Wednesday, November 16, 2005


"China Montgomery simply wants to sing. It is her first love, not including math and Barbie dolls. But when the Anderson Middle School student showed her parents the lyrics to a song her school choir is scheduled to sing in a concert Wednesday, they were appalled. The title: "Pick a Bale of Cotton." To China's parents, the song glorifies slavery in a shameful era of U.S. history. It is called an "American folk song" on the music sheet the children are learning. Greg Montgomery, China's father, is African-American. He appealed to everyone from the school's principal to the superintendent of the Berkley School District to pull the song from the concert. The school is mostly white.

There are several versions of the song, including at least one with a racial slur repeated twice in one verse. The slur does not appear in the version the 30 choir students -- six of them African-American -- were asked to sing. When Montgomery's pleas to pull the song from the concert were met with what he described as resistance, he decided to remove his daughter, 11, from the concert. "We just buried Mother Parks, and this is happening only a few weeks later," he said. "It's mind-boggling that people don't understand sensitive issues. "When I told my 81-year-old Aunt Minnie Ridout, she told me to tell the school administrators to come see her back," Montgomery said. Her back is still affected by the countless hours she spent bending to pick cotton as a girl, he said. "She said she was not jumping around and singing while she was picking cotton in Alabama and the Mississippi Delta as a young girl."

The school principal, Steve Frank, was not available to comment. The vice principal, Jim Cowdry, said he only knew "bits and pieces" of the issue and deferred to Superintendent Nancy Campbell, who deferred to Gwen Ahern, communications supervisor for the Berkley School District. "We used to sing that song when I was in school during the '50s," she said. "It's like a Southern type of folk song. I remember it being perky. It was more of a song that people just sang for fun." Ahern then proceeded to sing the song over the telephone. "This is going to be a folk music concert, and children will be performing songs from Germany, England, Mexico and other places."

Asked if she knew about the Montgomerys' concerns, Ahern said yes. "As far as I know, they're going ahead with the concert," she said. She added that district officials will study the origins of the song.

The children will be singing, in part, "Jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton. Gotta jump down, turn around, Oh Lordie, pick a bale a day." Dr. Eugene Rogers, president of the North Oakland County NAACP, called the situation unbelievable. "Some people think they should be able to do anything, and we should be able to adjust and not take it personally," he said. "But I've lived through all of this, and I'm still living through it." Rogers said it is insensitive to proceed with the song. "People shouldn't have to be subjected to this, especially our children.""

More here

My comment:

I would have thought that the very lively and enjoyable song concerned would most accurately be seen as showing the triumph of the human spirit over the adversity of slavery. Two of my ancestors came to my country chained up in the holds of sailing ships and I have never felt the least bit humiliated to hear sung the many songs written about what they and their ilk experienced. I feel proud of the strength and endurance that enabled them to flourish under very adverse circumstances. Below is one of the songs I have in mind. It is one I sing myself from time to time:

1: One Sunday morning as I went walking
By Brisbane waters I chanced to stray
I heard a convict his fate bewailing As on the sunny river bank I lay
I am a native from Erin's island
But banished now from my native shore
They stole me from my aged parents
And from the maiden I do adore

2: I've been a prisoner at Port Macquarie
At Norfolk Island and Emu Plains
At Castle Hill and at cursed Toongabbie
At all these settlements I've been in chains
But of all places of condemnation
And penal stations in New South Wales
To Moreton Bay I have found no equal
Excessive tyranny each day prevails

3: For three long years I was beastly treated
And heavy irons on my legs I wore
My back from flogging was lacerated
And oft times painted with my crimson gore
And many a man from downright starvation
Lies mouldering now underneath the clay
And Captain Logan he had us mangled
All at the triangles of Moreton Bay

4: Like the Egyptians and ancient Hebrews
We were oppressed under Logan's yoke
Till a native black lying there in ambush
Did deal this tyrant his mortal stroke
My fellow prisoners be exhilarated
That all such monsters such a death may find
And when from bondage we are liberated
Our former sufferings will fade from mind

The music is accessible here


The school has now dropped the song and a reader writes: "The weirdest thing of this is that the song was made famous in US by Harry Belafonte. The screaming ultra liberal himself."


Each time Germaine Greer visits Australia - such as last week when she turned up at the University of Sydney to receive her honorary doctorate - one is reminded how Western feminists have dropped the ball on what really matters on the feminist front.

Greer's feminism is the worst example of Western indulgence. It's not so much what she says that matters - for it's all rather farcical these days - but what she and other so-called feminists do not say that betrays how feminism has lost its way. On Friday Greer told her audience: "The intellect is a little bit like sexual ability: use it or you lose it." True enough and nice work if you can get it. But hardly cutting-edge feminism at work there.

Back in late 2002, Greer was back on the soapbox in Australia lambasting the medical profession for imposing unnecessary medical tests on women, such as pap smears and mammograms. When asked about the impending war in Iraq, Greer suggested that women protest by dressing up in burkas. Go girl! Don the preferred garb of Islamic oppression to protest against what exactly? The continued oppression of women in countries such as Iraq?

Last Friday while Greer was preaching about the importance of knowledge for knowledge's sake, in New York another feminist was delivering a more sobering message. Last week Mukhtaran Mai, a 33-year-old Pakistani woman, collected an award for "her incredible courage and optimism in the face of terrible violence".

Mai was gang-raped by five men on the order of a Pakistani tribal council in 2002 as punishment for her brother's alleged love affair with a woman from another tribe. This illiterate and working-class young woman then did the unthinkable. She took her grievance to court. A near impossible task in Pakistan where Hudood laws - a series of Islamic decrees applied in conjunction with the country's secular laws - mean that if a woman is raped, a conviction requires four adult male witnesses or the rapist confessing. If sex is held to be consensual, the woman can be charged with zina - extramarital sex - illegal under Hudood laws. In Mai's case, the five rapists were duly acquitted. While the Pakistan Supreme Court has suspended those acquittals, it remains to be seen whether the perpetrators will be punished.

When Mai received $US2500 ($3400) in compensation from the Government for her ordeal, she immediately used that money to build a school for young girls. Through a translator this shy young woman, dressed in a headscarf and flowing robes, told her glittering New York audience that her goal was to end oppression through education. Spot the feminist. Mai or Greer?

Women such as Uzma Saeed, a legal activist in Lahore, are campaigning for a repeal of the Hudood laws in Pakistan. Saeed told BBC News: "About 60 per cent of women in our jails have been imprisoned as a result of Hudood laws. I know many cases where a husband has wanted to marry again and so accused his wife of illicit relations with another man." Spot the feminist. Saeed or Greer?

Back in Australia, the silence of the feminists and others on egregious cultural issues is having devastating consequences for women. Australian feminism has been hijacked by a soft Left loathing of Western culture, a romanticisation of other (especially indigenous) cultures and a trend towards cultural relativism where it is just fine to use culture as an excuse. But criticise another culture? No way.

Indeed, the "culture made me do it" defence is now an essential part of any defence lawyer's armoury. Recently, the lawyer for one of three Pakistani brothers convicted of gang-raping two teenage girls in Sydney in 2002 argued that his client's sentence should be reduced because this 27-year-old man was a "cultural time bomb". The lawyer pointed to the defendant's "cultural conditioning"; he grew up in Pakistan, "a society with very traditional views about women".

Where was the feminist outcry? At least the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, to its credit, treated that defence with the contempt it deserved. Last Friday Justice Michael Grove said those comments were inappropriate and the court refused to reduce the sentence given to the three Pakistani brothers. But you can hardly blame a bloke for trying it on. After all, our persisting cultural cringe about imposing our values on those who do not share them is such that these claims are often successful. Who can forget the footage of the Chief Justice from the Northern Territory descending on the Yarralin community. He took his courtroom to the indigenous community to sentence a 55-year-old Yarralin man for bashing and raping a 14-year-old girl.

The anal rape of a crying, screaming child saw the man go to prison for just one month because the girl was promised to the man under customary indigenous law. And who were the leading critics of this case? Chris Ellison (a white man), Warren Mundine (a black man) and a few indigenous women. But where was the white feminist outcry?

These are just the most recent examples of how liberal loathing of Western culture has become an instrument of oppression. And while feminists such as Greer are harping about the irrelevant, a new wave of real feminists is emerging where it counts. In places where it is most dangerous to speak out. Such as Pakistan. Elsewhere, Islamic feminists from countries such as Malaysia, Mali, Egypt and Iran are marching to launch a "gender jihad" in support of women's rights. This is real-life feminism at work.

If we think Western feminists had it tough, being shut out of the workplace in the 1950s, spare a thought for those women in Islamic countries who are victims of "honour killings" for bringing shame on their families, or the millions of women across western and southern Asia, the Middle East and large swaths of Africa who are mutilated by female circumcision. These women need our support, not our silence.



"Abercrombie & Fitch has agreed to stop selling T-shirts that some groups have found objectionable, including an Allegheny County girls group that launched a "girlcott" last Sunday that triggered a national firestorm against the Ohio company. The edgy apparel store reached an amicable agreement with the Women's & Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, according to a joint statement announced late today, to stop selling the T-shirts. "We recognize that the shirts in question, while meant to be humorous, might be troubling to some,'' according to the statement by Abercrombie & Fitch. "We are pleased with this resolution.''

Among the "attitude T-shirts" assailed by the group of two dozen girls were those that read: "Who needs brains when you have these?" and "Blondes Are Adored, Brunettes are Ignored."

According to the foundation's part of the statement: "We look forward to meeting with Abercrombie & Fitch to discuss ways we could collaborate on more empowering messages their products could be sending to their customers.''"


My comment:

As Abercrombie & Fitch for some addled reason refuse to sell any product made with Australian wool, I have no brief for them at all. I would be delighted if EVERYONE boycotted them. But, as a libertarian, I think they should have the right to sell any T-shirts they like to anyone who wants to buy them. Nonetheless it is pleasing to see an apparently "liberal" group of feminists recognizing that the breakdown of standards fostered by earlier generations of feminists is in the end -- as conservatives have always said -- disrespectful and damaging towards women. One only hopes that the young women concerned have sufficient depth of character to concern themselves with the plight of women in the Muslim world as well as worrying about what is on sale in their local shops. At the moment the only major force doing much good for women in the Islamic world is the U.S. Army.

No comments: