Neighbors

“The only position for women in SNCC is prone.”
— Stokely Carmichael, 1965

Shocks you, doesn’t it?

It shouldn’t. The great reformers and radicals always have feet of clay, and it’s often women who wind up taking the brunt. Mohandas Gandhi was profoundly strange when it came to women, surrounding himself with girls late in his life to prove he was “above temptation”; Dr. King was unfaithful to his wife; many early abolitionist women were also suffragists who lived to see the 13th Amendment, but not the 19th. The modern feminist movement, after all, began when the modern civil rights movement treated the women who signed up to help as servants and easy sex. Carmichael’s quote above was his response to one of the first feminist manifestos.

It’s not just women, though, and it’s not just one way. Dr. King relied enormously on Bayard Rustin, the man who taught him nonviolence, but he could never acknowledge Rustin in public, for Rustin was openly gay. Transgender women on the streets or in the shelters are warned to be most careful about violence from lesbians.

A people uprooted from their homeland, suffering through slavery, emancipation, mobs murdering them in the streets, hopes raised and hopes betrayed — if ever there were two peoples who could sympathize with each other, it would be blacks and Jews, and yet somehow that didn’t happen. When I was in college the Black Student Union invited a speaker who had made anti-Semitic remarks; when the Jewish Student Union protested from its office mere steps down the hall, they were accused of being racist.

On an even broader level, liberal/leftist/progressive organizations have a tendency to treat their own staff fairly poorly. I can attest to this personally; I once worked for the Fund For the Public Interest for a week — hired on Monday, quit on Friday. The day I was hired I took one glance at the contract for my position and thought, “We need to unionize.” I should not have been too shocked to discover that some people in my position had tried that in Los Angeles, with the result that the field office in LA was summarily shut down to head off a nascent Canvassers’ Union. I’ve heard similar reports from friends; the general message from on high in the Left seems to be that if you are truly progressive, you don’t need a fair salary, since it should all be for the love of the work. Or, to put it another way, when you’re working on the Left, you should make waves, but only in the authorized directions. Continue reading

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