Sunday, August 17, 2008

What other people are saying

If you have never visited reader NOLA Radfem's blog, you really should. Start by checking out this recent post that mixes both political discussion and family history. (How could I not love it, huh?)

They aren't supposed to live in the White House, right?

When I was a child, a teacher of mine, learning that I aspired to be a doctor, warned me that because I was a girl, I could only hope to become a nurse. Soon after that, I was with several family members at a reception for Democratic party volunteers when my mother, outraged by my teacher's comment, introduced herself to Congresswoman Lindy Boggs and told her the story. The congresswoman did exactly what my mother hoped she would do - encouraged me to think that girls could aspire to do and be anything. As my mother tells it, "Lindy Boggs, in a navy skirt and navy stockings, knelt down, getting white chalky floor dust on her stockings. She took your little face in her hands and told you that she was a girl AND a member of Congress and that YOU could be anything too - not just a nurse, but even a doctor." And so, over the years, I have paid attention to the Boggs family, including the life and work of Lindy's daughter, Cokie Roberts.

Unfortunately, Roberts seems to become more of a flake every year. Check out this latest.Roberts, asked about Obama vacationing in Hawaii, says that although she understands Obama went to high school there and has a grandmother there, it still is an "odd" choice for his vacation because it will make him seen too "exotic" to voters.

And she had said this twice in the last two days. Does she not know Hawaii is just part of the United States?

Hey, Cokie, why are you spouting Republican talking points about Obama being "exotic" (which is code for "black")? Are you yet another fair-skinned daughter of the old South (and it's not just fair-skinned daughters of the South, actually) who just can not, will not vote for a black man? I know maman was born at Brunswick Plantation in Pointe Coupee and that papa, Congressman Hale Boggs, was a signer of the Southern Manifesto (which, in response to Brown v Board of Education, condemned
desegregation), opposed the 1964 Voting Rights Act, and that decades before that, he had led the movement to break the power of populist Huey Long and Long's political machine. Is it still that kind of thing, Cokie?

I come from slaveholding people too, Cokie. And for several months now, I've been
thinking of posting my photos of the old plantation on my blog, and I'm not exactly sure why. I just know I am furious about the racism I am still hearing from Democratic members of my own family who just will not vote for Obama. Maybe I want to hold a mirror up here - to ask those of us who descend from slaveholding people to really think about race and oppression, to demand that we be honest and look fearlessly and relentlessly at what dwells deep in our hearts, to challenge us to join the fucking twenty first century here. Are we going to do it? Are lifelong Democrats going to actually vote for McCain now? Mother? Little sister? How 'bout you, Cokie? "Exotic" indeed, Madam Roberts. Our people have been on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of humanity for far too long.

Read the entire post...
This post was a great history lesson for me. I only vaguely knew about Cokie Roberts' family before this. And I have visited the plantations on River Road near New Orleans, but I have never heard from a descendant of a real plantation family. I think we too often forget our complicated history--not just in the South, but in America. (We like to make the South responsible for all our racial sins, but that simply isn't true.) We seem loathe to realize that the country's past still impacts our beliefs and actions today, including in the 2008 presidential election.

NOLA Radfem should be commended not only for publicly speaking about what must be a touchy subject within her family, but also for doing research and wading through brush and dampness to snap photos of what remains of the plantation South.

I really appreciate this as a family historian--a black family historian. As I said to NOLA Radfem:

As a family researcher, let me tell you how important it is that you are so forthcoming with your family's history. As I know you know, black and white families with Southern heritage are inextricably linked. Because of slavery and the fact that vital records were not always kept for black people as they were for whites, amateur genealogists like me are challenged, particularly once we try to dig past 1870. I am always so grateful when some of my white family members (related through slavery or blood) are willing to offer the details of our shared history. Without help from descendants of slave owners, my family's history will be lost.
Head over to NOLA Radfem. While you're there, share a belated happy birthday.


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