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Fri Jan 25, 2013, 04:47 PM

Melissa Harris-Perry: From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall

http://www.thenation.com/article/172376/seneca-falls-selma-stonewall#

From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall
Melissa Harris-Perry
January 23, 2013 | This article appeared in the February 11, 2013 edition of The Nation.



AP Images

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We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.


When the president name-checked the watershed moments of the women’s rights, civil rights and LGBT equality movements, he offered a powerful moment of official recognition. And recognition matters, even if there is no explicit policy agenda immediately attached to it. I am not implying that the Obama administration lacks a policy agenda to advance the social, legal and economic equality of those groups. And I am not suggesting that this speech is sufficient to realize that end, or that these rhetorical flourishes liberate the Obama administration from political accountability to these constituencies.

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And this means recognition of all their identities, both the ones with which we are comfortable and the ones that make us anxious. All presidents use inaugural addresses to reflect on the American people. But naming citizens solely by their national identity ignores how identities like gender, race, class and sexual orientation profoundly shape what it means to be an American. For marginal and stigmatized groups, public life threatens the opportunity for accurate recognition. W.E.B. Du Bois characterized the recognition issue for black Americans by asking, “How does it feel to be a problem?” Ralph Ellison described it as being an “invisible man.” Betty Friedan lamented it as “the problem that has no name.” Gay Americans have long identified it as “the closet.” In each case, the challenge is the same: a lack of fair and accurate recognition.

Our collective work is to provide space for that just recognition to occur. President Obama did so on a chilly January morning. Previous presidents have asked marginalized Americans to read themselves into the national story, but President Obama actively wrote these groups into our history. Obama positioned Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall as the fulfillment of a nascent promise in Jefferson’s declaration, and thereby recognizes the deeply American narrative embedded in these moments.

Fair recognition and just distribution are not alternatives; they are companions in political struggle. The civil rights movement from which Martin Luther King Jr. emerged was as much a movement of recognition as it was of redistribution. Black people were organized for integration of schools, economic opportunity and political power, but they used a recognition strategy to get there. Marches, sit-ins and boycotts used black bodies in new ways. Segregated labor, housing, education and public space allowed black life to occur in the shadows, far from the consciousness of most white Americans. The civil rights movement forced the country to recognize the accomplishments, the sufferings and the humanity of black people by making their experiences starkly visible and claiming the right to be recognized. Being seen was part of the struggle. Being seen is still part of the struggle. President Obama’s inaugural address is yet another step in the long march toward fairness.

http://www.thenation.com/article/172376/seneca-falls-selma-stonewall#

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Reply Melissa Harris-Perry: From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall (Original post)
babylonsister Jan 2013 OP
Tx4obama Jan 2013 #1
Bluenorthwest Jan 2013 #2
justiceischeap Jan 2013 #3
Politicub Jan 2013 #4

Response to babylonsister (Original post)

Fri Jan 25, 2013, 05:45 PM

1. Line about 'Stonewall and Selma and Seneca Falls' was from Obama's 2012 Barnard commencement speech

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Response to babylonsister (Original post)

Fri Jan 25, 2013, 05:59 PM

2. From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall-

I know many were unhappy to hear those words, for many of them have castigated me and other DUers for daring to equate those events in any way one to the other. 'Stonewall does not count' they were saying, just a few short days ago.
I thought of them all when Obama said those words, how they must be chocking on it, dealing with it, hope they don't get the vapors, froth at the mouth and fall over backwards!

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Response to Bluenorthwest (Reply #2)

Fri Jan 25, 2013, 08:31 PM

3. If people think that any minority group fighting for equality

has nothing to do with other minority groups that fought for equality, they need to look up the definition of equality.

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Response to babylonsister (Original post)

Sat Jan 26, 2013, 01:14 AM

4. Words can not express how it felt when President Obama linked Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall

That one sentence instantly exposed millions of Americans to the flash point that sparked the modern gay rights movement. Newspapers and TV news all had to explain what happened at Stonewall.

President Obama's speech was an economy of words. Every single syllable was loaded with meaning.

My husband and I both agreed that it was the most powerful speech we have heard in our entire lives.

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