Shared posts

28 Sep 21:50

“I wish I could have done more for her. Her life has been...

“I wish I could have done more for her. Her life has been nothing but struggle. She hasn’t known many happy moments. She never had a chance to taste childhood. When we were getting on the plastic boat, I heard her say something that broke my heart. She saw her mother being crushed by the crowd, and she screamed: ‘Please don’t kill my mother! Kill me instead!’“ (Lesvos, Greece)

28 Sep 21:13

“My husband and I sold everything we had to afford the...

“My husband and I sold everything we had to afford the journey. We worked 15 hours a day in Turkey until we had enough money to leave. The smuggler put 152 of us on a boat. Once we saw the boat, many of us wanted to go back, but he told us that anyone who turned back would not get a refund. We had no choice. Both the lower compartment and the deck were filled with people. Waves began to come into the boat so the captain told everyone to throw their baggage into the sea. In the ocean we hit a rock, but the captain told us not to worry. Water began to come into the boat, but again he told us not to worry. We were in the lower compartment and it began to fill with water. It was too tight to move. Everyone began to scream. We were the last ones to get out alive. My husband pulled me out of the window. In the ocean, he took off his life jacket and gave it to a woman. We swam for as long as possible. After several hours he told me he that he was too tired to swim and that he was going to float on his back and rest. It was so dark we could not see. The waves were high. I could hear him calling me but he got further and further away. Eventually a boat found me. They never found my husband.” (Kos, Greece)

26 Sep 21:00

“Before leaving for Europe, I went back to Syria to see my...

“Before leaving for Europe, I went back to Syria to see my family once more. I slept in my uncle’s barn the entire time I was there, because every day the police were knocking on my father’s door. Eventually my father told me: ‘If you stay any longer, they will find you and they will kill you.’ So I contacted a smuggler and made my way to Istanbul. I was just about to leave for Europe when I received a call from my sister. She told me that my father had been very badly beaten by police, and unless I sent 5,000 Euro for an operation, he would die. That was my money to get to Europe. But what could I do? I had no choice. Then two weeks later she called with even worse news. My brother had been killed by ISIS while he was working in an oil field. They found our address on his ID card, and they sent his head to our house, with a message: ‘Kurdish people aren’t Muslims.’ My youngest sister found my brother’s head. This was one year ago. She has not spoken a single word since.” (Kos, Greece)


16 Sep 16:24

“I’m a rare book librarian. I get to touch books every single...

“I’m a rare book librarian. I get to touch books every single day. My colleague and I have a joke that we are Defenders of Wonder. A physical book assigns a sense of reverence to the content inside. It’s the same feeling you get when you look at a painting or hear a piece of music. And I think that’s something worth defending. And just like a book gives reverence to it’s content, I think the library gives reverence to books. The building itself is a masterpiece. So many famous thinkers have come here to study and write. Just being here connects you to that lineage.”

16 Sep 11:30

Hearing Aunt Harriet

by Debbie Nathan


In the archives of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, our writer found a previously unknown audiotape of an interview with a woman who’d been born into slavery.

One day in the early 1940s on the south side of Austin, Texas, a young white man named John Henry Faulk carried a very large recording machine into the home of an elderly black woman named Harriet Smith. The two were neighbors: Faulk’s family lived only four blocks from Smith, and she had known him since he was a baby. He was in his late twenties when he brought the recorder to her house, and she was in her early eighties. Faulk addressed her as “Aunt Harriet.” She called him “Mr. Faulk.”

Many years later, Faulk would remember Aunt Harriet as an amusing old woman about whom people liked to tell funny stories.

Faulk knew all about telling funny stories, especially about blacks. He had been doing this since high school, reciting Shakespeare plays, for instance, as though Hamlet and Henry IV were characters on Amos ‘n’ Andy. He cheerfully called one such performance a “nice little nigger story.”

As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, he performed these stories at social gatherings, including parties organized by his professors. He studied with famed Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie, as well as John Lomax and his son Alan—who had “discovered” blues musician Lead Belly in prison in Louisiana and would later find and record Muddy Waters in the Mississippi Delta. When Dobie and the Lomaxes first met Faulk, they were impressed by his uncanny ability to ape the speech of black Americans—often as a joke.

And yet, by the standards of the day, Faulk was far less racist than most white Southerners. A few years after he interviewed Smith, he would join the NAACP. His upbringing had been unusual: His father was a longtime socialist who advocated for racial equality, and the family had lived in an integrated neighborhood in Austin. Faulk grew up playing with black children. By the time he visited Harriet Smith’s house, he had been tapped for an antiracism project—audio recording black church sermons in heavily African-American parts of the Brazos River Bottom region of East Texas. The Julius Rosenwald Foundation, an early 20th-century fund renowned for promoting black education and culture in the Jim Crow South, bankrolled the work.

To carry out the project, Faulk was given a machine that weighed more than 130 pounds and etched grooves onto a metal disc while the speaker talked into a microphone. He stored this cumbersome equipment in the back of a car and drove it to rural Texas in late 1941. There, he recorded black congregations singing and shouting, their preachers sermonizing, and families weeping at funerals. He also took the gear to Negro house parties in his own neighborhood in Austin, where he recorded young men singing blues and young women crooning Billie Holiday.
As I discovered recently, he also went to Aunt Harriet’s.


 One of the WPA’s projects was to record the reminiscences of elderly blacks who had been liberated from bondage at the end of the Civil War.

It wasn’t Smith’s only encounter with a recording device. She was of continuing interest to Faulk because she had been a slave in the 19th century, and in the previous decade, Faulk’s mentors, John and Alan Lomax, during trips they made through the South to collect folk music, had recorded some interviews with former slaves. By 1937, John Lomax was the national folklore advisor for the government’s Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), which was part of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (the WPA). One of the FWP’s projects was to record the reminiscences of elderly blacks who had been liberated from bondage at the end of the Civil War. FWP workers interviewed about 2,300 people. After the FWP was over, the Library of Congress continued to collect interviews, and Faulk participated in that effort. Almost none were audio recorded—the vast majority of the interviews were simply written down by the government workers as notes then transcribed onto paper and eventually filed in Washington. Today, these written first-person accounts of life under the peculiar institution can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg. The Library of Congress also posts them.


A few months ago, another white man, Dylann Storm Roof, visited a black church—this one in Charleston, South Carolina—and shot to death nine congregants. Months before committing the murders, he posted a comment on a white supremacy website that he administered, noting that one thing leading him to consider black people as racially inferior was his study of ex-slave narratives. These narratives showed, Roof wrote, that antebellum American slaves were happy in their bondage. Their happiness, he wrote, was being kept secret. This infuriated him.

I have reviewed many of these narratives. I started months ago, after discovering that one set of my great-great-grandparents owned two female slaves (and that another great-great-grandfather fought in the Confederate Army). The skeletons of this history had for generations been closeted in my liberal, civil-rights-activist Texas Jewish family. This is a family who went to interracial fellowship gatherings in segregated Houston during the 1950s and encouraged its white children (including me) to ride at the back of the bus and to use restrooms and water fountains marked “colored” instead of “white.” Using an easy-to-find document on, the 1860 Federal Slave Census, I discovered my family’s slavery secret. I called a reunion of the kin to break the news. Then I developed an almost obsessive interest in the ex-slave narratives.

Many interviewees told cheerful stories about their enslavement.

Going through my first few scores of them, I was shocked to notice the same thing that Roof mentioned—that many interviewees told cheerful stories about their enslavement.

Jim Allen, for instance, was an 87-year-old former slave in West Point, Mississippi when the WPA interviewed him in 1937. He talked about how much he loved his owners: “Ole Miss was so good, I’d do anything fer her.….”

John Cameron, from Jackson, Mississippi, expressed similar feelings: “My old Marster was de bes’ man in de worl’.… Us had plenty t’ eat and warm clo’es an’ shoes…us ain’t never min’ workin’ for old Marster…that meant good livin’ an’ bein’ took care of right.”

Anna Baker, at 80 years old, in Aberdeen, Mississippi, recalled running to greet her owner when he returned to the plantation from town: “Here come de marster, root toot toot!” Josephine Bristow remembered her master returning from journeys and delighting her with remarks such as, “Yonder my little niggers! How my little niggers?”

And Harriet Smith, the funny old woman in Austin, told John Henry Faulk that her white owners were “good to us. Good. They never whipped none of their colored people.”


Confused about these apparent encomiums to slavery by people who themselves had been slaves, I put down the narratives and sought out critical analysis by historians and other scholars. There are, it turns out, many reasons why elderly black people in the early 20th century might have reflected happily upon their bondage in the 19th.

One reason, the literature points out, is that almost all of the WPA interviewers were white Southerners. Some had grandparents (and even parents) who had owned the very people they were interviewing—in Southern towns still under the terroristic grip of Jim Crow. (Faulk’s grandparents had owned slaves, though he never talked publicly about that, and it’s likely that his parents had known the family who owned Harriet Smith.) Some interviewers – including Faulk, when he interviewed Harriet Smith — posed leading questions encouraging ex-slaves to emphasize the positive. Faulk asked Smith, “Some folks awful good to their slaves, weren’t they?” Lately it has come to light that when the answers weren’t positive, many WPA regional administrators abridged the transcripts. Or they mothballed the interviews entirely and never sent them to Washington.

Furthermore, many of the interviewees lived in decrepit shacks, wore ragged clothes, and were sick and hungry. The Depression was raging, and Southern blacks, routinely denied government aid because of their race, were especially desperate. Many thought the WPA interviewers, being from the government, could get them food and monetary “relief.” The interview transcripts record them begging for help. Many likely said what they thought the interviewer wanted to hear in order to receive assistance.

Slave children typically experienced something vaguely resembling free, early white childhood, which, over eight decades later, many remembered in a haze of fondness.

But perhaps the strongest and most poignant explanation for fond memories of slavery is that the majority of the interviewees, born in the 1850s and 1860s, were young children during the Civil War. (Harriet Smith was about six and a half years old when Yankee troops finally occupied Texas and declared emancipation in June 1865.) Years later, those children, now elderly, recalled that, even on the most brutal plantations of that period, slaves were not put to hard field labor until they reached the age of 10 or 12. Among enlightened owners, animal-husbandry theories abounded regarding how best to extract maximum, long-term productivity from slaves. One tenet was that the child slave’s body should be well nourished and left at rest until adolescence, to assure good development and hardiness. Thus, except for relatively light jobs such as caring for younger children, many young slave boys and girls were allowed to spend at least some of their days playing—even with their owners’ sons and daughters. Slave children typically experienced something vaguely resembling free, early white childhood, which, over eight decades later, many remembered in a haze of fondness. This is the “happiness” that Dylann Storm Roof read about. As did I.


However, just as I did, Roof undoubtedly also read chilling accounts of the way these children were treated like small animals, even in relatively good circumstances. Henry Brown, from South Carolina, remembered how his owner, a Dr. Rose, “gave me to his son, Dr. Arthur Barnwell Rose, for a Christmas present.” Solbert Butler, also of South Carolina, remembered how his “massa take me as a little boy as a pet,” with a little bed to sleep on at night near the master’s big bed—as a dog today sleeps in its owner’s room on a monogrammed dog pallet mail-ordered from Lands’ End. Jim Allen was also kept as a “pet” – after his previous master lost him in a whiskey debt. Allen recalled that his new master, the creditor, “tuk me, out’n the yard where I was playing marbles. De law ‘lowed de fust thing de man saw, he could take.”

Then, there were far worse circumstances. The mother of J. W. Terrill, of Madisonville, Texas, served, once a week for years, as her white male owner’s concubine. As a result, Terrill was mulatto, the son of “my mammy’s master.” Furious about the existence of his mixed-race issue, Terrill’s father “willed I must wear a bell till I was 21 years old, strapped ‘round my shoulders with the bell ‘bout three feet from my head in steel frame.” Terrill commented to the WPA interviewer that he “never knowed what it was to lay down in bed and get a good night’s sleep till I was ‘bout 17 year old, when my father died and my missy took the bell offen me.”

Then there were the auctions, during which, even if children were not the goods for sale, they witnessed other people on the block and never forgot it. Jake Terriell, during his childhood as a slave in South Carolina, told his interviewer that he “seed slaves sold and you has heared cattle bawl when de calves took from de mammy and dat de way de slaves bawls.”

Children saw and overheard casual murder, with utter lack of response from authorities except to dispose of the bodies. Lou Williams, from Maryland, recalled living “close to de meanest owner in de country…he keeps overseers to beat de niggers and he has de big leather bullwhip with lead in de end, and he beats some slaves to death. We heared dem holler and holler till dey couldn’t holler no mo! Den dey jes’ sorta grunt every lick till dey die…de whole top of de ground jes’ looks like a river of blood…sometime de law come out and make him bury dem.”

“Lawd, Lawd,” Williams concluded. “Dem was awful times.”


But to the eyes of white transcribers and even contemporary readers, those times probably don’t seem as bad as they would if they had been written down for posterity in Standard English—all those “de’s” for “the,” “jes” for “just,” that man who remembered how he “seed” slaves being auctioned rather than saw them, the children who “heared” instead of heard dying people holler until they “hollered no mo.” All those apostrophes and missing consonants at the ends of syllables, the mangled verbs, and verbs about things that happened past tense yet were uttered using the present. Verbs describing people who, the interviewees knew, had died as slaves many years ago, yet the ex-slaves said of these people that “they die,” as if their deaths were just happening or had not yet happened.

How curious nowadays to read these quirks of English. They were quirks that white writers used to mock black people, even before Mark Twain practically institutionalized the practice. In the pages of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s black character, Jim, spoke in a riot of misspelling. Twain’s use of “nex’ day” for “next day,” “git” for “get,” “didn’” for “didn’t,” and “uv” for “of” is what linguists call eye writing, because it brings dialect to the eye. To the reader, this orthography makes the speech of people like Jim look different from educated white people’s speech. But eye writing is a cheap, hierarchical trick. In fact, many Americans of different classes, geographic regions, and ethnicities say “uv”, “nex’ day,” and “didn’.”

Eye writing probably targeted blacks more than any other group.

Yet in fiction, funny-page cartoons, and folklore scholarship from the late 19th century until well into the 20th, eye writing was a common way of marking and (consciously or unconsciously) belittling classes of people considered less successful or less than American. Immigrants were one target. Another was white Appalachians (whose speech was extravagantly eye-written in the comic strip Li’l Abner).

Eye writing probably targeted blacks more than any other group. Respectable writers did the work, and respectable readers chuckled. In 1932, the dean of the Texas State College for Women published Chocolate Drops from the South, a collection of what his grandson Edmund V. White III, the renowned contemporary writer about gay life, would many years later deride as “’nigger’ joke books.” The jokes were replete with stereotypes about blacks: that the females were promiscuous and ever ready to cheat on their husbands, that males were happily prone to commit deadly violence with guns, knives, and dangerous household goods. A typical joke in Chocolate Drops has a woman asking “Rufus,” her partner, “Whut is yo’ gwine do wid dat razor?” Rufus answers, “See dem two shoes undah de baid. If de ain’t no man in ‘em, Ah is gwine tuh shave.” Also included is a joke about a lynching. In one of her “My Day” newspaper columns from 1937, Eleanor Roosevelt enthusiastically recommended Chocolate Drops to “anyone who wants a laugh a day.”

Meanwhile, those WPA interviews, which Dylann Storm Roof and the rest of us would encounter decades later, are replete with stories of “happiness” rendered in the most egregious eye writing: “Ever since I a child I is liked white folks…I got a heap mo’ in slavery dan I does now; was sorry when Freedom got here.”


There is one tiny set of ex-slave interviews that is unequivocally dignified. These are audio recordings of about a dozen people, made mostly in the 1930s and ’40s. They total some 260 minutes, just over four hours. Some are so clear that you can’t believe they are more than a half-century old; others are scratchy and muffled. Regardless of quality, however, the sounds on these recordings go straight to the ear, unmarred by eye writing. They are unadulterated voices of human beings, reminiscing about their enslavement.

One is a man who (it has since been established) was a great-great-grandson of Betty Hemings, the slave matriarch at Monticello, one of whose children was Sally Hemings, the enslaved mother of six of Thomas Jefferson’s children. A photo taken in 1949, the year he was interviewed (not as part of the WPA, but by a Library of Congress engineer who was also his nephew) shows the man gray-bearded and tall yet bent with age. From his first utterance, he booms, belts, and declaims, like an oracle from an ancient world. “My name is Fountain Hughes!” he shouts. He tells us he is 101 years old, from Virginia, and that his grandfather belonged to the president.

And then, in the absence of eye writing to bemuse, confuse, or amuse us, Fountain Hughes’s voice—the voice of an American who was enslaved—raises our skin with gooseflesh.

So does Harriet Smith’s voice on a recording John Henry Faulk made of her in Austin, which he sent to Washington. Speaking to him in the 1940s, she now speaks to us from the living dead of history—and from the Library of Congress.


Click to view slideshow.

Smith’s and the other ex-slaves’ stories were, for a long time, unavailable to the public. Finally, in 1972, the written interviews, filed with the Library of Congress in the 1940s, were published as a mammoth series titled The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. But the small collection of audio recordings, etched in lacquer and aluminum, remained in storage and mostly forgotten.

Publication of the written interviews corresponded with a rash of interest by sociolinguists in what has come to be known as AAVE, or African American Vernacular English.

Education researchers and schoolteachers had assumed that black students were speech deprived and intellectually inferior. Labov’s investigations showed that, on the contrary, nationwide, African-American vernacular speech was as complex and grammatical as any other dialect.

One of these scholars was Columbia University’s William Labov (now at the University of Pennsylvania), who, in the 1960s, researched inner-city black children’s dialect in African-American communities like Harlem. Education researchers and schoolteachers had assumed that black students were speech deprived and intellectually inferior. Labov’s investigations showed that, on the contrary, nationwide, African-American vernacular speech was as complex and grammatical as any other dialect.

Labov’s work fit well into the era of the Civil Rights, Black Power, and the War on Poverty. It was buttressed when linguists such as J. L. Dillard proposed that the dialect of American blacks came not from fractured versions of white Southerners’ speech, but from an antique, transatlantic pidgin used by European and English slave traders to communicate with one another and with their human cargo. By definition, a pidgin is a language with reduced vocabulary and simplified grammar that is native to none of its speakers. The transatlantic version probably had no verbs inflected for past tense, only one or two pronouns, and a mélange of words from Romance, English, and African languages. By definition, if a pidgin is spoken long enough, children are born who end up speaking it as a native language. At that point it ceases being a pidgin and starts to “creolize,” meaning that its grammar gains complexity, and its vocabulary expands. Dillard believed that, beginning in colonial America, slave children on plantations came to speak a creole similar to those spoken on slave-plantation islands of the Caribbean. And eventually, the creole evolved into a modern dialect: African American Vernacular English.

Take “pickaninny,” a Southern word for a black child. Dillard argued that this word came from pequeño or pequeñiño, Spanish and Portuguese, respectively, for “small.”

Dillard presented intriguing evidence for his thesis. Take “pickaninny,” a Southern word for a black child. Dillard argued that this word came from pequeño or pequeñiño, Spanish and Portuguese, respectively, for “small.” Words from these languages were widespread in the transatlantic pidgin, Dillard pointed out, and some must have been handed down to American Black English.

There was other evidence of creolization. Black vernacular speech tends to omit the “copula,” forms of “be,” as in “He going” and “My father tall.” Meanwhile, the dialect adds “aspect” markers before verbs, such as “done” for the perfective, completed past (“She done put on a clown costume yesterday”) and “be” for the imperfect or habitual (“She always be a clown on Halloween”).

Other linguists disagreed with Dillard that Black English in America derived from pidgin and creole. They thought it was more of a remnant of 18th- and 19th-century white speech, including archaic features—such as “brung” for “brought” and “ax” for “ask”—that almost no white people in America use today but that were common centuries ago in white America and parts of Great Britain.

Finding the tapes was like unearthing a time capsule, and the linguists couldn’t wait to compare ex-slaves’ speech with that of contemporary blacks.

In the late 1980s, the Library of Congress dubbed the ex-slave audio recordings onto tape. Sociolinguists studying black vernacular English got excited—they assumed that even though people like Harriet Smith and Fountain Hughes were interviewed in the 20th century, their grammar and pronunciation were essentially the same as when they were children in the 1830s, ’40s, and ’50s. Finding the tapes was like unearthing a time capsule, and the linguists couldn’t wait to compare ex-slaves’ speech with that of contemporary blacks. The differences would cast light on the evolution of a dialect and show whether it was “converging” with contemporary white speech, as the linguists put it, or diverging because of persistent racial segregation and inequality.

So researchers started listening to the tapes. But they soon realized that people like Harriet Smith challenged sociolinguistic assumptions.


For one thing, the ex-slaves did not speak with the comico-linguistic neatness of an Amos ‘n’ Andy show. For every occasion when an elderly interviewee left out the copula in one phrase, in another utterance, a form of “to be” appeared. Fountain Hughes provides a typical example. “We afraid to go,” he said, recalling a night, in his boyhood, soon after liberation, when he was homeless and worried about finding a safe place to sleep. In a previous sentence, however, Hughes had said, “we was afraid to go.” Harriet Smith spoke similarly. She almost always said “was” and “were” when referring to the past. But then she didn’t, as when talking about her younger siblings, born in freedom, versus an antebellum cohort of children that included her: “We the only two in slavery times.”

In trying to interpret grammatical variations in ex-slave speech, another challenge researchers faced was that they knew very little about their audiotaped informants. They knew that most had been children in bondage. But what happened after the Civil War? Where did they live? How did they make a living? Did they receive any schooling? What exposure did they have to white speech, first as slaves and then as free people?

Information like this is crucial to understanding how and why a person speaks as she does. It wasn’t just that the WPA interviewers hadn’t asked— sometimes they had. A bigger problem was that years after the interviews yet still before the Internet, it was exceedingly difficult to research the biographies of humble people who were no longer alive.
And perhaps the biggest problem: Even when an ex-slave provided detailed information about life during and after liberation, the data sometimes got misfiled, or worse, ignored.

Take Harriet Smith. When Smith correctly told Faulk she was from near the little, Hill Country Texas town Buda, he at first repeated the town name correctly, then changed the “d” sound to “l.” This second pronunciation was wrong, but Faulk’s voice prevailed over Smith’s. The Library of Congress interview transcript has her as being from near “Beullah”—a non-existent name in the Texas geography lexicon (a town named “Beulah” with one “l” did briefly exist at the turn of last century, but it has no relationship to Buda or to Harriet Smith).


Just as anyone can sit in a bathrobe today and play with to find out which white people owned slaves, it’s also easy to learn where the slaves lived after they were freed. Starting in 1870, the census shows Smith as a young teenager in a rural community just about twenty miles south of Austin, in Hays County, Texas. She stays in Hays County until the census finds her in 1920, at age 62, in Austin, only doors from Faulk’s house. There is no evidence that Smith ever lived elsewhere, and when she talks about her life on the recordings, she talks only about these places—in detail.

It seems that neither Faulk nor those who later analyzed Smith’s utterances really listened.

But it seems that neither Faulk nor those who later analyzed Smith’s utterances really listened. For years the Library of Congress, and every book and scholarly article that has mentioned her, have described her as an ex-field-slave from Hempstead, Texas.

Hempstead is notorious lately. It is where Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, died in a county jail this year, after being stopped and arrested by a state trooper who violated her rights. Hempstead is more than 100 miles from Hays County and Austin, in a region of East Texas with a terrible history. Before the Civil War and long into Jim Crow, the economy of Hempstead and its environs derived from cotton and plantations; its culture was plagued by racism that was entrenched and violent. Between 1877 and 1950, Waller County, which encompasses Hempstead, had far more lynchings than most other Texas counties.

Faulk knew how bad things were there. Driving through the area in 1941 with his recording gear, he talked to a black woman who remembered another woman, a mother, who “refused to allow her little 7 yr. old boy to go work for some white man,” as Faulk wrote to Alan Lomax. “She sassed the white man and he came back and killed her.” Faulk quoted another black woman complaining that in Hempstead proper, “they won’t let us Negroes have chu’ch aftuh 10 at night.” A man remarked that, though the Civil War had been over for generations, “The folks down dere ain nevuh heahed dey’s free yit.”

“Chu’ch.” “Nevuh.” “Yit.” Albeit with a pen instead of his voice, Faulk couldn’t help doing Amos ‘n’ Andy.

For sociolinguists studying the history of Black English, it’s vital to know about things like plantations and lynchings. Pidgins and creoles are thought to have developed when slaves had little contact with whites, especially in brutal plantation economies, where relatively few owners lived among overwhelming numbers of blacks. That was the situation in Hempstead. But not in Texas Hill Country, where Smith grew up and where the economy was dominated by livestock breeding on small spreads with a handful of slaves apiece, and where white families lived in relative intimacy with their chattel. Smith’s mother borrowed her mistress’s gray horse to run errands.

Smith told Faulk all about this. She told him the names of her owner and his brothers, a prominent family—one brother was John Wheeler Bunton, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. No doubt Faulk and his family knew the Buntons. The census shows that before and after the Civil War, they lived exactly where Smith said they did, in Hays County, just south of Austin. But when Faulk sent Smith’s interview to Washington, it must have been bundled with his church-service discs. An apparent clerical error turned Smith into a field laborer on a big East Texas plantation—even though she described herself in the audio as a “nurse,” meaning a babysitter during slavery, whose grandmother had been a midwife (apparently for white as well as black women), and whose mother was the white Bunton family’s cook. All this means that Smith’s linguistic world was probably quite different from what sociolinguists have supposed—far more integrated with that of white people.

And they were not just any white people. Another fact about Harriet Smith emerges easily nowadays via one of those bath-robed perusals of In her interview long available from the Library of Congress, Smith tells Faulk that her owner during slavery was “Jim Bunton, the baby boy.” She was talking about James Monroe Bunton, the youngest of several slave-holding brothers out on the ranches and farmlands near Austin. One, Robert Holmes Bunton, had a daughter named Eliza. Born in 1849, she was destined before the Civil War to be a slave holder by inheritance–perhaps even to receive one as a Christmas gift or wedding present. During visits to her extended family, she may have played with an item of her uncle’s property: the young child Harriet Smith. Eliza was the grandmother of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.


This year, not long after I learned about the slaves in my family, I had a chance to go through John Henry Faulk’s archives at UT Austin’s Briscoe Center. Faulk left behind hundreds of tapes that are now MP3 files. I listened, aghast, to his “nigger stories.” I sampled his spoofs of conservative yahoos and heard his lovingly recorded East Texas black church services from before World War II.

Then I noticed an MP3 marked “Harriet Smith.” I recognized the name from that obsessed time when I’d plowed through the ex-slave narratives. I listened and realized I was hearing 17 minutes of a recording that Faulk had somehow neglected to send to the Library of Congress. I called an archivist there. He said they had many other minutes of Smith, of course—the stuff filed for years under “Hempstead, Texas.” But the archivists at the Library of Congress didn’t have this segment. They’d never heard of it.

The tape I discovered is in some ways no different from the Harriet Smith material that scholars have known about for decades. People used to use the bark from live oak trees to make medicine, she reminisces in response to Faulk’s questions about her youth. Her grandmother baked “fine” cakes for Sunday dinner. Panthers once roamed the area and killed the family’s calves.

She describes children being rounded up to be sold at auction. It wasn’t a white person who did the rounding up. It was a “colored man,” Smith says, perhaps to maintain calm among the children, to keep them from suspecting they were about to be sold.

But in this same interview, Smith gives utterly chilling reminiscences of slavery that I have not seen or heard in other narratives. She describes children being rounded up to be sold at auction. It wasn’t a white person who did the rounding up. It was a “colored man,” Smith says, perhaps to maintain calm among the children, to keep them from suspecting they were about to be sold. The colored man, Smith tells Faulk, “carry these children down.…He say, ‘Bid that child a thousand dollars’….Sold ‘em just like you sell your stock in Austin.”

And the most nauseating recollection of all: Smith remembering a conversation with a preacher she knew, who told her about a woman whose young son was sold from her. The son grew up, and after freedom, Smith says, he apparently met his mother and the two didn’t know they were kin. “He married her own son and didn’t know it,” Smith says.

“Lord, have mercy!” Faulk says, shocked. Apparently he had not noticed what you might have just now: that Smith used the masculine pronoun “he” to represent a mother. Pronoun reduction—changing “she’s” to “he’s”—is a classic feature of a creole. Maybe it provides evidence for the linguists’ “creolization” hypothesis; maybe it doesn’t. One thing is certain: If one were too attentive to the fine points of Black English grammar, one might forget that Smith was describing something beyond grammar—that two black people were forced into one of our culture’s worst nightmares. Parent-child incest.


Smith’s own family seems to have clawed itself out of the horror of slavery and made heroic lives for themselves. Here again, Faulk paid no attention.

In the recorded interviews, Smith drops myriad crumbs of information about her childhood in Hays County, near the little town of Buda. In the 1870s, a white man sold a few hundred acres of adjacent land to a group of freed slaves, including Smith’s parents, Clarisa and Elias Bunton. They called their new, all-black agricultural colony Antioch, after the ancient Greek city known as the cradle of Christianity. Smith’s family not only farmed their land in Antioch, but in 1874 they also donated a parcel to build a school for the colony’s black children released from bondage.


John Henry Faulk died in 1990; his grave is in Austin. Within a generation of his recorded encounter with Harriet Smith, Faulk had largely abandoned his imitations of black dialect. In 1974, on National Public Radio, he told a folksy story about Christmas in rural Texas in which the black and white characters all talked exactly alike. A few years later, he confessed to an interviewer on Austin television that he felt “uncomfortable” with the eye writing of his youth.

Harriet Smith died in 1946, 69 years before Dylann Storm Roof got so upset about the ex-slave narratives, and an equal number of years before Sandra Bland was arrested and died in jail in Hempstead.

Smith is buried in an all-black cemetery in the old black agricultural colony Antioch, nowhere near Hempstead. Sandra Bland lies underground in the suburbs of Chicago.

In South Carolina, Dylann Storm Roof awaits trail for multiple murders and faces a sentence of death.

The post Hearing Aunt Harriet appeared first on JSTOR Daily.

15 Sep 22:30

Black Kids Get Less Pain Medication Than White Kids in ER

by Marcie Gainer
Researchers have found that black children suffering from appendicitis tend to receive less pain medication than white children. Maggie Fox via NBC News: Black children with acute appendicitis — a clearly painful emergency — are less likely than white children to get painkillers in the emergency room, researchers reported Monday. And nearly as troubling, only about half of any of...

[This is a short summary; please click the story headline to read the full story on our site]
09 Jul 14:01

John Oliver on Trans Rights

by Lisa Wade, PhD

I usually try to avoid posting videos that are more than five minutes long, but this commentary about trans rights from John Oliver was too great to pass up. He does a wonderful job of introducing what it means to be transgender, as well as discussing:

  • media coverage,
  • the terrible statistics on discrimination and anti-trans violence,
  • the gender binary in institutions and institutional inertia,
  • and the ridiculousness of “bathroom bills.”

Mostly, he just does a great job of talking about how easy it really is to just get over it and treat people like people.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

28 Jun 14:01

Oh Yeah, Don’t Forget the Guns

by Lisa Wade, PhD

All eyes are on the Confederate flag, but let’s not forget what enabled Roof to turn his ideology into death with such efficiency.

From cartoonist Jonathan Schmock3Visit Schmock’s website here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

02 Jun 13:14

Ranting About Feminism: It’s racist for you to ask me to overlook no diversity. And I’m not fucking doing it.






I don’t know how many of you guys know about it but this new movie, “Mad Max” just came out  and has already reached critical acclaim. I haven’t seen it , but it’s supposed to be this groundbreaking masterpiece and a huge step for feminism. Which is all good and dandy In theory. But on tumblr there’s been a lot of criticism because the ALL white cast (with the minor exception of Zoe Kravitz). One of the most frustrating things about these types of movies and conversations is that there’s ALWAYS these white feminists that want to tell POC that we have to overlook lack of diversity and basically “take one for the team” (the team being feminism/woman). No. I’m not going to do it. It is fucking disrespectful and borderline racist for you, a white person, to tell minority women that we have to ignore not being represented. Since turning 18 and starting to really think about racism and the media, it is especially uncomfortable for me to watch movies and tv shows with NO people of color. This world is mostly non white and it simply doesn’t make sense for our media to not represent it. And as for feminism, this is not the first time this has happened. When Girls came out, minority women were expected to ignore the show having an all white cast because it was written and directed by Lena Dunham. And anyone who dared to not ignore this issue was considered “non progressive”. This is why I don’t identity as feminist. Because this is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for these huge steps for feminism to not include people of color. And if you’re white and telling people to get over it, you’re a part of the fucking problem.

Okay, I don’t want to take away from some really great points you’re making about how white feminism often downplay or outright dismiss the representation of women of color, especially in discussions of mainstream media WOC are often silenced or ignored.

However, I need to point a few errors that are a common form of microaggression that I see pop up all the time in intersectional discussions of representation, specifically in regard to the recognition of indigenous women of color.

There are THREE women of color in Mad Max Fury Road. Zoe Kravitz (which you already listed), but also Courtney Eaton and Megan Gale. Eaton and Gale are biracial Maori women. The presence of Polynesian women in this film and a fictional future are incredibly important on multiple levels. 

The Mad Max films are set in a post-apocalyptic Australia. In fact, the franchise began as Australian films, George Miller the writer/director/creator of this world is Australian. This is not merely a geographic location, but an important cultural context for the films. 

What’s important about the location and the presence of Polyneisan women within this future world is how their very roles reflect the history of colonialism in the Pacific region. Polynesian people were forced to relocate, our cultures and even identities erased. Many of us are biracial and our own ethic identity are often erased due to a form of cultural genocide that was not unlike what was done to Indigenous people of the Americas. 

Polynesian women have long been viewed as tokens of exotic beauty. Taken as trophies, and forced in to sex work. Not unlike Fragile. Some, like The Valkyrie who actively fought against colonial oppressors. While Zoe/Toast is biracial black and Ashkenzai jew, she two represents an aspect of WOC’s journey through white supremacy and colonialism which was the driving force behind the trans-atlantic slave trade. 

Polynesians often are erased, or mistakenly seen as white passing often because White Western culture only teaches how to see black or white, ignoring or wholesale erasing all the many colors in between. One of the really ugly truths behind why so many indigenous people are “white passing” is because of the long legacy of us being raped by white oppressors. Many of us only being valued as “pretty” sexual objects for the enjoyment and consumption of white men.

There is a BIG difference between being white passing and having your ethnicity erase from mainstream awareness. People, even POC, default code Polynesian women as white because they only SEE the parts of our features that are stereotypically viewed to be “white.” 

I immediately recognizing Fragile and The Valkyrie as women of color, and was deeply moved about how their presence and individual roles in this film reflects the struggles of many indigenous women throughout history and to see them empowered and fighting back against their oppressors made my heart soar.

Also there ARE other people of color in the film, though by virtue of the dominate culture in the film being literally white male supremacy, the only men of color we see are in the lowest cast of society. Not uncommon in colonialism either, given how white men see MOC as a threat to their power and masculinity.

My only real complaint about race in this film is the lack of Indigenous Australians in leading roles. There are a few of them crowd shots of the Citadel’s lower class, and at the end of the film we see a disabled Indigenous Australian man become the focus of a full two second shot, acting as the face of the oppressed class as he is quite literally is lifted up to salvation by women of color.

There are powerful visual moments in this film, that tell not just a story of punching down the patriarchy, but of the dismantling of colonial oppression where indigenous women play key roles in the fight and future of the world.

So please don’t steal this context from the these women. It is very important to many women of color. 

I’m a Maori woman and it means so much to me to hear someone say FINALLY point this out. I wanna say this to ALL of tumblr so LISTEN UP!
The line between POC and White is very blurred in my culture. There are no ‘full’ Maori left, so everyone is biracial. I wanna point out that this is a very old way of thinking, as nowadays if you’re Maori then that’s it. YOU. ARE. MAORI. 
No matter what you look like, you are Tangata Whenua (people of the land). But I’ll be using it to get my point across. 
There are people with all sorts of different skin colours in my culture now and It makes me SEETHE whenever I see comments like the op. How DARE you dismiss ANYONE FROM A CULTURE THAT ISN’T EVEN YOUR OWN, just because you have been taught to only see in black and white and you can’t accept the fact that they’re from said culture JUST because they don’t ‘look like it’. For us, having people with dark skin, light skin and everything inbetween is NORMAL and we don’t question it. 
So don’t you DARE say that those beautiful woman in that film ‘DON’T COUNT’ We aren’t just some three letter word that you can label us with at your convenience. ‘PoC’ is not some super secret club. You don’t get to decide who is Maori and who is not. So you take that racist BS and shove it because we’re not interested. Especially when it is coming from someone who knows nothing about our culture and the people in it. 
Also, I know your intentions were good but PLEASE don’t refer to us as ‘white-passing’ as it’s just another way to isolate people within their own culture. We are Maori. End of story.

(emphasis mine)

Co-sign from this NZ-raised Polynesian woman.

We’re all mixed here. All of us. It’s so normal that we don’t put a freaking percentage on it and we realise that heritage and ethnicity is more than the colour of your skin, your particular shade of brown or how ‘ethnic’ your features are. It’s what you are.

One of my favourite parts of this movie was to see my people on a movie screen. It’s so rare for those of us of polynesian heritage to see ourselves reflected back in cinema and to see posts and articles that erase our culture or dismiss our heritage because we aren’t dark enough for someone of another culture is not only racist and ignorant, it’s also incredibly hurtful.

Reblogging because this is important stuff. 

Great points

26 May 01:36


02 Feb 22:58

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02 Feb 14:00

Where Do Negative Stereotypes About Feminists Come From?

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Television evangelist Pat Robertson once described feminism as “a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” His comment is frequently used as a particularly extreme version of the feminist stereotype, but how far are his sentiments from those of the general public?

A more systematic investigation into what people think about feminists found that many people think that feminists are ugly, uptight, angry, aggressive, harsh, strident, demanding, dogmatic, man-hating lesbians… or think other people think they are. Only 26 percent of people say that feminist is a positive term.

This suggests that actual feminists have lost control over their own reputation. It would be counterproductive, after all, for feminists to portray themselves as unlikeable. Negative stereotypes about feminists, instead, are likely spread by anti-feminists.

Anti-suffrage campaign material is one example. The images below tells a story about who the feminist women fighting for suffrage are and what they want. It’s all pre-1920s, but the stereotypes and fears are similar.

Feminists are ugly:


Feminists are manly:4

Feminists neglect their natural role as a mother/are uncaring toward children:13

They’re angry:12

They want to emasculate men and take their role:1a

They’re mean to their husbands, if they can get married at all:2OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They don’t want equality with men, they want to dominate them:1a11

Next time you hear that feminists are ugly or hate men — or any number of stereotypes about women who seek equality — remember that this is exactly what anti-feminists have wanted you to think for the last 200 years.

Thanks to Jay Livingston for the tip!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

22 Jan 17:54

A couple days back, I posted the portrait of a young man who...

A couple days back, I posted the portrait of a young man who described an influential principal in his life by the name of Ms. Lopez. Yesterday I was fortunate to meet Ms. Lopez at her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy.

“This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

29 Dec 13:23

On Nerd Entitlement

by Laurie Penny

White male nerds need to recognise that other people had traumatic upbringings, too - and that's different from structural oppression.  

A still from The Social Network. Photo: Getty
A still from The Social Network. Photo: Getty

A few people have forwarded me MIT professor Scott Aaronson’s post about nerd trauma and male privilege (link here, it's comment #171) It's part of a larger discussion about sexism in STEM subjects, and its essence is simple. Aaronson's position on feminism is supportive, but he can’t get entirely behind it because of his experiences growing up, which he details with painful honesty. He describes how mathematics was an escape, for him, from the misery of growing up in a culture of toxic masculinity and extreme isolation - a misery which drove him to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The key quote is this:

“Much as I try to understand other people’s perspectives, the first reference to my 'male privilege' — my privilege! — is approximately where I get off the train, because it’s so alien to my actual lived experience . . . I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me 'privileged' — that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes — is completely alien to your way of seeing things. I spent my formative years — basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s — feeling not 'entitled', not 'privileged', but terrified.”

I know them feels, Scott.

As a child and a teenager, I was shy, and nerdy, and had crippling anxiety. I was very clever and desperate for a boyfriend or, failing that, a fuck. I would have done anything for one of the boys I fancied to see me not as a sad little boffin freak but as a desirable creature, just for a second. I hated myself and had suicidal thoughts. I was extremely lonely, and felt ugly and unloveable. Eventually I developed severe anorexia and nearly died.

Like Aaronson, I was terrified of making my desires known- to anyone. I was not aware of any of my (substantial) privilege for one second - I was in hell, for goodness' sake, and 14 to boot. Unlike Aaronson, I was also female, so when I tried to pull myself out of that hell into a life of the mind, I found sexism standing in my way. I am still punished every day by men who believe that I do not deserve my work as a writer and scholar. Some escape it's turned out to be.

I do not intend for a moment to minimise Aaronson's suffering. Having been a lonely, anxious, horny young person who hated herself and was bullied I can categorically say that it is an awful place to be. I have seen responses to nerd anti-feminism along the lines of "being bullied at school doesn't make you oppressed". Maybe it's not a vector of oppression in the same way, but it’s not nothing. It burns. It takes a long time to heal. Feminism, however, is not to blame for making life hell for "shy, nerdy men". Patriarchy is to blame for that. It is a real shame that Aaronson picked up Andrea Dworkin rather than any of the many feminist theorists and writers who manage to combine raw rage with refusal to resort to sexual shame as an instructive tool. Weaponised shame - male, female or other - has no place in any feminism I subscribe to. Ironically, Aronson actually writes a lot like Dworkin - he writes from pain felt and relived and wrenched from the intimate core of himself, and because of that his writing is powerfully honest, but also flawed. The thing is that the after effects of trauma tend to hang around long after the stimulus is past.

And this, for me, is the root and tragedy both of nerd entitlement and the disaster of heterosexuality.

What fascinates me about Aaronson's piece, in which there was such raw, honest suffering, was that there was not one mention of women in any respect other than how they might relieve him from his pain by taking pity, or educating him differently. And Aaronson is not a misogynist. Aaronson is obviously a compassionate, well-meaning and highly intelligent man - I don’t doubt that I’ll meet him someday, as he’s a mentor to several people I respect and lives in the city I live in, and when that happens, I’ll tell him I think so.

Nonetheless, he makes a sudden leap, and it’s a leap that comes right from the gut, from an honest place of trauma and post-rationalisation, from that teenage misery to a universal story of why nerdy men are in fact among the least privileged men out there, and why holding those men to account for the lack of representation of women in STEM areas - in the most important fields both of human development and social mobility right now, the places where power is being created and cemented right now - is somehow unfair. Nerds are not like the ‘neanderthals’, the REAL abusers of women. They should get a break.

I have a profound political belief that we all deserve a break. Take one now, for five seconds, because this is going to get heavier. Breathe. Are you done?

Ok, let’s do this.

These are curious times. Gender and privilege and power and technology are changing and changing each other. We've also had a major and specific reversal of social fortunes in the past 30 years. Two generations of boys who grew up at the lower end of the violent hierarchy of toxic masculinity - the losers, the nerds, the ones who were afraid of being creeps - have reached adulthood and found the polarity reversed. Suddenly they're the ones with the power and the social status. Science is a way that shy, nerdy men pull themselves out of the horror of their teenage years. That is true. That is so. But shy, nerdy women have to try to pull themselves out of that same horror into a world that hates, fears and resents them because they are women, and to a certain otherwise very intelligent sub-set of nerdy men, the category "woman" is defined primarily as "person who might or might not deny me sex, love and affection".

(And you ask me, where were those girls when you were growing up? And I answer: we were terrified, just like you, and ashamed, just like you, and waiting for someone to take pity on our lonely abject pubescence, hungry to be touched. But you did not see us there. We were told repeatedly, we ugly, shy nerdy girls, that we were not even worthy of the category "woman". It wasn't just that we were too shy to approach anyone, although we were; it was that we knew if we did we'd be called crazy. And if we actually got the sex we craved? (because some boys who were too proud to be seen with us in public were happy to fuck us in private and brag about it later) . . . then we would be sluts, even more pitiable and abject. Aaronson was taught to fear being a creep and an objectifier if he asked; I was taught to fear being a whore or a loser if I answered, never mind asked myself. Sex isn't an achievement for a young girl. It's something we're supposed to embody so other people can consume us, and if we fail at that, what are we even for?)

The notion that there are lots of horny teenage girls out there who are unable for all sorts of reasons to get laid remains a genuine surprise to many of my most intelligent male friends, but trust me, we were out there. We're still out there, and if one of you is reading this, honey, you are a worthwhile person, and it gets better. Or at least, you get stronger.

Hi there, shy, nerdy boys. Your suffering was and is real. I really fucking hope that it got better, or at least is getting better, At the same time, I want you to understand that that very real suffering does not cancel out male privilege, or make it somehow alright. Privilege doesn't mean you don't suffer, which, I know, totally blows.

Women generally don't get to think of men as less than human, not because we're inherently better people, not because our magical feminine energy makes us more empathetic, but because patriarchy doesn't let us. We're really not allowed to just not consider men's feelings, or to suppose for an instant that a man's main or only relevance to us might be his prospects as a sexual partner. That's just not the way this culture expects us to think about men. Men get to be whole people at all times. Women get to be objects, or symbols, or alluring aliens whose responses you have to game to "get" what you want.

This is why Silicon Valley Sexism. This is why Pick Up Artists. This is why Rape Culture.

Scott, imagine what it's like to have all the problems you had and then putting up with structural misogyny on top of that. Or how about a triple whammy: you have to go through your entire school years again but this time you're a lonely nerd who also faces sexism and racism. This is why Silicon Valley is fucked up. Because it's built and run by some of the most privileged people in the world who are convinced that they are among the least. People whose received trauma makes them disinclined to listen to pleas from people whose trauma was compounded by structural oppression. People who don't want to hear that there is anyone more oppressed than them, who definitely don't want to hear that maybe women and people of colour had to go through the hell of nerd puberty as well, because they haven't recovered from their own appalling nerdolescence. People who definitely don’t want to hear that, smart as they are, there might be basic things about society that they haven’t understood, because they have been prevented from understanding by the very forces that caused them such pain as children.

Heterosexuality is fucked up right now because whilst we've taken steps towards respecting women as autonomous agents, we can't quite let the old rules go. We have an expectation for, a craving for of a sexual freedom that our rhetoric, our rituals and our sexual socialisation have not prepared us for. And unfortunately for men, they have largely been socialised - yes, even the feminist-identified ones - to see women as less than fully human. Men, particularly nerdy men, are socialised to blame women - usually their peers and/or the women they find sexually desirable for the trauma and shame they experienced growing up. If only women had given them a chance, if only women had taken pity, if only done the one thing they had spent their own formative years been shamed and harassed and tormented into not doing. If only they had said yes, or made an approach.

This, incidentally, is why we're not living in a sexual utopia of freedom and enthusiastic consent yet despite having had the technological capacity to create such a utopia for at least 60 years. Men are shamed for not having sex; women are shamed for having it. Men are punished and made to feel bad for their desires, made to resent and fear women for having denied them the sex they crave and the intimacy they're not allowed to get elsewhere. Meanwhile, women are punished and made to feel bad for their perfectly normal desires and taught to resist all advances, even Eventually, a significant minority of men learn that they can 'get' what they want by means of violence and manipulation, and a significant minority of women give in, because violence and manipulation can be rather effective. (Note: accepting the advances of an awful man does not make these people bad women who are conspiring to 'make life hell for shy nerds'. I've heard that sort of thing come out of the mouths of my feminist-identified male nerd friends far too often.)

And so we arrive at an impasse: men must demand sex and women must refuse, except not too much because then we're evil friendzoning bitches. The impasse continues until one or both parties grows up enough or plumps up the courage to state their desires honestly and openly, without pressure or resentment, respecting the consent and agency of one another.

This usually doesn't happen. What usually happens instead is that people's sexuality and self-esteem get twisted into resentment of the (usually opposite) gender; they start to see that gender as less than human, particularly if they are men and learn at every stage of their informal and formal education that women are just worth less, have always been less, are not as smart, not as good, not as humanly human as men. Aaronson goes on to comment that this “death-spiral” is a product of the times. I agree. “In a different social context — for example, that of my great-grandparents in the shtetl—I would have gotten married at an early age and been completely fine,” he writes. Scott, my great-grandparents also lived in a shtetl. I understand that you sometimes feel you might have been better adapted to that sort of life - when dating and marriage were organised to make things easy for clever young men. On the same Shtetl, however, I would have been married at a young age to a man who would have been the legal owner of my body, my property and the children I would have been expected to have; I would never have been allowed to be a scholar. I would have worked in the fields as well as the home to support my husband in his more cerebral pursuits, and with my small weedy nerdy frame, I would likely have died young from exhaustion or in childbirth.

There are a lot of young men out there - I suspect even now - who sometimes wish they'd been born when things were a bit easier, when the balance of male versus female sexual shame was tilted more sharply by the formal rituals of patriarchy, when men could just take or be assigned what they wanted, as long as they were also white and straight.

There are a lot of older men out there who long for that real or imagined world more openly, and without any of Aaronson's nuance and compassion. I would challenge men to analyse that longing, to see it for what it is. And then to resist it. You are smarter and better than that.

What can I say? This is a strange and difficult age, one of fast-paced change and misunderstandings. Nerd culture is changing, technology is changing, and our frameworks for gender and power are changing - for the better. And the backlash to that change is painful as good, smart people try to rationalise their own failure to be better, to be cleverer, to see the other side for the human beings they are. Finding out that you’re not the Rebel Alliance, you’re actually part of the Empire and have been all along, is painful. Believe me, I know. (Although I always saw myself as an Ewok). We bring our broken hearts and blue balls to the table when we talk gender politics, especially if we are straight folks. Consent and the boundaries of consent - desire and what we're allowed to speak of desire - we're going to have to get better, braver and more honest, we're going to have to undo decades of toxic socialisation and learn to speak to each other as human beings in double quick time.

And most of all, we're going to have to make like Princess Elsa and let it go - all that resentment. All that rage and entitlement and hurt. Socialisation makes that process harder still for men. The road ahead will be long. I believe in you. I believe in all of us. Nerds are brilliant. We are great at learning stuff. We can do anything we put our minds to, although I suspect this thing, this refusing to let the trauma of nerdolescence create more violence, this will be hardest of all.

And on that note I shall return to what I was doing before I read this post, which was drinking sweet tea and weeping about how boys don't seem to want to kiss short-haired lady nerds, and trying not to blame the whole world for my broken heart, which is becoming more complex and interesting in the healing but still stings like a boiling ball of papercuts. I'll let you know how that goes.

19 Dec 01:21

ablacknation: This is so powerful.


This is so powerful.

06 Dec 03:14

Survival Strategies for Purchasing a Soft Drink

01 Dec 18:32

"When I was a freshman, my sister was in eighth grade. There was a boy in two of her periods who..."

“When I was a freshman, my sister was in eighth grade. There was a boy in two of her periods who would ask her out every single day. (Third and seventh period, if I remember correctly.) All day during third and seventh she would repeatedly tell him no. She didn’t beat around the bush, she didn’t lie and say she was taken—she just said no.
One day, in third period, after being rejected several times, he said; “I have a gun in my locker. If you don’t say yes, I am going to shoot you in seventh.”
She refused again, but right after class she went to the principal’s office and told them what happened. They searched his locker and there was a gun in his backpack.
When he was arrested, some of my sister’s friends (some female, even) told her that she was selfish for saying no so many times. That because of her, the entire school was in jeopardy. That it wouldn’t have killed her to say yes and give it a try, but because she was so mean to him, he lost his temper. Many of her male friends said it was “girls like her” that made all women seem like cockteases.
Wouldn’t have killed her to say yes? If a man is willing to shoot someone for saying no, what happens to the poor soul who says yes? What happens the first time they disagree? What happens the first time she says she doesn’t want to have sex? That she isn’t in the mood? When they break up?
Years later, when I was a senior, I was the only girl in my Criminal Justice class. The teacher, who used to be a sergeant in the police force, told us a story of something that had happened to a girl he knew when she was in high school. There was a guy who obviously had a crush on her and he made her uncomfortable. One day he finally gathered up the courage to ask her out, and she said no.
The next day, during an assembly, he pulled a gun on her in front of everyone and threatened to kill her if she didn’t date him.
He was tackled to the ground and the gun was taken from him. When my teacher asked the class who was at fault for the crime, I was the only person who said the boy was. All the other kids in the class (who were all boys) said that the girl was, that if she had said yes he would’ve never lost it and brought a gun and tried to kill her. When my teacher said that they were wrong and that this is what is wrong with society, that whenever a white boy commits a crime it’s someone else’s fault (music, television, video games, the victim) one boy raised his hand and literally said; “But if someone were to punch me and I punched him back, who is at fault for the fight? He is, not me. It’s self-defence. She started it, so anything that happens to her is in reaction to her actions .It’s simple cause and effect.”
Even though he spent the rest of the calss period ripping into the boys and saying that you are always responsible for your own actions, and that women are allowed to say no and do not have to date them, they left class laughing about how idiotic he was and that he clearly had no idea how much it hurt to be rejected.
So now we have a new school shooting, based solely on the fact some guy couldn’t get laid, and I see men, boys, applaudin him, or if they’re not applauding him, they’re laying blame on women as a whole. Just like my sister’s friends did. Just like the boys in my Criminal Justice class did.
This isn’t something that’s rare. This isn’t something that never happens, or that a select group of men feel as if they are so entitled to women that saying no is not only the worst possible thing a woman can do, but is considered a form of “defence” when they commit a crime upon them (whether it be rape or murder-as-a-reaction-towards-rejection).
Girls are being killed for saying no to prom invites. Girls are being killed for saying no to men. They are creating an atmosphere where women are too scared to say no, and the worst part is? They are doing it intentionally. They want society to be that way, they want women to say yes entirely out of fear. Even the boys and men who aren’t showing up to schools with guns are saying; “Well, you know, I wouldn’t do that, but you have to admit that if she had just said yes …”
If you are a man and you defend this guys’ actions or try to find an excuse for it, or you denounce what really happened, or in any way lay blame on women, every girl you know, every woman you love, has just now thought to themselves that you might lose your shit and kill them someday for saying no. You have just lost their trust. And you know what? You deserve to lose it.”


cry laugh feel love peace panic:  

"Wouldn’t have killed her to say yes? If a man is willing to shoot someone for saying no, what happens to the poor soul who says yes? What happens the first time they disagree? What happens the first time she says she doesn’t want to have sex? That she isn’t in the mood? When they break up?"


(via feminist-space)


(via stfueverything)

05 Dec 18:55

87 chokehold complaints filed against NYPD in 2014

by Xeni Jardin

It may be a banned police maneuver, but it sure is popular. Analysis and infographic at Vocativ.

01 Dec 14:00

Angela Davis: “No Idea What Black People Have Gone Through”

by Lisa Wade, PhD

From the great documentary, Black Power Mix Tape, Angela Davis puts violence in perspective. She’s being interviewed about the tactics of the Black Panthers. The interviewer asks: “How do you get there? Do you get there by confrontation, violence?” She responds:

Oh, is that the question you were asking?

She smiles to herself.

Because of the way this society’s organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere. You have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you… if a black person lives in the black community all your life and walks out on the street everyday seeing white policemen surrounding you…

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very good friends of mine were killed by bombs, bombs that were planted by racists. I remember from the time I was very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street, our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times because of the fact that at any moment someone… we might expect to be attacked.

The… man who was at that time in complete control of the city government… would often get on the radio and make statements like: “Niggers have moved into a white neighborhood. We better expect some bloodshed tonight.” And, sure enough, there would be bloodshed.

In fact, when the bombing occurred one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “Can you take me down to the church to pick up Carol. We heard about the bombing and I don’t have my car.” And they went down and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place.

And then after that, in my neighborhood all of the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and patrol our community every night because they did not want that to happen again.

I mean, that’s why when someone asks me about violence, I just…. I just find it incredible. Because what it means is that the person asking that question has no idea what black people have gone through… what black people have experienced in this country since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.

She’s no longer smiling.

The interchange begins at 1min 40sec:

(View original at

25 Nov 02:47

It is real tough to realize you live in a country where frat boys who gang rape someone have a...

It is real tough to realize you live in a country where frat boys who gang rape someone have a campus hearing and a Black teenager who may have shoplifted $5 worth of stuff from a convenience store gets shot.

18 Nov 18:20

From Lillith Faire to Feminist As Dirty Word: Pushing Against the System

by profmamamusings

I’ve been thinking about feminism a lot lately. I mean, who hasn’t? Time Magazine nominated the term itself as a word that should be abolished from the English language. Then, when that nomination was retracted, media blamed pushy feminists. Who is a feminist? What is a feminist? What does the term even mean?

I went to college in the 1990s. Those were heady days of second-to-third wave feminism. Women dominated the airways – we listened to Alanis and Jewel and Lisa Loeb. Time Magazine declared 1992 The Year of the Woman (and in 2014 declare feminism an annoying term). I went to college with the expectation that I would marry and I would have a career. No one I knew, and I was raised in a conservative Baptist area of the South, had a problem with birth control. Sex before marriage was frowned upon, but birth control within marriage generally got a thumbs up. In class, I read texts by men and women, and had meaningful discussions about the societal forces that contributed to Sylvia Plath’s suicide. I dived into the wreck and emerged sadder but wiser.

I attended grad school for my MA in 1998 and for my PhD in 2000. One of my concentrations for PhD was in feminist theory. My incredible professor, Penny Ingram, introduced us to the female phallus, cyborgs, and the most monstrous thought of all, the mother. She guided us through Irigaray and Spivak and Lacan and Foucault. In class we often debated about theory and praxis. We’d discuss Irigaray’s challenge of patriarchal structure then want to storm the doors and start a revolution. We’d read the theory then someone would always ask, “How does this work in praxis?” (Because we were in grad school, no one could say “in practice” or “in real life.”) And I or someone would say, “But it can’t, not until the whole system is destroyed. It can’t under current conditions.”

And so my 90s ideals of Lillith Faire and having it all clashed with my millennial ideas of theory and praxis, of systemic patriarchal structures and the inability to shatter that structure. These ideas still clash for me. And now, when saying you are a feminist is likely to attract rape and death threats online, it is even more difficult.

After I began teaching, I added to my definition of feminism by practicing intersectionality. Because many of our marginalized students are ignored or silenced by the climate of a conservative religious institution, I’ve learned the importance of spaces and voices for those with disabilities, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. As an ally, I often have to straddle the difficult line between speaking for those who have been silenced and unintentionally appropriating those voices. Black Twitter has taught me much about that distinction.

So you can see how difficult the definition of “feminist” is. In academia, we talk about “feminisms” – the multiplicity of meanings and identities and intersections of marginalized peoples. What that means in practice/praxis is that different people have definitions. My favorite basic definition of feminism is Susan Gubar’s – Do you believe men and women should have equal opportunities for happiness and fulfillment in life? Then congrats, you are a feminist.

Until recently, I was convinced that the vast majority of the first world population believed that statement. I felt that most people were feminists when it got down to the nitty-gritty of equality. I even believed that most people applied that statement to other marginalized peoples, that most people believed that ALL humans are equal and deserve equal opportunities for health, education, careers, and personal fulfillment.

But now I don’t.

Neither my naïve 90s self nor my smugly enlightened grad school self would have envisioned a 2014 in which women are systematically harassed for expressing opinions online. Neither self could have even conceived of a 2014 in which birth control was labeled not as fundamental women’s health care, but as optional and for “sluts.” I couldn’t have imagined a world in which voters decide the basic human rights of a group of people. I could not foresee a world in which protesting as a person of color constitutes a state emergency. I couldn’t have foreseen that only 60% of people in 2014 identify as feminist (in spite of Beyonce’s proclamation).

I would not have imagined just one routine grocery trip to Walmart in which I was questioned by a cashier over my 6-year-old son’s choice of a Hello Kitty Happy Meal. (Never mind the questioning over allowing him to have a Happy Meal in the first place.) As he played with his Hello Kitty, we saw a display of educational toys. We talked about the cool toys then looked on the other side to see if more were displayed there. Instead we found a pink side full of craft kits. It was the embodiment of the binary. Until we saw the pink side, we assumed the educational kits were for kids. Seeing the flip side made us realize the educational kits were for boys.

I went home sick at heart. I’m so tired.

I’m tired of women and POC expressing ideas online and getting harassed and threatened. I’m tired of LGBTQ people who are just asking for their rights as humans being degraded and called abominations. I’m tired of explaining to my son that it’s okay if he wants to polish his nails or play with Hello Kitty. I’m also tired of asking him if any girls make the Minecraft tutorial videos that obsess him. I’m tired of being labeled as “pushy” if I speak too much in a meeting. I’m tired of making less than my male colleagues. I’m tired of my husband having to answer questions which imply sexual impropriety as a man in middle-grades education. I’m sick to death of pink and blue and the incredibly stifling binary enforced by limiting our children to two choices.

Today in my British lit survey we talked about “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell. He describes the infuriating futility of not wanting to shoot the elephant and knowing he has to shoot the elephant, of being stuck in a system that he hates yet cannot change. He despised a system in which he was forced to participate. Damn that elephant.

How do we step outside that system, that elephant in the room, that Foucauldian web of power, and change it all? That’s always been the question. Now that question for me takes on more urgency. As I try to live in this world as a woman, as I try to raise a son who embraces and celebrates multiplicities and identities, as my friends of color and my LGBTQ friends STILL work for human rights, as I try to help my students see the web of power and never unsee it, I am more convinced that we have to break the system. Smash it. Like Irigaray, I and many people know the system is rotten. I can’t answer the question about what we do to change it, demolish it, of exactly how we smack it with a giant hammer. I don’t know how we allow those smashed systemic fragments to multiply into diversities and identities. But it must be done. We create systems. Let’s destroy this one before it destroys us.

17 Nov 16:11

"My son’s lunchbag drawing today." -Eaudemoose

"My son’s lunchbag drawing today." -Eaudemoose

09 Nov 15:04

The Diet Which Postpones Brain Aging

by Jeremy Dean
07 Nov 05:00


n. The improper or ignorant use of scientific or technical language to make a false or impossible claim seem more believable.

In 2005 Mike Holderness, a freelance contributor to {i New Scientist i}, wrote of "professional dissidents" who are given the oxygen of publicity by those journalists who "divide all stories into precisely two sides that get equal space: too often the reality-based community Versus fruitloops and/or special interests." Language needed a term like that, and Holdernesss choice was inspired. "Fruitloopery" became the New Scientists generic word for advertisers' use of science either unverifiably or wildly out of context. Fruitloopery indicators in ads include the words {i quanta i}, {i tachyons i}, {i vibrational energies i}, or {i restructured water i}, especially in combination.
—Robert P. Crease & Alfred Scharff Goldhaber, The Quantum Moment, W. W. Norton & Company, October 13, 2014

See the full entry

07 Nov 14:00

How Fetal Photography Changed the Politics of Abortion

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday.


You have likely seen the image above.  The photograph of a 20-week old fetus was taken by Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson.  Another of his photographs graced the cover of Life magazine in April of 1965:


Nilsson’s images forever changed the way that people think about pregnancy, mothers, and fetuses.  Before Nilsson, the visual of a fetus independent from a mother was not widespread. His pictures made it possible for people to visualize the contents of a woman’s womb independently of her body.  Suddenly, the fetus came to life.  It was no longer just something inside of a woman, no longer even in relationship to a woman; it was an individual with a face, a sex, a desire to suck its thumb.

Once the fetus could be individualized, the idea that a woman and her fetus could have contrasting interests was easier to imagine. In many countries even today, the idea that helping pregnant women is helping fetuses and helping fetuses means helping pregnant women is still the dominant way of thinking about pregnancy. Pro-choice and other fetus-defenders, such as those who want it to be illegal to smoke during pregnancy, used these images to disentangle the interests of the woman and the fetus. The vulnerability of Nilsson’s subjects, free-floating in space, made it easier to portray fetuses as in danger.


There is power in visualization and its technological advance and these images were a boon to the pro-life cause. Ironically, it was abortion that made these images possible. Nilsson posed the fetuses to look alive, and gives no indication otherwise, but they are actually photographs of aborted fetuses.

Although claiming to show the living fetus, Nilsson actually photographed abortus material obtained from women who terminated their pregnancies under the liberal Swedish law. Working with dead embryos allowed Nilsson to experiment with lighting, background and positions, such as placing the thumb into the fetus’ mouth.

– Quote from the University of Cambridge’s history of the science of fetal development

Liberal abortion rights laws resulted in a product that was used to mobilize anti-abortion sentiment.  Today it is par for the course to have been exposed to images like this. And the rest is history. Originally posted in 2009.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

04 Nov 14:00

Racial Minorities Have to Wait Longer at the Polls

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Compared to other democracies, the U.S. has a strange penchant for passing laws that suppress voting instead of encourage it.  We are one of the few democracies, for example, that requires people to register to vote.  Most elsewhere, writes Eric Black for the Minnesota Post:

[G]overnments know the names, ages and addresses of most of its citizens and… provide the appropriate polling place with a list of those qualified to vote. The voter just has to show up.

We also hold elections on just one day instead of several and that day is an otherwise normal Tuesday instead of a weekend or a holiday.

Those are just two examples of rules and practices that reduce voting. There are many. It’s called voter suppression and it’s totally a thing. The ACLU has collected voter suppression efforts just since 2013, listing 15 states that have passed such measures.

A majority of these efforts to reduce voting are initiated by the political right, as a generic search for such stories quickly reveals. They are aimed specifically at likely democratic voters, like racial minorities and students, adding up to what political scientist David Schultz argues is the Second Great Disenfranchisement in U.S. history after Jim Crow.

Many of these measures are overtly discriminatory and even illegal, but others are more subtle. Making voting more costly in terms of time might be one subtle way of discouraging voting by some types of people. Data collected by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study in 2012 suggests that this is, indeed, part of voter suppression, by incompetence or design.

Here is some of their data.

Nationwide, the average wait time to vote was longer for all non-white groups, especially blacks:


Florida had the longest delays in 2012 and these delays disproportionately affected Latinos:


In South Carolina, the 10 precincts with the longest wait times were all in one disproportionately African American county:


Wait times are partly the result of the number of voting machines divided by the number of registered voters. The long wait times in South Carolina, in other words, were not random. Those 10 precincts in the highly African American county had about half as many voting machines per person as the statewide average:


They also had significantly fewer poll workers available to help out:


There are more graphs and more details at Mother Jones.

Voter suppression seriously harms our right to call ourselves a democracy.  Notably, it’s significantly worse today. When the Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that required oversight of states with a history of voting discrimination, the ability of the federal government to ensure equal voting rights was seriously damaged. Previously monitored states immediately began passing legislation designed to suppress voting. As I wrote previously:

This is bad.  It will be much more difficult to undo discriminatory laws than it was to prevent them from being implemented and, even if they are challenged and overturned, they will do damage in the meantime.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

30 Oct 12:37

In Brazilian city, homeless face ‘extermination’ | Al Jazeera America


The browser or device you are using is out of date. It has known security flaws and a limited feature set. You will not see all the features of some websites. Please update your browser.

Attempts to turn the investigation of at least 50 deaths over to federal authorities have stalled

October 25, 2014 5:00AM ET

The graves of homeless murder victims are among the thousands of newly dug plots in the Vale da Paz (Valley of Peace) cemetery a few miles outside Goiânia, Brazil, October, 2014.Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

GOIÂNIA, Brazil — Marcos Aurélio Nunes da Cruz, the boy who was like a little bird, died in his sleep. His cardboard deathbed sat under the concrete awning of a discount supermarket.

His killer had approached at 3 a.m. The man, who wore a black helmet, glanced around, paused for a few seconds, pulled out a handgun and shot Cruz once in the left side of his forehead.

In a sense, Cruz was lucky. Dozens of others who, like him, slept on the streets of Goiânia, a disregarded city of 1.3 million in Brazil’s agricultural heartland, have been stoned, stabbed, clubbed or burned alive. Others have simply disappeared.

The memory of the 57 killed since August 2012 is preserved with a list kept by human-rights campaigners — some by full name, others by their street monikers: Hummingbird, Woodpecker, Cinnamon. The youngest was 13, the oldest 52.

The deaths have equaled about one in 20 of the city's homeless population. In the two-year period, homeless people in Goiânia were murdered at a rate roughly ten times higher than in the rest of Brazil, although experts warned of the difficulty of gathering complete data.

After midnight on the streets of the city’s industrial core, outside its ubiquitous rodeo bars and shopping malls, the homeless stumble down the sidewalks with ripped clothes, bruised skin and panic in their eyes.

Many who live on the streets sleep during the day and walk at night. It is safer that way. In Goiânia, a city where, as one drifter put it, “no one sees and no one knows,” only the bravest dare to ask who is doing the killing and why.

An encampment of homeless people who live under a bridge in Goiânia, Brazil, includes mattresses and a stove, September, 2014.Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

Newspaper headlines last week seemed to have a partial answer: a serial killer who gunned down victims as he cruised the streets on his motorbike. On Oct. 15, police said Tiago Henrique Gomes da Rocha, a 26-year-old hospital security guard, had confessed to 39 murders in Goiânia.

The victims included 15 young women and eight homeless people, police said. Less than two weeks before the second round of gubernatorial elections in the state of Goiás on Sunday, Gov. Marconi Perillo’s investigators said they had found their man.

Except, far from Brazil’s coastal metropolises, in this backwater where political corruption and police violence are endemic, religious leaders and federal human-rights officials said they worry that the state’s military-police officers may be to blame for some of the 57 killings.

A federal human-rights commission first suggested this after a visit to the city in April 2013. But the commission’s attempt to get the police investigation federalized has stalled, and in the meantime, the killings have continued. Local police, meanwhile, have attributed the deaths to violence among the homeless and drug gangs. So far, one police officer has been arrested for three murders, but not convicted. The campaigners, who say they are themselves targets of death threats, fear the murders are another chapter in a long story of extrajudicial killings, violence against homeless and police impunity in Brazil.

The site next to the Madri supermarket in Goiânia, Brazil, where Marcos Aurélio Nunes da Cruz was murdered in 2012. Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

The police say the killings began on Aug. 12, 2012, nearly three months before Cruz died. On that humid night, Bianca, a 22-year-old who had been on the streets for nine years, says she witnessed a murder that police later said was the first. (Her name has been changed for her protection). It was Zinca who did it, she says, the thug who controlled the drug market in a square called the Praça do Trabalhador.

Zinca was not homeless, but sometimes, when he turned up to collect his dirty money, he would wear old clothes and feign a limp. He’d been arrested a few years before, accused of killing as many as 10 people, newspapers wrote. But he was allowed to return to the streets as the investigation of him continued. Sometimes he wouldn’t bother with the disguise and would just turn up in his khaki uniform: In addition to his work with drug gangs, Zinca is a member of the military police force, which is tasked with maintaining order and preventing crimes.

A dreaded presence on the streets of Goiânia, Zinca is said to carry two handguns — his official police-issue weapon on his left hip, one for extrajudicial killings on his right. This August night, Mateus Stefany Rodrigues Carvalho Souza, 22, did not have the money Zinca wanted. A crack addict, Souza had taken the drugs he was supposed to sell. So Zinca shot him six times, at close range, Bianca later said.

Souza’s name became the first on the human-rights campaigners’ macabre list, which would soon swell to 47, according to the civil police, or 57, according to Goiânia’s leading human-rights institute. Another homeless man, Eduardo Alves Gouveia, 29, was the second name on the list, stabbed to death in a different part of the city on the same night.

Ondina Gonzaga Coelho, 58, the mother of Marcos Aurélio Nunes da Cruz, stands next to his photograph in her home. Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

Two more people were killed before the Day of the Dead, Nov. 2, when Cruz spoke to his mother, Ondina Gonzaga Coelho, for the last time. “Marcos was like a little bird: He just wanted to be free,” she says of her son, who’d left home 20 years earlier, at age 16.

When they spoke that evening, his mother says Cruz only had enough phone credit for two minutes. He had almost lost hope, was aggressive and clearly on drugs.

“I cannot live without crack,” Cruz told her. “Please send me 150 reals.”

“I will not send you money,” she replied. “I have already given you too much.”

“You will send me money,” he said. “My life is worth nothing. You do not like me.”

“It’s because I love you that I will not send money,” she said.

Then, the line went dead. Zinca was accused of her son’s murder as well.

Two others were killed on the same night, Nov. 5, all within a radius of one mile. By early April 2013, when 13-year-old Natanael Moura da Silva was clubbed to death, the number had reached 29.

A homeless man and his possessions in Goiânia.Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

Even in a country as nonchalant about violence as Brazil, the case started to attract notice. Brazil’s federal human-rights secretariat sent a team to Goiânia to investigate. Court documents obtained by Al Jazeera America show that the secretariat identified a culture of “institutional violence” within the military police and suspicion over a series of cases that included deaths dating from 2005.

“The situation in Goiás has been alarming for years,” says Marcelo Murteira de Salles, a spokesman for the secretariat. “With the apparent involvement of military police and the delay in an effective response, it could be concluded that the state has not fulfilled its role.”

Citing the “extermination of the homeless population in Goiânia,” Brazil’s then general prosecutor, Roberto Gurgel, petitioned the Superior Court of Justice to have the investigation taken from the local detectives of the civil police, who concentrate on criminal investigations, and given to the federal police, whose officers fulfill a role similar to the FBI’s.

But 17 months later, a decision by the judge in the case, Jorge Mussi, is still pending. In the meantime, more people were killed, including four in April of last year. Then, according to records kept by the civil police, the number of murders sharply declined to 11 the rest of that year and four so far in 2014.

“The authorities began to say that some of the people who were dying, who did not have identity documents and appeared to be homeless, were in fact not homeless,” says Eduardo Mota, director of the João Bosco Burnier Center for the Defense of Human Rights, in Goiânia, which is named after a local priest who was murdered by the military police in 1976. “They were crack addicts who, by chance, died on the streets. So they solved the problem of the high numbers of homeless people being murdered, statistically. They stopped counting.”

But Mota and his group have continued to keep track. Although his official tabulation, which now includes information from media reports as well as the police, is 57, he believes the truth to be closer to 70. Others who work with the homeless in the city estimate that once those who simply disappear without a trace are included, the true number may be as high as 100.

Goiania Brazil homeless deaths

The grave of a murdered homeless person in the Vale da Paz (Valley of Peace) cemetery. Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

Of those killed, the lucky ones are identified and given a private burial by their families. Cruz is buried in a cemetery in the city of Jaraguá, amid the soybean fields of central Goiás, where their parents and three siblings live.

Unidentified bodies are held for 45 days at the city’s forensic institute before being given a pauper’s burial in hand-dug graves in the Valley of Peace municipal cemetery in the countryside five miles outside Goiânia.

Here, the bodies of the poor arrive 5 or 10 at a time and are lowered into graves as heavy trucks roar past on the nearby freeway. It is rare for any family to be present, says Osmar Lacerda Xavier, a gravedigger. “There is no ceremony, no one says any words.”

Reginaldo, a 51-year-old man who was beaten the night before by an unknown assailant. Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

Of more than a dozen homeless people interviewed by Al Jazeera America in Goiânia last month, nearly all had a story to tell about police violence. On the streets, ROTAM, the black-clothed special-ops unit of the Goiás military police, is especially feared.

Reginaldo, 51, nursed a head wound on the steps of a church after being beaten with a stick the previous night. It is unknown whether the attacker was a civilian or a police offer. But Reginaldo said he once saw a friend die after police kicked him repeatedly in the stomach.

“Most of my friends from the street are now dead,” he added. “Nobody knows for sure why all of the killings are happening. But we know they are. Someone is coming to kill people as they sleep.”

Said Reginaldo, who now helps church volunteers distribute food, “It seems that there are people in Goiânia who take pleasure in violence.”

Ananias, 55, has a better home than most. Living under the supports of a bridge, he can wash, drink and clean his teeth with the passing water and maintain a home of sorts for himself, his friends and his six cats. But when the river floods, he sees bodies floating past. ROTAM has a favorite spot nearby for beating its victims, he said.

He has lost three or four friends in the past couple of years due to police beatings, he said. “Where are the missing?” he asked. “No one sees and no one knows. You say nothing; otherwise you’ll be the next victim.”

Maria Madalena, 56, a longtime campaigner for the rights of the homeless who has recently become scared for her safety.Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

No one knows the homeless here better than Maria Madalena, 56. She has helped those living on the city’s streets for 33 years with the Pastoral dos Povos da Rua, a Catholic outreach program.

When two boys believed the police were about to execute them, she is the one they called. “Auntie, we don’t think you’ll see us alive again,” they said. That night, she said, they died.

And when up to 60 homeless people spent a night deep in the city’s sewer system, surrounded by rats, to hide from a police operation, she was with them. But lately, some strange things have been happening to her.

First, there were the phone calls, she said. “Are you still alive?” a male voice would ask. “Where are you right now?” Then the call would cut off. A few months ago, early in the morning, she noticed a black car outside her house. It was the same day, she said, that federal judges were in Goiânia to investigate the deaths of the homeless.

As she stepped into the street, the car accelerated toward her, she said, but she managed to escape. Now she is scared. She refuses to meet at her own home. When the homeless reach out to her for help, she returns the calls using a different phone. She believes she is being targeted, as she was the first to call for the investigation of the killings to be taken over by federal police.

The registry of bodies at the Vale da Paz (Valley of Peace) cemetery, where many of the homeless victims are buried. Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

She is not the only one to have been threatened. A priest, Geraldo Marcos Labarrère, 73, who denounced police violence against street children several years ago, received a call at his office in 2011 from someone who asked for his height. “I’m making a coffin for him and I need to know the size of it,” the caller said.

Others, including key witnesses, have just disappeared. Bianca, the girl who saw the first killing, gave a statement against Zinca, whose real name is Rogério Moreira da Silva. In it, she said she and her boyfriend, Rodrigo, were dragged off the street soon afterward the first killing and taken to GT3, the elite paramilitary unit of the civil police.

They were handcuffed, gagged and tied to a post, where they continued to hug each other while they were stunned with a Taser gun, she said. Then a policeman shot Rodrigo in the head, with the bullet only missing her by inches, she added.

Bianca recalled being bundled into the trunk of a black car and subsequently dragged into a building and raped by the same officer who had killed her boyfriend. “If you say anything to anyone, we will kill your family,” she said she was told before being dumped at the side of the road.

The civil police did not respond to a request to comment on the allegations.

Testimony from Bianca and several others led to three murder charges against Zinca. However, his trial for the first murder has collapsed three times — the first because a key witness could not be found; the second because the trial was arranged for a day Brazil was playing in the World Cup; the third because of a missing expert report. No other police were arrested or are sought over the other killings. Zinca, who is in jail awaiting trial, has denied wrongdoing.

After becoming one of very few to dare to testify against the police, Bianca was accepted into a witness-protection program. But she fled, and has since disappeared.

“She is a strong candidate to die,” Madalena said. “Goiás is a state without law and without respect for human rights. … Jesus would not have been born in Goiânia, but he would die here. Such is the rate of violence against the homeless.”

Murilo Polati, head of the homicide squad of the civil police in Goiânia.Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

Until the arrest of Rocha last week, police were adamant that there was no serial killer or death squad behind the killings of the homeless or of the 15 young women shot by an assassin over the past year. (Those cases had previously been treated as unrelated.) “It was not the military police,” said civil-police homicide chief, Murilo Polati, about the Zinca case. “It was a military-police officer.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for the military police denied any role of its officers in the killings. “There is no formal proof of the involvement of military police officers of Goiás in death squads,” the spokesman wrote. “The military police does not condone illegal behavior and is strict when it catches officers in breach of professional ethics. It is not in our interests to maintain officers who do not respect dignity or human rights.”

The vast majority of the deaths are due to drug gangs or fights between the homeless, according to the civil police. “As many as 80 percent,” Polati said. “A dead drug addict. Another dead drug addict. The motivation: the use and trafficking of narcotics.”

Polati said he had identified 18 other suspects; one, Maria de Lourdes Medeiros Lira, confessed and was convicted of one of the murders. None of the 18 are police officers. Of those who have had judicial proceedings started against them, many, including Lira, were once homeless themselves.

In another case that did make it to court, against Ronailson Santos Costa, a homeless man accused of the second of the murders, the prosecutor requested an acquittal because of the “flimsy” nature of the evidence. “It is no use to refer to the judiciary an inquiry with frail investigation just for the statistics,” Judge Jesseir Coelho de Alcântara told the court. “This is very dangerous, because it can lead to injustice.”

Then, last week, the civil police announced they had arrested Rocha, the hospital security guard who they said had confessed to killing 39, including eight of the homeless. But his lawyer, Thiago Vidal, then told reporters his client had been coerced into the confessions, without giving further details.

Two days later, following another interrogation, Vidal changed his mind. “At first I thought the police may have coerced him into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit, but he told the story of each death with such detail,” Vidal said.

Then, on Oct. 23, the civil police announced that Rocha had withdrawn his confessions in 10 of the killings. He was still admitting to killing the 15 women, the police said, but did not respond to a request to comment on how many of the remaining confessions related to the homeless.

The implications of Rocha’s arrest for the investigation of the killings of homeless remain unclear. Whatever happens, recent history in Goiânia suggests justice may be elusive.

In 2009, prosecutors in Goiâs became so concerned over a pattern of suspicious deaths involving military police that they requested an investigation by federal police. On that occasion, the request was granted.

Wiretaps were set up that shed light on the force’s inner workings. For instance, they revealed one policeman, Ederson Trindade, talking to his sergeant. “Let me tell you something, boss!” he says. “I kill. I kill for pleasure and satisfaction.”

Goiania Brazil homeless deaths

An election poster riddled with mock bullet holes at the headquarters of Carlos Cézar Macário, a former subcommander of the military police once accused of running a death squad. Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

Another recording is of Col. Carlos Cézar Macário, then the subcommander of the military police in Goiás and a former commander of ROTAM. Talking to a colleague about a thief who had been apprehended and allegedly killed by police, he said, “If we don’t kill a guy like that, we would become demoralized.”

The investigators concluded that Macário had led a death squad that had been active for a decade and had buried dozens of victims in secret graveyards. He was among 19 officers arrested by the federal police in 2011. Nearly four years on, however, only two have been tried in court, and both of those were cleared.

The others, including Macário, are still waiting for their court dates to be set, thanks to Brazil’s notoriously laborious judicial process. Macário is accused of murder, concealment of a corpse, conspiracy, torture, dereliction of duty, procedural fraud and illegal possession of a firearm with a restricted gauge. He has denied the allegations.

Macário, who did not respond to interview requests for this article, has since retired from the military police. When Al Jazeera America visited Goiânia, he was running for a deputy position in the Goiás state government, with the support of the governor. His election poster featured two fake bullet holes and bore the slogan “Against banditry, in defense of the family.”

A homeless man who told of being attacked, stands in the Matriz de Campinas church in Goiânia. He hid his face out of fear of revealing his identity. Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

On the streets of Goiânia, the homeless gathered by the Matriz de Campinas church, where, on a secluded porch, an array of candles swayed in the wind. Paulo, 38, was there. He had a long memory. Thirteen years ago, he was shot at by police in Goiânia, he said. He fled, but three of his friends died.

Killings by police have always happened, he said. “There have always been death squads. But Goiânia now feels like checkmate for the homeless. “People are scared, very scared.”

After a short service on the steps of the church, priest Welinton Silva and his volunteers headed out to distribute the food they had prepared.

Down a deserted side street, where citrine street lamps illuminated piles of debris, Márcio, 38, sat alone. On a disintegrating mattress next to walls blackened by fire, he shivered in the evening heat. “Father, you brought trousers for me?” he begged. “I am cold.”

Priest Welinton Silva consoles Marcio, 38, a homeless, paralyzed man.Rafael Fabres / Global Assignments by Getty Images for Al Jazeera America

He had drunk cachaça and taken “a little” crack, but nothing could cloak the childlike trepidation in his eyes. Paralyzed from the waist down, he could not walk or run.

“What do you want in life?” Father Welinton asked.

“I want not to die on the street,” Márcio replied.

Kneeling, the priest reached out to touch Márcio’s bedraggled hair fondly and began to sing a song, an echo of Christian childhood, and slowly Márcio began to sing too:

“It seemed impossible
“It seemed there was no way out
“It seemed to be my death
“But Jesus changed my luck
“I am a miracle and I am here…”

As the volunteers began to drive off, Márcio continued to murmur the tune in the darkness.

Mauro Graeff Júnior contributed reporting to this story.

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24 Oct 14:00

Men Dressing Up as Fat Women

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday.

An excellent piece of evidence that femininity is hilarious or ridiculous in U.S. culture, or even frightening or disgusting, is the fact that men use the category “woman” as a Halloween costume. We laugh when we see men dressed up as women because how ridiculous, right? Women do not generally dress up like a generic man on Halloween because adopting masculinity is an everyday things for us. It’s valued, not mocked.

Many costume manufacturers (or homemade costume makers, for that matter) add fat hatred to the mix. Because there is nothing more disgusting and hilarious, we are told, than a fat woman. Except, perhaps, a fat woman who fails to be properly humiliated.

The costume manufacturers know this and are trafficking in this hatred on purpose. Here are some examples, sent in by Michaela N. and Shane M., from several different online costume stores:




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Pamela Anderson’s character on Baywatch wasn’t fat. This reveals that the costume manufacturers aren’t just making costumes that let people dress up as fat others, they’re adding fatness as a joke.

Halloween is a disturbing fun house mirror, showing us what we really think about each other.

Originally posted in 2010. Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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15 Oct 18:11

Appalling Slave Punishments

by Greg Ross

From A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, From American Slavery, 1848:

“A large farmer, Colonel McQuiller in Cashaw county, South Carolina, was in the habit of driving nails into a hogshead so as to leave the point of the nail just protruding in the inside of the cask; into this, he used to put his slaves for punishment, and roll them down a very long and steep hill. I have heard from several slaves, (though I had no means of ascertaining the truth of this statement,) that in this way he had killed six or seven of his slaves.”

Roper himself escaped from slavery at least 16 times throughout the American South, most often from the prolifically sadistic South Carolina cotton planter J. Gooch. Examples:

“Mr. Gooch had gone to church, several miles from his house. When he came back, the first thing he did was to pour some tar upon my head, then rubbed it all over my face, took a torch with pitch on, and set it on fire; he put it out before it did me very great injury, but the pain which I endured was most excruciating, nearly all my hair having been burnt off.”

“This instrument he used to prevent the negroes running away, being a very ponderous machine, several feet in height, and the cross pieces being two feet four, and six feet in length. This custom is generally adopted among the slave-holders in South Carolina, and other slave States. One morning, about an hour before day break, I was going on an errand for my master; having proceeded about a quarter of a mile, I came up to a man named King, (Mr. Sumlin’s overseer,) who had caught a young girl that had run away with the above machine on her. She had proceeded four miles from her station, with the intention of getting into the hands of a more humane master. She came up with this overseer nearly dead, and could get no farther; he immediately secured her, and took her back to her master, a Mr. Johnson.”

“This is a machine used for packing and pressing cotton. By it he hung me up by the hands at letter a, a horse, and at times, a man moving round the screw e, and carrying it up and down, and pressing the block c into a box d, into which the cotton is put. At this time he hung me up for a quarter of an hour. I was carried up ten feet from the ground, when Mr. Gooch asked me if I was tired? He then let me rest for five minutes, then carried me round again, after which, he let me down and put me into the box d, and shut me down in it for about ten minutes.”

“To one of his female slaves he had given a doze of castor oil and salts together, as much as she could take; he then got a box, about six feet by two and a half, and one and a half feet deep; he put this slave under the box, and made the men fetch as many logs as they could get; and put them on the top of it; under this she was made to stay all night.”

Roper finally escaped to the North in 1834 and moved to England, where he published the book and toured making abolitionist speeches. He died in 1891.

13 Oct 12:26

We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind

by but does it float
The Bus by Paul Kirchner Title: J.G. Ballard Atley