by: Marceline Donaldson
With the Congressional hearing in the 1990’s, held to smear and destroy the reputation of Anita Hill so they could have someone accused of sexual harassment on the Supreme Court, the nominee was approved by the slimmest of margins.
That “show” provided by Congress, was an incredible education.
In spite of what is practiced in the general society, sexism and racism are so intertwined into our structures of government, it is difficult to know, understand and to educate children about these twin evils and their siblings. The drama of that ‘hearing’ was an incredible education in sexism and racism. Those of us who watched, unable to do anything until the hearings stopped for the day or were ended – it was an amazing message. It told us what our government thought of women. It put black women front and center, but it made sure the understanding and message was spread that if white women didn’t toe the mark this would also be their fate.
I was such a quiet child. Spent hours practicing the piano because I was going to be a concert pianist just like one of my piano teachers. They were all incredible women – and very independent women – but independent in ways that were acceptable in those days, but for one. They dressed the way society expected cultured, successful women should dress; they talked, walked, trained those coming up in the way society expected they be trained. But their very lives gave a different message and I got the message. My childhood days were my ‘quiet time’. My adulthood has been one long, loud, excruciatingly painful scream against this life to which I have been consigned.
Jean Coston Maloney, one of my piano teachers, was an incredible woman. She graduated from Oberlin’s Conservatory of Music and in 1937 from the Julliard School of Music – no mean feat for a black woman, She was the first African American to perform with a nationally recognized symphony orchestra; she was very elegant; tall, willowy and beautifully dressed. It was an exciting time for the New Orleans community to have the New Orleans Symphony leave Symphony Hall bringing all of their gear to Booker T. Washington’s High School Auditorium for this concert featuring Jean Maloney playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto. I will never forget the evening nor how I felt as someone who I knew and with whom I had studied be the featured artist.
(why did this symphony orchestra disembark from their home just a mile or so away you ask? With all the upheaval, money and other inconveniences that caused? Because blacks were not allowed to perform on the Symphony Hall stages anyplace in the United States in that day and blacks could not attend symphony concerts unless they sat in the very few seats reserved for them in what was called the “crow’s nest”- and paid the same price paid by those who sat in much kinder seats. So for Ms. Maloney to play with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra they had to move all of their gear to the local black high school auditorium).
Lucille Hutton was another graduate of Oberlin;s Conservatory and my piano teacher. She was the one under whom I started by music career and who would not let me touch the piano when I was a small child until my practice showed her clearly that I had the proper hand positions on her coffee table. I went to these piano lessons all alone on the street car from ‘downtown’ to ‘uptown’ in New Orleans, something no parent would let their children do today. I was about 7 years old at the time. Most people knew me or my family and I was never one to meet a stranger. Ms. Hutton was a well known figure in New Orleans society circles – quiet, unassuming and always dressed the way a regular church going lady should be dressed.
Jesse Dent – the wife of the president of Dillard University was yet another very early graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music with a promising career in front of her as a concert artist. She served on the board of Oberlin for many years and was responsible for people from the Conservatory coming to New Orleans to hear me play. She was a great pianist, but as the wife of the president, her concert work was limited to her husband’s sphere. She was a wife and mother and promoter of Dillard and then whatever little time was left her music carried on, but normally only on the campus of the University. She was a beautiful and well respected personage in her society.
Of the three women, the one whose life was tragic was Jean Maloney’s. What I didn’t understand until years later, she was the only one who stepped out and away from her expected stereotype and place in society. She knew who she could become based on her talent and its drive. The career her talent and presence entitled her to were awesome. She was determined to follow where her talent led.
Jean Maloney was driven by her talent and drove herself with hours of practice. Her husband was a well known doctor and the Surgeon General of Liberia – and then they divorced. She was given an ultimatum by her husband – give up this dream of being a concert pianist, give up your music except when playing for husband and children or within a closed community or I will leave you and the children and neither you nor they will have contact with me again. Jean Maloney rejected that ultimatum and was going to move wherever her talent allowed her to go and it would have allowed her to go far, but for racism and sexism. Instead of becoming a great and well known artist, her life ended in tragedy. The price women and minorities pay for following a dream outside of their stereotype – the oppressive structure in which they must live or be crushed.
The way women – especially black women were taken down by this society when they showed the kind of independence shown by Jean Maloney is one of the cruelest things I have seen and I have seen a lot in this life. The horror of those take downs – they were not explicit, but camouflaged, unbelievably cruel and a part of the institutional structure of these United States. You – women and minorities – and those around are led by this society to turn the blame of the society’s racism and sexism on oneself, turning the victimizer into the victim, instead of where it should really be placed – on those who benefit. That was clear from Donald Trump’s apparently heartfelt sympathy towards Brett Kavanaugh with no mention at all for the pain and suffering over many years he apparently caused Christine Blasey Ford. In Charlottesville it was -“both sides”. In Washington, D. C. it was all feelings go towards Kavanaugh.
Our leaders could call for a bowl of water, soap and a towel and make a show of washing their hands and not being the culprits involved doing the dirty work. In this case, that was and is done by Congress in the way they acted when they felt the need to step up and take down Anita Hill. Not for being a black woman nor for being a woman, but for not knowing her place as a black woman and for stepping out of her stereotype after the society found a place for her where she could be sort of successful, but still within the bounds of who she was allowed to be as a black woman. Anita Hill thought and acted as though she was on the same level as others around her and that she had the same duty to keep this society, government, and its court system on the right track.
If you think this is not structural, look at how quickly Congress plucked its pattern for action for such an event, as now surrounds Brett Kavanaugh, to take down another woman. White, this time. The pattern they plucked from their recent history is what they have set in place to use against Christine Blasey Ford – without the FBI investigation.
Brings back that old saying – if you are quiet when they come for me in the morning and when they come for your other friends in the afternoon, they will come for you in the evening when there is no one around to help, protect or save you.
Anita Hill was concerned about the appointment of a man unworthy of being a Supreme Court justice being nominated and on the verge of being confirmed. A man who the “big dogs” wanted because he was a replacement for Thurgood Marshall and the kind of replacement who would bring back into the society the image, stereotype, personhood of the kind of black man who they thought should have been appointed and who should rightly serve on the Supreme Court, if indeed there was a need for a black man to be in that spot.
The way society was moving that had to be, so they made sure the character, image, background, morals, values of a Thurgood Marshall was replaced by someone who would keep blacks in bondage and in ‘their place.’
Clarence Thomas is who they could see as the person for ‘successful blacks’ to imitate. Clarence Thomas would be the person young black children would idolize. Clarence Thomas is who teachers would hold up as an example of greatness in African Americans and therefore Clarence Thomas would uphold the negative black stereotype; make sure blacks moved not an inch, but inched backwards away from equality in this society and back into the foot shuffling, head scratching, over-sexed image this society carefully constructed for blacks to fit into for generations.
Anita Hill’s ‘crime’ was the fact that she wanted that horribleness to be corrected and reality to show through and this society move in the direction of a whole, equal, educated, respectful society it seemed to be walking towards.
For that she was put in the dock, so she could be characterized as ‘nutty and slutty’, but with far more words and images than I can describe in this short piece and Clarence Thomas was held up, patted on the back, encircled by whites who patrolled the borders of racism and sexism to make sure it would continue into the next generation and Anita Hill was cast aside and totally discredited. She was allowed to survive, but with a reputation and characterizations which others in the following generations could pull out, learn from and not imitate.
and then, along comes Christine Blasey Ford – white woman. Doing in this society and to this society what Anita Hill tried to do. Simply to tell the truth about her experience with Brett Kavanaugh which questioned his fitness to serve as a Supreme Court justice. Not the first one to question his fitness, but one whose story and experience could not be ignored.
Instead of being characterized as ‘nutty and slutty’ – which was taken by Republican Congressmen at the time as the best line of attack against Anita Hill because it rolled out and re-enforced the negative stereotype of black women, Christine Blasey Ford is beginning to be and will continue to be characterized as ‘crazy and confused’. And in the mix are the same men who led the charge against Anita Hill. They are still present in Congress and now taking the role of ‘elder statesmen’ passing along to their younger comrades the way the system works and the tools it provides to them to destroy this woman, smear her reputation, give a lesson to other white women as to their place in this society and as to what will happen to them if they overstep and cross the line challenging the greatness of sexism and its place in the world. Their message is crucial to their comrades – destroy this woman or all hell will break loose. The next thing you know all women will be ‘outing’ all of us who have sexually abused, attacked, harassed them and will demand that we stop or be removed and not allowed to enter the hallowed halls of economic and financial success in this society. These women will want pieces of that success and will want us to clean up our act and not have a group to run off the side of the cliff to atone for our sins.
What we need to stop and take a good look at is the numbers of white men who have and are engaging in sexual harassment, abuse, assault all over the society and demanding their right to so engage against women of all colors, shapes and sizes. Most horrible is the fact that they have now been strong enough to elect as their leader in these United States a chief of sexual assaulters – a man so arrogant and sure of himself and his way of acting with women that he brags about his success and his methods.
It is time for this to stop. My grandparents and great grandparents and many generations before them spent their lives fighting racism and sexism because they didn’t want me and my children to go through and experience the kind of pain and agony that was their lot. I picked up the fight and have done and am doing the same thing for the same reasons, but my children and my grandchildren will experience sexism and racism as the main theme that negatively affects their lives. But look at us. We are still in the muck. Still oppressed. The oppression has changed and become much more sophisticated, but this so called ‘hearing’ is exactly the same theatre Anita Hill was put through and the Orrin Hatch’s of the world are planning to produce and direct as the kind of theatre that they think will take down Christine Blasey Ford and at the same time stop tens of thousands of women in their tracks who are seeking equality and trying to move this society into a place of equal acceptance.
And Orrin Hatch? Bringing down his Mormon faith or opening it up for people to see what it is really about?
Fat chance that basic change will happen here! This is the society which elected a self-proclaimed sexual abuser, sexual assaulter, sexual harasser as its president and is clearly having its Congress people and their supporters come out with guns blazing to attack women, to oppress them even further and maintain their control spreading as much pain, depression, and more on all so they can claim superiority in their small corner of the world. This does not bode well for the future. Now what!
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