Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life

Before I return it to the library, I want to write some more about Joan Morgan's When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip-Hop Feminist. It's an interesting book, and I don't regret reading it, but there are times when Morgan is so unselfconsciously clueless I have to laugh.

I mentioned in my previous post that Morgan had complained about the raging dykes who constituted one of the main "flavas" among white feminists in her college days.  But there were others.
The others -- straight and more femme -- were all for the liberation of women as long as it did not infringe on their sense of entitlement.  They felt their men should share the power to oppress.  They were the spiritual descendants of the early suffragettes and absolutely not to be trusted [35]...

White girls don't call their men "brothers" and that made their struggle enviably simpler than mine.  Racism and the will to survive it creates a sense of intra-racial loyalty that makes it impossible for black women to turn our backs on black men -- even in their ugliest and most sexist of moments.  I needed a feminism that would allow us to continue loving ourselves and the brothers who hurt us without letting race loyalty buy us early tombstones [36].
(Someone who had the book out of the library before me wrote a big asterisk in pencil next to that second paragraph.)

Fair enough, and I understand it.  But as her characterization of the "straight and more femme" college feminists shows, "race loyalty" has its pitfalls.  And it seems that Morgan still hasn't learned that being a feminist, whether she calls herself one or not, will still get a woman called a selfish manhater.  Much later in the book, she reports how the mother of her friend Daphne saw it.  Daphne, it seems, found herself a good black man, and has a "wonderful life ...  a beautiful house, dog, great kid, and car -- in that order."
So it was all good until Mrs. Charles ["Not her real name"] said to me (Dee's very single and career-minded girlfriend), "I'm so glad that Daphne isn't like so many of these young women today.  They're so selfish and absorbed in their careers they don't even know how to treat a good man.  No wonder they're all single."  The air in Dee's huge, airy, brownstone suddenly got too thick to breathe ... [133-4].
Morgan then spends two pages writing what she wished she'd said to Mrs. C in reply.  But it doesn't seem to occur to her that Mrs. C saw her just as Morgan saw those white feminists: too busy living their own lives to "know how to treat a good man", i.e., to subordinate themselves to him.  Back in the Eighties, Cynthia Heimel was writing smart, funny, and much more self-aware stuff about the same problem as a white feminist experienced it.  While it's important for women of color to work out their own approach to feminism, they should consider the possibility that even older white women might have something to teach them.  Think of it as getting something back for all that African-Americans have given to American culture.