is just out and available from my distributor. The racial justice publisher Crandall, Dostie and Douglass Books sells it for $8.95 at www.cddbooks.com. In them, I re-examine my high school textbook; view (and misjudge) my mother’s racial views, and learn how to show cultural respect. I also struggle to “see” institutional racism, rebel against the current “bloodlines” craze, and reconcile myself to anti-racist jargon. A final chapter gives capsule reviews of 18 new books that I recommend to anyone concerned about racial justice. And if you missed my first booklet, What Was I Thinking? Reflecting on Everyday Racism (2010), it’s also available at www.cddbooks.com.

Table of Contents

Word Wealth: Messages From My Vocabulary Book

I looked back at my junior high school vocabulary book, Word Wealth, to see what words I learned back then, and what else I may have absorbed, unintentionally.

What IS This about Bloodlines?

I had looked down on people who pursue their family trees and DNA test results – until I discovered what I was missing.

Reading My Mother: Eugenics, Race and Foster Care

After reading my mother’s 1920s college paper and 1930s orphanage report, I thought they showed her to be a bigot. When I read more closely, I saw something quite different.

My Circuitous Path toward Cultural Respect

I assumed that to be “culturally competent,” I’d need to learn everything about ‘other’ cultures. But I’ve found a simpler route: cultural humility.

Keeping My Integrity AND an Open Mind

As I learn to listen intensely to others’ experiences, how do I stay honest to my own, although possibly flawed, understanding of reality?

Seeing Institutional Racism: Where IS It?

I seek to uncover hidden racism in health care, transportation, and sports, but seeing clearly is not always so easy.

Giving Jargon Its Due

I rebelled against the unfamiliar words used by my fellow racial justice activists, especially academics, until I realized that to change people’s thinking, we may need to create such new words.

Books that Matter to Me

I recommend these 18 books published between 2010 and 2012, written by white authors and by authors of color, in genres ranging from non-fiction and memoir, to novels, poetry, and personal testimony.

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