In the spirit of forever asking questions, I have another for you:
I’m contemplating the strength and implications of the proposed title of my book (and thus, supposedly, one of it’s main contributions)–“A Spirit of Cooperation and Protest: The Internationalism of African American Women, 1920-1939.”
Last winter, someone at a job talk challenged the ideas I was presenting as “basically just the old Washington/Du Bois, accommodation/protest paradigm.” I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I believe Juliette Derricotte‘s “Spirit of Compromise” (which is the language she uses) is genuinely different from Washington’s accommodationism. She did not shy away from directly confronting racism, but she did it in such a way that she converted large swaths of indeterminate white racists away from their racism and towards an understanding of the lives of African Americans, while encouraging black students to have pride in their race. No, she didn’t articulate a critique of institutionalized racism, but not many did in her era (1920s), when interracialism was prominent.
At the same time, I think Mabel Byrd was right when she argued that racists had to acknowledge their racism before compromise (or pacifism) would work. She said to a gathering of WILPF ladies in Prague in 1929, “it is difficult to understand how cooperation can be substituted for conflict until those whose rule is dominant are led to change their attitude toward the minority or dominated group.” Whites needed to realize
“that their conviction of superiority is false, that because they find themselves in a dominating position, is no true sign of their inherent superiority; secondly that there is no divine right for one race to rule another; and thirdly, that the disturbances made by the minority groups are the constant attempts toward a real cooperation in the body politic.” Interesting that last phrase–true cooperation arises out of protest.
This is such an important difference between these two sorority sisters, who shared so much of the same space and same networks. But what do you think? Will readers dismiss the distinction because it seems too similar to Du Bois/Washington? Or is the nuanced understanding of “compromise” something new and interesting?
Maybe the title is misleading, since a primary purpose of the book is to discuss four black women’s international excursions and the life changes they undergo through travel and engagement with other cultures. Maybe I need to find something something more relevant to their identity transformation and let the compromise/protest distinction fade into a sub-point. Particularly as I incorporate the other two women, who’s lives don’t revolve around compromise and protest so neatly.
Humph. Now that I’ve sent out a bazillion job applications with this title in them, maybe I need to re-title it to reflect my emphasis on black women’s internationalism.