Woman; Margaret Sloan on Black Sisterhood
Good evening and welcome to Woman My guest tonight is Margaret Sloane. In recent years Margaret has devoted herself to the women's liberation movement. She teamed with Gloria Steinem and lectured on all aspects of sexism and racism. Her articles on black feminism have appeared in The Chicago Tribune The New York Times and Ms magazine where she was one of the editorial staff and now contributing writer. Most recently she was one of the founders and first chair women of the NBA f the national black feminist organization. Margaret is currently writing a book on black feminism. Margaret welcome to the show. I guess I can pin your book chapter in my book dealing with white families in our relationships to. Their relationships to black women. There's a move in this for all women. I was really in the kitchen. When you were traveling with Gloria Steinem you spoke on sexism and racism. What are some of the messages that you're trying to get
across to the women that you talk to. Think one of the things it was. It was important to get it get across is that is that you couldn't talk about sexism in that you talked about racism and vice versa. And emphasizing that as women to begin to do research and examine the whole female culture we understand very clearly that sexism is the underlying isms which all of isms flow racism capitalism imperialism and so was very important to to get the message across to women that this was the kind of movement they were talking about. Was something that. That was important to all women. There were certain depressions and trends and class and race for example all women are potential rape victims it doesn't matter how much money you have it doesn't matter how old you are or how young you are what you wear. And they were the abortion issue. I mean there were clear issues of the marriage and divorce laws the whole reproductive freedom areas the equal rights and that these were things that really affected women and women you
know together were more than half the world in terms of our numbers. And we were really trying to let women understand that it was very important to come together at least politically on issues that affected our lives because a coalition that powerful really good could and can make some waves in this country that will lead to some kind of radical change. Did you get the same kind of response from women across the country or did they ask different questions in different parts of the country. I don't know I think that one one interesting thing that would come from women who weren't in New York in Los Angeles they would always assume. That. That somehow New York and New York and California in general would have everything together and yet we would be in their towns and we'd see these you know women centers that had aged at their funding and we'd see these really radical projects in there imagine the kinds of things that were going on. And because they had they unfortunately had read the media they believed everything else was important outside of their own area. And we were very impressed by a lot of the activity was going on the
Midwest in the south. You know the northwest it was really very mind mind blowing for us. Because you get into sometimes these go chauvinism. Yes. Which is very dangerous. How did you come to the feminist movement. Well by being black and by being I mean I know that sounds too easy. Which do you think first I think of yourself as black or female First I don't think of myself as black or female I mean I you know I don't look at life. I don't think the oppressor says well from Monday to Wednesday we're going to you know discriminate because she's female the rest of the week we're going to discriminate against because she's black you know black and female person who lives in a country that is sexist and racist. And so for me you know it would be very difficult and impossible to separate my oppressions out that way I am perceived as a black woman. You know and so that's how I live my life and those the impressions I experience and those things that I find. You can too. The feminist movement in a way through the civil rights movement many of us did.
We ran screaming and kicking. Yes I came out of the civil rights movement and after you know being a very active part in the civil rights movement and later the black liberation struggle realizing the. The. Very devastating but very real thing is that the civil rights organizations black liberation organizations were born out of a patriarchal society. And so the male leadership games the. The whole liberation struggles somehow got unfortunately suffered a great deal from being very patriarchal structure very oppressive carrying on the same kinds of oppressions that we as black people men and women were fighting so desperately to be free. Did you have a kind of a cleric at one point and say you know I must join the feminist movement. No in fact I think I reacted to men to the to the women's movement like many women did I. I believe the the distorted white male dominated media image of what the
movie was about and so I read it and I said well these you know why women talking about you know again I assume that that white women with the people that have the problem you know and and I saw the media interpretation of the you know the pictures would be young white women under 21 you know. And so I said you know this is where this is crazy what is this talk. But for some reason I've read and I kept my my eyes open then I had the opportunity to meet Florence Kennedy who is a black. Black feminist an attorney and just a dirty old lady as she calls herself and she turned me on and made and made things very clear in my head made very good analysis about institutionalized oppression as it relates to black women and and really kind of open my mind and from there on things just kind of followed. I began to see real parallels between the positions of minority men in the society and women very clear parallels. And I became a very impatient and very impatient like I wanted to you know I wanted
to really work work on the concerns. That were important to me as a woman because I couldn't see how working on things that would improve the lives of black women which are. Which are over over half of the black nation in society. I couldn't see how working on things that that would make black women free couldn't help. You know the entire black race. Expand a little bit on some of the parallels that you saw between women and and was already men's stereotypes and stereotypes. You know whether they be cultural or you know myths that surround the race and sex myths you know. You know. Blacks are lazy don't want to work can't keep a job the same things they say about women you know lazy can't hold a good job down you know all the kinds of you know ridiculous myths that unfortunately have followed us through history and I must say that that after the Black Liberation Movement at least made the front page of The New York Times. There is some kind of degree of seriousness at
least. Whether it be token or not and how the movement led black liberation movements proceed again because it was black men who ran it. But I must say that I think it's going to take the feminist movement and women in general a long time to to get that kind of respect that minority men have and I'm not about to say that minority men are certainly free. I'm saying that there's not the kind of racist jokes. There's not the kinds of. Put downs and ridicule there. At least the black liberation struggle is seen as a serious struggle in the society where the people agree with it or not it's seen as a serious struggle. But many times as we went around the country we would. Be on different television shows or interviews you know these Neanderthals wouldn't interview you and you'd be talking about great civil rights issues like like you know reproductive freedom the control of our reproductive lives and and the fact that the rape rate is on the ISM is increasing it's a most violent crime in America it's on the increase we be talking about things like this in some old backward man with talk about well you know why don't you want to open a door for you anymore you know
that was a mentality of what was out there carrying out our message. And so it was a real struggle to try to you know to get to those basic things obviously those were consciousness raising kinds of things that the women were saying you know how could you go into grandiose displays of respect opening doors but he won't pay me what I'm worth. And so men would answer and say well if you don't let me open a door slam it on your hand. You know so we'll get to that level and we never get to talk about the fact that we weren't talking about reform we're talking about public relations. We're talking about revolution we're talking about the fact that that if in fact the Equal Rights Amendment is realized then we have to have an economic revolution in this country because this present system can't afford to pay women what we're worth. So when you start thinking in terms of economics of feminism people get very nasty and you really tricky things that first day they live the few states they did literally pass legal rights in them and they said well we just give those broads you know what they want and start thinking about what was really going down with this and suddenly you had the legislators like in Oklahoma reading from the Bible quoting out this legislation was passed it would mean the end of apple pie and the flag and
so Oklahoma didn't have the rights amendment you know States now scrambling to try to rescind their vote because people really realizing on some level how serious we are in the politics the economics of feminism and they're very scared they should be. Tell me about the NBA fellow the national black feminist organization which you founded. Why did you find it necessary to do that. Well let me preface it I didn't find it by myself and one ever get in a dangerous position of assuming that I could do that. As several of several black women in New York City got together after a meeting was called together by a black feminist trying to get black women together and in their lies our our relationship with the black liberation movement with the feminist movement in general. From there. Ironically I don't really think most of us thought of founding an organization we just decided that we had such an experience spending the day talking with each other we'd like to hold a conference to bring as many women from the East Coast as possible black women to talk about them in ism but that summer of last year
there the media didn't have a job on black women there was a lot of articles depicting the relationship of black women to white women none of which were written by black women by the way. Famous news magazine. You know had a terrible article misquoting black fairness that was a black magazine that had an article saying women's lib has no soul was written by a white psychiatrist and these kind of things really messed us up and there was a civil rights leader was going around the country saying that the recent Supreme Court decision on abortion and genocide for black women so we were theories everybody was talking for black women. So we said we're going to call a press conference. Tell me have this organization it's a national organization. I love the arrogance of black women because we just you know kind of did it. Everybody came out of the press came because they were angry like Brown as they came to. They just knew we were going to cut up everybody in trash white women black men trash everybody's everybody came the German press I mean the room was more press there than we were with only 15 of us. So you know they said to us well they they said you know how many women do you have in is members.
And we said potentially millions next question you know we went on one and and the interesting thing about that is we never expect to get a response and when we did we knew there were black women sat there. But we've been so beaten down kind of by the media image of it that we believe that there were black and his that there was probably maybe one in every state at best. And the next day we received over 200 calls from black women around the country saying where have you been at Bill so alone there's no group I can identify with you know who you know is there a chapter in my city. And next day we got another 200 calls. Now we have about 3000 women. We have chapters springing up in different cities in the AFL really kind of grew faster than we were prepared for it but it was really we knew that there were blacks I missed out there and for whatever valid or not valid reasons they weren't responding to the established F.A. organizations and it seemed like us emerging as a national organization as a public above ground you know black then this organization was like a flag to these women and they responded to us and is still responding. What are your goals.
Well at the risk of let me preface this by saying that we haven't really had a convention of our membership to divine national goals. So we do have a statement of purpose and we have a basic philosophy in that we want to fight the fight in the oppression of black and female people that is our priority because we as black women feel that we must work on ourselves nobody else can do it. Not white women not black men and white men. So we have to do to believe there's any kind of any kind of important radical change that's going to come. It has to begin with yourself it's very difficult you know to work and do the people's that black women certainly have the battles to fight that we can just start right there and go in there a couple of years and still have to work on it. So we have why our goals are very similar to I mean we are part of the feminist movement that's in our philosophy and that's our Statement of Purpose. We are very much we always have been just the media chose not to focus in on us but we've always been there. So our goals are very simple. You know and very similar to the current feminist goals reproductive freedom you know.
Into restrictive laws that would that would lock an individual out because you know race or sex. And from there you know we haven't really gotten into how we will choose to go about a national basis fighting these battles we are you know local areas will work on priorities in their particular areas. But we will be doing that next very soon. Is one possibility. We don't know about that. We we have been doing you know no matter you don't welcome as you've been doing some lobby work but you know the attack stances and all those kinds of things and we still knew it. We are really trying mainly to concretize and get ourselves together internally and I think from whence that settled in we'll know about lobbying or whatever. But black women have we participated here and in New York State with the Women's Coalition the lobby we we were very active in the lobbying that went up in Albany this year. We were a visible presence and it made a difference because see these white women who are very guilty can let these legislators dismiss them and say well we're just a bunch of white women because they can say that with us at all on any level with their very strong
and we're very consistent and we'll be back again as long as we can do it and feel we should do it. How do you feel. Not necessarily the NBA but what's what's your feeling about what sexism has done to black women. I mean. Well I think. You have to look at it in the law in the larger context I mean what sexism is done to all women is is is is painful is damaging. It is not. It is not certainly been healthy for the growth of the human race. And then you look at the entire nation and it's within the you know that's within the whole world of sexism. And unfortunately you know black men and minority men have embraced braced all the concepts and all the vestiges of European ism. So obviously that sexism you know in and the oppressor see the oppressed people are very good imitating the oppressor and that sometimes they can even do it better. You know in order to just.
On unknown order to just so-called feel good. And one of the things that we have one of the things that we must do is emphasize to black women that those kinds of things can't be used on us we can't seriously be talking about. Bringing an entire people and yet asking over half of the people to take some kind of subservient position to serve subservient role. That's very dangerous when you talk about liberating a whole people. Sexism is affected black women like it's affected white women probably deeper because because of the racial but because of the racism that's there. So while all women in general have a poor self-image black women have virtually no positive self images to relate to. Most of my images have come from the boxes of pancakes or some kind of stereotypical Negras image that's been concocted by people or in recent times. That's very damaging because of course you can't talk about you know working on childcare centers or organizing organizing demonstrations if you believe your lips are too big or your hair is bad or you're ugly so inherent in our structure is consciousness raising We believe it's very important
for black women to get into their hands and start believing that they are somebody. Because if you leave nobody all you can do is lead people to the rear and you have a backwards movement. So we're very very conscious of how sexism is affecting black women. For example all women according to the U.S. Department of Labor or women make less than all men in terms of annual incomes that are estimated by you know for workers in this country. But black women make less than white women. So it's again we're always behind him in you know all women are oppressed by black women more oppressed access in all kinds of things you know we have more or more white women on welfare because there are more white women. But a disproportionate number of those people are black women and children. You know and then it's an overall you know statistic that you know it's no accident that mostly women and children are on welfare because that's a direct relationship that most women don't earn. No money. So how do black men react to black feminism. Well I haven't talked to.
Black men you know black feminism. I think a lot of myths though about the reaction of black men the feminine that's really what I want. There's a lot of myths because people always say to us you know on campuses you see it some white man he will say to us but how do black men feel about this you know and it's been my experiences and so I've been you know publicly out talking about them isn't that the most resistance does not come from the guy on the corner of the guys shooting pool or even the black guy you know in the civil rights organization a person that seems most threatened by the feminist movement is your socially mobile college educated white man with so much to lose by everybody getting together the two physical the two semi physical attacks almost encounter came from white men. The kind of hooting and ostracism and you know kind of trying to tell you that came from white men. We've had a lot of support from black and third world organizations and since NBA 4 was formed we haven't received any negative response from black men we did get one letter at the beginning from a black male pimp out in California asking if we agreed on the position of prostitution to legalize
prostitution because it would be bad for black women because he employed so many and they wouldn't have jobs or something maybe some strange rationale but we haven't heard from any black men we don't support. You know. That which is not to say that black men aren't sexes I want to give that impression all but I think that there is a clear myth as a push by the white men run the media that black men are more successful let's deal with them. So it keeps the burden off them and I don't I don't like to get into degrees of who's more sexist. See I think that's a very dangerous myth. When the thread is hardest that's who's more sexist. You know could be in your bedroom it could be in the corner it could be you know Mr. Jones who runs your factory or your office. It depends on who's feeling most threatened at that particular time. So I'd like to get into you know who reacts the worse you know I guess it boils down to power. You know it seems like white men who have most power would be more threatened by all women. You know the kind of coalition we're talking about all women and minority men getting together. I mean women make up 53 percent of the country. Then you have minority men acting up 17 percent for white men are just kind of tiny. And they get very nervous.
Well we're very often critical of the media's treatment of the black women. And you're very upset about the image that black women have. Well I'm so upset that up until very recently the lack of the image we had we were in that we were there visible but recently we've been very visible but of course it's been these kind of visibility of the media is very powerful you know just one you know. One Jane Pittman. And you know nationwide TV can can let everybody in America know of the town of Cicely Tyson. And yet she's been out there for a long time. The media is very powerful in fact in India for we have you know we have the media task force because we're so concerned about how black women are portrayed not just in TV but in film in books in commercials whatever and we we find why white women have had that in I don't want to say chance because I don't think. I don't think opportunities to be exploited are chances but while white women have had
the access to be visible in the media and I don't think that their image has been terrific. Black women haven't even had that access. And so it seems to me that the battles around the media you know challenging not just in people examine the camera but people who who write direct whatever it is are there needs to be a real serious examining a coalition of what is going down. Now this new so-called black female headed families you know are black females on the series and stuff. And is our danger in that there's a danger in laughing at the black in all the black experience but laughing you know and using using humor as a way to kind of ease the guilt of America as to what it's done to you know oppressed groups. And the films that are coming out you know we don't have any black female writers. They've been been allowed to be exposed in that way to our actresses you know I mean just don't hold the whole concept of what was beautiful Up until recently was so limiting that there are few white women could fit into it. And so that's that's one of the things that we we really are. We're going to work very hard on where exactly do
you think you can do that and one of the things we can do talks about is boycotts in women or she calls them uppercut women and women don't realize how powerful we are in terms of dollars we don't control is a myth that we all know it's money we don't we don't control you know you know whether we're going to make a particular product but we can control the choices between you know and that's important we can control you know at the point of purchase. And women have to realize that we have to start saying things to you know I want girls called products I'm not supposed to do that. But we have to start saying to these parents companies for example that have died the heads of women for years and make billions of dollars off of it we have to say listen. You know. We don't like the way you handle your commercials we don't like images we know and if you don't check yourself. We're going to just boycott nationally and we can do that and we have that power. But women press people never believe the power that they have in the first place. But in just local areas when civil rights
organizations will boycott particular stores and national chains where tremendous effect I think women just don't have enough guts to believe that we can do that. I mean the other actions we could do that are not prepared is just on TV but I think that the magination has to be there you know there's a lot of companies corporate structures that are riding on the backs of one of cheap female labor cheap labor. And yet they you know the it's just they're exploiting the media I think that there has to you know a love token he says maybe the most that the oppressed people can do is withdraw from the consent to oppression and I think that that's a real important start and women have got to realize that we are I mean we're powerful. Our numbers are powerful. We can we can surely see a lot of things and we have to turn that power around and just kind of. Shove it down the Prez's throat. OK you've been doing a lot of work and rape. Rehabilitation and all kinds of things what exactly are you doing.
Well. I'm not I mean we have a new committee on. Rape. I heard your voice and a sound truck. Well I mean you say you it's I mean there's many other women are doing it my voice is probably louder than this movie Seven years I have no problem with that. But. One of the things that we black women BFO are concerned as a woman in the Conservative Party. About the increased increase in incidents of rape and sexual abuse throughout this country. And. You know they say only one out of every 10 rapes even gets reported. Now in this country in New York City for example 68 percent of the rapes that happen happen on black women and the young black girl 11 to 19 is a person victimized by rape. So as black women we see this is a clear issue that black women must address ourselves to. We have to
separate the idea of rape being a sexual act and register it as the violent crime that it is is very difficult to get women any women to report rape it's more difficult to get black women because of the mistrust of the police. And she would have to go to in order to report the crime. But just trying to start a massive campaign particularly New York State. Just educating in speaking out about rape in one part of the New York City going to be going where black women aren't speaking in educating and showing just what to do in case you've been raped and it's so much ignorance there just because in a state away from the police for very real reasons and so many times we find rates just go rampantly just rampant numbers of rape going reported. And we hope that this is something that our sisters in other parts the country pick up chapters working on rate and where and I want to work on that also. It's really a very national concern. We see rape is being the female lynching. You know it's just that serious.
Do you think self defense is a good prevention. I don't think there's anything. I don't think there's any one answer I have my own feelings about you know about really believe. You know I believe in very stiff penalties for rape. It's not in the prison and the prison system strong about the whole idea of rape and sexual abuse and how it's just it's just seems like as women get stronger and become more aggressive and make some public stands. I think it's no accident they report a number of rapes. And I just think that there's some. And I thank you very much for coming. Thank you for watching. See you next week.
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- This episode features a conversation with Margaret Sloan. Margaret Sloan is a leading black feminist, writer, and lecturer and an early editor of MS. Magazine. Sloan is co-founder of the National Black Feminist Organization.
- Woman is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations exploring issues affecting the lives of women.
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- Copyright 1974 by Western New York Educational Television Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Guest: Sloan, Margaret
Host: Elkin, Sandra
Producer: Elkin, Sandra
Producer: George, Will
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Identifier: WNED 04308 (WNED-TV)
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- Chicago: “Woman; Margaret Sloan on Black Sisterhood,” 1974-08-04, WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 9, 2020, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-81-47rn8v5q.
- MLA: “Woman; Margaret Sloan on Black Sisterhood.” 1974-08-04. WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 9, 2020. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-81-47rn8v5q>.
- APA: Woman; Margaret Sloan on Black Sisterhood. Boston, MA: WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-81-47rn8v5q