I’ve been transcribing an interview I conducted with one of grassroots politics’ unsung sheroes off and on for weeks. It isn’t that no one knows about her, believe me, they do. It’s that she isn’t known to people who are: 1) outside the Beltway, unless they’ve worked with her, or; 2) totally removed from social justice issues. Her name is Mandy Carter and she is one hell of a woman!
I was in the process of transcription, but had TweetDeck minimized, when I saw a blurb from Time magazine that read, “Kelly Clarkson: I’m not a ‘feminist.’” I shook my head and kept listening to Mandy speak into my earphones. She reached a point in the narrative where she referenced the beginning benchmark of her political activism: the Poor People’s Campaign that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been working on when he was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. I was barely in elementary school at the time, so I didn’t have any first- or even second-hand memories except what I’d read in books in high school and college. The only reason I read about the Poor People’s Campaign at all is because I was not as foolish and willfully ignorant as so very many people are today. I knew that there was a history largely untaught in traditional textbooks. For example, I knew that there was far more to my background than the fact that, according to textbooks, my Negroid ancestors first reached Europe and this continent because they were kidnapped from their homelands and enslaved. I had all kinds of intellectuals around me throughout my life, especially my mother and, therefore, knew that society didn’t just magically happen. People worked, fought and died for the rights that would otherwise be denied me. That led me to take Black Literature classes and Black History classes in high school and college, but even that was not enough. No, as Mandy spoke, she got to a point for which I had no reference. She was speaking about not only the Poor People’s Campaign, but “Resurrection City.” She knows about it because, at 18 years old, she was there.
Resurrection City was an encampment set up on the National Mall to house people who’d come to, again, march on Washington. It was organized by King, Bayard Rustin, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others to fight for economic justice not only for blacks, but for poor people regardless of race, color or ethnicity. Even in the freshness of her mourning, Coretta Scott King led a Mother’s Day March that attracted thousands. Resurrection City grew to include over 3000 people from across geographic, economic, racial and ethnic divides, lasting for over a month. If you don’t know who any of these people or organizations are, wait a while and check this space for an announcement that will lead to higher learning on the matter.
In the years since I graduated from Kent State University (’83) and managed to finish two years of a three-year law program while truly and unknowingly ill in the months before the Americans with Disabilities Act had any regulations, I’ve learned that so many things were purposely kept from me as a black person; as a person of color, period; as a woman, and; as an American citizen. My first real proof that things were far more than they seemed came as I researched in preparation for writing a sci-fi/fantasy novel based on historic fact cum alternate universe. The novel was set largely in East Africa, but did include a fair amount of Southern African culture as well as a smattering of West African culture. Many, many African ethnic groups were matriarchal until the damn Jesuits and Anglicans got to them. I read a lot about goddesses from not only African societies, but from all over the world. I kept coming up with the same question: Why didn’t I know any of this? I didn’t know because men wrote and published the textbooks.
As I came to the answer of this fundamental question, I began to get angry. The more I read about African history, even though I’d had a bit of it in undergrad, I became angrier still. There came a tipping point where I could no longer hold it in. I literally screamed as loud as I could, crumpling to the floor deeply hurt I, as a black, queer, woman, was so hated. However, the pain and damage didn’t stop with me. There was an attitude of bigotry out there that kept everyone as ignorant of the truth as was possible. If it were left up to white men, women; non-whites, (who are, by the way, the majority of the world’s population even though we possess extremely little of its power), and; those of us in the LGBTQ spectrum would remain ignorant. Fortunately, there have been people through the centuries who have simply said “No.” In doing so, they were ostracized, beaten, trampled, attacked by dogs, imprisoned, forced to recant, tortured, literally run out of town (as my great-grandmother, a newly widowed teacher with five small children, was run from Rockmart, GA when the Klan came looking for her dead husband who had the legal right to vote because he was educated and owned property) and academically repudiated. Lives were ruined–utterly, completely and irrevocably.
Historic monuments were destroyed or made inaccessible such as the ruins of the Kushite Empire that lie under the High Aswan Dam and its reservoirs on Egypt’s southern border with Sudan. Try as they did, true and honest historians, archeologists and anthropologists of all races and ethnicities could not retrieve all that was laid waste before the bulldozers and water came. They never will and that part of history is probably lost to the world forever. How many of you even know there was a Kushite (or Cushite, depending on what you read) Empire? I’d wager that very few of you could raise your hands. Another question: How many of you believe, based on logic and evidence, that civilization flowed down the Nile and not up? How many even know that the Nile runs south to north and, therefore, south is up and north is down? Does anyone reading this know anything about the Great Rift Valley? What about ancient Zimbabwe and its ruins?
What Clarkson does not comprehend is monumental and two-fold: 1) the enormous impact of her statements because Americans are basically historically illiterate and others agree with her as a matter of longing for an antebellum lifestyle swept away by Sherman’s army, even though he was a racist himself, and; 2) how ignorant she is about everything, bless her little Southern belle heart. I bet she would learn how much of a feminist she is if a concert promoter were to suddenly decide not to pay her as much as a male country singer with a similar fan-base and record sales for each posterior she put in a venue’s seats. Would she feel differently if the royalty payments she receives from RCA were halved because she “didn’t have to support a family”? How about going to a doctor and being told that she could not have a prescription for birth control at all, even with her husband’s consent? What if her husband had the right to non-consent? How would she react if the world decided not to buy her records because she was a “slut,” “whore” and “fallen woman” because she lived with her husband and, one would assume, had sex with him, before they were married? Would Clarkson then be a feminist? Why does she think those things, with the exception of name-calling, don’t happen legally now? They don’t happen because women said, “No. No more!”
Kelly Clarkson, are you a feminist now? If not, may God bless you and help your husband keep you safe from life’s gross inequalities. Should there ever come a day when you are no longer married, I’d suggest having an army of male attorneys at your beck and call who won’t presume to judge you to take care of your anti-feminist self. I am going back to listening to and writing about a feminist–a real woman the likes of whom you’ve never even contemplated.