BARBARA SMITH: WHERE’S THE REVOLUTION?, THE NATION, 1993
Kim Crenshaw: June 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, widely regarded as the convulsive beginning of the gay rights movement. Now the celebration of this historic event will bring to a head divergent and sometimes controversial questions, questions about how, when and where the movement grapples with its own intersectional history and how it deals with current intersectional politics. Some of the issues this year will range from whether leading figures of the movement's origin such as Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be lifted up to whether the current celebration of same-sex marriage reflects an agenda that has been authorized by the many or by the few.
We were fortunate enough to sit down with Lady Sill just as she was transitioning to her new job as the executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust. We were in London a few weeks ago. We look forward to highlighting her work in the future and on hearing about how her hangout with Billy Porter and the cast of Pose as co grand marshals of Wold Pride work, Lady Sill. And just as we were finishing up our last podcast on apologies, the New York City Police Department issued one for their actions that led to the Stonewall Uprising 50 years ago.
Two weeks ago, Commissioner James O'Neil issued a short, maybe not so sweet statement calling the actions of the police discriminatory and oppressive. He made assurances that something like this would never happen in 2019. Now this comes after decades of the NYPD resisting demands for an apology. In fact, just two years ago, O'Neil himself declined apologizing for the raid, saying that, well, the past was the past. Now some see this as a step in the right direction, and I have to acknowledge that, unlike some of the bystander apologies discussed In the last episode, Joe Biden's non-apology, for example, this one at least acknowledged past wrongdoing on the part of the police. But critics of the apology aren't so impressed. They say it says nothing about harm being done today, right now against LBTQ-plus people by the NYPD. The Reclaim Pride Coalition, for example, stated, "The NYPD's vice squad is still in business, busting sex workers and others while its own members run their own brothels." They pointed out that the NYPD arrested a trans woman in the Bronx and held her in custody, in handcuffs for 24 hours. Her crime, walking to work while trans.
Now apologies aren't nothing, but they aren't quite the it's-all-good-now blanket for contemporary harassment. I'll say that again. Apologies aren't nothing, but they aren't an it's-all-good blanket disclaimer for contemporary harassment. Some see the apology as a further softening of the violent history between the police and queer people. Now for some, this is a welcome rapprochement, while for others it's just another step in the de-politicizing and corporatizing of the movement. The incorporation of uniformed officers in ... The incorporation of uniformed officers in the parade has been a particular point of contention. It leads some critics like Reclaim Pride to organize the Queer Liberation March.
Now that's an alternative march to retain more of the radical elements of Pride, especially its resistance to unjust domination. We'll hear a little bit more from them in a minute. Now that's something that Barbara Smith knows all about. On June 19th she penned an op-ed entitled "Why I Left the Mainstream Queer Rights Movement." In her iconic and no-nonsense way, she explains why she, one of the key figures in the history of queer freedom, has become isolated from the current gay rights movement.
Now to any reader of black feminism, lesbian writing or intellectual history of intersectionality ideas, Barbara Smith needs no introduction. But to the newbies, I'm going to tell you just a little bit about Barbara Smith, lesbian, feminist author, activist, independent scholar and co-founder of the Combahee River Collective. Barbara Smith has been in the driver's seat of the literary and political vehicles carrying black feminism into the public square for a half century. The titles she has edited and the projects she's co-founded tell it all. All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, Black Women's Studies, Home Girls, A Black Feminist Anthology, This Bridge Called My Back, I am Your Sister, Black Women Organizing Across Sexuality, Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press, The Combahee River Collective, Conditioned Spies, The Black Women's Issue.
Now these were like stops on the underground railroad for us black feminists who were all coming of age in the late '70s and the early '80s. Let me tell you, by the time I was in grad school in the mid '80s, Conditioned Spies, now that was like Prince's The Black Album. You'd heard about it. You wanted to get it, but it virtually sold out almost immediately when it was published. So my little study group at the University of Wisconsin had one copy of it. And this is a shout out to you, Judy and Ryan, we'd steal it from each other every chance we'd get. We were so thirsty for the work that would amplify what we were seeing, what we were experiencing and what we were trying to think and write about. And Barbara Smith led the way in quenching that thirst nurturing an entire generation of black feminists.
That's why, in addition to the Stonewall Award for Service to the Lesbian and Gay Community in 1994 and her nomination to the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, the African American Policy Forum awarded Barbara the Harriette Tubman Lifetime Achievement Award. We call her the OG of black feminism. Barbara, welcome to the podcast.
Barbara Smith: Thank you so much, Kim. I'm so happy to be with you. Kim Crenshaw: So this year is a big anniversary for queer rights, he movement, and it looks like all stops are being pulled out, so here in New York, the NYPD, as I mentioned, has apologized. The New York Times has published a series reflecting life after Stonewall. And your contribution to that theory, "Why I Left the Mainstream Queer Rights Movement" pulled no punches about some of the continuing problems of the movement. And for that, it's so much of the piece that you wrote and then of course the piece that you wrote in 1993 in The Nation, "Where's the Revolution?" Actually gives a trajectory that in many ways informs some part of even the contemporary critique of the movement. Walk us back to that trajectory- what do you remember about the first March?
Barbara Smith: Well it was exhilarating. Everything in those days was exhilarating, because we were making it up from scratch. We were making it up as we were going along. One of the members of the Combahee River Collective, Demita Frazier said something I've never forgotten and have quoted many, many times. She said, "This is