Monthly Archives: March 2011

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Two Great Losses

Last week we lost two icons of women’s history, Elizabeth Taylor and Geraldine Ferraro.  Both also advocates of human rights issues.

Elizabeth Taylor entertained us on the big screen for decades and piqued our interest with her sometimes-scandalous romances, while also being a tireless activist.  Elizabeth Taylor stood up for what she believed in by rising up to help fight HIV/AIDS when others did not.  She stood by, and spoke up for, people affected by HIV/AIDS, including her friend Rock Hudson, when so many others ignored or worse yet turned their backs.

In their statement about the loss of this inspirational ally, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios said: “Today, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community lost an extraordinary ally in the movement for full equality. At a time when so many living with HIV/AIDS were invisible, Dame Elizabeth fearlessly raised her voice to speak out against injustice. Dame Elizabeth was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve.”

Her support of the fight against HIV/AIDS included cofounding the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) in 1985 and founding the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1993.

To see Elizabeth Taylor accepting the Vanguard Award during the GLADD Media Awards in 2000, go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElSCFzpYWrc

Two days after we lost Elizabeth Taylor, we lost another Women’s History icon, Geraldine Ferraro.

She made huge in-roads for women into the political arena with a distinguished career in the U.S. House of Representatives, followed in 1984 by being the first woman to run as Vice President (to presidential candidate Walter Mondale) on the ticket for a major political party.   Unfortunately they did not win the election.

While in Congress, Geraldine Ferraro focused much of her attention on equity issues affecting women such as wages, pensions, and retirement plans, including being a cosponsor of the 1981 Economic Equity Act   During her three two-year terms in the House of Representatives she learned much, and said something applicable today as local, state, and federal governments are looking for places to cut budgets: “… because no matter how concerned I am about spending, I have seen first hand what poverty can do to people’s lives and I just can’t, in good conscience, not do something about it.”

Her later work included being the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (Appointed by President Clinton in 1993)

A couple of the many eloquent comments following her death:

President Obama said:  “Geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life.”

Bill and Hillary Clinton said: “Gerry Ferraro was one of a kind – tough, brilliant, and never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for what she believed in – a New York icon and a true American original.”

Both of these women will be terribly missed in many ways.

The Color Line

Awhile back I saw an episode of the Oprah Show where Oprah Winfrey revisited some previous stories relating to race.

(Link to information and a transcript of the show: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Race-on-The-Oprah-Show-A-25-Year-Look-Back)

One story was about a young man who took a potentially dangerous drug to turn himself black in order to see what that would be like.  (Similar to the author of Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin) His name is Joshua Solomon, and he only lasted a week before he was ready to turn his skin back to white.

I found his story online:
http://www.mdcbowen.org/p2/rm/white/solomon.html

That story struck me, and reminded me of some of the books I have read that have “the color line” as a key part of the story.  The books that I remember tell someone’s story and I think we can all learn from other folks stories and experiences.

This does not even begin to touch on the incredible amount of information out there, but here are a couple of books that I have read and recommend:

Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black, by Gregory Howard Williams (now President of the University of Cincinnati), is the story of a boy who, after living with his mother as a white boy until the age of 10, finds out that his father is black and goes to live with him.  He finds himself looking white but being treated as being black, while not fitting in with the black kids either.  His award-winning memoir tells his remarkable story.

Another book is Turning White: A Memoir of Change, by Lee Thomas, is a totally different kind of story about a black man, a newscaster, who has the skin disease vitiligo, which turns part of his skin white.  His memoir is about his experience with this disease as someone whose job involves being in front of a TV camera.

While not a book, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh, is a well-known essay on white privilege written in 1988.  The essay has not been without controversy and it does make a person think.  A copy can be found at this link:

http://www.library.wisc.edu/edvrc/docs/public/pdfs/LIReadings/InvisibleKnapsack.pdf

I enjoy reading memoirs and welcome suggestions for other books and readings.