“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
80% of Americans believe abortions should be legal, so it’s time, people - time for us to... Get up, stand up / Stand up for your rights
Less than a week before Mother’s Day, Politico published a leaked draft opinion revealing that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority of justices are ready to strike down two rulings on abortion rights, including Roe V. Wade the 1972 landmark decision that made abortion a federally protected right in the United States.
Since the Roe v. Wade ruling and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that affirmed the Roe decision, the court has never allowed states to prohibit the termination of pregnancies prior to fetal viability outside the womb – that’s roughly 24 weeks.
The news sent shock waves around the world ...and with good reason. Roe guaranteed women’s right to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. Written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court draft majority opinion shows what could happen if the court overturns Roe v Wade.
Jesse Wegman brilliantly summed up the dire situation in a recent opinion piece in the NYTs: “If the holding in the draft opinion stands, it will mark an astonishing moment in our history: the elimination of an existing constitutional right, one that millions of American women (not to mention the men who impregnated them) have relied on for nearly half a century.”
Though the draft was leaked by a person or persons unknown, the Court has acknowledged that the leak is genuine. Not all Washington conservatives agree with what's assumed to be the Court’s position, but it fits within the Right’s larger policies attacking and penalizing women, the poor, and people of color. Should Roe be overturned, the greatest impact will be felt by minority women.
As journalist Manuella Libardi has written:
“...the reality is that abortion is only illegal for poor women. Women with resources can always interrupt their unwanted pregnancies… Restricting access to safe abortions keeps poor women in poverty, perpetuates the cycle that prevents them from social mobility, and allows wealth to remain in the hands of the rich, particularly white men. Deciding if and when to have a child is essential for a woman’s economic and psychological well-being: it has implications for her education and for entering the workforce.”
The consequences of overturning Roe V. Wade and letting individual states determine their stances on abortion are frightening. No matter what the Court’s decision is, women will still need to have abortions for personal, medical, and legal reasons. It’ll just be harder to arrange – and far more treacherous.
A deputy spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “reproductive health and rights are essential to achieve equality around the world. The secretary‑general has long believed that sexual and reproductive health and rights are the foundation for lives of choice, empowerment, and equality for the world’s women and girls...Without the full participation of 50% of its population, the world would be the biggest loser.”
The drafting of Supreme Court opinions is a fluid and dynamic process, so the document is not the court's final ruling. A work-in-progress, the leaked opinion is marked "first draft" and was dated Feb. 10, 2022. That’s two months – or 8 fetal weeks – after oral arguments were heard in the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.
This is a document that citizens were never supposed to have seen. Following Politico’s publication of the draft, Chief Justice Roberts announced that the Marshal of the Court – its chief operations and security officer – will investigate the source of the leak.
"Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court. This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here," Roberts said.
Just Who's On That Bench?
Liberal Judges: Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer
Conservative Judges: Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and the three Trump-appointed justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett
The Court has a blatantly partisan crop of justices who appear prepared to overturn Roe outright. The draft opinion has the support of at least four of Chief Justice Roberts’ colleagues, according to Politico: Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett – the only woman in the majority.
It’s rumored that Roberts – ostensibly committed to the court’s reputation and established precedent – may attempt to convince one of his conservative colleagues to join him in a narrower opinion that would not completely overturn Roe v. Wade.
The State of the States
Abortion is currently legal in all 50 states, but over the past several decades many states have passed laws that limit access – most recently in Oklahoma, Florida, and Texas. Should the Supreme Court rule to overturn Roe, the power to decide abortion access would rest with each state’s elected leaders.
According to the reproductive rights organization The Guttmacher Institute, over half of the nation's 50 states are prepared to ban it. Twenty-one states already have laws on the books that would ban it immediately, with five additional states likely to.
States planning to ban abortion are clustered in specific geographic regions – including the American South – where women will have to travel hundreds of miles at a greater inconvenience and cost. Imagine you’re 15 years old, you're pregnant, and you live in Cyclone, WV, on Tribal Land in Tahlequah, OK, or Belle Glade – one of Florida's poorest cities and only an hour's drive from Mar-a-Lago. The denial of your right to health, education, and selfhood would be insurmountable.
As Langston Hughes challenges: “What happens to a dream deferred?”
Many attempts have been made on both the state and federal levels to overthrow or curtail the right to abortion. And more are sure to be made in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. If Roe goes away, states can allow it, regulate it, or outlaw it.
And-so. Let’s get down to it – I am sick to death of these men using words as sticks to beat us with. Blithely tossing around terms like trust and betrayal of confidences: LIKE. THEY. CARE one atom about trust, confidence, betrayal.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Justice Alito’s draft states. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts called the leaked draft a "singular and egregious breach" of trust.
I’m particularly struck by these two Justices' use of the word egregious so I dug into its etymological roots:
Originating in the 1530s, egregius comes from the Latin ex = ‘out of’ + grex or greg = ‘flock’ – literally ‘rising above the flock’ – illustrious, distinguished, excellent, extraordinary.
Egregius. What a precise word to define the leaker’s singular and extraordinary act of courage. To rise above the herd and step bravely in front of a butcherous, onrushing train...
Let’s call this for what it is. This is a chronic, concerted attack on gender, race, income equity, our health, and the well-being of our country. We are human beings who grew within, merged and emerged from a body – a body that bore us in blood, torment, and pain. Once. Before we were born, we were one with our mother.
At this moment in America, our bodies (regardless of gender), our body of law, our body of government are in great peril. We are one body – and we need to treat ourselves with the highest regard.
Let’s end this terrifying war on reproductive health, this war on all Americans.
Get up, stand up / Don't give up the fight
Honor Molloy is a novelist and dramatist whose work often addresses reproductive rights. Madame Killer is a Gothic Noir set in 19th Century Manhattan. In 2020, Round Room won Origin First Irish Theatre Festival's Best Play Award.
In a country where everyone has freedom of speech, where do we draw the line?
The structures of heteronormativity, patriarchy, and white supremacy are now made fun of, overshadowed, and cast aside by many.
Consequently, some straight, white, and/or male people, used to a society built for their needs, feel irrelevant and unheard. Anytime a minority or oppressed group is celebrated, privileged people try and insert themselves in the conversation. There's a reason why every year people ask, "Why isn't there a White History Month?" during Black History Month. When white men start getting passed up for promotions in favor of more diverse hires, it causes them to feel a fraction of what POC and women have experienced for decades. They view these setbacks as oppression and their erasure from representation as an attack. In turn, they acknowledge they're beginning to lack dominant authority. Groups like Meninists and All Lives Matter exist to belittle the root causes of systemic issues in our country. The relationship between the main systemic sources of violence in America resonate beyond Straight Pride: They remind us how those power dynamics are at play even within marginalized communities.
John Hugo, the President of Super Happy Fun America and head organizer of Boston's controversial Straight Pride Parade, describes himself "living openly as a straight man." Hugo is one of three white men advocating for heterosexual representation within the LBGTQ+ community. Super Happy Fun America is a perfect example of the phenomenon in which the privileged see equality as oppression. SHFA even has their own gay ambassador, Chris Bartely. His tokenism and bio illuminates that although he is a gay man, that does not mean he has the right to speak for the entire LGBTQ+ community:
As gay ambassador, Chris uses his status in the LGBTQ community to challenge heterophobia wherever it exists. He became involved in the straight pride movement after being ostracized from established advocacy groups for merely suggesting that straight people be afforded equal rights.
What Bartley gets wrong is that straight people are discriminated against. Although, not all people within straight relationships are afforded rights like maternity and paternity leave or an abortion, but that's due to issues unrelated to sexual orientation. SHFA utilizes right-wing Trumpism to prick at the current frustration white, straight men entertain. Meanwhile, the definition of "great" is up for debate across the nation. In retaliation, liberals are readdressing America's history and the narratives ignored in textbooks, thus increasing the discourse of who truly makes America great.
The SHFA convinced themselves they have good intentions, but in reality they're misinterpreting the purpose of the LGBTQ+ community. The organizers fail to understand that the community is more than an umbrella term for sexual orientation: It's comprised of identities that could endanger lives and livelihoods because of outside discrimination. Those identities go beyond sexual orientation. They include a spectrum of gender identities which already foster inner conflict within the community due to transphobia and misogyny. By viewing LGBTQ+ solely as a flag of sexual identities is to entirely miss the point of why the community itself exists.
However, pride is a touchy subject when it comes to who is welcome at the celebrations and who it's about. Specifically, it spawns conflict within the community from gay men who exhibit misogynistic rhetoric about female allies and bisexuals. Some within the community push binaries of homosexual relationships (gay men and lesbian women) as the standard. In such instances, systems of patriarchy and white supremacy affect transgender people and queer POC at an alarming rate compared to other peers. Straight pride is a reminder that pride incites complicated matters of identity politics and how the community can be exclusionary by gate-keeping.
Meanwhile, the leaders of Super Happy Fun America are challenging said gate-keeping by arguing in favor of an S in LGBTQIA. Their Vice President, Mark Sahady, has come forward to announce the event is moving forward since they have a permit from the city. If Boston were to take that permit away, Sahady would sue on grounds of discrimination. Their argument is a slap in the face to Pride's history.
With the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall, members of the community are reflecting on the horrors of their history, specifically police brutality. Today, police presence stirs debate about how parades can exist within governmental bounds. After all, every parade needs a permit, and the police are brought to enforce the safety of its participants. But when there's a history of police brutality with an oppressed community, it's difficult to trust their intentions. Yet, the men of Super Happy Fun America use their permit from Boston to their benefit (and yet, also as a legal threat). Due to their privilege, they don't see police presence as an issue, because the enforcers have never endangered them: Police protect white men.
The LGBTQ+ community and their allies are rightfully disappointed that anyone would want a straight pride parade, since they know what it truly stands for: These heterosexuals want to overshadow a marginalized community that is beginning to thrive. American society is not at a point yet where we can see or accept each other for who we are and our diverse perspectives. By breaking down other viewpoints' origins, we can get to the root of such ignorance. Straight Pride is a reminder that prejudice is often wielded in reaction to "others" and increases our divisions. To reflect on the roles of sexism, racism, and homophobia is to better ourselves and our communities, dismantling systems of oppression that keep us at odds and with each other as Americans.
100 prominent French women have signed an open letter arguing that the #MeToo movement has gone too far.
The #MeToo movement, first sparked by allegations against Hollywood heavyweights like Harvey Weinstein, has shown Americans just how many of us are survivors of sexual violence. Not only did #MeToo empower women to talk about our experiences with abuse and harassment, but it also inspired many employers to work toward creating a safer, more equitable workplace.
Most Americans appeared to be receptive to this revelation, but apparently the same can't be said for the French. At least that's how it seemed after a group of 100 prominent French women signed an open letter in the French newspaper Le Monde in January of this year, calling the movement a "hatred of men and sexuality."
French actress Catherine DeneuveThe Guardian
On top of their claims that it's anti-men, these women noted that #MeToo attempts to make seduction shameful and frames women as "eternal victims." Among the co-signers were actress Catherine Deneuve, Catherine Millet, who authored a best-selling novel about sex, and conservative women like Elisabeth Lévy, editor of Causeur magazine.
Part of the letter reads: "As women, we do not recognize ourselves in this feminism, which goes beyond denouncing abuse of power and has turned into a hatred of men and of sexuality … Rape is a crime, but trying to seduce someone, even awkwardly, is not. Nor is being gallant a macho aggression ...
"It is the nature of puritanism to borrow, in the name of the supposed collective good, the arguments of the protection of women and of their emancipation to better chain them to their status as eternal victims; poor little things under the control of demonic phallocrats, like in the good old days of witchcraft."
It is here that I, as an American feminist, take issue with their fundamental misunderstanding of #MeToo — and survivorship.
For most of us in the United States, it's hard to find fault in something that feels so pure. Women live their lives with the awareness that there are men who want to hurt us. They're in our families, our friend groups, workplaces, and even among strangers. For many of us, it feels good to talk about our experiences and fears out loud.
The idea that asking to be treated better, to be seen as more than sexual objects for men to attempt to "conquer," turns us into perennial victims is absurd. The only thing that turns a woman into a victim is an abuser making the choice to harm her. In that vein, the only thing that makes women seem like we are always victims is the astounding prevalence of sexual violence, abuse, and harassment put upon us by abusers and a culture that excuses them.
This thinking also proposes that a fundamental aspect of femininity is being desired, while masculinity is inextricably tied to pursuit. This is a dangerous binary for women, and a limiting one for men.
When we expect that seduction is a natural part of how men interact with women, we place a massive burden upon women. Implying that men have some fundamental right to try to seduce us asks us to endure unwanted, inappropriate, and sometimes illegal sexual interaction. It places no responsibility upon men to control themselves or to even have empathy for the women they're trying to seduce. This type of thinking places more value upon men's right to seduce us than our right to feel safe and be treated as equals.
See, my husband has never had to worry about sexual harassment in the workplace. He's been working different jobs for 35 years, but he's never once considered how an outfit he is about to put on might cause his colleagues to sexually harass him. He's never worried that he might have to endure uncomfortable, inappropriate come-ons in order to keep his job.
In contrast, I've worried about these things in every male-dominated job I've ever had. In fact, my first experience with sexual harassment in the workplace happened when I was only 17 years-old. My boss was in his forties. I didn't report it or even tell my parents, because I believed it was normal for men to behave that way.
I'm far from alone. While there is a glaring need for more research in this area, one study determined that 81% of women have been sexually harassed. For generations, we have been taught — either overtly by our parents and teachers or implicitly through our own experiences — that being harassed is the price we pay for being in the workplace, school, or out in the world.
Teenage girls in school are groped, catcalled, and harassed by boys in classrooms and hallways. Sexist dress code policies imply that their bodies tempt boys into distraction, suggesting that boys simply cannot control themselves. Most women and girls have dealt with stalking, harassment, and sometimes even outright violence from strangers attempting to "seduce" them on the street.
The French women who wrote the open letter against #MeToo mention that many of the stories in this movement haven't featured an imbalance of power, as was the case with Harvey Weinstein. These French women make clear that they are against rape or men who abuse their power. But if you ask me, unwanted sexual attention from any man — whether he's your boss, classmate, or just a guy on the street — can feel like an abuse of power.
In our society, men, particularly white men, naturally hold positions of power over women. This begins with the fact that men are often physically larger and stronger; but, additionally, men are also more likely to be police officers, security guards, judges, and even legislators. So while the man or boy who harasses you may not necessarily hold formal power of you, he will likely evade prosecution due to the fact that he's part of a system designed to protect men.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule of power when it comes to intersecting privileges. For instance, a white woman accusing a Black man of rape or violence holds an extraordinary amount of power. Despite the fact that 90% of rapes happen intra-racially (wherein the victim and perpetrator are of the same race), the disparaging stereotype that Black men are sexually violent toward white women has proven to be deadly for Black men and boys, resulting in staggering rates of wrongful convictions and vigilante violence.
Such was the case for Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was accused of making sexual advances towards a white woman in 1955 and subsequently lynched. According to one historian, the white woman in question admitted in 2008 that she had lied about the boy touching her or talking suggestively. Of course, by then, it was decades too late.
Still, considering that the majority of sexual violence occurs between individuals of the same racial group, the men who choose to harm women generally hold more societal power than women do. This creates a scary world for women who wish to report their abusers or harassers.
Considering how likely men are to protect one another, asking the world to become a safer place for women doesn't present us as "eternal victims," as the French dissenters propose. It simply demands that women be treated as equal members of society, with the same freedoms to move through the world safely and free of harassment that men possess. And despite what the French #MeToo dissenters may have expected, the movement seems to have helped French women.
Protest in FranceThe Atlantic
According to a report by France24, "Reports of sexual violence surged between 23 and 30 percent in October 2017 from the year before...The increased number of complaints has been widely attributed to the movement for encouraging victims to speak out." France has also enacted a new law that makes street harassment illegal, which has led to the successful prosecution of a man who called a woman a "whore" on the street and groped her buttocks. The man was fined and was sentenced to time in jail, becoming the first person convicted for "sexist insults" in France.
None of this is to say that #MeToo is the end of romance, either. Rather, it proposes that men can do better than seducing women in a way that makes them feel scared or uncomfortable. After all, most men don't want to make women feel unsafe, and plenty understand that it's not "seduction" when you have to convince someone to want you — it's coercion.
Asking for equal access to work, schooling, and public spaces does not make us weak. In fact, standing up against the notion that men have the right to harass, assault, or even try to seduce us — awkwardly or not — is the epitome of strength, and it's sad that the French women who signed the letter don't understand that.