Hero Worship for Activists: “A Conversation with Anita Hill”

I am a woman of many heroes, men and women of character, substance and integrity. I admire and emulate them. It is in my nature to seek out traits such as fortitude and compassion in my community. My list of heroes is long and not limited by perimeters such as distance, time, gender or race, for although I idealize simple attributes; these principles are not easy to live by. My heroes are people whose actions demonstrate superior courage and discernment, people whose lives are exemplary because of their persistent vision to transform society for the better. When I experience difficulty, I look to my heroes for the strength required to endure and stand in the face of oppression and to carry on with my work. Today I honor Dr. Anita Hill, who rises into the foreground of my legion of inspiring soldiers.

Like many, I have been asked with whom I would dine given a choice. In the process of pursuing my formal education, I have written many essays on the topic. I have photos of my heroes around my home, reminders of my highest ideals. I draw courage from these immortal mortals. To me, even the dead ones are alive. But I have shaken her hand. I put my arm around the honorable and steadfast, Dr. Anita Hill, Esquire. Dr. Hill did not disappoint. She was everything I had imagined and witnessed beginning in 1991 when she faced the entire US Senate for the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. She testified about the former direct superior, who systematically sexually harassed her in the course of the workday.

This was a pivotal moment in women’s history. I was riveted to the TV, watching the testimony with millions of people. It was a formative experience to witness another highly intelligent black woman, stand in truth while powerful men attempted to revise, denounce and silence her. She was a courageous older sister, leading the way. For me, she was no less than a Joan of Arc. Her poise was monumental, her eloquence, sanguine. Dr. Hill, spoke of what other women have waited a decades to discuss. She demanded accountability, whether or not it was granted is irrelevant.

As movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too gain momentum, it helps to recognize the warriors that have established a pathway to transforming society. There is strength in numbers. There is power in speaking when the world attempts to silence, to act when society coerces submission. Witness the lives of Audre Lorde, Dr. King and John Brown. They all knew this. Anita Hill knows it, still.

The legacy of people like Dr. Hill creates a bridge that reinforces and delineates the struggles of women and people of color in society. Their work illustrates that We are not alone. The reveal that we are not the first to endure, to resist or to speak truth to those with power and authority. When we work to create a just society, we walk in the footsteps of these giants.

Recognizing that Dr. Hill is capable of telling her own story, I share those of her ideas that address the ways in which we can harness the efforts of our predecessors to affect lasting change. According to Dr. Hill, by recognizing and always mentioning two or more factors like race, gender, age and class allows us to see the invisible intersectionality any issue. There are layered issues impacting an individual grappling with harassment, discrimination or systemic oppression. By acknowledging the overlapping nature of these experiences we begin to address the true work required to transform society into a just system in which all people can thrive. It is time, according to Hill, to modify our conversations about sex to include intent, consent and expectations. I agree, and I also see this as one of the biggest hurdles to change, since so many people are afraid to have candid conversations about their needs, desires and expectations in general. Women, in particular, often have difficulty negotiating salaries, speaking up in meetings and setting boundaries in their personal lives. We are simply not taught to assert ourselves in these ways.

Yet, we must engage in this reform work if we are to give our sons and daughters the tools they need to grow into accomplished and confident citizens. We must learn and teach each other that no one has the right to abuse another person, regardless of their legal status, educational level or gender. It matters little what form the abuse takes. We need to have a zero tolerance for abuse, for inflicting it on others, for allowing it to be enacted with impunity. We must hold uncompromising standards that permit all people to thrive—whether they are children, elders, women or under our direct supervision.

No one has the right to abuse another person.

Beyond being enamored with the image and ideal of Dr. Hill, she is actually a woman of true substance. Her personal achievements and education make her a paragon for anyone in need of a hero. It is no small feat to persist for a lifetime when men insist upon your silence—when society attempts to enforce a standard smallness and mediocrity. Anita Hill moves beyond these projections into the space of the warrior, where she stands as a paladin for truth and light. When I introduced myself to Dr. Anita Hill at Autodesk for the Level Playing Field Institute fundraiser, she admonished me to pay my gifts forward to the next generation. I assured her that I am. I have been. I will.

This is what it is like to meet one’s hero: She charges you with the highest expectations possible.

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Dr. Guadamuz and Dr. Anita Hill at Autodesk March 9, 2018  at a Fundraiser for                            Level Playing Field Institute

 

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Modeling Courage: Colin Kaepernick’s Walk in the Footsteps of Great Civil Rights Agitators

Two years ago when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the National Anthem, there was a lot of disgust expressed by fans and opposers. Complaints ranged from bigots’ scathing label of “uppity negro” to the more benign statements such as, “There’s a time and place for everything,” meaning, “Not now.” These were nearly the same words that were used to try to quiet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and delay the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the issue of protesting on an NFL field, for any reason, is a matter of national debate, and a very timely one, given the state of our democracy. Most of this dispute comes down to race—the artificial categories designed to separate people and create a thinly veiled caste system in our society. None of this is new. Humankind has always been engaged in this brutal struggle for power. Fortunately, history has shown that the challengers to tyrannical rule often win though they don’t often reap the rewards in their lifetimes.

 

The story of Colin Kaepernick is so profoundly similar to the biblical tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that, for me, it is an inevitable comparison. In brief, King Nebuchadnezzar builds a huge golden idol and commands that when the music plays, everyone should fall prostrate before it and carry on with a spectacle. As with any self-adoring tyrant, the king imposes consequences for disobedience. He commands, “whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:5-6). More concerning than the king’s edict is the response of his people: Like good Nazis, residents lined up to make sure none of the perverted rules were broken. Luckily, these concerned citizens reported Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to the authorizes for not bending a knee at the appointed time, requiring the king to kick up the heat in the inferno, looking to make an example of the three men. (If this is beginning to sound familiar, you are paying attention.) Here’s where the miracle happens: Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego’s lives are saved though the lives of the soldiers who deliver them to their fate are not.

 

Okay, so maybe Kaepernick is not being thrown into a literal fire, but dismissing and preventing him from working in the NFL is equally severe punishment for kneeling when the authorities insist one stand. This is the strength of fear: It teaches other NFL players, and mere mortals, to comply or suffer a similar destiny. Kaepernick, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had an unflinching conviction to stand apart for the sake of their beliefs. They did so even at the risk of great peril because the rules were unethical and wicked, and they made a conscientious choice to challenge the status quo.

 

This familiar rhetoric of oppression—appeals based on rewards, coercion and/or threats of violence are eerily similar to the current language of our president against Kaepernick and anyone else with a differing opinion. Essentially, Colin Kaepernick’s broken heart would not allow him to stand during the anthem. Wishing to protest gun violence against black men by leveraging his fame, visibility and power for the sake of others, Kaepernick silently bowed his head. His is a sacred endeavor worth our admiration and support, because what he does, he does for all of us. If sports leagues begin to fire black men for defiance, as the president and several other powerful figures suggest, we are witnessing a new form of discrimination and punitive blackballing; these are simply new methods of coercion and intimidation, designed to keep people from living with integrity and exercising their right to free speech. Were it not for Kaepernick’s courage, which was above all a deep compassionate wail against the extraordinary violence meted out to black men all over the country, we would simply go on, anesthetized to the plight of an entire segment of the population. Instead, the nation is discussing the issue every week, for hours.

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“Mural 136a” by Will Schmitz for Living Artist Project

At last, more NFL athletes are beginning to speak up. They seem to be reacting more to the attempts of the president to silence non-violent, peaceful protest than to Kaepernick’s original stance for social justice. Nonetheless, their actions serve as a show of solidarity and support for freedom. They seem to say that they are protesting because they are free. This is the life breath of America: Liberty. Throughout history, individuals like Colin Kaepernick have stepped into the bright light of public scrutiny in order to bring about change. Kaepernick’s necessary anti-collusion lawsuit seeks to reform the NFL’s ability to stifle a player’s individual ability to thrive. This is important for numerous black men, who wish to participate freely in sports and other forms of civic engagement without experiencing monetary repercussions. Let’s not make the mistake of minimizing the situation. Kaepernick’s case is clearly as much a civil rights case as Plessy v. Fergusson, Roe v. Wade or numerous other important cases that have been heard in the past century.

Without key individuals stepping forward to demand justice, the courts have historically remained deaf to cases that have later had far-reaching beneficial consequences for future generations. That’s why Colin Kaepernick’s early and consistent non-violent protest to relentless police aggression and fatal force against black men is of vital importance to our future as an open democracy. Like any visionary, imagining a better world, the bravery employed by Colin Kaepernick in using his body on the front lines of transformation is critical to altering our current trajectory. Kaepernick is using his status, voice and position to further the cause of justice. The ripples of his actions we are only beginning to feel.