Books by Kalamu ya
The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts
A Revolution of Black Poets
Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology
From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets
Our Music Is No Accident /
What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self
My Story My Song (CD)
* * * *
Our Women Keep our
Skies From Falling
in Support of The
Struggle To Smash Sexism/Develop Women
* * * *
Women's Rights Are Human Rights
By Kalamu ya Salaam
My position, succinctly stated, is simply this: any
discussion of the issue of human rights should include a discussion of
The reason for my statement, while complex in its subtleties, is
simple in its substance. Simply said, women are human beings.
Our struggle for human rights must be grounded in a rejection of the
oppression of any identifiable segment or stratum of human societies,
regardless of the criterion of differentiation or discrimination, e.g.
race, class or sex.
Based on my study and analysis of my own experiences and environment,
as well as study and analysis of the experiences and environments of
other peoples, in other places and other periods of time, I draw the
conclusion that the issue of women's rights has and continues to be a
central concern of millions of women who daily suffer the degradations
and deprivations of sexual chauvinism in its institutionalized and
individual forms. The suffering of women in general, third world women
in particular, and especially the suffering of the Afrikan-american
woman, hurts me in ways too numerous to delineate. Yet beyond the
personal pain, there is a social reality which must be recognized,
namely, that sexism is a means, used by our enemies, to help maintain
our subjugation as a people.
Perhaps some are wondering why should an Afrikan-american man be
concerned with an issue like women's rights, an issue which is often
erroneously identified with "bored, middle class white women"
who are tired of staying home. My response to that question is a query
of my own: is there any reason why I shouldn't be concerned with women's
rights, after all am I not born of woman, aren't we all born of woman?
I am concerned about the issue of women's rights because I understand
that women's rights is a political issue and I am a political person. I
understand that the oppression and exploitation of women is an integral
aspect of every reactionary social system which ever existed and I am
struggling to be a progressive. I understand that women, like land, are
primary to life, and I am a living being.
I am concerned about the issue of women's rights because I am
striving to be a revolutionary, and without the eradication of sexism
there will be no true and thorough going revolution.
At this moment in history, asserting a position which I feel is my
revolutionary responsibility to put forward, I hear the echoes of our
heritage urging me to be firm. I hear Frederick Douglas, who also spoke
out strongly in support of women's rights. Douglas was vilified and
shunned by former friends who could not understand his concern for the
rights of women. I hear Douglas being called an
"hermaphrodite" and other terms which questioned his sexuality
because of his stand on sexism. But in the spirit of Frederick Douglas,
I do declare that I too should rather be called
"hermaphrodite" and other names because of my support for
women's rights, than have women continually referred to as
"bitch," and "broad" in everyday ameican speech.
There are those who argue that raising the issue of women's
liberation is divisive of Black unity. They argue that, in reality, the
women's movement drives a "wedge" between Black women and
Black men in our social relationships. They argue that the promotion of
women in the work force cuts down on the employment opportunities for
men and effectively throws Black men out of work. They argue that Black
women don't want to be lesbians and live with other women but rather
that they want to be united with Black men in peace and harmony. Some
even argue that women should not work outside of the home is one of the
most important tasks of nation-building or socialization. These are some
of the arguments sincerely and seriously raised against our full and
active involvement in the struggle for women's rights.
But the profound truth of the matter is that all of these arguments
deny women the option to exercise their rights, to control their lives
in whatever manner they see fit. Full rights for women does not ipso
facto mean that women will all have to conform to some mythical
"liberated norm." It means, instead, that women will decide
for themselves their social lifestyles and social relationships.
Women's liberation has not driven a wedge between women and men.
Firstly, women do not control this society. This society is controlled
by a ruthless, racist, sexist, and capitalist patriarchy. if we would
look past the propaganda pushed in the establishment press, we should
clearly recognize whose hand is on the hammer attempting to beat us into
submission, we would see who actually wields the wedge of division . To
divide and conquer has always been a tactic of a minority who are
oppressing and exploiting a majority.
Secondly, issues such as "women's lib is denying or stopping
Black men from getting jobs" is not true. We must understand that
women do not do most of the hiring and firing in America. Women do not
run the major or minor corporations. With very few exceptions, it is a
man or some group of men, and usually white, who make those kinds of
We are all for the unity of our women with our men, but not if that
unity is to be male superior / female inferior. The emotional crux of
most of the arguments against women's liberation is, when mouthed by
men, actually a fear of independent women, a hatred of independent
women, an ideological opposition to any women being independent of
man's control. When espoused by women, most of these arguments simply
amount to the attempts by an insecure woman, whose sense of self is that
of an inferior entity, to maintain the certainties of a slavery she
"thinks' she understands and to one degree or another has learned
to cope with, rather than face a challenging liberation which she finds
difficult to envision.
Cabral has noted that within the context of liberation struggle, the
emancipation of women is a difficult issue. ". . . during the
fight the important thing is the political role of women . . . It is all
a part of the process of transformation, of change in the material
conditions of the existence of our people, but also in the minds of the
women, because sometimes the greatest difficulty is not only in the men
but in the women too."1
In all of the contemporary national liberation movements in the Third
World, whether in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania or the Caribbean,
great attention is always paid to the eradication of sexism and the
development of women. Why is this the case?
Is sexism a universal constant? Is it true, as we have been taught,
that beginning with Adam and Eve there has been a battle of the sexes
going on, that one sex has , is and, in a all probability, will continue
to try to dominate the other sex? Do we really believe these fairy
tales, these rationalizations? Do we really believe that men and women
are "naturally" antagonistic to each other?
Sexism is not a biological necessity, it is rather the reflection of
reactionary ideas, particularly "bourgeois individualism." In
a bourgeois society, private ownership is the basic goal of most
endeavors, whether it is to own land and material wealth, hence private
property; or to own labor and industry, hence private enterprise in the
form of capitalism; or to ultimately own other human beings, hence
slavery and sexism. Couple this type of thinking with the belief that
the individual is supreme, and what will result will be a society
peopled by selfish and self-centered human beings who have no true
concern for those around them or those who will follow them.
The roots of modern day sexism are to be found in
"prehistoric" Europe and the trunk of sexism is a patriarchy
watered by capitalism and imperialism. Understand that sexism is the
systematic oppression and / or exploitation of a group of people based
on the criterion of sex. In america today, and everywhere else where
capitalism and imperialism have gone unchecked, unchallenged and
unchanged, sexism is deeply entrenched into the social fabric. Indeed,
in self-proclaimed socialist societies, also, remnants of sexism remain
to be rooted out.
We do not have the time to analyze in detail my assertion that the
roots of modern day sexism are found in prehistoric Europe. However, the
statement, I am sure, is too provocative to most of us to be accepted
simply at face value. So for purposes of brevity I cite a reference. The
reference is The Cultural Unity of Black Africa, by Cheikh Anta
Diop, published in America by Third World Press.2
Diop's book traces and analyzes the development of patriarchy and
matriarchy, the class characteristics and clashes of the two social
systems, the merging of the two, and the domination of patriarchy over
matriarchy. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex topic, we summarize
Diop's findings to include the positing of a two cradle concept. These
two cradles are Aryan and African, northern and southern, patriarchal
and matriarchal. According to Diop's analysis, which contests that of
other social scientists, including Marx and Engles, matriarchy is not
universal.. The history of human development in its progressive movement
did not go from matriarchy to patriarchy, for in fact, there never was a
matriarchy in Europe. "As far as we can go back into the
Indo-European past, even so far back as the Eurasian steppes, there is
only to be found the patrilineal genos with the system of consanguinity
which at the present day still characterized their descendants."
What is matriarchy? Is matriarchy the domination of women over men?
Is matriarchy amazonism? Is matriarchy lesbianism? Is matriarchy strong
women and weak men? No. Matriarchy is a social system within which blood
relationships are traced through the maternal line and within which
women enjoy equal political and economic rights.
Why should a wife and child assume the husband/father's name?
Traditionally this was done for the purposes of the protection of
property rights, namely, the identification of property and the
succession of property.
Today, we continue using this patriarchal form of naming allegedly in
order to identify the parents of children and vice versa. How
unscientific to trace parentage via the father, when there is no known
conclusive proof of male parentage. How much more scientific and simple
it is to trace parentage via the mother, because regardless of whether
the actual father of the child is known or unknown, the mother of the
child is identified conclusively by the fact of giving birth to that
In a patriarchal society, the concern is not with identifying parents
but rather with identifying property, hence children born so-called
"out of wedlock." This is just one small example of the
pervasiveness and perverseness of the patriarchal social system.
However, let us return to our central concern. Regardless of the roots
of sexism, it should be clear that sexism is a real and reactionary way
of life that must be eradicated.
Today, women continue to get less pay for equal work, and lack equal
access to both educational and employment opportunities. Today, women
continue to be regarded as the sexual toys of powerful men, men whose
social relationships with women are controlled more by the heads of
their penises than the heads on their shoulders, men whose main modes of
reasoning conditions them to think that they can either buy or take a
woman's body. Today, rape continues to be one of the most common and
unreported crimes in America. Today, childcare continues to be virtually
nonexistent and/or exorbitantly priced.
One sure sign of sexism is the objectification of women's bodies, the
turning of women into commodities to be bought, sold, bartered for or
stolen. The gains in women's rights, just as the gains in civil rights
for African-Americans, are seemingly becoming little more than paper
formalities and highly touted token adjustments.
African-American women are still the most exploited stratum of
american society. In fact, throughout the world, the lower class woman
of color is on the bottom of nearly every society within which she is
Virtually every indicator of social inequality proves this to be the
case,, whether we are discusiing employment or illness, educational
development or access to leadership and decison-making positions.
In conclusion, I urge that we open our eyes to the reality of sexism
and fight it. I urge everyone, particularly men, to speak out against
sexism and support the struggles of women to defend and develop
themselves. I urge greater attention to be paid to the social and
material conditions which lead to an reinforce sexism, a deeper and more
accurate analysis needs to be done, and resolute and uncompromising
action needs to be taken.
The denial of any human right is always based in the political
repression of one group by another group. Sexism does not exist because
women are "unclean during their monthly periods," nor because
women are weaker than men, nor because "god' was unhappy with the
behavior of women. Sexism exists because men have organized themselves
to oppress and exploit women.
Sexism will be eradicated only through organized resistance and
struggle. Women's rights will be won only when we consciously overturn
all vestiges of patriarchy and "bourgeois" right. No person
has the right to either own, oppress, enslave, or exploit another
person. Sexism is not a right--it is a wrong.
We must stand for what is right and fight against what is wrong.
My attempt has not been to analyze in detail the denial of human
rights for women, rather I had a more modest goal in mid. I seek to
place on the agenda of human rights the question of women's rights as a
top priority item.
I hope that this topic has shown "Pandora's box" to be a
myth created by men who want to keep "women, coloreds, and other
inferiors" hidden in the dank caves of injustice and reaction as a
top priority item.
I hope that I have broadened the view on what human rights is, and
indeed, on who human beings are. It is so easy in america to forget that
women are human beings, to forget that women have rights. Hopefully,
this presentation will stir up opposition to sexism, will bring women
and men out of their shells of self-denial and isolation, and into the
light of truth and justice.
It will not be easy to win rights for women, just as it will not be
easy to defeat South Africa, just as it will not be easy to stop nuclear
power, to clean up the environment, to end economic exploitation, to
plan and control the economy, or to win national liberation for
African-Americans. But it can be done. Sexism can be smashed.
My hope is that from this day forward we will not hesitate to stand
for women's rights, to place it on any and every agenda of progressive
social development. Know that when you stand for women's rights you
stand beside the most courageous and progressive people who have ever
lived. You stand next to men and women who are not afraid of the future
because they are willing to struggle in the present to correct
A great woman by the name of Sojourner Truth once gave a brilliant
speech which included the famous phrase "ain't I a woman!"
This is continuance of that woman's work. In the spirit of Sojourner
Truth, I urge you to join in the struggle for women's rights, whether
you are woman or man. If Sojourner were here today she would challenge
you in the same way. Sojourner is not here, but her spirit is. Although
I ain't a woman, I say without hesitation that women's rights are human
rights. I am committed to and call for the smashing of sexism and the
securing of women's rights. I am committed to and call for the smashing
of sexism and the securing women's rights. I believe that we will win
1Cabral, Amilcar. "Return to the Source." Monthly
Review, 1973, p. 85.
2Diop, Cheikh A.
The Cultural Unity of Africa. (Chicago:
Third World Press, 1959), p. 45
"Women's Rights Are Human Rights" was first
presented at an international Human Rights Conference that was held
during November 1978 at Xavier University in New Orleans; later, it was
published in BLACK SCHOLAR (Vol.10, Nos. 6,7).
Cover Drawing by Douglass Redd
copyright July 1980 By Kalamu ya
* * *
Baker and the Black Freedom Movement
By Barbara Ransby
the most important African American leaders
of the twentieth century and perhaps the
most influential woman in the civil rights
movement, Ella Baker (1903-1986) was an
activist whose remarkable career spanned
fifty years and touched thousands of lives.
A gifted grassroots organizer, Baker shunned
the spotlight in favor of vital
behind-the-scenes work that helped power the
black freedom struggle. She was a national
officer and key figure in the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, one of the founders of the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, and a prime
mover in the creation of the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Baker made a place for herself in
predominantly male political circles that included W. E.
B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King
Jr., all the while maintaining relationships with a
vibrant group of women, students, and activists both
black and white.
In this deeply researched
biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker's
long and rich political career as an
organizer, an intellectual, and a teacher,
from her early experiences in depression-era
Harlem to the civil rights movement of the
1950s and 1960s. Ransby shows Baker to be a
complex figure whose radical, democratic
worldview, commitment to empowering the
black poor, and emphasis on group-centered,
grassroots leadership set her apart from
most of her political contemporaries. Beyond
documenting an extraordinary life, the book
paints a vivid picture of the African
American fight for justice and its
intersections with other progressive
struggles worldwide across the twentieth
* * *
Who Was Ella Baker—Ella
Baker began her involvement with the NAACP in 1940. She worked as a
field secretary and then served as director of branches from 1943 until
1946. Inspired by the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in
1955, Baker co-founded the organization In Friendship to raise money to
fight against Jim Crow Laws in the deep South. In 1957, Baker moved to
Atlanta to help organize Martin Luther King's new organization, the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also ran a voter
registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship.
On February 1, 1960, a
group of black college students from North Carolina A&T
University refused to leave a Woolworth's lunch counter in
Greensboro, North Carolina where they had been denied
service. Baker left the SCLC after the Greensboro sit-ins.
She wanted to assist the new student activists because she
young, emerging activists as a resource and an asset to the
movement. Miss Baker organized a meeting at Shaw
University for the student leaders of the sit-ins in April
1960. From that meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee (SNCC) was born.
Adopting the Gandhian
theory of nonviolent direct action, SNCC members joined with
activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to
organize in the 1961 Freedom Rides. In 1964 SNCC helped
create Freedom Summer, an effort to focus national attention
on Mississippi's racism and to register black voters. . . .
With Ella Baker's guidance and
encouragement, SNCC became one of the foremost advocates for human
rights in the country. Ella Baker once said, "This may only be a dream
of mine, but I think it can be made real." Her audacity to
dream big is a cornerstone of our philosophy. Her influence was
reflected in the nickname she acquired: "Fundi," a Swahili word meaning
a person who teaches a craft to the
next generation. Baker continued to be a respected and influential
leader in the fight for human and civil rights until her death on
December 13, 1986, her 83rd birthday.—EllaBakerCenter
* * * *
Endgame AIDS in Black America
Continues Its Grim Toll on Blacks in the
U.S.—‘Endgame: AIDS in Black America’ on PBS—9 July
2012—Today in America, 152 people will become
infected with H.I.V.,” a speaker is telling a World
AIDS Day gathering as the program opens. “Half of
them will be black. Today in America, two-thirds of
the new H.I.V. cases among women will be black.
Today in America, 70 percent of the new H.I.V. cases
among youth will be black.”
the program, directed by Renata Simone, embarks on a history lesson,
tracing how AIDS was almost immediately typecast as a disease of gay
white men, even though some of the earliest cases were in black men.
That led to an indifference among blacks at the start of the epidemic,
and soon along came the drug nightmare of the 1990s, with sex being
traded for a fix, rampant needle sharing and resistance to
needle-exchange programs that sought to do something about the problem.
Endemic poverty in black America of course exacerbated everything about
the AIDS crisis.
Black leaders acknowledge that they
failed to take the kind of vocal role in the early years that they had
been known for in civil rights battles and other struggles. “I didn’t do
what I could have done and should have done,”
Julian Bond, the civil rights activist and a former chairman of the
N.A.A.C.P., says bluntly.—nytimes
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* * * *
Representations of Black Feminist Politics
By Joy James
James rejects the
liberalism of conventional black feminism for a radical agenda,
which, in the tradition of black feminists Ella Baker and Ida B.
Wells, targets capitalism and the state as perpetuators of race,
class, and gender oppression. Their legacy of radicalism and
activism is juxtaposed to the black feminist praxis and thought
of Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Elaine Brown. This book
successfully demonstrates that black feminism is authentically
rooted in the black community. Especially enlightening is
James's discussion on "distinctions between black men
championing black females as patriarchal protectors and black
men championing feminism to challenge sexism." An
interdisciplinary and well-analyzed representation of radical
black women fighting for rights and visibility. Recommended for
women's studies, African American studies, or political
* * * *
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation
on Black Americans
from Colonial Times to the Present
Medical Apartheid is the first and only
comprehensive history of medical experimentation on
African Americans. Starting with the earliest
encounters between black Americans and Western
medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience
that resulted, it details the ways both slaves and
freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments
conducted without their knowledge—a tradition that
continues today within some black populations. It
reveals how blacks have historically been prey to
grave-robbing as well as unauthorized autopsies and
dissections. . . .
The product of years of prodigious research into
medical journals and experimental reports long
Medical Apartheid reveals the hidden
underbelly of scientific research and makes possible, for the first
time, an understanding of the roots of the African American health
Kam Williams review
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Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.
"Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 2 March 2012