Through the 1970’s Women’s Movement, I learned to appreciate the meaning of radical feminism’s tenet that “the personal is political”.
My personal began with a deeply compromised white Southern childhood, dominated by a mean mother whom I couldn’t trust, and a father who seemed to care, but ultimately betrayed me to satisfy his own needs. My life was dominated by a pervasive white Southern Christianist fundamentalism that generated in me a deep skepticism about “god” — as an idea and a being with power over me and the world. I called myself an “atheist,” even as a girl, and loved the rise it got out of people.
In 1964, I graduated from Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, in Jacksonville, Florida. I had been a awkward loner who was also President of the National Honor Society and an “outstanding senior.” Our school’s Confederate general namesake had been a founder of the Klu Klux Klan and much worse. From 1964-68 at Florida State University, attentive professors and the emergence of radical movements around the nation showed a way out and I took it, with no regrets.
Growing up in that cruel white south of the 1950’s and 60’s. I always knew that there were bad people out there. For me the only way I could cope, within my family and that world was never to NOT name what was wrong, never to pretend that people were not saying untrue things. As I grew up I wanted to study the bad parts of history — slavery, racism and injustice; the Nazis and the holocaust, the crazed fundamentalists. I always tried to watch the ways in which rich, white over-privileged people always won and pretended it was because of their hard work and special intelligences.
Somehow I was able to develop a personal style and approach to the world that allowed me to name names, to say what I saw and get away with it. Sometimes my reflexive oppositional stance got me in trouble — and most of the time it left me with few easy friendships, but it usually seemed worth it. There IS so much wrong, and so much injustice, and it always feels good to understand it and to share that understanding with others. By focusing on poverty, racism. sexism and the essential economic terrorism of capitalism, I felt more aware of what is happening around me, and more able to find similarly critical allies.
Today’s smug, we-know-betterist neoliberals are almost as bad as the old reactionaries I grew up around. So I have never stopped trying to speak my truths, and then see who agrees, even though I am more aware of the personal costs of this stance than I used to be. And today I do acknowledge that, as the Buddhist poet Jack Gilbert said, “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.” My husband, George Abbott White, and daughters, Gwyne and Bronwen, and my sister Barbara (See below) have taught me this. But the reactions are still deep, as can be seen in my writing, teaching and speaking.
“Seen from the point of view of a lie, the truth is often touted as radical.” ― Mango Wodzak, Destination Eden
Ann Withorn Map 2014 Picture of my plans for writing about my life
Today’s students celebrate new name, logo for Westside High in Jacksonville
“What’s in a name?” 2014 summaries of the story of my High School Name Change
“Faithless” 2001 Report back from Secular Humanist Conference
“Cultural Contradictions” 1999 Review of books on motherhood, with Ramona Hernandez
“Soduko” 2001 Short comment on Solitaire and Soduko as differing ways to approach my life
“Americanism What it Means to Me and How I can Further its Aims” 1964 My high school essay that won a Jacksonville award –how things have changed