Ashley’s Sack (and A Small Rant on Bad Word Choices)

Neat historical work, but to the author of this PR piece: please stop using ‘females’ instead of ‘women’.

CWU Professor Mark Auslander has researched and proposed likely identities for the names on Ashley’s Sack, a piece of embroidery from 1921 tracing one family’s lineage through slavery. Really neat work digging into American history.

For almost a decade, a slavery-era artifact known as “Ashley’s Sack” has intrigued historians unable to identify Ashley—the girl’s name preserved in needlework. The Smithsonian, where the sack is on display, may now attribute the recent discovery of Ashley’s identity to Central Washington University Professor Mark Auslander.

Auslander, who teaches in the department of Anthropology and Museum Studies and is director for the Museum of Culture and Environment spent the last year researching the lineage of the three women whose names were needle worked into the cloth. Research led him to North Carolina and Philadelphia where he searched slave, court and estate records, as well as early bank and census data.

“The object has become a kind of obsession for me during this past year,” said Auslander.

His findings were recently published in the article “Slavery’s Traces: In Search of Ashley’s Sack,” in the noted academic journal Southern Spaces.

Ashley’s Sack, on loan from Middleton Place in South Carolina, is currently on exhibit in the newly opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. 

However, reading CWU’s writeup of the news has one unfortunate bit that really stood out to me (emphasis mine):

The original object was found in 2007 at a flea market in the small town of Springfield, Tennessee. Little was known of its history, but it gained great attention by historians and academics. Even less was known about the females listed on the sack.

This really, really should have read, “Even less was known about the women listed on the sack.”

Using “females” instead of “women” is rude and dehumanizing, and to do so within the context of a historical artifact of the slavery era makes it even worse. Just don’t do it (especially if you’re writing for an institute of higher learning, and again especially if your writing about an artifact of an era where the dehumanization of an entire race, let alone gender, was the norm).

Resistance is Not Futile

The day we accept ANY of this as normal, we have already lost. Fascism accumulates power by pushing people, by testing us, by testing boundaries.

Danielle Muscato, in an interview after her Twitter rant following Trump’s latest SNL whine:

We must resist. Bottom line, resist. That’s why yesterday, I was using the hashtag #RESIST. The day we accept ANY of this as normal, we have already lost. Fascism accumulates power by pushing people, by testing us, by testing boundaries. We must call him out literally every time he says or proposes something that is unacceptable; we must actually label it as “unacceptable”; and we must demand change. From access to health care, to LGBTQ rights, to international relations, to so much more, complacency is literally death in this case, for potentially millions of people around the world, and also for people here in the USA. If you do not already, I encourage everyone reading this to start identifying, personally, as an activist, and to work toward that end accordingly. Resistance, en masse, is our only hope.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

If you’re not a fan, I totally understand — but for me, it will remain a staple of my winter playlists.

We’re once again in the holiday season, which means it’s time for everyone’s favorite winter song debate: Is Baby, It’s Cold Outside acceptable or not?

Personally, while I certainly understand why lots of people today find it objectionable (and are even rewriting the lyrics), particularly due to the “hey, what’s in that drink?” line, I think it’s important to look at the original context of the song:

I’ve heard the take on “Baby” as “rapey” a couple of times over the years and the concern about the song usually centers in on one line: “Say, what’s in this drink,” which many contemporary listeners assume is a reference to a date rape drug. But narrowing in on this particular line divorces it from its own internal context, and having only passing familiarity with the song divorces it from its cultural context.

The structure of “Baby” is a back and forth conversation between the male and female singers. Every line the woman utters is answered by him, until they come together at the end of the song. When we just look at “Say, what’s in this drink,” we ignore the lines that proceed and follow this, which are what indicates to the listener how we’re supposed to read the context.

Personally, I’m a fan of the song. And thanks to that Wikipedia article I linked up above, it turns out that though written in 1944, it was broadly popularized in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter (which I’ve never seen), in which it’s performed twice: once by Ricardo Montalbán (Khan!) and Esther Williams, which in staging, I have to admit, seems to hew fairly close to today’s interpretation of the song, with Montalbán coming across as predatory; then again by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett, in which the roles are reversed as Garrett tries to keep Skelton from leaving.

If you’re not a fan, I totally understand — but for me, it will remain a staple of my winter playlists.

Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About

Don’t let the apologists and obfuscations dominate the conversation. Name things for what they are.

Excellent piece in the New Yorker by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

America loves winners, but victory does not absolve. Victory, especially a slender one decided by a few thousand votes in a handful of states, does not guarantee respect. Nobody automatically deserves deference on ascending to the leadership of any country. American journalists know this only too well when reporting on foreign leaders—their default mode with Africans, for instance, is nearly always barely concealed disdain. President Obama endured disrespect from all quarters. By far the most egregious insult directed toward him, the racist movement tamely termed “birtherism,” was championed by Trump.

Yet a day after the election, people spoke of the vitriol between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. No, the vitriol was Trump’s. Now is the time to burn false equivalencies forever. Pretending that both sides of an issue are equal when they are not is not “balanced” journalism; it is a fairy tale—and, unlike most fairy tales, a disingenuous one.

Now is the time to refuse the blurring of memory. Each mention of “gridlock” under Obama must be wrought in truth: that “gridlock” was a deliberate and systematic refusal of the Republican Congress to work with him. Now is the time to call things what they actually are, because language can illuminate truth as much as it can obfuscate it. Now is the time to forge new words. “Alt-right” is benign. “White-supremacist right” is more accurate.

Now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about.

Don’t let the apologists and obfuscations dominate the conversation. Name things for what they are.

Fighting Authoritarianism

Important lessons from history to keep in mind over the upcoming years.

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder posted this list of twenty lessons to consider when fighting authoritarianism. These are just the bullet points, I highly recommend reading the full thing (either the original post, or this mirror by Jason Kottke).

  1. Do not obey in advance.
  2. Defend an institution.
  3. Recall professional ethics.
  4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words.
  5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
  6. Be kind to our language.
  7. Stand out.
  8. Believe in truth.
  9. Investigate.
  10. Practice corporeal politics.
  11. Make eye contact and small talk.
  12. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
  13. Hinder the one-party state.
  14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can.
  15. Establish a private life.
  16. Learn from others in other countries.
  17. Watch out for the paramilitaries.
  18. Be reflective if you must be armed.
  19. Be as courageous as you can.
  20. Be a patriot.

Giving Tuesday

For Giving Tuesday, I’m adding two more organizations to my monthly donations.

Today is Giving Tuesday, “a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.”

Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Earlier this month, I set up recurring donations to Planned Parenthood, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the ACLU. Today, I’ve added Lambda Legal and the NAACP to my list of recurring monthly donations.

As before, it’s not a lot at once; $5/month to each of them, for a total of $25/month in donations. But I know I can comfortably do that, every little bit helps, and it will add up over time.

If you’d like to donate — one-time donations or recurring — but aren’t sure where to go, in addition to those above, this is a good list of worthy organizations that can use support.

Edited to add: I also volunteer for Norwescon, donating time throughout the year to help produce this Seattle-area science-fiction and fantasy convention, and have done so for most of the past decade. It’s a different focus than the organizations listed above, but it’s an organization I’m very glad to be a part of. Keep local organizations in mind as you look for ways you can help your communities.

Wishlists

For holiday considerations: my Amazon wish lists, or a few organizations that I think are worth donating to.

Because…well, why not? My Amazon wish lists are more a way for me to keep track of things I’d like to pick up someday, and not really kept with any expectations that some random person out there will spend money on me. But I’ve been surprised a time or two in the past. So here, in roughly ascending order from “most likely to be reasonable gifts” to “not at all likely”, here are my lists:

Random Nifty Bits: A catch-all list for stuff that catches my eye but doesn’t fit into one of the other lists.

Print Media: Books; things to read.

Movies: Movies and TV shows; things to stare at while sitting on my butt.

Lego: Little colored plastic bits to assemble.

Electronic Gagets and Gizmos: Right now, just a DJ controller.

Photography Bits: Cameras, lenses, and other accessories.

I’d also be quite happy to hear of donations to organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the EFF, the SPLC, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, or other such groups.

Post-Thanksgiving Status

A brief note on this year’s Thanksgiving break activities, and minor updates to this blog.

This year’s Thanksgiving break was just what was needed: four days of virtually nothing of import whatsoever. We spent the weekend relaxing at home, reading books (I finished four over the four days (all of which were old Star Trek novels…yes, it’s escapist fluff, but that’s the point, especially as the Star Trek universe is based on optimistic ideals, which is just what I need these days), and in doing so completed this year’s Goodreads challenge, which I’d had set at 52 books), watching Netflix shows and upbeat movies from our personal collection, and eating lots of good food. We didn’t even leave the house for three of the four days, only venturing out on Sunday to do our grocery shopping for the week and a little Christmas book shopping at Goodwill.

I did spend some time tweaking Eclecticism, now that I’m paying attention to it again. I removed somewhere over 1,600 posts from a period where I was mirroring every tweet I posted to my blog…it seemed like a good idea at the time, but just ended up dumping a lot of noise into the archives here. I’ve also re-enabled Google Adwords advertising. I’m keeping it minimal, as I don’t want to unduly annoy any visitors, but it’d be nice to get back to making a little bit of money off of my years of babbling (at one point a few years back, I was pulling in about $100 every three months…nothing major by any means, but enough to cover my hosting costs, which was all I was really concerned with).

And that’s it for now.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted this. Unfortunately, I find it all too topical these days, thirty years after it was written.

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shat out through wholesome American guts.
Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.
Thanks for the American dream, to vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.
Thanks for the KKK.
For nigger-killin’ lawmen, feelin’ their notches.
For decent church-goin’ women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.
Thanks for “Kill a Queer for Christ” stickers.
Thanks for laboratory AIDS.
Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.
Thanks for a country where nobody’s allowed to mind their own business.
Thanks for a nation of finks.
Yes, thanks for all the memories — all right, let’s see your arms!
You always were a headache and you always were a bore.
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

Being feminist is not a shield against criticism

I’m far from perfect; I can, do, and will make mistakes; and when I do, I need to own up to them and try to avoid doing so in the future.

From Robot Hugs:

Feminism doesn’t give you a shield, it makes you a work in progress. Feminism shouldn’t protect you from criticism, it should give you the tools to critique yourself.

I consider myself to be a feminist — but as with all such things, I endeavor to recognize that I’m far from perfect; that I can, do, and will make mistakes; and when I do, I need to own up to them and try to avoid doing so in the future. Being on the side of women (or people of color, or Muslims, or Jews, or LGBTQ+, or any other marginalized or oppressed population and the intersections among them) doesn’t mean I can say “But I’m one of the good ones!” when someone calls me out on something; instead, it means I have the responsibility of recognizing when I’ve failed in that goal.