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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

February 21, 2024: Prejudicial Non-Favorites: Anthony’s Priorities

[For this year’s annual non-favorites series, I wanted to highlight moments when important and in many ways impressive Americans gave in to white supremacist prejudices, modeling the worst of our national community in the process. Got grievances of your own to air, about anything and everything? Share ‘em for a therapeutic crowd-sourced post, please!]

On a collective and an individual frustration with an inspiring figure’s worst quote.

In a long-ago column for my gig at Talking Points Memo on white feminism’s frequently and frustratingly racist histories, I highlighted a particularly crappy line from legendary suffrage activist Susan B. Anthony: “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” Check out both that hyperlinked column of mine and that excellent hyperlinked story on race and the suffrage movement if you would, and then come on back for a couple further thoughts on this quote and moment.

Welcome back! As I traced in that column, far too often both particular activist organizations and the suffrage movement as a whole echoed Anthony’s perspective and excluded African Americans. And that’s a significant layer to what makes that perspectives so profoundly frustrating and counter-productive—as with so many issues in American history (indeed, as with all of them, like all of our history overall), there was no actual way to separate out African Americans from the community as a whole, as African American women were just as much part of the push for women’s suffrage as any other group. The only possible arguments for treating race and gender as separate came down to blatant racism and white supremacy, and for a movement dedicated to equality and justice to endorse those ideologies so consistently and fully was nothing short of tragic.

It’s also tragic, on a smaller but not insignificant scale, that a figure as impressive as Susan B. Anthony took part in those practices and perspectives. I know that she knew better, especially when it comes to her long-term relationship with Frederick Douglass, to whom she was connected through their shared community of Rochester among many other ways. As I highlighted in this post, right at the end of Douglass’ life (literally on his last day), he and Anthony met to try to bury the hatchet and strategize about the women’s rights movement of which he was such a lifelong ally. But as far as I’ve seen, Anthony never publicly took back her quote about race and suffrage, and she certainly never became a public advocate for African American voting rights (in the way, again, that Douglass was such an impassioned advocate of women’s voting rights). That makes this one telling quote an even more frustrating non-favorite moment for sure.

Next non-favorite tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other non-favorites (of any and all types) you’d share?

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