These occasionally enlightening, mostly exhausting conversations regarding gender and race have highlighted the often uneasy historical relationship that has existed between feminists and civil rights activists, progressive movements that still often managed to give shelter to the most insidious kinds of chauvinism, patriarchy and bigotry.
Ari Kelman, one of the history professors over at edgeofthewest, wanted to do a glowing write-up of Alice Paul, the courageous suffragist and founder of the National Women’s Party. And then he learned she was a racist.
“This kind of thing happens all too often: heroes don’t usually withstand close scrutiny unblemished,” he said.
I know how he feels. I was a relative latecomer to the Autobiography of Malcolm X (I was 25), and when I read it I was surprised at how distracting his sexism was (and how deeply weird the N.O.I.‘s mythology is). A few people tried to downplay his attitudes, saying they were fairly normal views in the historical context in which he lived. Maybe. But, obviously, there’s something deeply paradoxical about people simultaneously crusading for empowerment and beating the drum for marginalization.
It’s frustrating that progressives are still fighting these same fights all these years later.