Who I am forces me to be hyper-aware of the workings of power. Who I am doesn’t really exist in this culture, or any other.
If I let this world define me I would be nothing but a series of improbable intersections. I only see myself reflected from oblique angles.
Rebecca Hall, and I am an attorney, historian, published author and life long activist. I am an African American woman, a lesbian, a mother, and the direct descendant of slaves.
Grandchild of Slaves–Yes This Is the 21st Century
My father was the child of slaves. Both his parents were born in 1860. My grandmother, Harriet Thorpe, was born the property of Squire Sweeney in Howard County, Missouri and my grandfather Haywood Hall was born the property of Colonel Haywood Hall on his plantation in Tennessee. I never met either of them—they died long before I was born in 1963. I have been trying to find anyone else from my generation whose grandparents were slaves in this country, and I have been unable to do so. My dad was the youngest of the Hall family’s children, born in 1898. He never finished eighth grade and worked odd jobs, from shining shoes to waiting tables. Unable to tolerate or comply with racism, he worked outside the system. He was a labor organizer, a communist and a self-taught worker-intellectual, publishing two books and numerous articles during his life under the pen name Harry Haywood http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Haywood.
A Black Jew
My dad met my mom– a second generation White New Orleanian Ashkenazi Jew of Russian descent– in the Communist Party in the early 1950s. He was 33 years older than her. In 1956 my parents were forced to travel to three different states before they could find a judge to marry them. My mom had begun her work as an anti-racist activist when she was a teenager in the 1940s and never looked back. She was a teacher and later a professor of history and has written 3 books on the history of slavery. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwendolyn_Midlo_Hall My parents were black-listed during the McCarthy era and forced to flee the country. I was their second and last child, born in Mexico City. My parents basically split up when I was born, and I was raised by my White Jewish mother who had been ostracized by her family for marrying a Black man. My mom was not religious, but she was Jewish. It is a cultural thing, and that was how she raised me. We lived on the margins of marginal communities–poor Black neighborhoods, the only place we were allowed to live as I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. We were in and out of poverty, including a bout of homelessness, but our financial lives stabilized as my mother’s academic career was established. Nothing else was stable though. We moved a lot– Mexico City, North Carolina, Michigan, New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York–all before I was 12. I went to 11 different schools before 7th grade.
And a Lesbian, Too
I came out as a Lesbian when I was 17 during my last year in High School. Neither of my parents were thrilled about that. Mainly they were concerned that I had enough on my plate as an African American, Jewish, bi-racial woman, and a red diaper baby. Eventually they were able to figure out that it wasn’t a choice I was making and were able to move on from there. My partner and I have been together twenty-four years, and we have a 15 year-old son.
The Workings of Power from Oblique Angles
Who I am forces me to be hyper-aware of the workings of power. My positionality doesn’t really exist in this culture, or any other. If I let this world define me I would be nothing but a series of improbable intersections. I only see myself reflected from oblique angles.
Thus I live in the oblique. Life in the oblique reflects the complex and diffuse workings of power like a prism reveals the colors of light. What I have to give – my special power that I have been honing my whole life—is to share this angle’s viewpoint. To reveal workings of power in all of its complexity. I have developed and sharpened this ability
- By confronting and embracing my legacy on my father’s side as a grandchild of slaves and a daughter of a revolutionary and on my mother’s side as a Jew whose parents fled Europe’s pogroms.
- By being out as a lesbian and thus living for over 30 years in a radical and marginalized subculture. Fighting for and nurturing a relationship of 24 years with a woman and the(now) teenage son we brought into this world together.
- By being a housing rights attorney — a litigator who sued slumlords and racist landlords and predator landlords who sexually harassed their low income tenants and defended people who were being evicted
- By study and scholarship: teaching, researching and publishing on the intersections of race, gender, law, resistance and social change
- By being a life long activist. A feminist, fighting against American empire and war. Fighting racism and poverty. Fighting Apartheid and environmental degradation, homophobia and misogyny. Now I am dedicated to the movement for climate justice; the struggle that ties all of these strands of my activism together, where economic and social justice intersect with the possibility of planetary survival and the possibility of a livable future.
Why This Website
I am one of those people in the room who always has something to add. Another perspective to contribute. I have spoken and taught and written many things, things from the oblique, and I’m creating this web site to gather what might be useful to others. I will try to keep you posted, because of course I always have more things to say.