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Johnnetta Betsch Cole's photo

Beverly Guy-Sheftall's photo

Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole

      ...educator and feminist. Dr. Cole is President of Bennett College in North Carolina, the former “Sister President” of Spelman College and Professor emerita of anthropology, Women’s and African-American Studies at Emory University.

Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall

      ... educator and feminist. Dr. Guy-Sheftall is Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Spelman College, where she is also Director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center. With many individual publications, Gender Talk is the first they’ve written jointly.

Excerpts3:34 secs

We need to talk, say Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall.  They took the lead by writing and talking about what they call a crisis in the African-American community and strongly urge their sisters and brothers to do no less.  We also need to act, they say. Create a country in which transformation is possible.  The ultimate solutions require us to reorganize our ways of life, they believe.  

These two educators are African-Americans who declare their love for black people and want their community to be healthy, safe and secure.  Right now, they believe major obstacles to that vision include a deep reluctance among African-American women and men to “air dirty linen” of any kind -- from talking about HIV/AIDS to holding people accountable for violence -- and a country that Dr. Guy-Sheftall declares “morally bankrupt.”

Dr. Guy-Sheftall puts today’s messy problems in the United States at the center of the agenda.  Currently, racism is off the agenda, she observes, as are poverty and choice for women. All Americans, white as well as communities of color, need to be outraged about the direction in which the country is moving and taking everyone with it, declares Dr. Guy-Sheftall. She believes the first order of business is for Americans to remove the man who occupies the White House, George W. Bush. She wants constructive alliances of progressive people of all colors to work to get the country back.  Then Dr. Guy-Sheftall wants African-Americans to stop blaming external forces and start taking appropriate responsibility for real and present dangers in the community.

Dr. Cole articulates the basic question the two scholars are addressing as questions relevant for every community and for the world. We must figure out how to deal with difference and become able to separate difference from privilege and power, she says, convinced that “We might have come over here in a lot of different ships, but we are all in the same boat.”

The ultimate solutions to the full range of challenges Dr. Cole and Dr. Guy-Sheftall identify require individuals and the whole community to be responsible for their behavior and to change what needs changing. Domestic violence is unacceptable. Period. All people on earth, regardless of color, have violence of men against women, they know. But this violence is learned behavior that comes out of the heart of patriarchy, Drs. Cole and Guy-Sheftall believe, and it must be unlearned. Young people must stop getting on TV half-clad and engaging in misogyny. Faith leaders deeply rooted in a patriarchal explanation of the world must adapt or know that women with gender-related problems will go elsewhere to solve them, probably to their “girlfriend network.” And the modern HIV/AIDS plague must be addressed. Keeping silent about things that may be profoundly hurtful -- personally and collectively -- only make worse today’s crisis in the African-American community.

Yes, we have a whole lot of work to do, Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Beverly Guy-Sheftall say.  And it’s our j-o-b.

[This Program was recorded March 15, 2003, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

We must talk, Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall tell Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. The subject must be hard realities, including those within the African-American community, they say, and expand.

Conversation 2

Dr. Cole describes racist roots for African-Americans’ profound unwillingness to discuss the community’s “dirty linen.”  Dr. Guy-Sheftall explains how insidious and far-reaching this silence is. They describe settings where women have been willing to talk to each others, explore the wide-reaching consequences of the community’s unwillingness to talk, then consider the limits of women taking gender-related problems to male religious leaders.

Conversation 3

Dr. Guy-Sheftall and Dr. Cole say “the struggle for women’s equality in African-American communities,” includes but is not limited to women. The violence of men against women is NEVER acceptable, they declare. Dr. Cole describes domestic violence as learned behavior that comes out of the heart of patriarchy, clear that it must be unlearned.  Dr. Guy-Sheftall describes her need to remember the days of segregation and speaks out for remembering so the African-American community can capture what was positive in those days. The community is in crisis, Dr. Cole says, and states the Noah Principle:  There will be no more credit for predicting the rain, it’s time to build the ark. She offers hope for transformation.

Conversation 4

Dr. Guy-Sheftall describes all the issues that are currently “off the agenda” in America -- racism, poverty, choice for women -- and calls for a change in national political leadership in the 2004 presidential election. She encourages everyone to be outraged by the direction the United States is moving, calls everyone to build constructive alliances with people who care about people, to reclaim the country from morally bankruptcy, to make systemic transformation possible. Dr. Cole calls on the African-American community to deal with its internal contractions so it can address external oppression. Dr. Guy-Sheftall says the community must take some responsibility for its own issues and work on them, leaving blame behind. Women are viewed as leaders, with examples.

Conversation 5

Both guests address the role and importance of hip-hop in the community and in the world. Hip-hop is put in the context of the larger society and seen as a barometer of where we all currently are.  Solutions to the negative aspects of hip-hop are discussed, including reorganizing ways of life. Both guests identify a continuing need for generations to reach out to each other.

Conversation 6

Dr. Cole says her own and Dr. Guy-Sheftall’s love for black people is their driving force in seeking protection, health and safety within the black community, especially for women and children.  Dr. Cole urges the community to face the modern HIV/AIDS plague.  Dr. Guy-Sheftall calls for the community’s leadership to step forward. Dr. Cole describes everyone’s work: to figure out how to deal with difference, to separate difference from privilege and power, to understand the dire consequences of failing to do so.


We were delighted to welcome Drs. Cole and Guy-Sheftall to this conversation at the end of what was for them a very long week.

Related Links:
Dr. Cole’s and Dr. Guy-Sheftall’s Gender Talk is a “One World” book, published by Ballantine Books.

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