Labor historian Toni Gilpin will make two appearances in Louisville tomorrow to tell the little-known story of a local labor union that was ahead of its time.
A local chapter of the United Farm Machinery workers organized at Louisville’s International Harvester plant in the late 1940s, and began advocating for racial equality both inside and outside of the plant. Their efforts would lead to an entire factory of mostly white workers walking off the job to protest the unfair treatment of their African American colleagues.
Outside the factory walls, union members tried to desegregate the Brown Hotel and Cherokee Park—both whites-only at the time—and were met with violence and forcible removal by police.
More photos of the International Harvester plant are available in the University of Louisville’s Photographic Archives.
“There are black people in town who have the same last name as me, and I never thought about why that might be.”
Author Chris Tomlinson says he hears that a lot while touring for his recent book, called Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families Who Share the Tomlinson Name—One White, One Black. In it, he traces his family’s history to a cotton plantation in Texas, and reaches out to another Tomlinson family whose ancestors were held as slaves there.
Slavery is a topic that brings up strong feelings in Americans, because as Chris points out, it was part of our country’s economic and social as recently as five generations ago. But he says it wasn’t white guilt that motivated his work on the book. “I’m not asking forgiveness for what my great grandfather did,” he insists. “On the other hand, I do have an obligation to recognize the privilege that I have because my ancestors oppressed people.”
Chris says slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the institutionalized racism that has always been present in the United States have afforded white people unfair advantages, and it isn’t helpful to ignore that reality. “Until 1964, no white member of my family ever had to compete with a person of color to get a job or to get a privilege. And even today I can go places and I’m treated in a different way.”
Tomlinson Hill is a fascinating look at how the remnants of slavery are still present in our every day lives—sometimes even our own names. Tomlinson was in town as part of the Authors at the Library Series.
In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talk about Ray Rice, former running back for the Baltimore Ravens who was released from the team after TMZ posted video this week of him physically attacking his then-girlfriend in an elevator. The assault happened in March, but at the time, Rice received only a two-game suspension. Accounts differ about whether the NFL saw the footage then, or not until this week.
Rice and his girlfriend were married subsequent to the attack, spurring understandable concern from experts and survivors (domestic violence rarely happens just once, and usually escalates with each incident). Others blamed Janay Rice for staying with and marrying the man who had knocked her unconscious.
Financial scholar and commentator (and Louisville native) Dr. Boyce Watkins penned an open letter to Janay Rice, praising her for her decision to stay with her abuser. We read an excerpt from his letter on this week’s show—specifically this passage, which was widely scorned on social media:
For every woman who made the mistake of staying in a relationship with a perpetually abusive man, there is another woman who is glad she made the choice to keep her family together. Some will call these women stupid or the product of male manipulation; I call them heroes, ultimate mothers, and powerful people.
At the very least, women deserve to have a say in what happens to their families without paternalistic eavesdroppers forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.
With black families being torn apart left and right by the pitfalls of extreme feminism, we should appreciate situations where someone isn’t seeking to throw the baby out with the bathwater and destroying their family at the drop of a hat.
Dr. Story points out that while most domestic and sexual violence is intra-racial, black women feel pressure to excuse the violence visited upon them by black men. “Black women have been living with these things in silence for fear that if they air it, they’re somehow race traitors or they’re selling their man out.”
She calls for black male thinkers and writers to speak up when high-profile black men commit violent crimes against black women. “You got contempt for Darren Wilson? You need to have contempt for Ray Rice,” she explains. “Both parties felt as if it was their right to be able to do anything they wanted to a black body.”
You know her from her groundbreaking work as the TransGriot, and a frequent commentator on Strange Fruit. We know her as our Auntie Monica! Award-winning blogger Monica Roberts stopped by the Strange Fruit Studios on a recent visit to Louisville, and we checked in with her about the state of trans human rights.
While Monica’s blog covers a little bit of everything—”sports, feminism, human rights, whatever I feel like talking about,” she says—the overarching focus is the lives of transgender women of color.
Why a trans women of color blog rather than a general trans women blog? “Trans people of color experience a transition much differently from our white counterparts,” Monica explains. “We are impacted negatively by racism that we deal with in our parent society, and even in the LGBT ranks.”
Even within the transfeminine community, there are challenges unique to different segements of the population. “The issues that I face as a trans woman of African descent, and the issues that a trans woman of Latina descent faces are two different issues,” she says. “I don’t have to deal with, like a Latina woman does, being jacked up on the street for immigration issues. But both of us do have to deal with stop and frisk.”
We also take you along as we visit an after-school spoken word poetry workshop, where high school students—largely LGBTQ and African American—work through tricky subjects like oppression and identity, through their writing.
And in our Juicy Fruit segment, we get an update on Michael Sam, released by the Rams, picked up by the Cowboys’ practice squad, and obsessed over by ESPN when it comes to showering with the team. We also talk about a conservative commentator who thinks gay people should pay more for life insurance, and learn about Dr. Story’s first book, “Patricia Hill Collins: Reconceiving Motherhood.”
In many ways, Nick and Bianca Bowser are very typical parents. They have two children; Kai is three and Pax is one. “We are exhausted all the time,” Nick laughs. “We both work at a bar, so we both work at night, so there’s very little sleep.”
The thing that sets this family apart, and has recently landed them on the Riki Lake show and in international headlines, is something strangers on the street usually don’t even notice: Nick and Bianca are both transgender. Nick was assigned female gender at birth, and Bianca was assigned male. Neither has undergone full surgical transition (partially because it’s so expensive), so when they decided to have children, they were able to conceive.*
Nick and Bianca are part of our own community right here in Louisville, and Nick stopped by this week to share their story. We were curious about why they chose to go public with their family’s story, when they otherwise have no problem passing. “We want people who are like us to be able to get help if they need help,” he explains.
There’s a mountain of different issues that trans people have to face, and we feel as thought bringing our story to the public and letting them know, hey, we really are normal, but there’s something different about us. We have a family. We’ve had children. We’re the same as everybody else. But we had to face all these other obstacles because you (as a whole) don’t understand who we are, so were discriminated against because of that.
In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we focus on the so-called anti date rape nail polish, “Undercover Colors,” and how it’s been criticized as just another instance of putting the onus on women to prevent rape.
Why no-rape nail polish is the worst idea? PEOPLE HAVE HEARD MORE ABOUT IT IN 5 DAYS THAN ABOUT ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT IN THEIR LIFETIMES.
— Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes) August 29, 2014
Dr. Story talks about how she teaches her classes about rape and gendered violence, but says college students in general are still woefully uninformed about consent. “They just really have no idea what equals consent, what is actually rape,” she says. “A lot of times young people are saying in classes that they don’t really even think about consent when they are about to engage in a sex act, period.”
And, of course, we couldn’t let this week go by without delving into Beyoncé’s legendary performance on the VMAs, the giant F-word she flashed at the world, and how we still live for her.
* If you are completely lost right now, start with GLAAD’s Transgender 101.
Nick Bowser and his wife Bianca are both transgender, and have made national headlines for following their own unique path to parenthood. This week, we’ll talk to Nick about what it means to be a family, and his hopes for the future of the trans movement.
In Juicy Fruit we focus on the anti-date-rape nail polish that’s been in the news this week, and the state of consent on college campuses. And, of course, Beyoncé at the VMAs!
Strange Fruit posts on Saturday morning at strangefruitpod.org, and airs Saturday night at 10pm on 89.3 WFPL.
After our first show on Ferguson, we heard from a listener who said he “wanted to spend more time with you two hearing how you both felt and were dealing with the events of the week.” In this bonus fruit, we talk a bit about how we felt in the aftermath of Ferguson, and why it was so hard to address on the show that week.
On that same show, we had spoken to Councilwoman Attica Scott, who made comments about police officers being paid by taxpayers to kill our babies. WDRB President Bill Lamb used that quote in his POV segment that week, telling Councilwoman Scott to “shut up.” We listen to part of his POV and address it in this clip.
It’s been two weeks now since a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown, and the community is still experiencing the aftermath.
The school year in Ferguson was supposed to start on August 14, but it was delayed due to the unrest, leaving students who rely on school meals with fewer options. And business closures have left some residents out of work and short on money. This week we check in with a St. Louis food bank to see how they’re responding to folks in their community who need help putting food on the table.
UofL student Brina Joiner (right) traveled to Ferguson, and stops by our studio to tell us what she saw there that we aren’t seeing on the news—and to share some much-needed optimism with us and our fruitcakes. Joiner tells us it’s important for young people to make the trip, because history is unfolding there. “I have to go to Ferguson,” she says. “I have to see what’s happening. I have to make my voice be heard, to create that change. To create what comes next.”
Our other guest this week would agree. Patrisse Cullors, of Dignity and Power Now, along with our friend Darnell Moore, is organizing a freedom ride to Ferguson for Labor Day weekend. It’s part of the Black Lives Matter movement they started after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. She says showing solidarity in times of protest is important, and even more effective when done in person. “There’s nothing like having an actual body on the front lines with you,” she explains, “to say I am here with you. I am your ally. I am not going anywhere.”
In our Juicy Fruit segment we lighten things up with the news that Oxford Dictionaries has added one of our favorite phrases to their list: throwing shade. Unfortunately they got the definition a bit wrong. They also added some other terms, and Jaison gives Kaila a pop quiz to see how many she can define.
And new pictures of Queen Latifah and her presumed girlfriend on vacation in Italy lead us to to wonder, will she ever come out? And does it actually matter any more?
Last Saturday, Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown, multiple times, killing him. Since then, the situation in Ferguson has been ever changing. Protests and vigils were initially met with a heavy-handed response from the police, who were outfitted with paramilitary equipment that seemed disproportionate to the situation.
Eventually, Missouri Governor Jay Dixon relieved the Ferguson PD of policing the situation, placing the town under control of the Missouri Highway Patrol.
While all eyes are on Ferguson, the shooting of an unarmed black man by law enforcement is, sadly, a phenomenon that happens with alarming frequency all across the country. USA Today reported that on average there were 96 cases of a white police officer killing a black person each year between 2006 and 2012, based on justifiable homicides reported to the FBI by local police, and that number only includes convicted felons—not people like Mike Brown and Eric Garner, with no felony convictions. A report by Mother Jones breaks the situation down by state, and includes the low rate of conviction for these officers.
This week on Strange Fruit, St. Louis Public Radio’s Rachel Lippmann, and Bridjes O’Neil of the St. Louis American join us from Ferguson to explain what happened there, and talk about the community’s history of tension with its police force.
Here at home, we speak with Councilwoman Attica Scott, whose op-ed in the Courier-Journal this week described the fear involved in raising black sons. “People need to understand that police officers are paid by taxpayer dollars,” she said. “The budget is reviewed and approved by some local government to then pay these individuals to kill our babies. And that’s not okay.”
The Ferguson aftermath and investigation continues to develop, so watch our twitter for updates: @strangefruitpod.
Plus, we remembered comedian Robin Williams, who played what might be considered “queer” roles, like Mrs. Doubtfire, and the Birdcage’s Armand Goldman, before LGBTQ characters had the pop culture visibility they do today. We promised to share some of our own favorite Robin Williams moments, so they’re posted below.
If you’re depressed and you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or the (specifically-LGBTQ-affirming) Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. You can also chat with the Trevor Project online or by text.
And we also welcome our new radio listeners this week! Strange Fruit can now be heard on 89.3 WFPL in Louisville (and live streaming at wfpl.org) on Saturday nights at 10pm, just after The Tavis Smiley Show.
If you could write just one letter to someone beginning transition or your younger pre-transition self, what would you say?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book called “Letters for My Sisters: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect.” This week we spoke with the book’s editors, Andrea James and Deanne Thornton, about the wisdom assembled in the book—and asked them to share their own advice for their pre-transition sisters.
Andrea, who created the groundbreaking website Transsexual Roadmap in 1996, said we all go through transitions all the time. “Every day we’re on a journey,” she said. “We’re always in transition and we’re always traveling. It’s important to take a moment each day and really appreciate all the wonderful things that are going on around you.”
Deanne Thornton said the honesty in some of the letters is in line with some of the trans women who have guided her along her own path. “Every trans woman I’ve met on my journey was perfectly willing to be open and share about it,” she said. “They didn’t feel that it was s secret they needed to keep. It was something they were happy to share with others.”
In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, Jaison shared some Louisville trivia (did you know the composer of the Seinfeld theme song is from Louisville?).
We also tackled a subject that’s been a little heated over the summer: the ways white gay men appropriate black women’s culture. Celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton famously tweeted that “Inside every gay man is a fierce black woman,” and it seems many gay men agree.
In July, Sierra Mannie wrote a piece for TIME Magazine called, “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture.” In it, she acknowledged that both groups experience marginalization, so it may feel like there would be a natural kinship. “The difference is that the black women with whom you think you align so well, whose language you use and stereotypical mannerisms you adopt, cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality,” she wrote. “We have no place to hide, or means to do it even if we desired them.”
Later in the summer, our own Dr. Story appeared on a segment of HuffPost Live with Sierra and other guests to talk about it. She said the gay men on the panel accused Sierra of not considering how her words might make them feel. “Sierra was giving voice to her experience,” she explained on our show this week. Dr. Story also said she understands that some white gay men may think they’re showing affection or paying homage when they approach black women with exaggerated black vernacular and mannerisms. “A lot of it has to do with them trying to develop camaraderie in a queer space,” she explained. “But you know what? Just say hi.”
We’re glad to be back, Fruitcakes, and hope you had a great summer!