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The Missing Solution

Salim Muwakkil's editorial does a good job of historicizing the problem of police violence against black citizens as the precursor to urban violence over the past century ("Cincinnati Blues," May 28). But he forgot to mention something important.

In singling out causes, as well as in proposing solutions, the Kerner Commission in the late '60s focused on the news media. Mainstream news, the report said, had not done an adequate job of conveying the misery of inner-city residents or helping the public to understand racism. In addition, most reporters were found to be white and middle-class with little understanding of urban conditions or contacts among black leaders. Sources in news stories on race were found overwhelmingly to be white male police and elected officials. Broadcast news, particularly, showed angry and violent acts by blacks and other minorities but failed to give minority spokespersons an opportunity to explain why they were so angry.

The Kerner Commission recommended that newsrooms involve black leaders and editors of black newspapers more actively as consultants in defining issues, developing stories and in finding spokespersons on a range of topics related to inner-city neighborhoods. As a long-range strategy, the report suggested that schools of journalism should recruit and educate minority reporters, and that newsrooms should hire and promote them. Sadly, the journalism community has made minimal progress in any of these areas.

Carolyn M. Byerly
Ithaca, New York

 

NOW What?

I was angered by Miranda Kennedy's misrepresentation of NOW and the hard work that went into the April 22 march in Washington ("NOW or Never," May 28). First, the crowd was not just middle-class, white women. I worked parking for the event and know that all types of people attended the rally.

The visual that Kennedy drew of young, white women decorating the lawn of the rally site and fanning themselves is ludicrous. People were signing petitions, making signs and listening to speakers who, like their audience, were also enraged at the Bush administration's efforts to undermine choice.

Yes, the march was "carefully orchestrated." Activists from all over the country, NOW members and nonmembers, put their everyday lives on hold for two months to plan that action.

Kennedy inaccurately implied that NOW fully supported every decision made under the Clinton administration dealing with women's rights. Not so. Unlike the previous administration, however, the Bush administration poses an enormous threat to women's lives.

NOW was aware of the other events going on that same day. Other activists were fighting for human rights in other parts of the continent simultaneously, but there was no collision of events. I know activists who could not make the Quebec event and attended NOW's rally instead.

The last thing that pissed me off about Kennedy's article was the conclusion: "Still, although many marchers in Washington were first-time activists, many of them were also one-issue activists. Until that changes, mainstream feminism isn't going to look like democracy any more than Woodstock did."

The march was for a single issue--reproductive rights. If Kennedy had ever participated in a movement she would know that it takes both single-issue and multi-issue people and organizations to make our voices heard.

Stefanie Richards
Washington

 

Miranda Kennedy responds: By taking the NOW demonstration to task, I was not undermining the importance of organizing for reproductive rights or the work that NOW does. The rally was an uplifting moment, proving there are thousands who will leave their homes on a Sunday to show their intolerance for the new administration.

However, the rally was not only called to support reproductive rights, as Richards suggests. The "Emergency Action for Women's Lives" aimed to address a series of issues that affect women, according to the organizers. But NOW's attempt to place the global gag rule and mifepristone within the larger framework of a progressive crisis seemed skin-deep to many there that day--partly because the Quebec City anti-globalization protests were happening simultaneously. Some activists were frustrated at having to choose between issues.

This is not just the fault of NOW; the problem stems from the feminist movement itself. For too long, women of color and young women have felt excluded from feminism. For too long, the feminist movement has not genuinely allied itself with other struggles--against poverty, police brutality, environmental racism and unfair working conditions. As many NOW supporters are aware, fallout from corporate globalization hits working women the hardest. Inclusion cannot be superficial if feminism is to really become a multi-issue movement.

 

Her Way My Way

I appreciate Tracie McMillan's original and useful thoughts in her review of my book, Her Way ("Generation Sex," May 28). However, the critic wrongly describes me as an "essentialist"--defining having sex without an emotional connection, as essentially male and unnaturally female. I don't remember ever saying that (or even thinking that). Instead, I point out that we are socialized to view sexual permissiveness as a traditionally male trait, and connecting sex with emotion or love as traditionally female.

In my conclusion I state that in the future women should not imitate how men have been expected to act traditionally. We should not only define "sexual liberation" in terms of disconnecting sex from emotion (the major change in women of the past 30 years). But that a greater (and just beginning) challenge of truly getting to "her way" means broadening the possibilities, of women doing it on their own terms, whatever they may be--virginal, permissive or somewhere in between. This is neither an indictment of the gains of the sexual revolution, nor a commentary about women's "natural" roles. While I report on women's standard criticisms of the '70s sexual revolution, I also recognize that it was a positive thing for many, kicking open the door against centuries of painful repression.

Paula Kamen
Chicago

 

Tracie McMillan responds: I concede that my analysis of Kamen's book may have been worded too strongly with regards to its tendency toward essentializing rhetoric. The frustrating thing is that while the points Kamen raises in her response are intelligent and important ones, I don't think they were carried through the book consistently. But what concerns me far more than this discussion of essentialist vs. nonessentialist was how exceedingly white and bourgeois the entire book was. Like most of our generation, Kamen appropriately noted that there are differences between women which stem from race and class--and did very little to use that analysis in a concrete way. To my mind, that is a far more troubling critique than the one with which she takes issue above.

 

 

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