February 9th - What If I Am A Woman?

What if I Am A Woman? - Ruby Dee, 1977

Man, if it is better to move slowly - to be pragmatic, to demand less, to dare not to hope and dream - nobody ever told Sojourner Truth. One of Truth's speeches - When Woman Gets Her Rights Man Will Be Right - is on this album, performed by Ruby Dee, and it is an absolute barnburner. She literally begins the speech with the following warning:

My friends, I am rejoiced that you are glad, but I don't know how you will feel when I get through.

What follows is an absolute demand for civil and economic equality between women and men, with the specific goal of ending women's dependence on men for anything - literally anything. And she ends with a half-mocking appeal to men:

It is a good consolation to know that when we have got this we shall not be coming to you any more. You have been having our right so long, that you think, like a slaveholder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all better when it closes up again.

This is just one of the speeches on this album - starting with Maria W. Stewart, an abolitionist from the 1830s who gives a passionate and historically-based defense of the possibilities of women - and black women in particular - through Sojourner Truth to Mary Church Terrell (a second volume contains writings of black women from Ida Wells to Angela Davis and Shirley Chisholm). The ending speech from Terrell is simply fantastic, with a great deal of humor and pride:

There are two reasons why I look back upon the meeting of which this is the sixtieth anniversary with genuine pleasure and glowing pride. In the first place, I am a woman like Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In the second place, I belong to the race of which Frederick Douglass was such a magnificent representative. Perhaps I should be too modest to proclaim from the housetops that I think I have a decided advantage over everybody else who participates in this anniversary today. Perhaps I should be too courteous and generous to call attention to the fact that I have one more reason for being proud of that record-breaking history making meeting, which was held in this city 60 years ago, than anybody else who takes part in these exercises today. But I simply cannot resist the temptation to show that this is one occasion on which a colored woman really has good and sufficient reasons for feeling several inches taller than her sisters of the more favored race. It so rarely happens that a colored woman in the United States can prove by convincing, indisputable facts that she has good reasons for being proud of the race with which she is identified that you will pardon me for the pride I feel on this occasion, I am sure.

All of these speeches are performed with great ability by Ruby Dee; I literally did not realize they were all being read by one actress until I checked the liner notes. I am very glad that Black History Month has lead me to listen to a lot of albums that are extremely uplifting right now - I could use it.



Mark PophamComment