The Scholar and the Feminist VIII (The Dynamics of Control): Afternoon Workshop 1, part 1

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  • Elizabeth Higginbotham: Instead of just direct questions at me, if you could really do some talking to each other as well because some people come in with a level that's [unclear] about specific kinds of issues and it would be good to be able to share that with each other since this is very much in a process of rebuilding. [Unclear] We'll hold on and wait unless people want to start chatting before I get into the real rest of the stuff. Are you enjoying-- how many people is this their first conference? Oh good, me too. [laughter] Comment 1: I was just wondering, while we wait, if we could introduce ourselves. Elizabeth Higginbotham: Yeah, I think [that's good] and as people come in they could just come [and do it]. I'm Elizabeth Higginbotham. I'm a sociologist at Columbia in the division of urban planning. [Inaudible introductions from participants] E. Higginbotham: Come on in we're just introducing ourselves. We're just introducing ourselves. [laughter]
  • You might want to come up further. If you want, like I mean I'm not dangerous. [laughter] People often come in and sit in the back, for various reasons. We're just doing a little-- people are just saying their name. [inaudible introduction] Elizabeth Higginbotham: Would you like to share your name with us? [inaudible introduction] Elizabeth Higginbotham: I'm going to get started and people will kind of just come in. I'm used to having smaller desks, but okay. [Unclear] I'll walk and maybe I'll sit. For academics it's the only exercise many of them get, [laughter] pacing back and forth as they teach. This is "Laid Bare by the System: Work and Survival for Black and Hispanic Women" and I think-- first of all, I want to say we've come a long way in approaching issues of women of color and their relationships with women's studies, a long way from that debate of is it race or is it sex. Now is a time when many Black, Puerto Rican, Mexican-American, Native American, Asian-American women, acknowledge the importance of sexism in their lives but at the same time they've made it real clear that they're not interested in an analysis that negates an important aspect of their experiences and that is being women of color in the United States. A lot of feminist analysis would like to simply subsume racial oppression to sex oppression because sexual oppression is older, it's been documented to be more universal, but this kind of approach doesn't really deal with the concrete experiences of racial ethnic women. My label for this group is 'racial ethnic women' because they're women who are members of a racial group that's distinctive from the dominant society in the United States as well as women who come out of specific ethnic groups. Come on up, there are seats up here. Unlike White ethnic women, racial ethnic women experience both ethnicity and race and that's something that often gets forgotten about them but that's my term. I really want to talk about employment, work that's either paid, when it's often-- even though it's often low wages, and unpaid work in, like slavery, that-- I'm not going to talk about housework really-- paid or unpaid work that's done for owners of the land to the means of production. The work that racial ethnic women have done and continue to do is central to their exploitation as women but the kind of work that they do also set up situations which makes survival of their racial ethnic communities a very complicated process. This morning Cheryl [Jokes] was talking about, and trying to get a handle on, that process and that's the kind of thing I really want to very much address: work and what I call cultural assaults. The models that we've tended to have for exploring women's experiences are really not appropriate, totally appropriate, for looking at Black, Puerto Rican, and Mexican-American women's situations. It doesn't really enable us to deal with multiple barriers in the lines of women of color who first and--. I mean I want to kind of you know set up how you're going to do this without getting into those argument about strategical priorities etc. but I think that when we look at racial ethnic women we have to do so within the context of racial oppression, that's foremost. I talk about racial oppression and not racism because people have forgotten what racism means it just gets thrown around, we've become much more removed from dealing with the historical context of racial oppression. People don't realize what it means to live in a society where boundaries are defined by other people because you're black, brown, yellow, or red. There's an ideology, and that's basically what racism is, an ideology that justifies the exclusion of people of color from certain spheres of life and promotes the tolerance of this injustice within the larger society. There was a lot of talk in the sixties about institutional racism but it seems to have died down quite a bit. The other thing that seems to happen is that people don't seem realize that we're talking about people living in a society where every sphere of their life is influenced by their color and it's not just talk about being discriminated against so that you don't get this job or that you don't get a certain quality schooling but something needs to be done to communicate the context of within which people live and that's why I talk about racial oppression.
  • One thing that we have to remember about racial oppression is that it hurts. That people grow up with-- you know at some point you know people can talk about realizing that they are Puerto Rican, or Black, or Chicano and that there's something about them that's different from dominant culture members of the society and that's painful. As well as the fact that you then begin to live a life where you don't have the options that are open to people who are members of the dominant society. It's within this context that we have to understand the situations of racial ethnic women. Robert Blauner is a sociologist who was prominent in talking about ghetto rebellions' reactions to internal colonialism in the 60s. [Coughs] I don't know where my voice went but--. Blauner developed a scheme for differentiating between what he called colonized immigrants or colonized minorities, which I call racial ethnics, and immigrant minorities which are White ethnics. There are three spheres of experience where these groups differ. I mean basically they've been floating around these notions that 'oh, why don't blacks do what every other ethnic group has done? Why don't Chicanos? etc.' Blauner gives us three specific spheres to look at where there are differences. First of all, racial ethnic peoples entered the United States in very different ways than White ethnics. Their entrance was much more involuntary as opposed to voluntary. This is really clear in terms of slavery, in terms of living in a land that gets transferred from one nation to another you have nothing to do about the process, living in a country that's about to get freedom but the United States saves you [soft laughter] and therefore you then become colonized in that way. So there are differences in terms of how people enter. [Coughs] Building on Blauner, there's also different [plights]-- there's a different plight that people experience as citizens even if we can't specifically date differences as soon as we've survived. As soon as the first Africans came to the United States in 1619, we can't say that they're going to be distinctive lives [or] distinctive futuristic, but clearly by the 19th we have established a racist ideology that justifies either secondary citizenship or the lack of citizenship rights for racial ethnic peoples. Rather than being seen as participants in the American destiny these populations whose labor was exploited to make that destiny a reality did not receive the kind of rewards that were going to be open to White ethnics. They did not have citizenship rights. They did not have entitlements. This becomes clear in terms of looking at Afro-Americans who were slaves, therefore they were property, and that's something about you have to see them as workers but you still also have to see them as capital. [Unclear] After emancipation they continue to be denied rights. Chinese and Japanese immigrants were barred from ever becoming citizens and therefore they were never constituency for any political group because they would never vote. Mexican-Americans, whose land was-- they used to be in Mexico that became United States, were treated as secondary citizens. And even the State of Arizona, territory that for a long time was populated by-- you know how you have to have a certain population to become a state, Arizona had that population but it was mostly Mexican-American and Indians and it wasn't until a sufficient number of White people lived there that it really became a state. [Unclear] That becomes really clear. We get this precarious history that people have about being citizens, or else you get things like you get citizenship but it's granted under very questionable motives. The people of Puerto Rico were granted US citizenship in 1917 just in time to [adopt] 20,000 men into the Armed Forces. Puerto Ricans have continued to fight in the wars, so they were clearly seen as labor whether it be for paid employment or the Armed Forces, and exploited for that reason. So, that this questionable treatment of citizenship is something that plagues all these racial ethnic groups.
  • The secondary of differentiation for Blauner is what happens to people in the labor market. [Coughs] Rather than being what was called free labor, meaning that you could move freely from one job to another and therefore also had a range of job options open to you, racial ethnic people have either been forced labor or have suffered very severe restrictions on the type of work they could do. They were consistently used as low-wage labor force often participating in pre-capitalist ventures and then they'd get forced out of the market when jobs become much more profitable or they change in terms of the sphere of the economic sector that they're in. The use of Afro-Americans as slaves to develop and to sustain the agriculture in the South is obvious. Also, people know that the situation of Chinese immigrants who worked on the railroad-- building a railroad who work in the mines and did some of the toughest in the most dangerous jobs but once the tracks were laid from you know sea to shining sea, then people were basically dismissed and faced incredible restrictions and harassments. Most of them were forced to seek refuge in ghettos that are euphemistically called Chinatowns and literally faced being beaten up when they left those kinds of communities. Before the 1920s, Mexican-Americans were often engaged in industrial work as well as agricultural work. This is a history that many people don't really know very much about. They worked on building the railroads, as well. Many people had worked on building railroads in Mexico and did the same kind of work in the United States. They also work in Lumber and oil and in mining. In fact, they were responsible for doing the initial labor to open up the silver and copper mines in Arizona and New Mexico and then once these became profitable ventures and they could recruit Anglos to do this kind of work, they get pushed out of the more skilled jobs and are only left to do the more lower-wage jobs that were there. Racial ethnic people have been instrumental in developing the infrastructure and industries of most of this country. Once these industries are developed and jobs were less dangerous and more remunerative White workers get recruited and race racial ethnic face severe restrictions. They were used as a reserve labor force, that is they were called in as strikebreakers if there was ever any labor problems. Often the only steady employment they could find was in service work, or at times they could do work as unskilled labor. It's important to recognize that the exploitation of racial-ethnic people's work is key to their oppression, but what this sets up then is tremendous repercussions for the communities. First of all, people work for either subsistence or no wages and then have to develop lives with those resources those very, very limited resources. This enters into the discussion of the third area of differentiation for Blauner and that is the degree to which groups are subject to cultural assaults. To quote Blauner, he says, "the labor systems through which people of color became Americans tended to destroy or weaken their cultures and communal ties. Regrouping and new institutional forms developed, but they developed in situations with extremely limited possibilities. The transformation of group life that is central to the colonial culture dynamic took place most completely on the plantation." It is critical to take this issue of cultural assaults seriously because it's due to these attacks that racial ethnic cultures have developed in ways that are very different from the way they would have developed if they were unhampered. Communities would draw upon their cultural repertoire for survival strategies but they would choose from within a very limited range and often the means to achieve certain ends had serious consequences for their own communities. I'm not talking about sexism within subcultures, the forms the patriarchy takes within specific subcultures, but this is an area that also has to be seen as in within the context of racial oppression. Do you get the point? This all has to be seen within the context of racial oppression. Any study of the work situations of racial ethnic women has got to be integrated into a real clear conception of racial oppression. Unfortunately, most of the work on racial oppression focuses on the situations of men. Now, this is not a reason to abandon that perspective, but it gives-- we need to keep that perspective, be flexible in terms of dealing with it and looking at class and gender differences within it. But it gives you some stuff to work with and it doesn't have to be done in a ranking in terms of a hierarchical arrangement but really to look at gender class within that context.
  • Now, researchers often present, and many people are familiar with, certain statistical facts about racial ethnic women for example there's plenty of data testifying that Black women earn less than Black men, than White men, and then White women. We can look at the rankings and see that Puerto Rican and Mexican-American women do less well in the labor market than other Hispanic women, particularly Cuban, in the labor market, as well as in educational attainment. People might be familiar with the decline in the labor force participation rates of Puerto Rican women especially in the New York metropolitan area while the numbers of Puerto Rican women on welfare is increasing. There are chairs [there]. And also, people might be familiar with a historically high labor force participation rate, that Cheryl just talked about 100%, which has been going down [historically] and it's an interesting way to look at it. It's only been within the last 10 years that the labor force participation rates of Black and White women are getting closer, but what lies behind these figures? It's harder to get a handle on what the work that racial ethnic women have been doing and how interlocks with cultural assaults on their own communities. This happens partly because work is seen as an isolated activity and this has historically been the case sense the focus has been on men and their work and that that is being seen as separate from everything else, this public and private sphere stuff. Or else you get models that say that whether or not women work are determined by level of educational attainment, marital status, and the number of children that they have. Within these models there's no place for economic need and there is certainly no discussion about racial barriers that create job options for some women and limit their brothers. I think the best way to proceed is to look at specific historical situations and to investigate what goes on within them. Angela Davis's work on the role of Black women in the community of slaves, is an example of the kind of analysis that can be done, and Cheryl just talked about that a little this morning. It's an excellent article for people to find and the New England Free Press used to reprint it if you couldn't find that issue of the Black Scholar that it was in. Black women's work was essential for both the development of agriculture in the South and to do the hard and heavy housework that was associated with that era. Besides-- well one way in which Black men and women differed is that Black women were sexually exploited in slavery, but besides that they and them we're equal in in the work that they did. As Davis talks about, staying alive and continuing a community was a form of resistance and Black women were very much involved in that. Davis's analysis could only be strengthened by more recent historical work that has delved more deeply into the slave quarters, so that you would see the kinds of things-- the even more ways that Black people working as slaves were involved in resistance and community survival. The nature and structure of religion becomes more important, there's more data about the survival of African culture in art forms, more detail in family attachments, as well as some detail on side activities that actually aided physical survival like gardens, raising animals, having side businesses, and things along those lines. What all these activities share is that they get carved out of a situation in which people have very few options. And that's-- I mean it's interesting because most people don't realize that people who are different from them have different options, like assume that this is the land of opportunity etc., and that that's something that you have to get a lot of information [about] and remain very sensitive to. Black women were involved in working within these very limited parameters for establishing a life and a continuance of lives.
  • We know less about other people. One of the other things to kind of really be sensitive to is that within the context of racial oppression the work that men do and women do can be the same and at times it can be different. One very clear example of the differences is looking at Chinese immigration before the 20th century [because there wasn't any] after the Chinese Exclusion Act. The immigration of the Chinese led to very distinctive roles for men and women, particularly because if you look at San Francisco in 1880 of the 75,000 Chinese who were there 71,000 were men. So that you had this basically [unclear] population and the role of women was very different. Women were used as prostitutes and those women who are not prostitutes were like basically hidden in the house because women were so rare and they were very highly valuable property. That was important for kind of retaining the [unclear] population since there were laws that said that Chinese could not marry White people so that you basically were working at eliminating-- this is called genocide. [Laughter] Looking at Mexican-Americans who were either established in the United States when the concession of-- the Mexican Concession of 1848, or came in, they tended to come as families. This is, you know-- I'd like to hear more about this because figuring out the particulars is difficult sense there is very little research and it tends not to specify different roles for men and women. What I can piece together about the industrial work that Chicanos did in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas building the railroad, working the lumber camps, oil work, and the like. When people were involved in these early pre-capitalist phases they traveled as family and the women were given the task of ensuring the survival of the family in the harshest of conditions. Work settings were virtually small company towns where people were paid low wages and then they were dependent upon an overpriced company store. Also, in these settings if there were unattached men, women were engaged in working in boarding houses cooking meals, doing domestic work, and things along those lines. If you look at other industrial settings where there were [canneries], Mexican-American women were engaged in this kind of work. It's important to kind of remember that these are early capitalist ventures so that they are like shoe-string operations where you work the workers as hard as you can so that you can maximize profit and then sell the company to somebody else, make your money and go back East and retire in some civilized place. Mexican-Americans were also very much-- women were engaged in domestic work. When we look at agricultural work this is a place where women had three tasks: housework, child bearing and rearing, and field work. The lack of detailed data makes doing this really difficult but in Moving the Mountain by Ellen Cantarow there's very good descriptions by Jesse Lopez De La Cruz about agricultural work. Looking at her life you begin to see a lot of what the reality is. She was born in 1919 and she actually began working in the fields when she was a child. This is an area where child labor was quite common until the strikes and [contracts] in the 1970s. You can see how it really lags behind the abolition of child labor in other spheres of the society. The other thing is that it also points at some rural-urban differences that have become very important. The nature of migrant life made the survival of the community very precarious. You can post statistics like the average lifespan is 49 years old for adults and that is very, very tremendous in its impact, but when you look at some details from Jesse Lopez De La Cruz's life you begin to see the degree to which people lived on the margin. Her sister who was 3 years old, died in a fire when she was 10, her mother died of cancer when she was 11, and that's the same year that her grandfather died, and then her grandmother, her sister, and uncle's began living as migratory farm workers. She married and continued to work-- to do farm work with her husband. She describes a typical day of farm workers in the 1940s. She would get up and start her day at 5 a.m., getting up to cook breakfast for the family. The day she talks about was in May when it's very hot, and the family would all start working at 6:30 in the morning. They'd work for 4 or 5 hours and then they would take a break and rest until 3:30 in the afternoon when it had cooled off enough for people to be outside. Then she says, "we would go back and work until we couldn't see. Then we'd get home and rest, visit, talk, then I'd clean up the kitchen. I was doing the housework, working out in the field, and taking care of the kids." This is work. Under such conditions of work, experiencing both the exploitation of their labor and the severe living arrangements, being able to survive is a form of resistance. Yet there is also a long history of labor struggles and solid unions of Mexican-American and Mexican immigrants which the Texas rangers and other regional groups were organized to suppress and they did so with real brute force, lots of the killings etc.
  • What we get here is the raw face of capitalism coupled with a racist ideology that enables employers to mask the fact that they're dealing with human beings. In a time when the family wage is being established, little thought is given to how racial ethnic families were to sustain themselves. You really see the dehumanizing impact of racism on this community and I think that this has got to be dealt with. You get an example of this from looking at events in Arizona in the 1920s. Although they were not totally able to demonstrate that there was a labor shortage, cotton growers in Arizona petition immigration authorities to get a special waiver of the Immigration Act to import Mexicans as temporary workers to pick the crops of the Salt River cotton [valley]. This ploy had been used quite successfully in the years before but in 1920 it actually enabled the growers to save 2.8 million dollars by using cheap imported labor. The Mexicans would travel with their families and lived in these terrible housing and were paid very low wages. Their efforts to organize for better conditions were hampered by the growers and by the basically ineffectiveness of the state authorities. At the end of the season, [this was a particularly bad year] and the growers were not able to sell their crops for very much money they suffered a real loss therefore saving all this money helped out, their response then was just basically cut off of workers. They did not pay them and left them there stranded. In the winter of 1921 there were newspapers reporting that 15 to 20,000 Mexican workers and their families were stranded in the Salt River Cotton Valley with no one taking action to provide for their welfare or their return to Mexico. Eventually the state had to send them back to Mexico, still no pay. Within the conditions of intense racial oppression Mexican women had to carve out a life and it's within this context that people have to hold onto their cultures. It's within this context that gender roles are formed and class differences emerge. To neglect racial oppression means you negate central elements of the experiences of people of color. White workers are fighting different struggles and they're securing a wage to make an attempt to support a family and follow a domestic code that had been established for middle class families and was being [widened] to include working class families. Such concepts have very little relevance for racial ethnic people's because their men have been exempted from family wage systems. They've not been able to gain access to industrial jobs and therefore they were never in a position to demand that women remain in the home. Women's wages for paid employment were not supplement to the family, they were essential for survival. Employers do not pay racial ethnic women less because they see their earnings as supplemental to the family. Research indicates that earnings of the part of racial ethnic women contribute larger-- a larger percentage to the family income than for White women. We're really dealing-- we're not simply dealing with patriarchy and the subservience of women in the home, but the dehumanizing impact of racial oppression to sustain a larger explorative labor system. These are the elements that have got to be in any analysis of women and their work-- racial ethnic women and their work. The exploitation continues in urban settings even though the specific forms of oppression may change in terms of the exploitative work and the kind of impact on the family. The Black population became increasingly urban around World War I, their Mexican-American population have been urban for decades but in their percentages they've kind of lagged behind Blacks in terms of still being a large percentage of people still being in rural areas. The Puerto Rican population on the mainland has been especially urban because people settled in urban centers. In urban areas Black and Hispanic women have been denied access to jobs. They're seen as a reserve labor force and they're able to move into jobs which White women have left for better opportunities and they therefore open up to them. This is true very much for domestic work which was the major occupation of women working outside of agriculture in 1870 and 1880. As clerical work increased with industrial developments and certain occupations became feminized White middle-class and working-class women moved into these jobs fears that left domestic work to recent immigrants who soon also moved out of it and to women of color.
  • The racial barriers to occupations is responsible for a bifurcated occupational distribution among Black women. In 1910 most Black women were either farm laborers or domestic private household workers. As their numbers in agriculture diminished they found employment-- their numbers in domestic work increased. So, in 1940 Black women labor 60% are in domestic work. While Black women also found employment in service work and in factories and as professionals, the limitations on clerical and sales jobs led Black women to seek education to escape the kitchen and therefore would become teachers, nurses, social workers, librarians for the Black community and the Black community institutions they're developing both in the South and in the North. It's only during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras that their numbers have increased in clerical and sales jobs. These jobs which have typically been thought of as a female occupations but they've really been White female occupations. It is important to see that racial discrimination is a basic factor in influencing this trend sense people had a limited number of options to choose from. Often it's assumed that it's motivation as opposed to it being a very clear strategy to deal with the discrimination in the labor market. This is similar for Hispanics but they lagged considerably behind Black women for educational attainment [particularly] in the Southwest where they basically refused to deal with Spanish speaking population education in the schools for a long time. It's ridiculous to not recognize the historical development of the Black professional women as a population and its ties to racial oppression. The exploitative work in urban settings is part of a far more sophisticated and profound series of assaults on family. First, different job opportunities for men and women impacted on gender roles. As racial ethnic women's work was more plentiful in urban areas, domestic work, factory, service work, this was due to the changing shape of the urban economy particularly post World War II where there has been increases in job options that are outside of heavy industry--particularly unionized heavy industry. Jobs for racial ethnic men were often less stable and also not necessarily high-wage jobs unless they could gain [entrance] to unionized jobs or they too could get educated and move into professional spheres. The negative impacts on the Black family of the division of labor in the family is vividly described [elsewhere] talking about the differences in terms of the options. This involves a continual struggle on the part of racial ethnic peoples to combat the messages of proper gender roles in the dominant culture. [unclear] you get this very clear divisiveness on the part of the [dominant] culture in dividing these communities. Perhaps domestic work was often the most stable employment for people but we have to remember that this was left out of minimum wage laws until very recently. So you have women being able to work all the time but working for very low wages. It's on these incomes either being supplemented to a man's income or alone that people have been able to raise families. There are tremendous costs to that kind of experience but I want to talk about another kind of work that people do because as people move out of private household worker one assumes that other occupational categories are improvements. This is particularly true for that grade occupational category of operative. In 1977, 1/4 of the Hispanic women in the labor force were operatives, that is they did unskilled and semi-skilled factory work. This compares with about 11% of all women employed in the labor market and the figure is actually really higher for Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans that get pulled down by Cubans.
  • Most of the Puerto Rican operatives in New York City work in the [garment] industry many were recruited particularly during World War I and the Korean War when the men went off to the army. Women were recruited to come into New York and work during the labor shortage. These operatives jobs are nowhere at all like the steel automotive things like that even though it carries this-- it has those connotations. Low wages at the international ladies garment Workers Union security is well known. Little is known about the actual conditions of work for women particularly those with a language barrier. In a recent interview with a woman whose mother was employed in the garment industry, for some other research that I'm doing, the subject, who we will call Maria, vividly recalled growing up in the fifties and early sixties and listening to her mother talk about her work. Maria's mother worked in a factory in East Harlem. Sense many women with language problems don't go very far from the community to seek jobs, this is something [we find] also in Chinatown [with] Chinese immigrants who work in the garment industry in Chinatown. Maria's mother would talk about the horrible conditions in the factory, the dirt, the insensitive boss who all the workers feared. Maria's mother was afraid to be late for work, afraid to refuse overtime, and basically complied with the wishes of the boss because she very much needed the job. Maria was raised on stories about the accidents and the illnesses at the factory. [Audio cuts out] a lot of work on the connections, you know, what it is for people to work. What it means for Black women to work as domestics and raise families. [What it means] to relate basically to a solid middle-class, upper middle-class family and to be working class people themselves because I think there are a lot of class issues that are involved there. There are a couple of other things that you have to deal with, that population of domestic women-- Black women who work as domestics are older. You're dealing with some real age differences that come into play but I think-- I mean I'm interested in hearing what other people have to say about it. Comment 2: [inaudible] E. Higginbotham: Right, but at the same time I think you have to deal with the facts to which-- to how many people is that an experience? Which become-- I mean when you say that that's the experience that White women have had that their contact was-- Comment 3: [Unclear] E. Higginbotham: I mean I think it's much more important to just deal with the issue of isolation that we reach a point where there is very, very little contact and not just that there's contact with Black women as domestics. Particularly when you look at the urban-- well suburban-urban sprint. And that the typical family in the fifties and the sixties that many people were raised in, particularly White middle-class people, was not Black women as a servant but mothers at home doing all the housework. I'm interested in hearing, you know, what other people have to say. For me that isolation is much more-- the real separation is much more of an issue where you have White people who have not dealt with Black people, as opposed to having only dealt with them as servants. Comment 4: [Unclear] E. Higginbotham: Yeah, right. Yeah, it's like being Donna Reed. Comment 5: [Unclear] [Laughter] E. Higginbotham: Yeah, you go ahead. Comment 6: It is a type of isolation because of Black women working for White women. It's very subtle though because I am product of a Black mother being a maid for a lot of years for White women. I can really remember feeling fearful about going into the homes of where my mother worked because she always came home and idolized these White homes, you know, because of the economic differences. To this day-- I mean I have difficulty relating to White women and I'm quite sure they have difficulty relating to me too. So-- but it derives in some part from that feeling of extreme difference from them and having to put on an act to them to make them think that I was not as poor, you know, as my mother working for them implied. So, you know, it definitely has an affect. My mother still sometimes does work for White women when she needs money.
  • E. Higginbotham: I think you wanted to say something that's why [unclear] but you have to-- I mean this is 1981 and it's been since 1960 that the numbers of Black women in domestic work have really gone down as we get a lot of important changes. As well as there being-- you know how people say its hard to find good domestic work-- [soft laughter] it's Hispanic in New York City much more than Black. Comment 7: One of the things [I think] that perpetuates that-- And I mean I've had White women in college-- the only way they've ever dealt with [Black women] [unclear]. It gets perpetuated a lot, also, with Black women not so much being domestics for individual families but domestic [unclear] labor force, service industry, health workers, you know, the ones who do that hands on work. It's Black women and so it becomes perpetuated continually. E. Higginbotham: It's interesting, I think, because one of the things that continually happens with Black women is that you get one stereotype and you got to replace it with another one, you know, or another one. I think that just to kind of really be open to a tremendous diversity because I think that the kind of thing that Cheryl raised about people being afraid, is also an issue in terms of like-- because we've had-- in the early days of women scholarship it was kind of Black women didn't need liberation, they were already liberated, they were already [assuming] a very positive stance, not recognizing the roots of that stance and therefore not seeing again not seeing [unclear] but seeing a different stereotype. I think that kind of maybe the main thing that people have to do with Black women is see them. As opposed to seeing some image of them, whatever that image is and really exploring the kind of very detailed roots of-- like you were talking about. The other kind of thing that happens is that a lot of stuff gets attributed to race whereas also what you're talking about is a class difference, a tremendous class difference that gets not dealt with because people don't really know how to talk about race and class and gender. That's the kind of direction we really have to move into but that a lot of people who are not Black, when they deal with upper middle-class people are also doing the same kinds of things of having to work to present themselves, as if they know what's going on here as if they are comfortable in the setting. I mean that's because that's part of-- I mean I study women's upward mobility and that is an issue for all women and for all people who move from one center into another because middle-class people define situations. They define how you be here and you've got to figure that out and that's a very difficult process that goes across race. [Unclear] So that we're really talking about a lot of consequences of things. My mother did not work as a domestic nor did my grandmother but when I go into upper middle class people's homes I am also intimidated. I used to think that-- this is my schooling experience, you had to be serious when you're around White people. And then people would know me a long time and then discover that I had this whole sense of humor but my feeling was that to be around White people you were serious. That's how you were around them and I came to see that that's also a real class [thing]. You know, moving past those issues. I really want-- people have to continually look and ask questions be really very critical and instead of looking for the package. The vision: they're like this, no they're like that. Comment 8: [unclear] even if isolation is the key issue, I think that the issue of Black and Hispanic women working as soon as [unclear] what does that mean for at least some White middle-class working women [unclear] the only way some are able to be in the workforce is to employ Black or Hispanic women to take care of their children. And so I think that is in a way [going to] become more of an issue. I think it's a very complicated issue and I don't know [unclear]. At least in my daughter's nursery school, I see a lot of Black women and Hispanic women bringing White kids to the nursery school and I know this may be [just] in a particular urban area. Maybe it's different in the Midwest. I don't know but I think it's certainly a real factor and I think that it does create questions about how [Black and White women] can work together in the feminist movement. [Unclear] It's got to be more coalition and more-- not just small socialist and feminist or radical feminist movement that doesn't [unclear].
  • E. Higginbotham: I think you're right. One of the things that has to happen is for people to look at alternatives beyond personal solutions. Comment 9: [Unclear] And I also think that in relation to everything that's going on, once all the collective solutions are [wiped] out, I mean [unclear] daycare-- If there aren't community organizations providing child care, then that becomes an even [starker] problem. E. Higginbotham: Well, I think that's one of the things that the Reagan administration is dismantling those institutions so that the class differences become even more sharp-- so that will also heighten racial differences. Comment 10: [Unclear] as work becomes more and more oppressive to more and more people it becomes more of an issue because [the double day] problem becomes so overwhelming. [And so, how do you deal with that?] [Inaudible] Comment 11: [Unclear] the corporate structure now is so much of a battle field. You have your [White powerful] fighting against you, as individual Black woman. [They don't realize that forces are against them also.] [unclear] It's 1981, women still have it in their minds that 'I'm a woman but I have to [work] for myself and if another woman is being pushed in here, so what? I have learned how to fight my own battles.' And I find that very [telling of the structure]. It's 1981 and it's dog eat dog. The men are the ones who are laughing and saying 'I got these two women fighting each other [unclear] [Laughter] And that's it [unclear]. I'll put her there as a puppet and if she wants to hire someone who is subservient, fine, but then [when they get to squabbling] and she's Black and she's White [unclear] I'll just put both of them out [unclear]. And that's what's going on. It is unfortunate. E. Higginbotham: It's interesting because this is a time when the [unclear] of individuals, and people are seeking personal solutions-- their niches, to kind of bury themselves [and wait] until it's over and that's not at all possible. You see this in every [inaudible]. I don't know exactly what needs to happen. When [Bernice Reagon] talked [unclear] [Laughs] When she talked at Barnard and really talked about how we don't know how to talk to each other. We don't know how-- I mean that's one of the kinds of-- the success of selective decentralization in urban areas. It's moving people away from each other so that the kind of stuff that you get is even less contact than you had in previous eras when people's neighborhoods were adjacent. You know, they got out of their car, they wouldn't have been on a Subway or bus [unclear]. But that's the first task, we have to talk to each other to get past those-- being able just to see your own situation. I say this because I've done a lot of talking about Black women and had people throw back at me the series of questions. Which is really very clear that they don't understand that Black women don't have the options that White women have. I've seen this as a black professional myself where my actions get interpreted as if I were a [white lower class] woman. The people have no idea [in terms] of what my roots are, what my motivations ought to be, what [kinds of struggles I have had]. You only find that out by talking to people and actually [being with them]. The more situations where that happens is what needs to develop so that people can find what those collective solutions are. [Then] we'll have to move into situations like heterogeneous child care centers, not fancy nursery schools where you have the kids have to take tests to get in [microphone noise] and going down the spectrum, state-supported daycare being abolished.
  • Comment 12: [inaudible] E. Higginbotham: I know and I think that is-- these are the kinds of institutions that do have to be revived. Instead of people with the money doing what they can do, that is getting their children into these private nursery schools, and letting everybody else [go] for themselves. Why should we give up those goals just because that's a serious struggle. Oh I'm sorry. Go ahead. Comment 13: [Inaudible] [Microphone feedback] E. Higginbotham: Well, a couple of things. One, you have to recognize the Black [association] of women might be declining as a percent of Black women employed outside of agriculture but that there really is an increase in the absolute numbers of Black professional women. The other thing is that when you get that professional-- technical, and kindred workers [that] includes: teachers, nurses, social workers, which is the bulk of Black professional women and not the doctors [unclear] and stuff like that, that's a small group. But the other thing is that you had these tremendous changes in educational attainment and what people did with it. It's like you if you finished the 10th grade you would teach school. And as clerical and sales and managerial positions become open to Black women, you get a wider distribution and you have to look at what those professional kind of jobs [mean]. So, there really has been an increase but relative to the other issue and the percentages [in the labor market] [inaudible]. But I think what we're getting is overall increasing limitations [unclear] for everybody. We can see that with [just] dismantling the financial aid stuff, Social Security for college students, etc. Huh? Comment 14: Affirmative action. E. Higginbotham: Affirmative action. I think that things are [unclear] for all women and particularly racial ethnic peoples [unclear]. You have to remember with everything you do you have got to be historical and you've got to look at Sputnik, you know [are the Russians going to surpass us] throwing lots of money into higher education making it really possible for many people from working class backgrounds to go to college because they were needed for jobs as well as for improving the teaching of science etc. etc. and that that's being changed [very much] as this nation is no longer able to [rip off] every other nation in the world therefore paying more for every resource that it gets. So, I think there are a lot of issues [inaudible]. Comment 15: [Unclear] The way I see it that is more [of a] question that is constantly raising for me is how White upper middle-class women and even how Black middle class women define their pressure [unclear] society and define their strategies for fighting sexism versus Black working-class women with a very different agenda which is [fighting sexual oppression]. And that to me is a very big [dilemma] within in the women's movement. How do women who have different aspirations for their lives [and life in general, life experiences] make alliances [as being of the same gender]? And it leads to the kind of question [unclear] because of the whole myth of the Black matriarchy--. You know, the way I see it it says that Black women shouldn't be a part of [fighting sexism] because Black women are already [liberated]. Black women have dominated [unclear] aspect of the movement in the 60s was saying that to fight racism, Black women have to take a backseat and not fight sexism [unclear] very characteristic of a lot of that movement that I don't think we've fully grappled with. One of the things that I'm interested in discussing is how sexism can be fought within the Black community within the struggle [for] working class women overall to fight racism and sexism.
  • E. Higginbotham: I mean it's interesting because as I said before-- it's not the topic here but-- when you look at the forms of patriarchy within sub-communities you have to see that in terms of racial oppression, Black men, Hispanic men, have lived in a society-- and let's say Black men much more than Hispanic men because there's-- particularly in rural areas, there's a culture that kind of retains [unclear] and that is the price [unclear] a lot of Chicanos paid in the Southwest. But if you look at Black men, and they've been living in a society where their gender [rules] are defined by the dominant culture. There are certain kinds of things that you have to do to be a man. The same way that Black women have been deviant in terms of not doing the things you're supposed to do to be a woman [and caught hell for that], Black men have also been experiencing that. So, when you look at the kind of the development particularly in the 60s-- And also, social science is just [horrible] you can go back and look at Class and Caste in [unclear] by [unclear]. He basically lays out there that Black women do not do as poorly in segregated cities [or] towns as Black women. I mean the social sciences played a tremendous role perpetuating that the system has not hurt Black women as much as it has hurt Black men. It is drawing-- that's a cultural thought. As you grow up you read it in the magazines and all the time and that's why women wonder 'am I doing too much? Am I getting in the way?' because they basically have lost control of their own abilities to define the situations. So it is coming out of that that you get this tremendous patriarchal crap in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements [and] the whole Nationalism thing going back to looking at certain kinds of groups. That kind of analysis is done within the context of racial oppression and you get the same thing with machismo. You know, it is not inherent in people's cultures to kill each other and that has got to be seen within the context of racial oppression. That's how you kind of deal with that as opposed to dealing with it in some more isolated way, but it has to be dealt with. There's a continual battle in figuring out an analysis and getting it to people because the media is saying some very different things and you're getting this revival of cultural poverty in terms of explaining why Black people still have not made [it in America] and that's coming [from] all the media [and] television. Anybody who has something different to say has a lot more trouble getting it to print, getting access to the media, etcetera. Comment 16: Two things. One is I put together something as you were talking in relation to [unclear] personal empowerment and that is that feelings of not being the proper woman and not being the proper man undercut [foreign civility] to work politically because you feel-- well I mean ideal sexual stereotypes serve to even more in the Black or the [minority] community to undercut willingness to get involved with political work. I have a funny situation in my community in Brooklyn where I work in Crown Heights and I'm active in the teachers union which is that the Black united front is one of the more active-- one of the very few really active community groups and they are horribly sexist. In my desire to work with the Black united front because they can be a progressive force in the school which is predominantly Black and has predominantly White staff and yet I want to build alliances that would improve the school. I'm at a loss on how to go about breaking into this being a White woman-- breaking into this-- to building an alliance. Essentially, to cross race lines and across sex lines for a greater social good. Which in this case isn't necessarily feminist but it's it has to do with progressive attitude toward the education for these kids and my own work environment. This is such a complicated dilemma that I've been facing trying to approach these people and totally dumbfounded on how to go about doing it. What am I going to do? [Laughter] E. Higginbotham: These are the kind of really limited options but it's clear that--. You have an answer? She's got an answer. Go ahead. Comment 17: [unclear] E. Higginbotham: Good. Very good. [laughter]
  • Comment 18: [inaudible] I'm doing studies on Mexican women and there's hardly anything done. My knowledge on the male undocumented worker is that he is one of the most exploited humans in the labor [force]. It's really incredible, but what I wanted to ask you is-- you spoke a lot about how the movement in the beginning, that migration of Mexicans [was by a lot of families], what do you think is happening right now? I mean, when women come to this country-- one, they come to follow their husbands or two they come without their husbands [and] that's usually only [right] across the border working in the factories. E. Higginbotham: Yeah, I think that's why a lot of the urban stuff is very-- has a tremendous impact on the families. It tends to separate people [unclear]. Even a lot of the Puerto Rican migration particularly around the Korean War. Sisters would come and all work in the garment industry [unclear]. It's so hard to get at that stuff. There are some centers for Hispanic studies [unclear] where people are doing some work. But it is really hard-- particularly to get at detailed [conclusions]. Comment 19: [inaudible] Those women that follow their husbands, they [either] don't work which means they have no involvement in society, they're not incorporated at all [inaudible]. E. Higginbotham: You always get that-- immigrant mentality is very different. In terms of, this is the land of something and you're going to make it work. They know it doesn't work and I think that's also why you get this tremendous dropout rate among Black and Hispanic students in urban high schools. After the big push, you know? Stay in school, don't be a drop out. The people stayed in school and they didn't get jobs so they know it doesn't work. Now you're often dealing with the conditions of work in schools have been left to deteriorate so it's even more excruciating to be there. People know that the payoffs are very precarious. [As students in college know that] it used to be your Union ticket, a job, now it's a lottery ticket. [soft laughter] So that's kind of really filter down and now it's much harder to get people to stay in school. People [will tell you] that the immigrants that are coming in, they're eager to learn and stuff like that. You have to realize-- you need to understand you need a structural argument for that as well. Comment 20: [Inaudible] E. Higginbotham: I mean I don't have survival strategies for everybody. I barely have one for me. [laughter] Comment 21: [inaudible] I want to get to the more uh-- emotional stuff like memories. My mother was a garment worker and my father was a railway worker in L.A. and they brought stories [from work]. How you had to behave in front of your white bosses. How you had to put in twice as much. Now I've gone to college and I'm working here at Barnard and I'm doing the same thing. Putting in twice as much. E. Higginbotham: What do you think I do? [laughter] Comment 22: Exactly. [inaudible] I've gotten that college degree, that ticket, and a job making more money than my parents [together]. [unclear] I wanna know how you fight that. On the one hand, you have to be twice as good so that they'll respect your opinion and then [inaudible]. E. Higginbotham: It's interesting because... Comment 23: [Unclear]
  • E. Higginbotham: It's interesting because often White people think that once racial ethnic people get a college degree or are middle-class, then they're just like White people and don't realize the continued racism that people face. And I think the way people are raised, in that you learn you have to be twice as good to get recognition. People can sit there and talk about their own educational experience, [like] that White students in my class who didn't do as well as I got much more attention than I did, were rewarded more, and it's only when you super, super succeed that people begin to notice how you do. You learn that you have to be on your guard all the time. You're not allowed to make any mistakes and that that continues when you have a college degree, when you have a doctorate, because you are a member of a devalued racial group and a devalued sex. That gets played out all the time. One of the things is that people are not aware of the racism that they carry. They're not aware of the sexism that they carry. When you talk to women who teach-- maybe being at Barnard you're not going to notice it too much. But if you go out in the rest of the world students will criticize female teachers much more quickly than they will criticize a male teacher. They will sit there and they will go through-- you didn't did this and you didn't do that. And you and I sit there-- women are clearly devalued. They will criticize a Black teacher much faster than they will criticize a White teacher. And Black women teachers-- [laughter]. Basically, I had to develop a-- they're not talking about me. They're talking about all those images that they had and it makes life a constant struggle for people. People, they don't even know that they're doing it. They don't know that that is one of the levels of sexism that we have in this society. They think sexism is just that you can't get this job. They think that sexism is just teachers telling you that you don't really want to study biology. 'Wouldn't you be much happier studying something else?' They don't realize that it goes much deeper than that and that women and racial ethnic women and racial ethnic peoples continually face that. One of the things that you know works, is not doing what you learned to do. Not saying yes, not being very nice, saying no, and then people kind of have to stop and think. [laughter] You might not lose your job. Comment 24: [inaudible] E. Higginbotham: I don't know this is the stance that I have been following. Comment 25: [unclear] if personal storytelling can go on. I think that can strengthen [unity and moral] to find out that you're not alone in that. I mean of course you know that but [discuss in] group and to know that [there's] constant support from people who are struggling with the same issues you are. E. Higginbotham: [unclear] Does that sound familiar? No, we do not do that here. We pat each other on the back and we help-- we give each other support. huh? Comment 26: Regardless of race. E. Higginbotham: Regardless of race. And we give each other support carving out lives for ourselves. The other thing that happens is that women who move-- get these great professional jobs that are talked about, neglect their personal lives tremendously. I just think that for women to have a personal life as well as a career is a struggle and that they have got to support each other in that [journey]. Comment 27: [unclear] I've been working in a university on a grant and I've had to work a lot harder and do a lot more things than anyone else ever did and I can totally [unclear]-- there are only 2 black people in the entire social science department [unclear] but I end up filling that void for them. They use me for help but at the same time I haven't played up to a lot of them [unclear]. Now my grant is something-- you know, I don't have the luxury of doing that. [unclear] [Mic noise and unclear chatter in audience]
  • E. Higginbotham: It's interesting that the days of consciousness raising are over. Our consciouses have been raised but the days of needing real support to do whatever we're going to do will never end. If people could really work and get together, form little support groups, have potluck suppers once every three weeks, and go there and get replenished and hear that your experiences are not unique to you. It's not what you are doing on the job but that it really has a lot to do with structural issues and women are going to catch help. All women, and some women are going to catch more help than others but yours-- there is no way you're not going to catch help. Comment 28: [Unclear] I think it's extremely important to start [rejecting] the traditional notions of work and work aspirations, and what achievement means, and what kind of jobs [we're] looking for. Now, this isn't so easy given the economic situation but I do think that is the only way we're going to be able to get [beyond] some of these situations. To start redefining for ourselves the meaning of work in our lives and the nature of work in our lives and it relates to having a personal life too. Not just mimicking the male model of what it means to be a successful worker. The one thing that seems to me hopeful, in a way, is that-- not to minimize the double oppression of Black and Hispanic and other women of color, given what's happening in the country what normal people are feeling [that] kind of oppression and that can be a unifying force. It's interesting, I was at an abortion organizing meeting [talking about constitutional rights in terms of abortion] [unclear]. E. Higginbotham: It's like filtering up-- I mean I think you're very right. I think that as wealth gets incredibly concentrated-- the nature of work is changing for everybody. It's changing for academics who now have to count bodies in the classroom. It doesn't matter-- You should teach a course that's going to get students in there, the more career-oriented the better even if it has nothing to do with people's abilities to get jobs in the outside world. It makes some very, very tremendous changes in the nature of work for academics as it filters down. It is the nature of work for secretaries that is changing when you're not allowed to get up from your desk if you're working in [word] processing and they can easily assess how much work is done. That's happening across the board and middle class people have been taught a myth that they can avoid, they can escape something, they can get out of it and they're facing very much the reality that they can't. Comment 29: [inaudible] E. Higginbotham: Yeah. Oh, I know. [Laughter] Comment 30: [unclear] E. Higginbotham: You had a question. Comment 31: It would totally change the focus of the conversation. [laughs] E. Higginbotham: Okay, how about you? Comment 32: [unclear]. My experience with getting together with White women is that we [cannot disregard] the question of racism and racial oppression. [unclear] I think we really have to confront it and that's why my original question was about the responsibility of feminist analysis that really includes up front the question of racism and historical experiences between Black and White women because that has implications. [unclear] when it happens, usually White women identify most closely with their race and those that [audio ends].