The Scholar and the Feminist XVII (Apocalypse Now? Race and Gender in the Nineties): Morning Session

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  • Temma Kaplan: [events], but we had been debating next year's Scholar and Feminist, which will be on "Women in the Environment," including the built environment and neighborhoods and housing. And we've been debating between March 9th and April 13th, worrying that March 9th might yield a blizzard, and so we've moved to, we have set a date which you should mark on your calendar for April 13th next--1991 and let's hope it doesn't snow. Now at a time when the need for leadership of women's institutions is at its greatest, we at Barnard are fortunate to have an Ellen Futter. The rare combination of knowledge and strength in the real world in which we move. As we enter a new decade, and near a new millennium, Ellen Futter provides the kind of leadership that will guide Barnard and other women's institutions through these troubled, yet challenging times. It's a very great pleasure to introduce the president of Barnard College, Ellen B. Futter. [Applause]
  • Ellen Futter: Thank you Temma and the same could be said of your leadership of the Women's Center. [Applause] Good morning to you all on this most un-April-like morning, though perhaps it is appropriate weather for discussion of apocalypse. As we face the tenth decade for the twentieth century, and as the Barnard Center for Research on Women approaches its 20th birthday, some of you who were here at the founding will be as proud of that as I am. We are gathered for the 17th Scholar and Feminist Conference. And if that sounds like a lot of numbers, I suspect you will be hearing many more today. Numbers that tell it like it is and then inform our predictions and dictate our responses to these forecasts. And I for one do not consider numbers to be dry or trivial. The more we want and need to open minds and engage hearts, the more we must legitimize our efforts, first by providing the magnitude of the problem, and then by assessing the changes. Well, you will be listening to experts so I shall point only to the obvious: women are already a majority in our nation and by the middle of the next century, people of color will be in the majority. Clearly you are here in a critically important time to consider immensely significant matters, and to hear from those already engaged in the impelling crusades of our time. Quite likely, this will prove to be one of the most important of our seventeen conferences. I welcome you as our guests, as working participants in this conference, and as scholars and feminists of vision and bravery. Thank you for coming. [Applause]
  • Temma Kaplan: I'd also like to introduce one of our most distinguished alumnae. Our speaker last year, Judge Judith Kaye. Woul you stand? [Applause] Judge Judith Kaye is the first woman to sit on the state court of appeals, the highest court in New York state, and she's written some incredibly important decisions, including--that's really serve civil rights and civil liberties in this country. Ruth Messinger, a community activist, city councilwoman and now Manhattan borough president stands as an emblem of all that is possible and seldom realized in American politics. For many years she was the single voice of sanity speaking out for the poor, against the unbridled development and against the erosion of city services. She was the first in this city to alert citizens about the dangers of water and air pollution. She showed intelligence and compassion in speaking out about AIDS, and help gain rights for AIDS sufferers. When corruption became the rule in this city, Ruth Messinger's integrity was never questioned. She provided a vision of what politics should be in this city, and all its leaders Ruth Messinger has been the one, whose eyes and heart and mind have been open to all the people, people of all colors, to the poor, and to those who believe in public education, and most of all, in civic virtue. It's a very great pleasure to introduce Ruth Messinger. [Applause] 00:04:46.000 --> 00:05:13.000 Ruth Messinger: Temma, thank you very much. I make it a practice after introductions like that to stand up and then sit down. [Laughter] Good morning. I am delighted that there are so many of you here given the weather, but it doesn't surprise me, because that's what it takes to get things done. I'm pleased to see Ellen and what I suspect are some additional Futters. [Laughter] It's just shows that you can do it all. That's another discussion. [Laughter] 00:05:13.000 --> 00:08:02.000 What I'm struck by, given the number of speeches that I give, is that academic institutions, even, even a woman's center, seems to have a real knack for posing totally unanswerable questions on the issues of race and gender. And I say that from an informed basis because I spoke last week at a not very different conference at Long Island University in Brooklyn, and the title of that conference, was "What is the sound of one hand clapping?," and I haven't figured the answer out to that one yet, and now I'm supposed to discuss Apocalypse Now? [Laughter] Well, and my feeling about that, is that you all know that women and people of color have always had to be twice as smart as white males, in order to be taken seriously. As my daughter's t-shirt says, fortunately that is not difficult. [Laughter] Nevertheless, I don't think that we have to answer unanswerables and questions or determine the entire fate of the earth, and while some of you may try to do that later in the workshops, and I suspect you will hear from people who have devoted enough time and study to their work to at least attempt to get into the question, at the level of whether or not we are at the apocalypse, I'm going to try to talk on a few slightly less cosmic but I think still relevant and important points about New York City and national politics. And I'm doing that for a very clear reason. If the tasks have been big all along, they are, in some ways, bigger now. They are bigger now because of changes and shifts in demography, because while peace breaks out, if not all over the world, certainly in a lot of places where we didn't expect to see it a year ago, we can't find the money that should be released from the military budget to spend on cities and people. And in this city, as you all know, by reading the newspaper, the problems are immense and serious, and the dollars are scarcer and scarcer. So any comments about changes and shifts in demography and about what it is that we have to do, really ought to be informed by the notion, that the going is going to get tough, that is a time for the tough to get going. If there are people who are tough and able to do that kind of activism in the face of adversity, I suspect that a lot of them are in this room and I hope that while I talk about issues that are somewhat mundane, I will convince you to get further involved, to become more active, and to become essentially politically involved. 00:08:02.000 --> 00:10:43.000 So let's start with the easiest issue of all. I want to know how many people in this room. by a show of hands. have completed and sent in their census forms. Not bad, alright. [Laughter] This is a college. The census department needs $8 an hour and numerators, and they don't have enough. All over this city, we are looking for people who can work evenings, weekends, for the next 3 months to count the people who live in this city. I promise you that the federal government has no interest in counting New Yorkers. I can prove that to you. [Laughter] First of all, they lost 20 blocks, including several large buildings that housed five, six, or seven hundred people, including Ellen Dougherty, from my staff's building, so she's waiting to be counted. Second of all, they have really, as you know from seeing the form, produced a form that was designed to look as much as possible like an income tax form, and I have produced it in English. Now I am not exaggerating. This form does not exist in Chinese. And if you want the form in Spanish because you only speak Spanish, you have to find, at the bottom left-hand corner of the form, a small print sentence that says that if you wish to receive the form in Spanish you can ask for it. Nowm let me tell you something. I am a politician. I have been involved in I think five campaigns of my own, and about 500 campaigns of other people. Anybody in politics in the city of New York knows into which zip codes you mail in two languages, and into which zip codes you mail in English and Chinese, and into which zip codes and neighborhoods you mail in English and Spanish. It is not a very complicated task. We have been doing it for a long time. The federal government could have done it if they wanted to count New Yorkers. I don't think they do. So if you send in your form, that's fine. If you haven't, you're in trouble. We'll find you before you leave. But seriously, we are looking for a numerators, and we are looking for volunteers to staff the census coordinating centers, that, in a lot of neighborhoods. And obviously, we're particularly looking for people who are bilingual or multilingual, or, who are at least comfortable walking in and out of the neighborhoods of this city, and trying to explain to people, the importance of completing the form. And Ellen said you'd hear a lot about numbers. I can give you a quick sense of the importance of getting an accurate count in New York. It's worth a billion dollars to us over the next 10 years.
  • Okay, now, despite the fact that, since this is doing such a bad job in New York, but to the point of this conference, I think it is absolutely clear that when the census count is complete, which won't be for about a year, and the results are published. They will verify what's some of us know, which is that a majority of the population of this city is now composed of people of color, that a significant majority of this city is female. The last figures we had which are about 5 years old, just to give you a a thought in the borough of Manhattan, where I have a particular interest in the demographics, is that the voting population, I mean, the--the-- residential population in Manhattan is 53% female. The voting population is 58% female. So there's no reason why there aren't more women in office. Now, another less than mundane, critically important issue is that one of the uses of the census, in this city, will be not to draw down money for desperate, desperately needed services in a variety of poor communities. It will be to help us restructure our city government. When we voted last November elected David Dinkins as mayor, we also voted for a new Charter. The charter gives--shifts power in city government. I happen to be delighted with the powers it gives me as borough president, but the most important thing for this city, is the changes that that charter will be making in the structure of the city council. City council gets some additional power, but it gets it basically on the condition, that it restructure itself to increase the opportunities for minority empowerment. So the legislature, that now has, and over the next year will get increasing power, over decisions about how land is developed and how dollars are spent, is a legislature that is under a mandate to entirely redesign itself. Right now there are 35 Council seats, six of which are held by African-Americans, and three of which are held by Latinos. No Asian-American has ever held a seat on the Council of the City of New York. In fact no Asian-American has ever been elected to office in New York City, other than two judges, who are essentially, they're basically limited contest for judges, although in one of those cases there was a contest. Ten members of the city council are women. We are very proud of that. We actually had 11 women. We just sent Susan Molinari to Congress. 11 out of 35 isn't bad, but it sure is not 58% of the body.
  • So what's going to happen? After the census is in and the neighborhoods are counted, then the council will redistrict itself to create 51 members. That is, 16 new seats. New seats, something that doesn't ever exist in the political Universe. A seat that doesn't have an incumbent, a seat in which no one has ever run, and in fact, if you think about it- I know it's early Saturday morning to think about political redistricting, but there'll actually will be 51 districts, in which no one has ever run. Got it? In other words, there will be 35 incumbents. Many of them will have no trouble getting re-elected, as is the nature of incumbency in this country, even if their districts are shrunk or shifted. Some of them will. Some of them will simply lose, by virtue of the mathematics of fooling around with the map, will lose the base of their support, and may find themselves at least in real contest. Only if, and you can fill in the blank. Only if there are challengers, only if there are people who are getting ready to run now, who are taking advantage of some of the efforts that are being launched around this city to look for promising candidates, to look for promising campaign managers, to start thinking and planning for grassroots organizing, to influence he holds the seats that make key decisions in this city for the next decade. So, there's a real opportunity. There's a real opportunity for people of color, and for women to move into city government appropriate to our numbers. There's a real reshuffling that's going to go on and the districts that get created, are going to be smaller. And from the point of view of any new candidate that's significant because I promise you, that it is easier to get known, and easier to win in a district that is smaller, in a district that allows more opportunity for a real grassroots campaign, and in districts that will for the second time only, for the city council, be under the new campaign finance law, and therefore be subject to limitations on what can be spent. So, that is not the millennium, and it is not the apocalypse, but it is a good opportunity and I hope you will take advantage of it. 00:15:48.000 --> 00:16:48.000 And now I want to talk about some of the reasons why it matters who is in government. And each of these I think suggests that there are critical problems of that are, that are quickly defined by race and gender, that are looming literally right outside the doors of this institution, and that need to be addressed by all of us. Hopefully they will be addressed by some of you going much more into electoral politics than you might have thought before, but they better be addressed, by all of you, in some way, as active citizens who care about taking positions, who care about whether or not we get these dollars from the federal government, who care about how this city raises new revenue, and how it spends the not large enough resources that it has, so is at least, to promote some equity and some justice.
  • Let me talk about some problems. Right now, infants that are born in Harlem have a less likely chance of surviving their first year than infants that are born in Trinidad, or Kuwait, or Costa Rica. In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Harlem Hospital, there is space built for seven isolettes. When I was there at 3 weeks ago, there were 11. Almost every nurse in Harlem Hospital standardly works a double shift. There are not enough beds. There are not enough nurses. There are not enough healthcare providers in that hospital, where the infant mortality rates and the life expectancy rates are getting worse. And there also are not enough in almost any neighborhood of poverty in the city. That's not all. I'm just going to try to stick to these surroundings because you can imagine what the ripple out is. On the other side of this college, there is a hospital, a voluntary hospital, Roosevelt St Luke's, which is doing some significant redevelopment at both of its hospital campuses and which has argued to the state, that the only efficient way for it to proceed with its redevelopment is to close inpatient obstetrical and neonatal intensive care services at 114th Street and Amsterdam avenue. This is a crime. Whatever it takes for that hospital and for the state approval agencies in the city of New York to find a way to protect those beds, and to protect those services, and to disallow an existing document, which says that the slack, that can be picked up by Harlem Hospital, the hospital I just described to you.
  • We have to organize around that issue, and we have to organize around it now. What I'm telling you is, that in the office of the Borough President, and with several other people in elected office because I am indeed not the only voice, and with I'm delighted to say, thousands of community activists who care about these issues, we are fighting. We are fighting that closing. We are fighting the cutbacks that are threatened for the City's Health and Hospital Corporation of a hundred million dollars. We are fighting the problem of drug addiction which particularly hits in poor communities in this city, by at least arguing the city should try to find out find a way to open more than a single residential facility for pregnant women who are crack addicted, but we can't do those fights successfully without a lot more people involved. And the more of them that we can get into government, the more the people who hold office reflecst who lives in this city by color and by gender, the more likely we are, in my experience, with those elected officials to get these issues addressed. It makes a difference who holds office. It makes a difference whether or not they are elected out of a grassroots base and it makes more difference, than any of you can imagine, whether they continue to hear from activists and organizers in communities about the issues that we care about or not. And perhaps that's a point to make particularly right now, because this city is in current serious financial trouble. And the real questions are, how we are going to bridge ourselves over the next 18 months. And if, as I believe is absolutely necessary, we are going to have to raise some additional revenues. Who is going to speak for modest tax increases that are progressive and necessary to protect the lives of our communities? I hope all of you are and you will have a chance to do it, because sometime in the next month, you will be with someone who tells you, that if the taxes in this city go up everyone is going to leave, who will tell you that they know that they cannot pay one cent more.
  • Let me just talk to you for one minute about the city income tax. And let's be clear, I wish that we had a federal government, I wish that whoever those people are in Washington they would send us some money. [Applause] I understand that that's where part of the answer has to come from, but the babies are dying now. And in this city, just to give you a set of numbers. Hopefully it warmed up a little bit, a set of numbers that it would be useful to reflect on. I'll give you two sets of numbers. We have a progressive city income tax. No one horns under $15,000 a year, and no household that runs less than $25,000 a year pays a city income tax. The rest of us do. The mayor is already proposed to increase that tax by an average of about $75 a year. I have asked the mayor to increase the city income tax additionally, for persons who make over $100,000 a year. If each of those people [Applause] if each of those people paid $48 more a year, the city of New York would have 26 million dollars to spend. And as you may have seen in yesterday's newspaper, one of the reasons that we do not have enough money is because, mysteriously, the banks have simply stopped paying the bank tax. I don't think it is a mystery. This city has a huge loophole in its bank tax legislation. If we close that loophole, we would make $25 a year-- 25 million dollars a year for the next three years. You understand. The banks are against closing that loophole, so who is going to be for it?
  • Audience member: Us. Ruth Messinger: Good! [Laughter] That is the point and I'm not going to go on. I'm not going to give you more examples. I'm going to--I'm trying to say to you that I know from my experience in politics that we get what we work for, that those of us who are in elected office who care about these issues need more people, winning more of these new seats, who care about the same thing, and that all of us in elected office, and all of us in this city, need more people, more active. And that means that all of you by virtue of being here on a Saturday morning in the snow are undoubtedly activists. Have to do more and if you can't do more, as you probably feel you can't, then you'll have to find more people, but these are the issues on which you need to speak out now. Those are the elections for which you need to begin to get ready. There are undoubtedly some of you who ought to be thinking about running yourselves. There is a lot to talk about, about the need to do more organizing for more women and more people of color, becoming more politically involved, but whether you choose to run for office, or whether you just choose to get involved in a local political effort, or whether you choose to work in a campaign, the most important thing for you to remember, single most important thing, has what my friend, Jim Hightower, who is the Agriculture Commissioner of the State of Texas says to Farmers "Either you're in politics or you're in trouble." [Laughter] [Applause]
  • Temma Kaplan: I just wanted to cast an apoc--well--a pleasant note in this conference about apocalypse. I actually just read a study of this generation of college students, who were actually I called and I had seen some statistics on it. And I wanted to say that some of us feel as if we areon the brink of an apocalypse--but--and there are plenty of reasons to feel that, threats and forced--forced incarceration of certain pregnant women for abusing their fetuses because the women drink or take drugs, forced abortions for women with AIDS and sterilization requirements for women who want decent jobs in chemical plants and manufacturing batteries, but legislation against abortion for the victims of rape and incest. But I don't think that apocalyptic vision of chaos should blind us to our strengths. Not since the early 70s have we been so clear that what we want and how to get it, and not since the Civil Rights Movement of the--of the fifties and sixties have the lines been so clearly drawn and the arguments so urgent. The thing that's really encouraging, and I say--I say this to some of you here who have worries, those of us in our forties, who remember the heady times ofmany meetings, and the promise of, and often feel depressed that we're fighting to preserve the things that we won in the seventies and eighties. That we have very strong allies among the next generation of women--womenists and feminists. According to Alexander Aston, who's the director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 37% of today's college students have participated in public demonstrations, which is up from the sixties. More than 63% favor some kind of abortion. More interesting, about one-third of all graduating seniors in 1989 thought it was one of their essential, or very important goals in life to promote racial understanding. And in 1986, 92% of all college graduates--graduating seniors in 1986, agreed that women should receive the same salary or advancement as men in comparable positions. So we've we've ordered this survey and it's going to be available at the Center for Research on Women for those of you who want to look at these statistics, but it's very encouraging, and I think that we it's really way too soon to - feel as if we are helpless. I think the time to fight is now, and let's hope that some of the historical amnesia of some of our students is actually our legacy to them. If they can't imagine a world in which abortion was criminalized, let's hope it leads them, and us, to redouble our efforts to fight for reproductive freedoms, including free prenatal care for all pregnant women, universal child care, and medicaid funding for all abortions, so that women of all races and of all classes can truly have the right to choose. We at Barnard and at the Center for Research on Women have been engaged in many efforts to make race and gender central to the thoughts of our faculty and students. The committee on Race, Religion, and Ethnicity works to make college life more equitable everyday. Barnard has also embarked on a long-term project, the first part of which is sponsored by the Ford Foundation to transform the introductory curriculum to consider works by, and about, and from the perspectives of women of color. Through workshops, course renewals, and the creation of an annotated bibliography of materials available in the Joseph's Collection downstairs, we've aided faculty and students in an enterprise that is transforming all of our Lives. The 70-page annotated bibliography appears in the Barnard Occasional Papers on Women's Issues, which is volume 5, number one, and it's on sale outside the door here, so if you want to take a look at it, or if you want to buy it, it's available today.
  • Now by commitment to posing new questions today at this conference, we begin another stage and developing our knowledge about alternative perspectives. Today's discussions should help all of us to recognize that we are not alone, and that together, we can transform this apocalyptic vision into programs to create a racially and sexually just society. And one of the people who has already helped us here, and in advising us on curriculum transformation, is a person named Hazel B. Carby, who's the professor of Afro-American Studies and English at Yale University. Many of you know her book, "Reconstructing Womanhood: the Emergence of Afro-American Women--of the Afro-American Women Novelist," which is published by Oxford University Press. It's now in paperback. A graduate of the Birmingham Center for the Study of Popular Culture, which is known for its pioneering critical studies, the Center at Birmingham is not known for its feminism, or its attention to women or gender. Professor Carby has managed to fulfill the promises of Birmingham. A model social critic, she's also set the standard and then helped us, as I've said, in curriculum transformation, and in learning how to reorient the traditional ways in which many of us have been educated, to take in new perspectives, to look at new kinds of literature. Hazel Carby combines political savvy with intellectual rigor, and it's my pleasure to introduce Hazel Carby, who will speak about race and the academy. Hazel...[Applause]
  • Hazel Carby: Well, my paper actually has two titles. I'm calling what I'm working on at the moment, "Race and the Academy: Feminism and the Politics of Difference." And I'm doing this because I want to indicate that I have two particular, but also very closely interrelated, concerns to address. Now it would seem, that we are actually at a historical moment, when issues of race have become absorbed within, or subsumed under, frameworks of critical thinking, that organize themselves around concepts of difference and otherness. Now at the end of the 80s, it was possible to see that feminist debate had become more concerned to focus on a pluralist concept of women, rather than a unitary concept of woman, and was increasingly evoking the experience of multiple identities and subjectivities, rather than assuming the formation of a single identity and subjectivity. Now of course, we are, all too frequently you could say, still confronted by colleagues who assume that the subjects of feminist work are indeed, the minority of women in the world, who are white, European or North American, and middle or upper middle class. But perhaps now, their assumptions do not so easily pass unchallenged. I had a request from someone just about a year ago, whose publisher would not let the anthology that she was editing go to press because there were no essays in the volume on, or by women of color. Now this woman was clearly desperate, telephoning all the women that she could think of who had color [Laughter] asking if they could write something in a month. [Laughter] Now while I was particularly outraged by this call, and have honestly wished, that this particular anthology disintegrate into dust, although of course, the politically correct response would be to wish it to be recycled. [Laughter] The incident is actually very instructive about a shift in some publishing practices. It would appear as if a gesture toward diversity is now a required element of marketing to a woman's studies audience. Now, I want to use what I'm calling the "politics of difference," and I would also describe as the "politics of diversity" within contemporary feminist critical thinking, and practice, as an example of the ways in which issues of race are actually being avoided, displaced, and even abandoned, while it appears as if racism is directly being challenged and confronted.
  • But before I directly address these issues of difference and diversity within feminism, I would like to speak more generally about this particular historical moment. Now as a black intellectual, I am both intrigued and horrified by the contradictory nature of the black presence in the academy. We are, as peoples, and as cultural producers you could say, simultaneously visibly present in, and also starkly absent from university life. Now, of course, the academy is not a subject of most popular concern, being marginal to the lives of most people. And academics, in particular, are not figures that generate much general interest, and they are usually only visible in the media ,as the shadowy presences of experts in the fields of foreign relations, or national and international finance, that are trundled on to PBS news programs. I cannot resist, therefore, making some brief comments about the unusual event of the presence of a professor, let alone a black professor, on the cover of the April 1st New York Times magazine. Now the main subject of the story was Henry Louis Gates Jr., but the secondary subject was African American Studies and debates about the canon. Both the man and his field of knowledge were repeatedly referred to as controversial, and I was particularly struck by the number of times that word, controversial, was used.
  • I've been screening the 1959 Douglas Sirk movie,"Imitation of Life," recently, with my students. And we'd all been commenting on the use of the words, controversy and controversial, in that film, to both signal and also marginalize, the historical moment of 1959, a moment of unrest in which the film was made. The history of an increasingly assertive and aggressive demand for black civil rights was a history outside of the story of the film, but it was also a history, that kept threatening to erupt into the film in ways that the plot couldn't contain, except by all these repeated references to ccontroversy. Now,the New York Times Magazine article was equally contradictory, and ambiguous, about exactly what is supposed to be controversial about a black professor and Black Studies. However, the story of Professor Gates is an instructive occasion, you could say, for thinking about the ambiguous and contradictory nature of the positions that we, as black intellectuals, occupy in universities, and about the ambiguities, and the contradictions, that are embedded in our work. Now on the surface, we appear to have made it, some would say, that that we appear to be gaining a voice, that the syllabi of some university courses are changing, or have changed, that there is at least debate, about what should be taught, and about which subjects. My response would be to dive beneath the surface, and to question for whom, and on whose terms, are these changes happening.
  • To extend the analogy, between our existence as black subjects, in universities, and within the pages of the New York Times Magazine, we clearly have to temper any enthusiasm about being taken seriously long lost. at long last, with the recognition that we are actually being paid attention, or being paid attention to, for what indeed, we have long been considered good at. We are being seriously considered as higher educational entertainment. Now lest we start believing as black professors, that we have been allowed to evacuate our place on the outside of the "real work of academia." The words of Stanley Fish, chair of the Department of English at Duke University, are at the center of the New York Times Magazine article, characterizing Henry Louis Gates, as the P.T. Barnum of African American Studies. If Gates is Barnum, presumably African American Studies is the circus, and practitioners in that field, I guess, are the performing animals, and the trapeze artists. Now as a black cultural critic, I consistently try to broaden the uses of terms like intellectual, and cultural producer, to include other cultural practices like music and film, to disrupt the ways in which the description of intellectual is usually limited to practices based on writing, and/or two people employed as professors. But, of course, institutions like universities and the New York Times, are more concerned than I am, with setting and policing the boundaries of cultural acceptability, and with limiting what should be considered legitimate intellectual work. So, to be seriously considered as entertainment within the sacred halls of academe is not a political triumph. As Malcolm X always warned us, to the dominant social order, a black Ph.D is a nigger. Stanley Fish'ss characterization, of course, also acts to reassure the vigorous defenders of the canon, that allowing black folks to play the April Fool is a sideshow, enough threatening to the main event.
  • Now there is, I would argue, a very important distinction that needs to be made between an apparent black cultural presence in the academy, and the presence of black peoples. If there seems to be a vocal commitment to diversifying university campuses, I would like to remind you, that more than 90% of all faculty members across the nation are white. In the most recent years for which I found figures, 1985-6, the presence of minority ladder faculty is as follows: 3.8% Asian, 4.1% black, 0.4% Native American, and 1.3% Hispanic. In the previous decade, from the mid-seventies through the eighties, the percentage of minority faculty--faculty members who are black has decreased relative to the members of other minority groups. The percentage of black students in college populations has also steadily decreased, and as the numbers of bachelor's degrees awarded has been increasing nationally, the number of B.A.s awarded to black students has declined. In graduate schools, the proportion of American graduate students who are black is decreasing, and the proportion of doctorates awarded to black people is in steady, and some even say rapid decline. At the professorial level, while it is possible to see that the number of tenured black faculty members has increased slightly, the number of black people holding untenured appointments has declined. What should be the subject of so-called controversy, then, is not our presence, but our rapidly increasing disappearance. An African-American intellectual presence in the academy is not, at this moment, being reproduced. In striking contrast, for example, to the presence of women who have been steadily increasing their numbers as students and as faculty in universities during the same period. It is clearly easier to integrate a syllabus in a course. [break in tape]
  • Now should we regard it as paradoxical then, that so much energy is being directed toward the black presence in the curriculum, and so little to the material conditions that exclude our actual bodies. The National Research Council's recent publication, "A Common Destiny: Blacks and American Society," argues that while there exists support for national policies promoting equality of opportunity, through social institutions and governmental policy, there exists significantly less, and even little support, for the actual practice of equality of treatment. Of course it is obvious that at the national level such support is gradually being eroded, but there is a marked difference between the apparent national commitment, to rectify the existence of a separate but unequal society, and the apartheid nature of residential neighborhoods and schools. The residential segregation of whites and blacks in large metropolitan areas is as high in the '80s and '90s as it was in the '60s. We now have a white population that has been raised on the celebration of the theme of diversity in Sesame Street, but refuses to integrate its public school systems, condemns apartheid in South Africa, and supports apartheid in Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut. High school dropout rates for black school children are double that for whites, and blacks account for just over half the prison population. Surely, prison must be the only institution where we are allowed to be over-represented, four times our representation in the population. Increasingly, as you are well aware, the poor are the working poor. In 1987, 20% of American children under 18 were being raised in families with incomes below the poverty line. 45% of all black children and 39% of all Hispanic children live, and will remain, living in poverty. We live then, in a society structured in dominance by race, and in which the practice of apartheid, particularly in housing and education, is strong and not, as far as I can see, in danger of being eroded. This is the set of material conditions to which, I would argue, a commitment to the language of diversity and difference, is a totally inadequate response.
  • What, for example, does the debate about the opening of the canon mean in relation to these material conditions of existence? And what has been the role of feminist theory in trying to come to terms with the meaning of race as it has attempted to diversify the concept of women? Now, Elisabeth Weed, in her book, called "Coming to Terms," has recently challenged us to interrogate and reveal the politics of the theories that we use as feminists. I would like to, just briefly, focus your attention on the politics of difference because this is, perhaps, the most usual way now, the feminists trying to signal their concern to develop concepts of women and womanhood that are plural rather than unitary in their effects. I wonder theories of difference, as they are currently being formulated, are leading to a further ghettoization of our cultural and political presence within academic work. The category of difference is often used as if it were an absolute social, cultural, and political division. As a black British cultural critic has recently argued, where black art and aesthetics are debated in conference after conference, it's becoming harder to dislodge the belief that ethnic differences constitute an absolute break in history and humanity. In practice, the politics of difference can censor the complexity of a black cultural presence and also censor who can speak. If ethnic differences are absolute, then the response from many liberal white students is that they won't speak because they are of the dominant group. Now the political effect of this position is indistinguishable from not having to take any political position whatsoever in relation to the culture of the other. If one does not have to take a position then difference does not actually have to be confronted. Indeed, difference has been preserved as absolute, and so has the dominant social order. On the other hand, if we try to recognize that we live in a social formation which is structured in dominance by race, then theoretically, we can argue that everyone has been constructed as a racialized subject. In this sense, it is important to recognize the intervention of the category of whiteness as well as blackness, and consequently to make visible what is usually rendered invisible, because it's viewed as being the normative stage of existence. The political practice that should come from this theoretical position what situate everyone as being a racialized subject, and would argue that race should be the central conceptual category, or a central conceptual category in all of our work. But because the politics of difference work with concepts of diversity, rather than structures of dominance, race is a marginalized concept that is wheeled on only when the subjects are black.
  • Now I want to distinguish my argument for the importance and the centrality of the concept of race, from positions that work within a framework of the politics of difference which argue that everyone has an ethnicity. I'm not arguing for pluralism, the result of much work on ethnicity, but for revealing the structures of power relations that are at work in the racialization of a social order. Now we can see a further marginalization of the concept of race, in the current use of the phrase, women of color. This phrase has been lifted from its ground of origins, which was in the need to find a common ground among non-dominant groups of women, and in a desire to establish a system of alliance among exploited groups of women. It's been lifted and reinserted into the language of difference in feminist theory. Now, what does women of color come to mean when it is taken up by feminist theories of difference? In practice, we're all familiar with the use of the term as a referent, but do some people lack color? Do white women have no color? What does it mean to not have color? Does it mean that somehow those without color are not implicated in a society structured in dominance by race? Are those without color outside of the hierarchy of social relations and not racialized? Are only the so-called "colored" to be the subjects of the specialized discourse of difference, and therefore, effectively marginalized yet again? Do existing power relations remain intact? Are the politics of difference here apparently effective in making visible women of color, while rendering invisible the politics of race?
  • Now this is perhaps, how we can start to think about the disparity between the fascination for black women as subjects on a syllabus, and the total disregard for the material conditions of most black people. Often, it seems that black women appear as romantic anthropological subjects, or primitive presences in the university curriculum. For whom are they there? If black students and faculty agitated for the existence of African-American Studies--Has feminism created the need for a black female subject that is compatible with the politics of diversity? Feminism in the university, has created an essential black female subject for its own consumption. It is a figure that can be used as an example of the most victimized of the victims of patriarchal oppression, or as an example of the most noble of noble womanhood that endured. Faulkner's Dilsey reborn. Certainly this black female subject seems to be needed to embody an essential black female experience, whatever that may be. But above all, this new black woman subject of women's studies in particular, acts to berate the white woman for her racism, acts as a mechanism to cleanse her soul, becomes the hairshirt with which she can beat herself over the hea,d and then can feel self-satisfied and politically correct. Does this fantasized black female subject exist primarily to make the white middle-class feel better about itself? Now what we need to do is to teach ourselves to recognize the existence of historically specific forms of racism. To think indeeed, in terms of racisms, instead of an idea of racism that doesn't change through history, to think in terms of racial formations rather than eternal or essential races. Then, perhaps, we can begin to see how an apparent commitment to diversity in a university can be engaged very intimately in a new form of racism. The important thing to remember about racism, of course, is that it promotes a transformation of the whole ideological field in which it operates, and this is what I would argue, has happened in relation to changes in the curriculum. Now as Elisabeth Weed concludes, "Identity, as feminism's compulsion, speaks compulsively about the problem of difference." I would add to this observation that it speaks, not at all of structures of power. The category of woman may have become women, difference may now be differences, and the question of identity now be the problem of multiple identities, but the politics behind the theories of identity and difference, are pluralist, and little concerned with establishing the complexity of racialized structures of dominance.
  • The political consequences of this thinking are evident in the language of diversity. For example, we hear a lot about oppression, but nothing at all about systems of exploitation. The concept of resistance is frequently used, but the concept of revolution has disappeared. Oppression and resistance are terms more easily applied to individualist and pluralist ideas of political change. But as Barbra Harlow has asked, "Where is the liberationist agenda? Where is the collective emancipatory a project?" Theories of difference and diversity, in practice, leave us fragmented and divided, but equal in an inability to conceive of radical social change. Of course, we are not supposed to need or to use revolutionary theories of history. The so-called master narratives, because they are regarded as the master's tools. It is my contention that the master appropriated those tools, along with the labor of those he exploited ,and that it's high time that they be reclaimed. As you have heard it's not just a question, then, of going into politics, but also bring politics into the academy. Thank you. [Applause]
  • Temma Kaplan: Well, I hope that many of us, and in fact all of us, will try to heed Hazel Carby's words today, and I want to make a brief announcement about the rooms. The rooms are posted outside the door, but I will tell you, plenary number one on "Dominating Women Through Reproduction" will take place in the Sulzberger Parlor on the third floor, "Political Organization and Spirituality" will take place in rooms 201 and 202 on the second floor. "Affirmative Action: Where We Are Headed" with Denise Carty-Bennia will take place in room 302 on the third floor, and the "The Race-Gender System and Social Change" with Barbara Omolade and Rosalind Petchesky, will take place in room 306 on the third floor. We welcome you to this conference and we exhort you to think your best, do your best, argue your most controversial and we'll see you back here--we'll see you at lunch and we'll see you back here at 2:00. Thank you so much. exhort you to think your best do your best. I gave them your most controversial and we'll see you back here will see you at lunch and then back here at 2 thank you so much