Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chastised or banned for Speaking Her Mind

The banning or chastising of women for speaking their minds is as old as Moses. Remember Moses’s sister Miriam~the older sister who watched over her baby brother among the papyrus reeds of the Nile and who spoke up to offer her mother as a nurse when Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the baby Moses from  the river. It was good that she spoke up.  But the next time Miriam speaks her mind, she is censored and afflicted with a skin disease like leprosy. Even though she and Aaron had the same idea (that Moses was not the only one in the family hearing God's voice; and there was the problem, it seems of Moses’ Cushite wife, Num1 2:1) and spoke the same words, Aaron escapes censorship.  Indeed, the Lord verified the pairs’ contention by calling all three out and meeting all three in a pillar of cloud at the tent of meeting. Admittedly, the Lord made a distinction between the manner in which he communicated with Moses as opposed to other prophets. And the narrator demonstrates that God afflicted Miriam only and locked her out of the camp for seven days for speaking her mind while leaving Aaron untouched—so it appears.  (Num 12-4-6)

I remember my mother telling me several times about how the black actress, singer, activist Eartha Kitt (1927 -2008) had been blackballed for speaking her mind about the Vietnam War while a guest at the White House when Lyndon Johnson was President in 1968.  Kitt told Lady Bird Johnson "Vietnam is the main reason we are having trouble with the youth of America. It is a war without explanation or reason." "When the people who are responsible for our country ask you a direct question, I expect them to accept a direct answer, not to be blackballed because you are telling the truth," Ms. Kitt would later say. When Ms. Kitt was blacklisted in the U.S., she found work in Europe, and would only be welcomed back in the US in the late seventies. She would also return to the White House to sing as the invited guest of President Jimmy Carter. 

Former model, actress, and activist Jane Fonda had been censured for voicing her opposition to the Vietnam War. Some went so far as to say she engaged in treason. In 2005 people were still trying to shut Jane Fonda down. The owner of two Kentucky theatres refused to show the new Jane Fonda film Monster-in-Law because of Fonda’s activist role during the Vietnam War. Today Fonda identifies herself as liberal, feminist, and a Christian.  In 2005, Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and Robin Morgan established the Women's Media Center, an organization that works to amplify women’s voices in the media through advocacy, media and leadership training, and the creation of original content.

In 2003, at the start of the Iraq war, singer Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks stated while on stage in London that they were  ashamed” that then President George W. Bush “is from Texas [her home state]." Maines added she felt Bush’s foreign policy was alienating the US from the rest of the world. Her remark led to a ban whereby the group’s records were pulled from a number of country-music stations across the country. Because country music tends to originate among and to be supported by conservatives and red states, Maines’ statement was seen as more offensive than statements about the Bush Administration policies made by others.  In addition to being banned from country-music radio stations, The Dixie Chicks’ records sales dropped, and they received death threats.  Senator John McCain (R. Az) spoke against the ban as an infringement contributing to the erosion of First Amendment rights. In 2006 Detroit's Fox, WDTW-FM, a Clear Channel-owned station, announced it would not play the new Dixie Chicks album based on a poll taken among its listeners.  Despite stations that banned them from the airways, The Dixie Chicks’ placed among Billboard’s top 200. Their song “Taking the Long Way” sold over 500,000 copies in its first week of U.S. sales, which was the trio's best-selling week since 2002's "Home" debuted with 780,000. 
”Taking the Long Way” also took the No. 1 spot on the Country Albums chart in Billboard. 

In 2004 Whoopi Goldberg was reportedly banned from the Democratic National Convention because of remarks she made about then President George W. Bush. Some organizers feared her anti-Bush stance would offend voters. Reportedly, leading Democrats asked left-wing celebrities to refrain from criticizing Bush because they did not want any distractions from their message. Goldberg was targeted after her comedic rant against Bush at a New York Democratic Party fundraising event. CNN Entertainment online reported on July 14, 2004 that Slim-Fast was dropping Goldberg “following a controversy over sexually explicit comments she made last week at a fund-raiser in New York for presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry.” The venue, Radio City Music Hall in Nashville, Tennessee was not insignificant. Once word of boycott following Goldberg’s remarks spread, Slim-Fast, via general manager Terry Olson, quickly dropped Goldberg for “the way in which [she] chose to express her own personal beliefs.”

In 1969 Angela Davis was banned from the University of California for her membership in the Communist Party despite her excellent academic qualifications. In response to a letter from the Chancellor of the University inquiring whether Davis was in fact a member of the Communist Party, she stated that they lacked the authority to make such an inquiry and that they could not fire her because of such an affiliation. Davis further stated that without waiving her objections to the question posed “my answer is that I am now a member of the communist party.” In Oct 1969, the editor of the Synapse a student associated paper wrote the following in an article entitled Censorship as Usual: “The action of the Regents of the University of California in the case of Angela Davis seems to be a reflection of a censorship-as-usual attitude. The Standing Order of the Regents that stated that no political test will be applied for hiring and promotion is a position that any true university must take and hold continuously. To repudiate this position, as the Regents have, is to strike a deathblow to freedom of thought, speech, and association in the institution in which thought, speech, and association must be given most freedom. Miss Davis appears to have all necessary academic qualifications to teach in the University. To dismiss her from a teaching position because she says that she is a member of the Communist Party, or that she will teach Communism in her class is a breach of the Constitutional guarantees that prevent prosecution or harassment of any citizen for association with any group, or expression of any thought.”
A number of people (whose names I prefer not to unnecessarily give space or voice to in this blog) have attempt to chastise Michelle Obama for speaking out about health care because she doesn’t look like a “Sports Illustrated swimsuit model”–she eats ribs (according to her accuser) rather than shows them (say I); for encouraging parents to feed their children healthy foods and promoting exercise; and for speaking or writing candidly about her experience as a black woman matriculating at an ivy league school.  In 1985 Michelle LaVaughn Robinson wrote in her Princeton master’s thesis "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community” the following: "My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before,I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong. Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second." [I could definitely identify with Michelle’s experience in this regard.] Some people could not bear to hear her “speak,” but engaged in a form of censuring by erasing, revising and augmenting her words to make them seem ugly and hateful rather than honest and in-sightful. More recently, some people have even had the nerve to criticize our First Lady for bearing her sleek, toned arms in public, which is a form of speaking out! But Obama continues to speak out and to incarnate her voice.

Of course, we can also point to men who have been censured. But society is generally less tolerable of women speaking their minds. God gave women and men the same organs that function to create speech and facilitate communication. We too have lungs, a windpipe/trachea, a larynx or voice box cradling our vocal chords, a tongue, teeth and lips all working together to produce sounds. And we too have brains that conceptualize the lyrics of our hearts so that the sounds we shape are meaningful, demonstrate our convictions, and can persuade. We can and should name the oppressions we see. We can and should exercise our power of speech. We can and should recognize that our thoughts, words, sentences, poetry, songs, and books are worthy to be formed, articulated, strung together, noted, written, and read. Don’t cower and wilt because some misguided woman can’t see her way and therefore wants to block your path. Don’t shrink and shut up because some men think, like children, you should be seen and not heard.

If we find that we need to or can wisely tweak our voices so as to limit real or potential damage from vitriolic censuring noises pitched at us from the centers and the margins of our locatedness and so as to maximize our tone, then we should. Sometimes this is necessary, but we should not think it okay or become accustomed to others shutting us down, censoring us, if we believe God inspired us to compose a song and sing it. It is true the world contains many venues in which we can sing, and it may be necessary sometimes to move on in order to carry a tune. Sometimes “the caged bird sings for freedom” and one may have to hum alongside the rivers of Babylon for a little while.

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