Sisters of the American Revolution: Why We Should Embrace the Opening Doors of a Once Whites-Only Club
Photo Credit: John-Pa via Flickr Creative Commons
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One of the rare occasions when this non-believer envies Christians is when desperate for the ability to visualize slaveholders and racist oppressors burning in hell. Another is when similarly trying to envision my ancestors fist-pumping and high-fiving in heaven (where all slaves go) when America is forced to admit to, and rectify, the specifics of its bigoted brutality.
The increasing numbers of black women allowed into the schmancy Daughters of the American Revolution is just such a triumph, not because it is an outstanding organization necessarily, but because it so viciously helped ensure that blacks felt like interlopers in the country built on our backs. Just like the refusal to believe that Barack Hussein Obama is native born (and therefore entitled to be president), what says interloper better than the forced dis-association of blacks from the seismic event that made America America?
It's said that all press is good press, but Daughters of the American Revolution just might beg to differ. Renowned for its exclusivity -- applicants have to prove an ancestor aided the Revolution -- the organization jumped its own shark in 1939 when world-famous black contralto Marian Anderson, denied access to DAR's Constitution Hall, performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. So vitriolic was its racism, Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigned. Seventy-two years later, that typifyingly egregious behavior is largely all the public knew, or needed to know, about the organization.
While single tokens were accepted in the 1890s and in 1977, qualified black applicants were still suing to gain admittance in 1984. With the recent creation of a Queens, New York chapter founded and helmed by a black woman, and boasting five black members of its total 13, however, DAR is consciously joining the rest of America in the 21st century. All that needs to happen now is for African Americans to walk through the newly unlocked door our courageous ancestors flung themselves against -- e.g. by helping win a Revolution that sealed their fates as slaves -- rather than petulantly turning our noses up at receiving that which we've long demanded.
It's reasonable to fear that the black response to progress like DAR's will be rejectionist, the same as the reaction, for example, to the movie The Help. Finally, mainstream Hollywood situates a major Oscar-winning movie deep in the heart of the black experience and even black-feminist public intellectuals plotzed because we were depicted as uneducated but heroic maids who survived-- a la the vast majority of black women in the 1960s South -- rather than as bourgie Huxtables quoting Sophocles before dying gloriously at the end of a rope. While male. (No one reveres Dr. King more than I, but he couldn't have been more of a black aristocrat had he been actually crowned King.) Many surviving black maids from the period loved the movie, but black PhDs? Not so much.
The black chatterers' response to the Occupy movement is equally counterintuitive and counter-productive. Rather than celebrate whites' self-serving opposition to police brutality now that it's applied to them, the intelligentsia has largely confined itself to writing scathing essays and outraged tweets about hypocrisy and unofficially boycotting rather than leveraging white guilt to our community's advantage. Even the elderly Japanese soldiers still fighting WWII on remote islands long after the peace gave up the war once so notified. Will Negroes?
Daughters of the American Revolution is a snooty (for whites), bourgie (for blacks) time-waster for ladies who lunch, you say? Not the point. Our best and brightest weren't sitting-in at those segregated lunch counters because that was the only food source in town. Rosa Parks didn't refuse to give up her seat because all the others had gum stuck to them. Bigotry is as much about the little things as the big ones; slavery and Jim Crow couldn't have been maintained without all the thousand and one indignities and illegalities with which America energetically cooperated (how silly was it that segregated drinking fountains were hooked to the same water line?).
Instead of a living wage or collective bargaining, racism gave whites the right to abuse people of color for sport and profit. Our ancestors risked, and lost, their lives demanding to live as free Americans, to go about their trivial, time-wasting pursuits as much as their deadly serious ones; we oweit to them to lunch with the other ladies if it looks as if they might be trying to exclude us or simply because we want to exercise our right to be as bourgie and smug toward those without Revolutionary War-vintage census records as our white sisters. Freedom isn't real if you can't waste it. Neither can it be harnessed if you're too bitter to embrace it.
This non-believer still eye rolls at the thought of heaven and hell. But there's no harm in fantasizing about flocks of black angels doing the Electric Slide, joined by flocks of white angels (everyone has rhythm in heaven), giddy with relief that one more door, however trivial, that they helped slam shut, is finally open.