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Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar studying ethics, peace theory, public discourse, and the civil rights movement.

Dear Mississippi White People


by: on November 22nd, 2018 | 2 Comments »

November 22, 2018

Dear Mississippi White People,

Both of my parents were born and reared in Mississippi. They were part of the Great Migration of African Americans north in the early 1950s. When I was a little girl, we would go south for funerals. For most of my life, I have never felt comfortable south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I was fine for about 48 hours, then something inside of me, something that felt like an old soul, the spirit of an enslaved ancestor, wanted desperately to head back home. Follow the North Star.

Even so, I have some good memories of my time in Mississippi. This is primarily due to my relatives, to aunts and uncles and cousins who made my time with them meaningful. One of the best memories of my life is getting up early one morning and having coffee with my Aunt Mary Anna on her front porch in Indianola. Her house was always full of people of all ages, and she would get up before everyone else and sit on her front porch. This morning, I was up with her, drinking coffee, listening to a rooster crow, enjoying her stories of reality and mystery. It was peace.

When I lived in Philadelphia, my Aunt Rosie would send me shelled pecans from her Indianola, Mississippi tree. I loved eating the pecans, and I loved her for loving me enough to take the time to shell them and to send them to me. God is Divine Love, and her love for me was a visitation of God in my life. Eating the pecans was a kind of communion.

A few years ago, I drove my father, who was then in his mid-eighties, down to Indianola for a funeral. The part of the cemetery where my cousin’s husband was buried was populated by the earthly remains of aunts who loved me and by cousins who I had enjoyed just being around and who had been my role models. Dad said that would be his final trip to Mississippi, and he was right.

One of my cousins invited me to come down when there was not a funeral and she would show me around. I wanted to visit the civil rights and the blues history of the Mississippi Delta. So, I finally did. My cousin was true to her word. We visited the Fannie Lou Hamer Museum and gravesite in Ruleville. She took me to the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, and she drove me to the various addresses in Greenville, where my mother’s family had lived. The last few times I have gone south, I have not felt the need to escape. I see my cousins living productive lives, making important contributions to their communities, and the south in general and Mississippi in particular no longer seem oppressive.

And then came the comments by Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. Speaking about her regard for a supporter she said: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” What? Then she refused to apologize until a debate with her opponent Secretary Mike Espy, saying in part: “You know, for anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize. There was no ill will, non whatsoever in my statements. I have worked with all Mississippians. It didn’t matter their skin color type, their age or their income. That’s my record.” Then she proceeded to blame her opponent for turning her comments into a weapon. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mississippi-sen-cindy-hyde-smith-apologizes-to-anyone-offended-by-comments-about-public-hanging-as-opponent-mike-espy-says-she-gave-the-state-a-black-eye/2018/11/20/6eeb3a14-ed0c-11e8-baac-2a674e91502b_story.html?utm_term=.c68bdc76a246)

Hyde-Smith has also been caught on mike joking, she says, about voter suppression. In 2014, she posted a picture of herself wearing a confederate soldier’s cap and holding a gun at the home and presidential library of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. She called the site “Mississippi history at its best.” Is this a celebration of the Civil War?

According to the website Mississippi History Now, “The American Civil War (1861-1865) left Mississippi in chaos with its social structures overturned, its economy in ruins, and its people shattered.” And, the reason for the devastation was the will to preserve slavery. The Mississippi declaration of secession says: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest in the world.”

It is important to remember that the Civil War was fought with conscript soldiers. The Confederacy confiscated crops and livestock from ordinary people to feed the army, a generation of men were killed or left wounded. The south has yet to recover from the economic devastation of the war. Yet, so many white people are still enamored with that war.

In her novel “Gone with the Wind”, Margaret Mitchell writes of her heroine Scarlett O’Hara who is in love with Ashley Wilkes. She thinks he loves her, but he does not. The love she imagines is a dream. It is not and never was real. Such is the case with white people who love the dream of the “Old South”, a fantasy where everyone was happy occupying their assigned place. It never was, is not now, and never will be.

When I read Hyde-Smith’s comments about attending a public hanging, I was working on an essay about African-American soldiers home from World War I who faced beatings and lynching. How could anyone knowing Mississippi history not be offended by Hyde-Smith’s joke? What positive connotation can there be in a history rife with the violence of lynching? The violence of lynching was an attempt to re-establish white supremacy after the Reconstruction period. The violence of voter suppression is also real in a state where Fannie Lou Hamer and others took a beating because they wanted to register to vote. Civil rights workers were killed in their efforts to register voters. How could she think that joking about voter suppression would be funny given this history? How could she think such a thing as she runs for the United State Senate?

Then suddenly, like a flash of lightning, it occurred to me that the expression about attending a public hanging was probably an expression that Hyde-Smith heard in her youth. She very likely grew up with it, and it was a way to express regard for someone. Whenever I see pictures of a lynching, my gaze goes to the body of the person being lynched. I think of their family and of the African-American community that would resist being terrorized by such savagery. However, there is also the crowd of white people who thought of such events as entertainment. I have never considered the crowd as a group of individuals, only as a human mass of barbaric hatred and evil.

The truth is that these crowds were composed of people who had children and grandchildren, who were aunts and uncles and cousins, who loved their kin the way my people love me. Hyde-Smith very likely heard this expression from a beloved relative in a context of joviality and good family fun.

Dear Mississippi White People, you have some serious introspection to do. What is the origin of such an expression? Were the people who nurtured you and loved you also the people who populated the crowds that participated in public hangings by their presence on the front row? To what lengths are you willing to go to preserve a dream that was never true? Are you willing to keep your state at the bottom of the list of states on almost every measure of achievement because you want to hold onto the deception of white supremacy?

To even know that she has said something vile, Senator Hyde-Smith needs to do the difficult work of introspection and to realize that the people who raised her, who loved her, were also willing to become a part of a murderous evil mob because people will act in a mob the way they would never act as individuals. You all need to do this work for the sake of bringing about real and lasting change in Mississippi. This is your work to do White People because you are the ones holding onto a deception.

The good news is that we live in a country that allows us to make a choice with every election. We can choose to stay stuck in a past that has not served us well, or we can move forward. Dear Mississippi White People, this is your choice on Tuesday in the special election. In his proclamation that established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called for repentance as an aspect of our prayers on this day.

He wrote: “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, we all can be thankful that we live in the United States of America where we have both a responsibility and an opportunity to work for healing, to form a more perfect union, where we can work toward the goals of human equality and universal human rights.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Valerie Elverton Dixon





Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”

Armistice-Veterans Day 2018


by: on November 12th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

As human beings, we are a carbon-based life form.

We are close kin to the higher order apes.

We are homo sapiens, a bit of earth that can think.

We stand up straight; have an opposable thumb; have the capacity for rational thought; are able to use symbols to communicate abstract thoughts; we can use symbols to communicate about symbols; we can remember the past and plan for the future.

The gospel according to Jamie Lannister of the television version of “Game of Thrones”: “Strange thing, first time you cut a man, you realize we’re nothing but sacs of meat, blood and some bone to keep is all standing.”

I say: we are bags of water, flesh, blood, and bone called by a proper name.

We are body soul mind mysteries as long as we breathe the breath of life. We are character and personality that loves and hates, that laughs and cries, that sings and dances, that wills and desires, and sometimes just does not give a care. And when the breath leaves for the last time, our bodies become dust and ashes. We leave an empty space. Other human beings grieve.

The chemicals in our bodies are worth about one dollar.

So, what sense does it make to think that the color of the bag of water flesh blood and bone called by a proper name makes an individual more or less than any other? What sense does it make that the shape of it or the strength of it gives an individual the right to treat the Other as an object for one’s own drunken pleasure to be tossed away and forgotten like used tissue? What sense does it make that some bags think that they are superior because of the bit of earth upon which they were born or upon which they now stand or that they have a right to keep other bags from coming to that place? What makes the bags that we are fear the Other, hate the Other, and want to kill the Other to point of war?

World War I stands as one of the most deadly wars in the history of humankind. Between 15 and 19 million human beings died. Some 23 million military personnel were wounded. We do not know how many lives were shattered because of post-traumatic stress disorder, known at the time as shell shock.


Voting, A Patriotic Duty


by: on November 6th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

I am a black woman in America.

I am a woke black woman who has been woke before woke was cool.

I also love America.

I am an American patriot, an Angela Davis patriot. I heard Angela Davis explain to a television talk-show host that her activism did not come from a hatred of America, rather, it comes from her love for her country. Angela Davis patriotism is not a cheap “my country right or wrong” patriotism. It requires more than simply standing with hand over heart when the national anthem is performed before some sporting event. Angela Davis patriotism is filled with womanist virtues of love, responsibility, commitment, and complexity.

I love America because it is my home. The bones of my ancestors are interred in its ground. Their ashes are scattered over the waters that flow across the earth from its shores. The lives that they lived made America’s history that has become today becoming tomorrow. My West African ancestors came in the early 19th century in slave ships. They survived the horrors of the Middle Passage and the barbarisms of slavery and the injustices of Jim Crow to give me life and a country that allows me more opportunity than they ever had, that requires me to try my best to help this country become a more perfect union for all those who will come after me.

I do not know the story of my Irish and Scandinavian ancestors. I do not know how or when they came to the United States. I do not know the story behind the relationships that made them a part of me.

I do know that my ancestors have fought for their freedom and for the preservation of the United States. One of my ancestors walked away from slavery in Mississippi and joined the Union army to fight for his freedom. This summer my 96-year-old uncle who had served in North Africa and in Europe during World War II died. I have another uncle, now with the ancestors, who served in Vietnam as a member of the Special Forces. I have cousins who have made a career of the military. Some have served in America’s most recent wars. This spring I, a peace activist, pinned decorations on my nephew’s uniform on the occasion of his graduation from his Army basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, the same base where his grandfather completed his basic training before deploying to Korea to fight that war.


My Dinner with the Devil (a short story)


by: on October 31st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

He was a tall, dark, and handsome stranger standing in front of me in the grocery store line. He was “Oh my goodness fine.” But, I was cool, thumbing through a special edition of Rolling Stone about John Lennon.

The man said something out loud, and I looked up. He seemed to be reciting his grocery list.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“Oh no. It’s nothing. I am talking to myself,” he said.

“That’s fine. As long as you do not answer yourself, you are ok,” I said looking back at the magazine.

“And if I do answer myself?” he asked.

“Then I would suggest to you that you seek professional help.”

We both laughed.

“I suppose that may not be a bad idea,” he said.

“Absolutely not,” I replied. “More people in the United States of America ought to seek professional help. If you are not already crazy, this country, especially now, will make you crazy.”

“Sign of the times,” he said.

“Look around. Violence, drug and alcohol abuse. We all need to have a mental health primary care doc the same say we have a physical primary care doc,” I said.

“I think you may be right,” he said. “Are you a Beatles fan?” he asked noticing the magazine.

“”I am,” I said. “I am especially interested in John and his opposition to war in general and to the Vietnam War in particular.”

The line had moved forward, and he not only paid for his groceries but he paid for mine as well. I protested, but he insisted. So, I just said thank you.

As we were leaving the store, he asked me out to dinner, saying he would like to talk some more about my ideas on war and peace and John Lennon. My shields went up. I was at once wary and intrigued. What is the deal with this handsome stranger who just paid for my groceries?

“You ought to know that I am a personally conservative and politically radical,” I said. This was my way of saying that he had not bought a sexual encounter.

“That sounds interesting,” he said. “I tell you what: let me give you the name of a restaurant that I like and if you want to join me for dinner, say Saturday night around 6, then come. If you do not come, I will not be hurt.”

He did not ask for my number. He did not say that he would text me. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a small notebook and a very expensive pen and wrote down the name and address of a very expensive downtown restaurant. He handed me the paper with a smile. A beguiling, charismatic, intriguing smile.

“I will think about it,” I said. “What is your name?” I asked.

“Belial Set,” he replied.

I told him my name. We shook hands and parted ways.

“Belial Set,” I thought. “This is a strange name.” I said it to myself a few times because I did not want to forget. The moment I got home, I would Google him.

When I did Google him, I found a connection to the devil, but nothing else. Set was the Egyptian god of chaos. This man was not real. He could not be serious. “Who would name their son Belial?” I thought. Maybe he is crazy. I thought and thought for days until I finally decided to go. There was room on my credit card to pay for a nice meal at an expensive restaurant and to get myself there and home.

Saturday night came. It took me a minute to decide not to wear the high heels with my going out to dinner at a nice restaurant little black dress. I have decided to unbind my feet from high heels, so I chose the rose gold flats. I powdered my nose and was out the door.

He was at the restaurant when I arrived, waiting at the bar looking as handsome, no as beautiful, as I remembered. He waved me over and we did not have to wait at all for a table. We were seated at a very nice table. The wait staff at the restaurant knew him well. I was intentional about paying attention to this man, how he walked and talked and interacted with people. There was something different about him, but I could not quite put my finger on what it was. He was alluring.

“I Googled you,” I said. “But, did not find out much. What do you do, and why do you not have an Internet footprint?”

“You could say that I am in mergers and acquisitions,” he replied. “I have an Internet footprint, just not the kind you are accustomed to finding because I am Satan aka Lucifer.”

“I am out to dinner with a crazy man,” I thought. “How am I going to get myself out of here quickly and safely?”


With A Perfect Hatred (part 2)


by: on October 29th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

I hate liars and lies with a perfect hatred. As it is written in the Psalms: “I hate and detest falsehood, But I love [God's] law. (Psalm 119:163)

As I write this, the United States has been rocked by multiple acts of violence in the past few days. A Florida man has been accused of sending multiple pipe bombs to prominent Democrats. Thankfully, the bombs did not explode. As we were reeling from this act of terrorism, a white supremacists tried to break into an African-American church to do harm. When he could not get in, he went to a local Kroger store in Kentucky and shot two African Americans dead. While we were processing this tragedy, a white nationalist walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 worshippers and injured six.

Violence is lazy and stupid.

What did these men think? Did the Florida man think that he would send bombs to high-ranking Democrats and progressive thought would go away? Did he think that people would say; “Oh my goodness, these people are dead, I ought to support Donald Trump now.”? When the killer shot two African Americans in a Kroger store did he think that all black people across the globe would vaporize? When the shooter entered the Tree of Life synagogue did he think that a religion that has maintained for millennia through countless purges and the Holocaust would suddenly disappear? Stupid.

These killers clearly do not know history. The moment blood is shed in the name of a cause or as an attack on a segment of humanity for no reason other than who they are, the blood sanctifies the cause and humanity remembers that human life is precious. Violence makes people more dedicated to their cause. Violence makes people more determined to live and to render the violence ineffective.

Violence is lazy. It is lazy because it somehow believes that a cause can be defeated through violence. In reality, one cannot bomb a political ideology. One cannot shoot and entire race of people. One cannot mass murder a religion.

In the face of lazy stupid useless violence, what am I to do with my perfect hatred?

I wish it were a tangible thing that I could pack away in a box and put it in the back of the basement to await death cleaning. Or, would that it were a thing that I could toss in the kitchen garbage then put on the curb for the weekly trash truck to pick up and dump in the local landfill. There it could rest for a thousand years until an archeologist digs it up and dusts it off to learn about a culture long gone. Sadly, this is not how a perfect hatred works.


With A Perfect Hatred (part 1)


by: on October 24th, 2018 | 5 Comments »

My rage was physical.

When the final votes were counted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the United State Supreme Court, I could feel the blood coursing through my body acid hot. I have heard the expression about boiling blood, but I had never felt this sensation before. However, at this moment, by blood not only boiled, but it ran through my body with a stinging sensation. What is the bio-chemistry of fury? My tears wanted to fall. I refused them exit.


What would be the reason for my tears? Would they be tears of rage or tears of grief, and what would I be grieving? Would they be tears of grief for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who, like Anita Hill more than 20 years before, was not believed? Would they be tears for all of the survivors of sexual assault who had finally found the courage to speak their truth? Would my tears be tears for a nation that seems to want to lie to itself so it can continue to pretend that it is moral?

I could not think except for a tiny bit of scripture: “I hate them with a perfect hatred.” (Psalm 139:22)

Reared in the African-American Baptist tradition, we were taught to learn the Bible for memory. Learn the Bible by heart, and Holy Spirit will bring the Word of God back to you when you need it. All that Sunday School, all that Vacation Bible School. The pledge of allegiance that meant something to me: “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word. I will make it a lamp unto my feel and a light unto my path. I will hide its words in my heart that I may not sin against God.”

At this moment, Holy Spirit brought nothing to my remembrance except. “I hate them with a perfect hatred.” The blood continued to run hot in my veins. Perfect hatred contradicts what I stand for -the power of radical love and nonviolence. Still all my mind would say to me was: “I hate them with a perfect hatred.”

“This cannot be healthy,” I thought to myself. Another bit of scripture came to me. “Be still and know that I am God. ” (Psalm 46:10) Stillness. Calm.

My own rage surprised me. I knew the playbook. When Dr. Ford’s story became public, I knew what would happen. Deny, deny, deny. Attack, attack, attack. I was not surprised when Jeff Flake and Susan Collins supported Kavanaugh. They usually do what Mitch McConnell wants.

“I hate them with a perfect hatred.”

I could not think, I could not even pray. All I could do was to say the name of Jesus. I was taught to pray in the name of Jesus, that Jesus had promised that the Father would grant a request made in the name of Jesus. At this moment, I had no request. The name of Jesus was its own prayer, an invocation, a plea for transcendence, a means of reminding myself of the Divine Love of God made incarnate in human flesh. Still my only coherent thought was: “I hate them with a perfect hatred.”

Next day, on Sunday, I asked my church family to pray for me. This is the importance of a faith community and of prayer partners. Others can formulate a prayer for us when we have nothing left. “We need a liturgy for such occasions”, I thought. Perhaps there is one for moments when our hatred is perfect, complete, ultimate. We need a litany for survivors who are not heard and for a nation that is run by liars and thieves who crowds cheer and voters vote into office.

Holy Spirit brought the rest of that Psalm to my mind: “I hate them with a perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Perfect hatred requires self-reflection. Why do I hate these people with a perfect hatred? The answer was immediate. I hate the lies. I hate the lies, and the willingness to believe the lies. I hate the place where we are in the United States where people can lie, we know they are lying, and it does not matter.


Look At Me (Part Three)


by: on October 4th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

When we think about the meaning of events in the world around us, we interpret them through a fusion of past, present and future horizons. Philosopher Hans-Georg-Gadamer wrote about the fusion of past and present horizons in the interpretation of texts, but I say that the future we want to bring into existence is also part of the eternal now that forms the context of our thinking.

We live in a country where writer Gore Vidal called the USA the United States of Amnesia. It often seems as if we cannot remember from one day to the next, much less the last century. However, if we are to understand the current moment, it is important to understand the past. When I wrote about the Anita Hill portion of the Clarence Thomas Hearings, I put that moment in a historical context. Here is some more of what I wrote:

“Once upon a time in America a discussion about birth control was considered obscene, and to tell even married people about ways to control child birth became a free speech issue. In 1912, Margaret Sanger, a nurse and birth control activist, started speaking to left-wing audiences about health issues, including sex education and venereal disease. . . . Sanger published “Woman Rebel”, a paper aimed at working-class women, and one of her goals was to advocate for “birth control.” She argued that a woman’s body was hers alone and to force a woman into motherhood was to deny a woman her right to life and liberty. She did not print birth control information, but she printed letters from working-class people requesting the information. The post office refused to mail the publication and indicted Sanger. She used the arrest to call attention to her cause. . . . Sanger did not stand trial for the charge but left the country instead.

Before leaving, Sanger published a pamphlet that gave information on contraception: “Family Limitation: A Nurse’s Advice to Women” which was distributed by her friends with the Industrial Workers of the World, a socialist organization working to end capitalism. Her pamphlet was intended for poor people who could least afford a large family and who did not have access to information that middle-class women had. Some working poor women were eager for the information, but many were embarrassed to speak of such things openly and others did not have the capabilities or the energy to put birth control information into practice.

Sanger found it difficult to enlist both poor and middle-class women in her struggle until she opened a birth control clinic in the fall of 1916. Making sure that the district attorney was notified, she was arrested, tried, and convicted. The publicity surrounding her arrest and trial brought wide support from middle-class women. As a result of her work, the New York Court of Appeals broadened the law so that physicians could give advice to married people about how to prevent or cure disease. Birth control information was given by doctors under this provision.

Once upon a time in America, women were excluded from political convention platform committee meetings. In 1924, a list of women’s concerns had to be taken into the platform committee meeting by a man. Those concerns included conservation, an 8-hour work day, collective bargaining, a federal employment agency, equal pay for equal work, federal aid for maternal and child health and welfare, and education to prevent venereal disease. Many of these concerns became federal policy during the New Deal. During the depression and during World War II, women found themselves caught between the domestic ideal and the realities of national emergencies.

Abortion had been legal in the United States until around the end of the 1800s. In contrast to their daughters’ daughters’ and their daughters, women’s rights advocates of the nineteenth century did not favor either contraception or abortion. According to historian Nancy Woloch “. . . throughout the nineteenth century, contraception and abortion were condemned by a wide range of women, from feminists to free love advocates to pious churchgoers, since both encouraged the sexual exploitation of women.” But in the early twentieth century, women began to celebrate their own sexuality and to reject Victorian notions of female purity and restraint. At the same time, economic realities set in and both men and women wanted to find ways to control childbirth. Illegal abortions became common and many women sacrificed their health and in some cases their lives. So, in the 1970s with rise of a new wave of feminism, the repeal of anti-abortion statutes became an important component of the feminist agenda.”


Look At Me (Part Two)


by: on October 2nd, 2018 | 1 Comment »

When Ana Maria Archila, national committee member of the Working Families Party and executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, and activist Maria Gallagher confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, they demanded that he look at them. Their imperative is one that demands that we see women today and see women within the context of the history of women in the United States. When I wrote about Anita Hill, I read her testimony within this context. Here is some of what I wrote:

“Once upon a time in America, during the Revolutionary War, women became boycotters, refusing to buy British goods, were camp followers, petitioners, fund raisers, loyalists and patriots. Still, at the writing of the Constitution, women were not citizens. In the 1800s, women were seen as the keepers of values while they had no control over property, children, or the number of children they bore. Many women were illiterate, so a lack of education and a lack of birth control kept women in traditional household roles. According to historian Nancy Woloch, reason was considered a masculine quality, even by women themselves, and an effeminate mind was thought to be “vain, capricious, fickle, foolish, frivolous, or extravagant.” In the 1800s women were expected to display personal virtues: “modest, cheerful, timid, delicate, tender, affectionate, graceful, sympathetic.” While women were expected to display these qualities, a man’s approval, husband, judge, legislator, was necessary for a woman to exercise any legal rights.

Once upon a time in America, in the early 19th century women organized for charity work and social reforms. Middle-class women in the North, kept from official authority, made a public place for themselves between the house and government. Still women found themselves confined to a “woman’s proper sphere.” They were allowed to stay home and to visit the unfortunate. Dorothea Dix visited prisoners and worked on prison reform, trying to get insane people put in different facilities from common criminals. Women worked for peace, temperance, and against slavery. They worked for moral purity of male and female. The 19th century saw more young women leaving home, working as seamstresses, factory workers and clerks in cities. Moral reformers, watching out for the welfare of single women working in the cities, became advocates for women’s rights and they became abolitionists. Women now became concerned with politics and with the public limitations imposed on women. During this time in America, it was scandalous for a woman to address a mixed audience of both men and women. Margaret Fuller wrote in 1845 that women ought to end their psychological dependence upon men.

Once upon a time in America, between the Civil War and World War I, women in America continued to work as unpaid labor in their households and thereby, during western expansion, helped to establish European-American communities. Meanwhile, because of increased urbanization and industrialization, women became wage laborers, in larger numbers. Young women worked in factories producing cloth, clothing, food, and tobacco. They worked as teachers, nurses, office workers and salesclerks. But, once married, women were expected to leave wage labor and work inside the home. After the Civil War some two million blackwomen* entered the labor market. Most blackwomen of necessity did not conform to the white domestic ideal of the mother who only works at home. Yet, despite blackwomen’s role as wage earners, black men still wanted to assume a male dominant role. The notion of male supremacy was therefore not incompatible with female labor.

Once upon a time in America, both men and women often worked 60-hour, five and a half-day weeks that required “standing, stooping, lifting, and hauling, as well as heat, dust, dampness, noise, monotony, and exhaustion.” Children worked in factories. Women reformers who wanted to change the working conditions of women and children often saw women’s own passivity as part of the problem. According to one reformer, women had not learned to “work” only “to be worked.” Wages were low and women rarely organized into unions. Male dominated unions while not welcoming women as members, called for equal pay for equal work because they did not want to see women create a cheap labor force that would reduce men’s salaries. Union men therefore supported the domestic ideal. Later, protective laws restricted working hours, imposed a minimum wage, but also kept women from working at night, carrying heavy loads, working in dangerous places, including mines and bars, and these laws were largely supported by women’s rights activists.


Look At Me (Part One)


by: on October 1st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

On Friday, October 28, when two young women -Ana Maria Archila, national committee member of the Working Families Party and executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, and activist Maria Gallagher — confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator as he was on his way to a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Maria Gallagher demanded that Senator Flake look at her.

“Don’t look away from me. Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/us/politics/jeff-flake-protesters-kavanaugh.html)

In her demand to be seen and to be taken seriously, she was speaking not only for women during this #MeToo moment who are telling their stories of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment, but I heard in her demand the echoes of women who have made that demand ringing down through the history of the United States.

When I wrote about the Anita Hill portion of the Clarence Thomas Hearings, I thought it was important to put that moment in historical context. Here is some of what I wrote:

“Once upon a time in America during the 17th century, during colonial times, women were “silent in church, subservient at home, and dependent on men,” just as they were in England, according to historian Nancy Woloch. There was a shortage of women and so shiploads of women were imported. Woloch tells us that: “Between 1620 and 1622 about 150 ‘pure and spotless’ women disembarked and were auctioned off for eighty pounds of tobacco a piece and more to future husbands.” In both North and South nearly all white women were married because families were necessary for settlement and for producing a labor force. Colonial mores established male authority and female submission. At the same time, the 17th century home was also the workplace, and women were important workers in that environment. In North Carolina and Virginia women hunted deer, turkey, wild cattle, and hogs. Yet, despite their work, women had no control over family resources. At the same time, if a husband or father died, a woman often assumed control of his business. Women therefore were shopkeepers, booksellers, tavern keepers, even blacksmiths, butchers, and gunsmiths. A single woman, a feme sole, was a legal individual. She could buy and sell property, sue, and be sued, enter into contracts, administer estates, and hold power of attorney.

Once upon a time in America, Puritans saw the family as a way to transmit religious values and they were expected to show personal virtues of submission, obedience, meekness, and humility. Outspoken women were called “meddlers.” Woloch writes: “Conveying a sense of incompetence and illegitimacy it was frequently used to describe the sort of intrusive aggressive female behavior to which seventeenth century men objected.” In the 1630s, Anne Hutchinson, wife of a landowner, merchant, and public official, mother of at least 14, midwife, and theologian, challenged the sanctity of ministers who opposed her and was expelled from Massachusetts in 1637. She argued that it was better for believers to depend on God rather than to depend on intermediaries. Hutchinson moved to New York and was killed by Indians in 1643. Mary Dyer, a Hutchinson follower, was accused of “error” and called “censorious” and “troublesome.” Mary Oliver criticized ministers and magistrates and ended up in the stocks. Ann Eaton of New Haven, Connecticut disavowed infant baptism and was excommunicated in 1644 for lying and stubbornness. Ann Hopkins, Eaton’s daughter, was said to have been driven mad by reading, writing, and thinking of things that only men should think about. Ann Hibbens, wife of a prominent Boston merchant, was tried in 1641 for lying and slander, was excommunicated and denounced for usurping the authority of her husband. According to Woloch: “Female dissent or aggressiveness remained evils to be suppressed before they got out of hand” If a woman dared to challenge a man, she dared to challenge patriarchy itself. Courage to challenge was interpreted as indicative of mental and moral weakness:


Power and Knowledge Then and Now


by: on September 20th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

I was interested in the Clarence Thomas Hearings before Anita Hill came forward with her allegations of sexual harassment. As I watched the hearings in the early 1990s, I was already a PhD student in the religion department at Temple University. My initial question was: why do people fight wars in the name of God? As I took the foundational courses required in the program I became interested in hermeneutics which led me to think about how people find meaning inside texts. As I watched the Thomas hearings, it occurred to me that what was happening was a matter of text interpretation. Texts inside texts. Contexts, pretexts, and subtexts collided.

When Anita Hill’s allegations came to light and the hearings were reopened, new facets of a clash of interpretations became visible. Issues of race, class, and sex made a complicated situation even more complicated. I believed Anita Hill then, and I believe her now. However, I must confess that before I started to study the hearings in depth, before I began to study women’s history, existential feminist theory, and womanism, I did not understand the daily struggle for respect that most women experience or the trauma of sexual harassment and assault. I may be one of the few women in the United States of America who do not have a “me too” story.

However, when I did begin to study these issues, I began to see that what Anita Hill experienced then and what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is living through now is of a piece with women’s history that dates back centuries. One thing that remains the same is evidence that French philosopher Michel Foucault was correct when he helped us to understand the relationship between power and knowledge. There is a common saying that knowledge is power. However, Foucault taught that power determines what knowledge is. Power determines what we will know and what will remain unknown or at least uninvestigated.

Then, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of speaking to her about pornographic material in the workplace and inappropriate sexual advances. Thomas issued a categorical denial of the accusation and called the proceeding a “high-tech lynching” invoking an emotionally charged racial trope. Hill testified. Thomas testified. Witnesses came forward to support Thomas, including women with whom he had worked. People came forward to support Hill. There was at least one witness who claimed that Anita Hill was given to delusions about whether or not a man was attracted to her. This was in keeping with the narrative that the Republicans wanted to advance that Hill was crazy. Women who dare to cause trouble for men have been called crazy for centuries.

However, there were women who had experiences with Thomas in the workplace similar to that which Anita Hill described. The powers that be on the Senate Judiciary Committee did not allow this testimony to be heard publicly. It is a part of the record of the hearings, but the general public did not have access to this information.

Fast forward to 2018. As I write this, Dr. Ford has not said whether or not she will appear before the committee. Her lawyers have said that she wants an FBI investigation before she agrees to appear, and she wants other witnesses called. Both are reasonable requests. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chair of the judiciary committee has said that he will not ask the White House to order an FBI investigation and that he will not call additional witnesses. We shall see what happens. This is another example of power making a determination about what kinds of knowledge the general public and the senators who are duty bound to say yes or no to this nomination will have.