Show Way Quilts and Family History

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February is African American History Month!

“Slaves whispered what no one was allowed to say: That Mathis know how to make…a Show Way. Came to her when they needed to talk; came to her for the stories of brave people; came to her for the patch pieces just before they disappeared into the night.”

Show Way, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Hudson Talbott

Racism In The Air

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“Racism, even if it is not your own but merely circulates in the air, changes you; it allows you to think and feel things that make you less than you were meant to be. My mother, by proving her own weakness and exhibiting her own conditioning, taught me that one can never be too careful, can never enjoy the luxury of being too smug, of believing oneself so together, so liberal, so down with the cause of liberation that it becomes impossible to be sucked in, to be transformed.”

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise

Sterilization Forced on Poor Women

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“Forced sterilization and welfare have been linked for nearly half a century. Mississippi state legislator David H. Glass instituted a bold experiment when he sought legal means to force sterilization upon welfare mothers in 1958. By 1960, his “act to discourage immorality of unmarried females by providing for sterilization of the unwed mothers” passed in the House by a vote of seventy-two to thirty-seven but died in the Senate as the black activist Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) protested and distributed a pamphlet entitled “Genocide in Mississippi.””

“In June 1973, the abuse of two young sisters in Montgomery, Alabama, exposed the decades of stolen African American fertility. A Montgomery Community Action Agency nurse took the girls to the hospital for a federally funded contraceptive shot and obtained the “X” of each illiterate parent on the consent form. But their parents later learned that the girls had been surgically sterilized, and they asked Atlanta’s Southern Poverty Law Center for help. When SPLC filed a class-action lawsuit to end the use of federal funds for involuntary sterilization, its lawyers discovered that 100,000 to 150,000 women had been sterilized using federal funds and that half these women were black.”

“Women were also forced into sterility by governmental welfare programs, upon which unskilled black women workers relied to supplement their meager wages. While a social worker in upstate New York during the 1980s, I learned from old case files that during the 1960s and 1970s, social workers conducted frequent late-night raids on the homes of aid recipients. If a man was discovered, the family’s aid could be cut off unless the woman agreed to sterilization, guaranteeing there would be no additional children for the state to support.”

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Does Civilization Require Wealth?

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“We use the word “civilization” to mean “materially wealthy” and technologically advanced, even though material wealth and technology are often used for uncivilized, unethical ends, he explained. It is the only lesson from junior high that I remember.”

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise

Left For Dead

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“In Anderson, South Carolina, in 1839 a group seized a black boy and forced him to inhale ether from a handkerchief that was held over his mouth and nose. Soon the boy became motionless and unconscious and was feared dead. However, after an hour he revived, no worse for his alarming experience.”

“Robert Hinckley’s The First Operation Under Ether, an oil painting that dominates one wall of Harvard’s Frances A. Countway Library of Medicine, shows ether being administered to a supine white male attended by impeccably clad physicians in a theater holding tiers of enraptured doctors.”

“This stately image is a beautiful fiction with a brutally factual negative: The body of a black slave seized by laughing medical thugs, forced to inhale ether, and left for dead in the road.”

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Convenient History

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“We love the past so long as it venerates us. We want to be stuck there, and many would even like to return…It is only when those who were the targets for destruction challenge the dominant narrative that the past becomes conveniently irrelevant, a trifle not worth dwelling upon.”

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise

The Myth of Dr. Sims

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The Myth

“On a sylvan stretch of New York’s patrician upper Fifth Avenue, just across from the New York Academy of Medicine, a colossus in marble, august inscriptions, and a bas-relief caduceus grace a memorial bordering Central Park. These laurels venerate the surgeon James Marion Sims, M.D., as a selfless benefactor of women.”

The Facts

“Each naked, unanesthetized slave woman had to be forcibly restrained by the other physicians through her shrieks of agony as Sims determinedly sliced, then sutured her genitalia. The other doctors, who could, fled when they could bear the horrific scenes no longer. It then fell to the women to restrain one another.”

“Betsey’s voice has been silenced by history, but as one reads Sims’s biographers and his own memoirs, a haughty, self-absorbed researcher emerges, a man who bought black women slaves and addicted them to morphine in order to perform dozens of exquisitely painful, distressingly intimate vaginal surgeries. Not until he had experimented with his surgeries on Betsey and her fellow slaves for years did Sims essay to cure white women.”

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Responsibility for Residue

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“It is surely not my fault that I was born, as with so many others, into a social status over which I had little control. But this is hardly the point, and regardless of our own direct culpability for the system, or lack thereof, the simple and incontestable fact is that we all have to deal with the residue of past actions.”

“Just as a house or farm left to you upon the death of a parent is an asset that you get to use, so too is racial privilege; and if you get to use an asset, you have to pay the debt accumulated, which allowed the asset to exist in the first place.”

“The notion of utilizing assets but not paying debts is irresponsible, to say nothing of unethical. Those who reap the benefits of past actions—and the privileges that have come from whiteness are certainly among those—have an obligation to take responsibility for our use of those benefits.”

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise

No Excuses for Slavery

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“But no excuses, no time-bound rationalizations, and no paeans to our ancestors’ kind and generous natures or how they “loved their slaves as though they were family” can make it right. Our unwillingness to hold our people and ourselves to a higher moral standard—a standard in place at least since the time of Moses, for it was he to whom God supposedly gave those commandments including the two about stealing and killing—brings shame to us today. It compounds the crime by constituting a new one: the crime of innocence claimed, against all visible evidence to the contrary.”

“In truth, even those family members who didn’t own other human beings had been implicated in the nation’s historic crimes…In 1753, Tennessee passed its Patrol Act, which required whites to search slave quarters four times each year for guns or other contraband. By the turn of the century…these searches had been made into monthly affairs. By 1806, most all white men were serving on regular slave patrols for which they were paid a dollar per shift, and five dollars as a bonus for each runaway slave they managed to catch.”

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise

Why Study White

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“Postmodern multiculturalism may have genuinely opened up a space for the voices of the other, challenging the authority of the white West (cf Owens 1983), but it may also simultaneously function as a side-show for white people who look on with delight at all the differences that surround them. We may be on our way to genuine hybridity, multiplicity without (white) hegemony, and it may be where we want to get to – but we aren’t there yet, and we won’t get there until we see whiteness, see it’s power, it’s particularity and limitedness, put in it’s place and end its rule. This is why studying whiteness matters.”

“White power nonetheless reproduces itself regardless of intention, power differences and goodwill, and overwhelmingly because it is not seen as whiteness, but as normal. White people need to learn to see themselves as white, to see their particularity.”

The Matter of Whiteness by Richard Dyer, published in White Privilege, 4th edition, edited by Paula S. Rothenberg