Flo Kennedy

I read “Florynce ‘Flo’ Kennedy The Life of a Black Feminist Radical” by Sherie M. Randolph as part of my forgotten women series. I like to call myself a feminist, but I had never heard of Flo Kennedy before coming across a BookRiot article about lesser-known women in history. The main reason I had never heard of Flo Kennedy is because of white feminism. Flo Kennedy was a “black feminist radical” during the height of white feminism, many of the white feminists did not listen to her message and tried to distance themselves from her. Flo tried to link the oppression of women and the oppression of minorities, saying that white women needed to work with minorities so that no group could have power over another; radical thoughts during that time.

Flo Kennedy was born in 1916. She spent most of her childhood in Kansas City before moving to New York City as an adult. Flo had learned from her father to not take “shit” from anyone and she made sure that she didn’t. When the white kids would chase and tease her and her sisters, the sisters decided to turn around and chase the white kids instead. When Columbia Law School denied her entry because she was a black woman, Flo threatened to take them to court. She became one of the only black female lawyers in NYC in the 1950’s. By 1954 she had opened her own private practice; some of the cases she took involved jazz musicians being swindled by their record company.

The summer of 1960 was a turning point for Flo, it was the summer she was arrested for being a black woman. While she was an activist before that summer, the arrest hit her hard. Her family described her as “more impatient with the coercive power of racism.” Flo was arrested for trying to cross a police barricade on her street. She had told the police she lived there, but since this was an expensive neighborhood of Manhattan the police may not have believed a black women would be living there. Flo watched as the police let all the white men pass, but when she tried to pass the police pushed her into a patrol car and took her to the precinct. There she was made to strip and squat- to check her for drugs and weapons. This was a humiliating experience based solely on the fact that she was black in an upper class neighborhood. After her arrest, Kennedy started to become a voice in the Black Power movement. She believed “racism shaped relationship of power and domination in the United States… [and] that racism affected every major social problem in the United States, especially the oppression of women.”

Flo was a part of the feminist Organization for Women, but she clashed with Betty Friedan and other white feminists over her outspoken support of Black Power. She wanted the white feminist to learn from the Black Power movement and to help in the fight against racism, but many older feminists wanted no part in that. She eventually would leave the Organization for Women as she became frustrated with the white feminists own racism. She did have a big impact on Ti-Grace Atkinson, as they both became disillusioned with the direction white feminism was going. Flo believed the white feminists, such as Betty Friedan, needed to look inside themselves and confront their own racism; this is the same thing white feminist are asked to do today.

Flo was a strong supporter of reproductive justice. As an attorney, she worked on the Abramowicz v. Lefkowitz case which tried to repeal New York’s restrictive abortion laws. It was the “first case to use women who suffered from illegal abortions instead of physicians as experts witnesses.” This strategy would come to be used in Roe v. Wade.

If you consider yourself a feminist, I strongly recommend this book!

 

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I’m Judging You – Luvvie Ajayi

I really enjoyed this book, it was funny while also criticizing racism and sexism. I thought her chapter on racism was powerful, as she writes:

1. “Racism is not always white hoods and burning crosses. Sometimes, it’s in suits and boardrooms”
2. “Racism is not always white hoods and burning crosses. Sometimes, it’s blue uniforms and black robes”
3. “Racism is not always white hoods and burning crosses. It is behind teachers’ desks and in principals’ offices”
4. “Racism is not always white hoods and burning crosses. It is on anchor desks and in headlines”
5. “Racism is not always white hoods and burning crosses. It is on Wall Street and on Capitol Hill”

Yes to all of this! This is something some of us know, but seeing it written out is powerful. There is so much racism in the news, the criminal justice system, on Capitol Hill, and in schools. One doesn’t have to be wearing a white hood to perpetrate racism, it’s those who have positions of power over others who perpetrate the system of racism.

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter isn’t saying that no one else’s life matters, it’s saying America needs to care about black lives because we see black men and boys being killed by police but just shrug our shoulders and say “he looked like he was up to no good” or “he should have put his hands up.” The people who say these statements are usually the same people to say “all lives matter” when they really don’t mean it. America tends to victim blame everyone who isn’t a white male. Look how much Trump has gotten away with, bragging about sexual assault. The same people who see nothing wrong with Trumps comments toward women, would freak if those same comments came from Obama. We live in an America that has double standards, not just for sex but also for race.

“Rape Culture is Real and It Sucks.”

This is another powerful chapter from Luvvie. She says that kids are more likely to be assaulted by a trusted adult than a stranger. Stranger danger is a huge myth in sexual assault and I think it helps perpetrate rape culture. It makes kids and adults scared to say someone they know assaulted them, like it is an outlier. In sexual assault cases stranger danger is the outlier.
Something else she brought up in this chapter was that women do not owe men anything. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing or drinking, NO ONE IS ENTITLED TO YOUR BODY! That’s something that gets over looked in rape culture. Ann Coulter tweeted this “gem” earlier this year, “Hmmm. How about: Our REAL problem is that many men have no choice but to rape because they have no opportunities to date attractive women.” NO ONE HAS A RIGHT TO YOUR BODY, I HAVE A RIGHT TO SAY NO TO ANYONE. I don’t know why people believe men have the right to rape women, but messages like these are dangerous. Survivors may not seek out help because of these messages. It’s never the victim’s fault, and we need to teach kids that no one has the right to anyone else’s body. I’m really passionate about understanding sexual violence and I think Luvvie’s chapter was spot on.

 

The Rules Do Not Apply

Ariel Levy went through what no mother should have to – the death of a child. Her writing makes you feel her heartbreak, she wanted a baby more than anything in the world but nature took that away from her. She shows the after effects of losing a child, how your whole life is shaped by that one loss.

After the loss of her baby, well-meaning family and friends tried to help. She talks about one women who tried to help by saying “everything happens for a reason.” Levy does not find this helpful and goes on to talk about how we want to find reason in everything even if there is none. She lost her baby while in Mongolia and some people blamed her for flying to such a far away land. They think that if she hadn’t flown she wouldn’t have lost the baby, but as the doctors told her, losing the baby had nothing to do with flying – it was a freak event. Sometimes life isn’t rational, sometimes things just happen and that’s what makes life so scary.

“Everybody doesn’t get everything; as natural and unavoidable as mortality.”

Another message I got out of this memoir was that we want to “have it all” but “having it all” doesn’t exist. I live in America where the notion of “having it all” is ingrained in us. If someone doesn’t “have it all” it means they didn’t try or want it bad enough; it’s always a personal flaw, and never that no one can truly “have it all.” I want a career where I can help people while also making enough money to be able to travel the world, but this is America and money does not come from helping others. People tell me I’m going to have to make a choice, I can’t have a job helping people while also having enough money to afford bills and travel. I know they are right, but I’ve bought into the notion that we can “have it all.” That if I don’t end up making a career helping people while also traveling the world, I would have failed. Social media perpetrates this lie, everyone wants to come off as if they “have it all” but in reality “having it all” is not something any of us can attain – it’s just a myth we try to portray to others.

I liked the messages from this book but unfortunately there was a lot of unexamined white privilege; Roxane Gay pointed this out in her Goodreads review of this book. There were a few things she said about other countries that made me roll me eyes. The first was when she came back from Johannesburg, South Africa and said “I did not get mauled by an animal. I had not been mugged or assaulted in dangerous Johannesburg.” I think this perpetrates the stereotype of South Africa as dangerous, with wildlife around every corner ready to attack. I think it was Adichie and Luvvie Ajayi who pointed out that America has these stereotypes about Africa as poor and dangerous. Johannesburg has fewer homicides per 100,000 people than Baltimore and St. Louis, would she have said the same thing about these cities? Also, cities that are dangerous are usually more dangerous to the people that live there than to tourist.

Something else she wrote that made me roll my eyes was, after the traumatic loss of her baby in Mongolia when the EMTs were drawing blood and giving her shots, she said “Her partner bent to insert a think needle in my forearm and I wondered if it would give me Mongolian AIDS.” Just a chapter before she wrote that Mongolia beat Australia in the 2012 Gender Equality Index, and that they were making lots of strides concerning gender equality; to me that did not seem like a country where EMTs would reuse dirty needles. I googled AIDS/HIV in Mongolia because I was curious if her fear was real or imagined, as I expected Mongolia has a low rate of HIV at .003%. I thought that comment wasn’t necessary and took away from her description of what she was going through.

Please let me know what you thought of this memoir. My review did not touch on all aspects of the book so please bring up anything that felt relevant to your life.

Forgotten Women 

Hi bookworms!

I decided to start a new project for my blog where I read about women history has forgotten. I’m excited to learn about these women and share them with all of you! I’m starting with Flo Kennedy, who I had never heard of before last week (but that’s sadly not surprising) She was a co-founder of the National Organization of Women and a graduate of Columbia Law. She worked along side of Gloria Steinem and other white feminists we have probably all know of. Learning about her thoughts on race is also important in this time when cops are killing unarmed black men and face no consequences.

The Handmaid’s Tale

SOME SPOILERS
My book club picked this book for this month’s read because you know, Trump’s America and all. If you haven’t heard of this book before, it’s set in a dystopia world in what used to be the United States. This new society is patriarchal and maintains power by military violence and force. The narrator is a Handmaid and her only purpose is to have a baby for her Commander and his wife. The narrator takes us seamlessly through her life as a Handmaid and her life before the take over. Atwood’s writing is beautiful and she does a great job of piecing together the narrator’s life, her past and present flow together as one.

In order to create this new society, the new government had to take rights away from women. They began by freezing the money of women and firing them from their jobs, thus taking away their independence. The narrator was distressed about this (her world just got taken from her) but her husband didn’t seem that concerned. He even wanted to have sex the night all this happened. It wasn’t until he was going to get his family taken away that he cared to rebel against the new government. The narrator’s husband Luke is the majority of people in situations of social injustice; he wasn’t concerned until it affected him. The majority of people aren’t concerned about social injustice until it is affecting them. This is a critique of white feminism, that we don’t care until it starts to affect white women. There is definitely lots of evidence to this point. It’s something that we, white women, have to work on.

Sadly, the Handmaid’s Tale has implications for today’s world. First off when the takeover first happened, people were scared and many tried not to speak out. The constitution was suspended and those who did protest were shot or taken away. This is why freedom of speech is so important, we need protests in order to prevent those in power from having all the power, once the citizens lose their power it is hard to get it back. That’s what happened in this story, the ones in power gained their power by making the citizens submissive. It has been great to see so many citizens come out against this new administration, we need to keep showing them that we won’t take them infringing on our rights or the rights of others. In the words of Margaret Atwood “don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

In the epilogue, Atwood gives us a very powerful statement “no new system can impose itself upon a previous one without incorporating many of the elements to be found in the latter… It’s racist policies, for instance, were firmly rooted in the pre-Gilead period and racist fears provided some of the emotional fuel that allowed the Gilead takeover to succeed as well as it did.” Here, pre-Gilead is referencing the United States, doesn’t this sound familiar?  Fear and racism is a part of what led Trump to power. New societies build off the old and we need to be care about what Trump is building in America. While Atwood brings up U.S racist policies, she doesn’t discuss race in her book.

One complaint about the Handmaid’s Tale is that it’s very white feminism. My book club mentioned Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower which is also about a dystopia world but discusses gender and race. I think we will be reading that next, review to come. Another complaint I had about this book is the narrator is very passive, I was expecting the narrator to be part of the resistance. In a way, I understand why the narrator was passive because a majority of people in her situation would be passive; the narrator is someone many of us would be.

Salt to the Sea – Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea is a YA novel about the Wilhelm Gustloff skinning, history’s deadliest maritime disaster. During WWII, the Wilhelm Gustloff was used to take refugees and military personnel from East Prussian across the Baltic Sea in order to get away from the Red Army. Before the Wilhelm Gustloff could make it to safety, it was sank by a Russian submarine; since it was carrying a mix of civilians and military personnel, it was fair game for the Russians to attack.

I was surprised this was the deadliest maritime disaster, since I had never heard of it before picking up this book. Before, I would have guessed the Lusitania or Titanic were the worst maritime disasters since they had the most publicity. The Titanic lost around 1,500 lives; the Lusitania around 1,200 lives; but the Wilhelm Gustloff lost around 10,000 lives. The carnage of WWII is sometimes hard to grasp.

This book not only talks about the disaster of the Wilhelm Gustloff but also about the plight of refugees, which is very relevant for today’s world. The refugees were torn from their families, traveling under harsh conditions, trying to out run the Red Army, all the while just wanting to go home. I cannot imagine what refugees have to go through, they just want to live and have a future. As we see pictures of the refugee crisis in Syria and hear about the travel ban we need to think about what we would do to not die and how we would want a country to take us in. What’s going on in Syria is out of their control and refugee should not have to suffer over politics. One day a future generation will look back at our hesitance to accept refugees and say, “how could you keep them out, so many died because of fear and racism.” I know this because it is the same thing we say about the U.S keeping the Jewish refugees out during WWII and the placement of Japanese citizens in interment camps; same mistake, different era.

Overall I liked this book, it is a quick read, and relevant to today. Being the WWII history nerd that I am, I wish it went into more details about the refugee crisis and sinking but it is a YA novel and not a nonfiction book. The only downside was that there was not a lot of character development because the chapters were narrated by certain characters and kept short. This is a story that needs to be told and I felt like Salt to the Sea could have done more to tell the story.

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl

Last year, I turned 25 and had a bit of a quarter life crisis. My mind was plagued with thoughts of “what am I going to do with my life” and “where am I going in life”. It didn’t help that I live in DC, it seemed everyone was on track for bigger and better things. I was stuck in a rut trying to decide if I should go back to school and get my PhD, get another master’s, or maybe law school? These thoughts plagued me, so when I came across Man’s Search For Meaning I thought it might help to give me some insight to life. I ended up going to Ireland with a friend before getting this book from the library, and it was being in Ireland that helped me realize I needed to stop stressing about my job because I was doing just fine. Sometimes, we need a different perspective and to get out of our comfort zones to realize we don’t need to worry as much as we do. I love DC but sometimes we get too caught up in what everyone does for a living and how their 9-5 is contributing to the world but it is what we do outside our 9-5 that really matters.

Anyway, back to Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl was a Psychiatrist and during WWII he was a prisoner in Auschwitz where he lost his entire family. The first part of his book talks about his experiences in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, his description focuses on the psychological aspect of camp life. Frankl talks a lot about how other prisoners handled suffering, some gave up while others fought and turned to God; how some could see the good even in a concentration camp. I would not be this person so I understood those who could of had no fight left in them.

Something I’ve never come to terms with, in any genocide, is when do we stop seeing people as people? I don’t know if this question can ever be answered. Frankl did explain how some camp guards were so cruel while others could be kind, such as giving prisoners extra pieces of bread. Frankl said “there are two races of men in this world but only those two – the race of the decent man and the race of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of ‘pure race’ – and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.” This is true and before we point the finger at others we need to reflect on ourselves.(I’m specifically thinking about the U.S here and our muslim ban). While there may have been guards who were kind, their kindness in the camp does not excuse their being complicit in a system that killed 6 million jews and millions of others who did not fit their idea of a “master race.”

Frankl’s theory, called logotherapy, is that man finds meaning in life through his work, loving another person, and through strength in suffering. Finding meaning in life through our work does not have to mean the work we do 9-5; I find meaning through work by volunteering. Finding meaning through suffering is a bit harder to understand and maybe that is because I’m American and Frankl throws shade to us by quoting a colleague who said the United States has an unhealthy culture around suffering, we do not have the opportunity to be proud of our suffering we are degraded for it therefore we are ashamed for being unhappy.

Overall I liked the book, It wasn’t as ground breaking as I thought it was going to be but still a good read and can relate to today’s politics (unfortunately for today’s world).