by: Marceline Donaldson
This presidential campaign, including a black female – Kamala Harris – will experience black male sexism. The major question becomes – how does that look; how has it exhibited in the past; how will it exhibit during this presidential campaign and what is my responsibility to see that it is held in check as we need to also continue to hold in check white male sexism and all the other bigotries our society normally practices – mostly with impunity.
We have been able to have such continue and remain in the structures within which we live, work and have our being because we practice denial and keep actual experiences of bigotry covered over. When they are uncovered and the people who practiced such are uncovered we practice an extreme denial threatening the person who “outed” the practices instead of the people promoting and taking part in the bigotry into which they were born.
I can give you at least two examples of such – one personal and one the experience of a close friend.
As some of you know I was the first African American stock broker, licensed by the New York, American, Nasdaq, etc. exchanges – way back in the 1960’s. That was an incredible experience. I was very young – in my late 20’s and early 30’s during that time, recently divorced, and my ex-husband was Jewish with grandparents from Latvia. I give you that information because it was quite relevant to what happened during my time as a stock broker.
A friend of mine – Lillian Anthony – suggested I apply for the job of stock broker – which I did with several companies. Dain, Kalman and Quail, inc. in Minneapolis hired me, put me in their training program and eventually sent me off to New York to learn enough to pass the exams and to get acquainted with the environment in which I would be working.
It was an exciting, trying, interesting, time. Before that stint I owned an antique auction gallery, antique shop and interior design studio. I sold antiques based on their investment value – which is why Lillian thought I would do well as a stock broker. If you were a client of mine we talked about the current value of the antique of your interest and its future possibilities – up, down or remaining the same for quite some time. I sold antiques the way most stock brokers sold stock. That was not unique to me. It was the way my grandmother furnished her home. She loved antiques and when she could afford something she always first talked about its current value and in which direction its societal value was going in the future. Her conversations went into things like “Cookie, when you become an adult this piece will have tripled in value. Don’t buy that manufactured stuff which will have to be dragged off to the dump years later.” We also designed furniture for people who collected antiques and wanted a way to display them which was in line with what they were collecting. It was important that these display pieces have the possibility of increasing in value over time, either because of their design or the hand craftsmanship that went into their execution.
As I became ever more knowledgeable about what it took to sell stock I became involved with civic, and other activities and groups, had regular dinner parties, and generally became known and got to know the city and all of its groups, corners, ideals, ideas, how things worked and more. It was a great time. I could do all of that in the process of doing my job – something that was new to me. I was on my own for the first time in life and that was not easy especially since I had very small children, but it was quite exhilarating.
The next thing I knew life became extremely difficult and quite abruptly. I was facing people who actively attacked me; did whatever they could to take me down in some incredible ways I didn’t know possible and more. I had no idea what changed and I was not to discover what changed for several years.
I eventually left Minnesota and when I did the covers fell from my eyes because people who knew what happened kept quiet until then. When I met them in other cities what happened began to come together. What happened? A group of leading black male citizens of Minnesota went to Dain, Kalman and Quail and demanded that I be fired and a black man be hired because it was totally embarrassing to have a black female in such a position. Gleason Glover, head of the Minneapolis Urban League, Harry Davis, head of the Minneapolis Urban Coalition and several more had a meeting with the heads of Dain Kalman and laid out their case. – They brought along with them Alfred Babington Johnson who was the person they wanted to see hired in my place.
Hearing all of that and from quite a few people who knew the details was unbelievably painful because I talked and thought all of those folks were friends. I worked with them in their organizations; had lunch with them; discussed much about how to help bring about a better community – one in which we were all equal and so much more.
In addition, as I was told by several people, this group added the claim that I was really not black enough. I was actually pretending to be divorced from my Jewish ex-husband but in reality I was being used by the Jewish Community to get benefits which should have been given to the Black Community – benefits like the job as a stock broker which should really have gone to a black man. They apparently made the claim that once I was settled in the job and in a position to influence who would be brought in that would be Jews and not Blacks because that is why I was being pushed by this Jewish community to do this and Dain Kalman would see that my marriage would be magically put back together again because, according to them, it was never broken. I heard this in the context of having gone through a horrendous divorce.
Experiencing the aftermath of such a meeting in real time and not knowing why was horrendous enough. Hearing about it several years later from friends who knew about this meeting, but felt it best to keep quiet about it was devastating. That is until I talked to Lillian Anthony.
Lillian was an African American woman who worked hard in civil rights and major changes came from some severe and serious sacrifices. She was head of the first Civil Rights Office established by the city of Minneapolis and it was one of the first such offices in these United States. She also worked very hard for and sacrificed much to majorly help establish one of the first African American Studies Departments in these United States. That happened at the University of Minnesota. Lillian was chosen to head that department and was extremely effective in both jobs.
Lillian, at the time we had this discussion, was at the University of Massachusetts working on a doctorate – which she received and then went on to other things.
She left Minneapolis to start on that educational journey because of the incredible push back she was receiving from a group of black men who wanted her out of the job as head of the African American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota because they felt a black man should have that job and she was an embarrassment to them for being in that position keeping it from a more “qualified” black man.
The fact that she was the one who put herself on the line and worked to see the department established and those who were pushing to get her removed were among the missing, but then showed up to take that job away from her was not part of any of the discussions that went on around Lillian and her job.
I remembered how hard it was for her to work with others to get the Civil Rights Office established as a part of the City of Minneapolis’ structure. I am sure you can imagine what she went through in the 1960’s to have helped establish such an office. I also knew what she sacrificed because her goal was to see an African American Studies Department established at the University of Minnesota. It was a natural fit for her to head the department which she and those working with her envisioned and worked to bring into existence. And I saw the change happen when someone who dropped in out of the sky almost and took over that job did not handle it very well and did not have the vision nor the power nor the internal fortitude to bring that department into what it could have been. I saw all of that and was a part of those “movements”, but was too young and inexperienced to get what was actually happening. There were many blanks.
As Lillian filled in the blanks of what happened to her I sat there with tears streaming because I knew how she felt. I had been through something very similar and only recently knew what that was, why it happened and had a chance to look back at some of the people involved. The most hurtful part of that was the fact that those who fought to get me out of a job were black men and women and the same thing was true for Lillian.
I have sought out other such stories because I wanted to know how extensive this sexism was and as I researched and sought out other black women who had been through similar experiences I heard commonalities in each story.
As I looked at Kamala Harris and the road she has chosen, I started reflecting on my experiences way back when. I pray that some of the people around her understand this dynamic and know how to expose and fight it so her candidacy has a chance without others going under the table to attempt to cut off the legs and reduce her chances at this nomination.
It has been a negative – and still is – to say such things out loud. After all we must all support the black male who has such a horrible time moving ahead in this society. I am always struck by those who say such things and used to wonder why they did because the problems and experiences of the black woman in this society are far worse – but as my experiences of sexism has grown understanding has happened.
I don’t want to get into who has it hardest – I do want to expose and call out loud this bit of sexism that will be a drag on Ms. Harris’ candidacy and be something used quietly by those running against her.
It was not easy to write this. I am doing so hopeful that my experience and that of others like me will mitigate and lessen such things happening to other black women in todays world. Please God make it so.
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