We affirm press freedom She’s back: Anita Hill. Or more accurately, it’s back: the hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas’s nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court, aka the Anita Hill trial.
While it has been twenty five years, I still remember as if it just happened yesterday. At the time, I felt in my gut that he was guilty of all her charges; she has subsequently been triumphant, and has been unwavering about her testimony to her truth; and, he has not been a good justice. The hearing remains in the annals of a televised political/racialized travesty.
So, why discuss this again now? Why the renewed interest? Well, for one, the new HBO film, stars Kerry Washington as Anita Hill. I have not watched it, but the discussion about it is unavoidable.
And, we are still in search of the truth. But the lingering stench of the slaughtered beast’s carcass, i.e., the stinking truth, remains in debate: how to make equivalent the “high-tech lynching” of a black man with the sexual harassment of a black female. Is one form of terror greater than the other? What is it about being a black man which makes his plight greater than that of any black woman?
How can we measure the domains of power which either has gained since 1600, 1991 or in 2016?
Can we earnestly agree that black men are better off, i.e. have more power since Clarence Thomas won his appointment, than say, black women, who might be in better, i.e. more powerful positions if Anita Hill had been believed?
Commenting on the trial nearly ten years ago, Luke Charles Harris, political scientist, professor and journalist, invites us to imagine how many black men have ever actually been lynched at the behest of a black woman (for claiming sexual harassment, or even a more harmful assault).
It is notable at this point to recall that in 1965, Daniel Moynihan, a widely respected sociologist, wrote, “Ours is a society which presumes male leadership in private and public affairs.”
That was the prevailing attitude of the entirely white male panel during the hearings in 1991, and which also threaded throughout all the major institutions in America. Fast forward to 2016, and our status (women’s, blacks/other minorities) has not evolved much higher.
Since the movie aired earlier this week, social scientists and researchers, feminists, legal scholars, political pundits and many others are talking about intersectionality, a term coined by black legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw. It refers to our attempt to look objectively at how social identities, e.g., race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and having varying abilities, overlap.
Intersectionality suggests that our experiences are multiple dimensional, not separate sufferings, e.g. as just black; or as only women; men; transgender, etc., and we all have single synthesized experiences, for instance as a black, middle class woman; a young, unemployed black man; a white lesbian woman, etc. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas were both thrown onto a battle field already littered with countless black bodies left unburied since the beginning of chattel slavery. Their stench hovered over the hearings.
I understand why she was a reluctant witness; knowing there could never be anything fair about that hearing. Her gender versus his black maleness. The algorithm, in 1991, was not in her favor. But we can continue the broader discussion, within the context of world power divisions, and intersectionality.
What is the common denominator at the intersection of all our identities? Power! Or more precisely, lack of power.
What do we want? Power! When do we want it? Now! We have chanted. Close your eyes and try to imagine the fol- lowing:
Black, females, middle class (educated) want equal pay; freedom from harassment; power to choose hair styles, reproductive freedom, to name a few.
And this: White, females, poor, may want education and training to break out of their cycle of poverty, as one example.
Or this: Black, males, young. Their list is filled with longing and hope to not be killed; many can’t see life past their eighteenth birthday!
Now this: White, males want more. More (fill in the blank). More.
Intersectionality allows us to discuss, analyze and understand the imperative for social change. Consider the “black lives matter movement” which began in direct response to the USA’s version of domestic terrorism: police brutality. It will continue to be driven by the imperative of people’s natural desire to live with the fullest enjoyment of all our society offers. So today they march. Tomorrow? Some have preached, “By any means necessary.”
I more readily endorse “all lives matter.” It casts a wider net, and one that I believe can link us all up in battle to get a just share of power. During this season of silliness, as the political oppositions are shaping up to elect the next leader of the USA, Bernie Sanders constantly reminds us that there is that insidious one percent that has, and wants to keep an unfair (criminal) share of the money/power? De facto? De jure?
Alas, power divisions are most always bloody.