Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Poster of the Week
African American Women in Defense of Ourselves
Amy E. Bartell
Latham, New York
CSPG’s Poster of the Week was produced to support Anita Hill, an African American attorney and law professor, who was being smeared, defamed and threatened for having the courage to accuse Clarence Thomas, an African American judge, of intense and ongoing sexual harassment while he was her boss. President George H. W. Bush (Bush I) had nominated Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court to succeed retiring Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall. To replace one of the most committed Civil Rights justices with one of the most anti Civil Rights justices truly added insult to injury.
During the first televised Congressional hearing on the subject in history, October 11, 1991, Hill testified before an all white male Senate judiciary committee, about the sexual harassment she had experienced while working for him at the U.S. Department of Education and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her testimony should have disqualified Thomas from being nominated to the highest court in the land, but in the end he was appointed– on a 52-48 vote – and Hill’s motives and character were viciously attacked. This poster is based on a ¾ page ad that first appeared in the New York Times November 17, 1991.
Anita—Speaking Truth to Power is an excellent new film about the hearings and what has happened since. Whether you lived through the time or are too young, it is eye-opening, frustrating, fascinating, moving and uplifting. And this poster hangs on her office wall.
Poster Text - African American Women In Defense of Ourselves
As women of African descent, we are deeply troubled by the recent nomination, confirmation and seating of Clarence Thomas as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. We know that the presence of Clarence Thomas on the Court will be continually used to divert attention from historic struggles for social justice through suggestions that the presence of a Black man on the Supreme Court constitutes an assurance that the rights of African Americans will be protected. Clarence Thomas public record is ample evidence this will not be true. Further, the consolidation of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court seriously endangers the rights of all women, poor and working class people and the elderly. The seating of Clarence Thomas is an affront not only to African American women and men, but to all people concerned with social justice.
We are particularly outraged by the racist and sexist treatment of Professor Anita Hill, an African American woman who was maligned and castigated for daring to speak publicly of her own experience of sexual abuse. The malicious defamation of Professor Hill insulted all women of African descent and sent a dangerous message to any woman who might contemplate a sexual harassment complaint.
We speak here because we recognize that the media are now portraying the Black community as prepared to tolerate both the dismantling of affirmative action and the evil of sexual harassment in order to have any Black man on the Supreme Court. We want to make clear that the media have ignored or distorted many African American voices. We will not be silenced.
Many have erroneously portrayed the allegations against Clarence Thomas as an issue of either gender or race. As women of African descent, we understand sexual harassment as both. We further understand that Clarence Thomas outrageously manipulated the legacy of lynching in order to shelter himself from Anita Hill's allegations. To deflect attention away from the reality of sexual abuse in African American women's lives, he trivialized and misrepresented this painful part of African American people's history. This country which has a long legacy of racism and sexism, has never taken the sexual abuse of Black women seriously. Throughout U.S. history Black women have been sexually stereotyped as immoral, insatiable, perverse; the initiators in all sexual contacts - abusive or otherwise. The common assumption in legal proceedings as well as in the larger society has been that Black women cannot be raped or otherwise sexually abused. As Anita Hill's experience demonstrates, Black women who speak of these matters are not likely to be believed.
In 1991, we cannot tolerate this type of dismissal of any one Black woman's experience or this attack upon our collective character without protest, outrage, and resistance.
As women of African descent, we express our vehement opposition to the policies represented by the placement of Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. The Bush administration, have obstructed the passage of civil rights legislation, impeded the extension of unemployment compensation, cut student aid and dismantled social welfare programs, has continually demonstrated that it is not operating in our best interests. Nor is this appointee. We pledge ourselves to continue to speak out in defense of one another, in defense of the African American community and against those who are hostile to social injustice no matter what color they are. No one will speak for us but ourselves.
This ad represents a grassroots initiative on the 1,603 women of African descent whose names appear herein. We also thank the hundreds of people of conscience - women and men of differing racial and ethnic background - who have contributed to make our statement possible. We would like to hear from those interested in establishing a progressive network among women of African descent so that we may more effectively make our voices heard in the future. Within hours of Anita Hill's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 11, 1991, Elsa Barkley Brown, Barbara Ransby, and Deborah King had launched a nationwide campaign to protest the events surrounding Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court…
Once Anita Hill’s name was leaked, the smear campaign began - even before the hearings started. Maureen Dowd describes the situation in Washington, D.C. two days before Hill’s testimony: