The Cancellation of Eartha Kitt

There are three types of people: Those who know Eartha Kitt from her sultry, smoky voice, and stint as Cat Woman on the OG Batman (move over Michelle Pfeiffer); those who recognize her voice from the inimitable antics of Yzma in Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove; and those, like me, who watched nothing but Nick at Nite and the Disney Channel growing up, so know her from both. Anyway, she’s out there in the zeitgeist of US pop culture, so at some point I’m sure you’ve run across the little woman with a big voice – both on stage and in politics.

Pull the Lever Kronk!

If you’re fairly familiar with the 60’s at all, then you probably know what I’m about to talk about. However, since debates about “cancellation culture” currently rage daily on Twitter, I thought it was a good time to discuss how “cancelling” is nothing new, and how unfollowing someone on Twitter because they are a racist troll is very different from political activists who often loose much more than Twitter followers.

Eartha Kitt, sultry co-star of Batman and top chart singer, used her platform to speak out during one of the most iconic and socially turbulent times in US history. Catching the eye of Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson in 1967 when she spoke in favor of Johnson’s Juvenile Delinquency Bill, in 1968 they invited her to a White House luncheon given by Lady Bird herself. In a very 60’s manner, the theme was something to the effect of “what can women do to prevent crime in the streets.”

Lots of things happened at that lunch that led to Kitt going toe to toe with Lady Bird. However, suffice it to say that during the lunch, Kitt raised her hand, and told Lady Bird:

“Boys I know across the nation feel it doesn’t pay to be a good guy. They figure with a record they don’t have to go off to Vietnam.You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street.

She then dropped her mic and walked out of the room. J/K. She didn’t do that. She was perfectly respectful, taking the opportunity to speak when she was given one.

Wrong Lever!

Kitt didn’t fare well in the aftermath. Reports said that Kitt yelled at Lady Bird (she didn’t) and that Lady Bird burst into tears at Kitt’s mean mean truthy words (she didn’t), and that it was all a media stunt orchestrated by Kitt (it wasn’t). She was written off Batman, lost her singing contracts, and was shoved out of work in the United States for nearly a decade, finally returning to Broadway in 1978. On top of everything else, the CIA kept a file on her full of strange, contradictory “evidence.” All this because a calm, respectful, and poised Black woman dared to discuss Vietnam at a White House lunch. Race, gender, and political activism all intersect in this story, but the bottom line is that one comment pushed her out of the United States for ten years.

Ok…so what?

The term “cancel culture” has been floating around for a while. Harper’s Magazine published a letter about it, and Objective Journalism published a response. “Cancel culture” has become a term that’s used as a sort of red herring anytime someone gets flack for saying something that people don’t like. What I mean by this is that people who are overtly racist, sexist, or generally mean spirited say something racist, or sexist and then scream that they’re getting “cancelled” when people unfollow them for their “opinion.” They blame it on the current political climate, when, in reality, “cancelling” someone has been around for…like ever… Historically, it’s a tool wielded by the powerful, and directed at minority or marginalized voices in an effort to keep their opinions intentionally obscured.

Cancelling someone does exist, but usually the people screaming loudest about it (like Tucker Carlson or J.K. Rowling) are not the ones truly getting “cancelled.” A real cancellation usually comes after a marginalized person or group speaks truth to power. That’s exactly what happened to Eartha Kitt, and that’s what we are seeing now in the aftermath of the largest Civil Rights movement in recent history. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking cancel culture only exists on Twitter. It’s a tool, it’s been around for a long time, and right now it’s being used politically to restrict voting rights, and to silence teachers. It’s not silencing your Uncle Jim, it’s making it harder for you to vote, and ensuring your children don’t learn important context to history.

Anyway, you should listen to Eartha Kitt here.


Welcome to the Jungle…I mean Heat Dome.

We have fun and games. As long as if by “fun” you mean 130 degree temperatures and by “games” you mean hoping your AC unit doesn’t burn out. Currently, a “heat dome” is battering the west, with record breaking temperatures already recorded in many states. The heat dome is coupled with a “megadrought” for ADDED fun, and makes me wish that we were all as #extra about climate change as 12 year old me was about the hole in the ozone layer.

We take it day by day…

Look. It’s clear that the heat dome wracking the west is associated with climate change. I’m not going to sit here and write another post warning us all about the “potential” danger of Climate Change. The danger has arrived, and we’re in the thick of it.

In the Jungle…

I want to talk about trees. Specifically the LACK of trees in lower income communities and urban areas. Because something as small as tree coverage is actually incredibly important in discussing our current, achingly hot, weather.

A study conducted by researchers from the Nature Conservancy found that “on average, low-income blocks have 15.2% less tree cover and are 1.5⁰C hotter than high-income blocks.” In the lowest income areas, the study found “30% less tree cover” and the neighborhoods were “4.0⁰C hotter.” What does this mean? Urban and poor areas are hotter than suburban wealthier areas. Specifically because they have fewer trees.

Ok…so what?

Why do trees matter? Well, climate change, the heat dome, and the megadrought all intersect with a variety of issues, including environmental and structural racism. Redlining laws prevented men and women of color from purchasing single family homes in suburban areas, keeping families of color concentrated in urban areas, preventing land ownership, and thus preventing the autonomous decision of planting of new trees.

Trees cool and clean the air. The shade of a tree can feel 15 degrees cooler than direct sun, AND, large tree stands have the ability to “create their own breeze.” (what?!). So, while we are in the middle of a climate crises, a heat dome, and a megadrought, we need to begin to invest in the small things that can help NOW, like trees. We also need to acknowledge, and take action against, the reprucussions of historical policies that, coupled with climate change, can be life threatening.

And look, I’m not a scientist, nor am I an expert in climate change. However, I am an historian. I understand the structural inequalities that created our current urban/suburban spread. I also understand how that past directly impacts our present. In this situation, it means that large swaths of the country will have a worse experience of the “heat dome” than other parts. If you’re like me, and enjoy pestering your locally elected officials, I’d suggest asking them to plant more trees in urban areas. You can also donate or volunteer to plant trees. It’s not a solid fix, but it’s a start, and that’s what we need right now.


Britney Spears and the Discussion of Forced Sterilization

For the past few days, my news (and Twitter) feed have been full of #freebritney posts. If you’ve been hiding under a rock, you may have missed that Britney Spears is asking for the termination of her Conservatorship, giving an impassioned speech in her own defense.

She’s forced to do what?!

One of the most appalling snippets of information that came out of Spears’ speech was that she’s being forced to maintain her IUD. Essentially, she’s been deemed “unfit” to have more children, therefore the court forces her to maintain a medical device inside her body to prevent pregnancies. What Britney is enduring is a form of forced sterilization, one that disability rights activists have been fighting against for years. There are many people who can talk about this fight much more eloquently than me. It’s very clear that Spears’ appeal intersects with disability rights. What’s more muddy is the United States long history of forced sterilization or coerced sterilization among women of color.

Eugenics and the US

Most of us, at some time in our schooling career, learned about the eugenics movement. Long story short, it was a school of thought which sought to “remove” the “bad” genetic traits in humans. What’s less known is that the US wholeheartedly participated in this movement. In the twentieth century, sixty to seventy thousand people were sterilized under state sterilization laws.

Targeted based on race..

Women of color were often targets of forced sterilization or coerced sterilization at the hands of US officials. It’s alleged that up to 25% of Native American women underwent forced sterilization at the hands of the IHS between the 1960’s and 1970s. In North Carolina, the forced sterilization of Black women increased from 23% in 1930 to 64% between 1964 and 1966.

Ok…so what?

Forced sterilization is a disabilities rights fight, but it also intersects with systemic racism. The government was willing to deem women of color as mentally unfit specifically because of their race. The women who endured forced sterilization were often poor, lacked access to education, and lacked trusted doctors. The ramification of forced sterilizations are long and far reaching. Imagine if 25% (or more) of the women in your community could not have children. Yeah. Demographics would change immensely. This is part of a larger theme on my blog, which is “who does the US deem worthy of citizenship?” When the US prevents entire populations from reproducing, its pretty clear they do NOT want more children of color to be born as citizens. The latest example of this being the allegations against ICE detention centers and the forced sterilization of women held within.

So yes, you should be enraged that Britney is forced to remain sterile and lacks access to her own children. But you should also be enraged that hers is far from an isolated case. Forced sterilization intersects with a broad range of Civil Rights abuses, and has left lasting scars on large swaths of populations within the US. Those abuses continue today, and we have to continually fight against them.


What We Get Wrong about the Emancipation Proclamation

Enter Juneteenth

Now that Juneteenth is a Federal Holiday, all the major news sources and your favorite twitter accounts have done hit pieces on why the holiday is important. These sites likely mentioned the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. Generally, the Emancipation Proclamation (or EP as I shall call it from here on out) is cited as the first step to freedom for enslaved men and women. In fact, most news outlets may cite the most famous part of the Proclamation:

That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free

Awesome! Cool job Abe! Except…it’s not that simple. Which is why I’m writing this post. See, in school we were taught that the EP “freed” enslaved people during the Civil War – but this isn’t quite true. The EP was a document, a document that Lincoln intended to use to destabilize the south. Declaring freedom for enslaved men and women during war time was not new. In 1775 John Murray, Lord Dunmore, issued a similar proclamation promising freedom for enslaved and indentured men if they left their enslavers to join the British Army.

Ok…so what?

Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation may not have been an original idea, but it was an important one. Right Ms. Adams? RIGHT? Only sort of. The Proclamation only extended to the southern states in rebellion, an area in which Lincoln was NOT recognized as President. The Proclamation also did not extend to the “border” states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware or Maryland, which all held enslaved men and women.

This is all to say, that when it came to freedom, Abraham Lincoln created a document promising freedom. However, enslaved men and women were largely the ones who carried out that promise. They freed themselves. They ran to the Union Lines in droves, they took their families when possible. They fought for the right to fight in the Union army.

Enslaved men and women freed themselves. Not a document. Not Lincoln.

The Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished slavery in 1865…of course with the clause “except as punishment for a crime.” But…that’s another story.