In 1991, Anita Hill’s courageous testimony during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings sparked a national conversation on sexual harassment and women’s equality in politics and the workplace. Today, she turns her attention to another potent and enduring symbol of economic success and equality—the home. Hill details how the current housing crisis, resulting in the devastation of so many families, so many communities, and even whole cities, imperils every American’s ability to achieve the American Dream.
Hill takes us on a journey that begins with her own family story and ends with the subprime mortgage meltdown. Along the way, she invites us into homes across America, rural and urban, and introduces us to some extraordinary African American women. As slavery ended, Mollie Elliott, Hill’s ancestor, found herself with an infant son and no husband. Yet, she bravely set course to define for generations to come what it meant to be a free person of color. On the eve of the civil rights and women’s rights movements, Lorraine Hansberry’s childhood experience of her family’s fight against racial restrictions in a Chicago neighborhood ended tragically for the Hansberry family. Yet, that episode shaped Lorraine’s hopeful account of early suburban integration in her iconic American drama A Raisin in the Sun. Two decades later, Marla, a divorced mother, endeavors to keep her children safe from a growing gang presence in 1980s Los Angeles. Her story sheds light on the fears and anxiety countless parents faced during an era of growing neighborhood isolation, and that continue today. In the midst of the 2008 recession, hairdresser Anjanette Booker’s dogged determination to keep her Baltimore home and her salon reflects a commitment to her own independence and to her community’s economic and social viability. Finally, Hill shares her own journey to a place and a state of being at home that brought her from her roots in rural Oklahoma to suburban Boston, Massachusetts, and connects her own search for home with that of women and men set adrift during the foreclosure crisis.
The ability to secure a place that provides access to every opportunity our country has to offer is central to the American Dream. To achieve that ideal, Hill argues, we and our leaders must engage in a new conversation about what it takes to be at home in America. Pointing out that the inclusive democracy our Constitution promises is bigger than the current debate about legal rights, she presents concrete proposals that encourage us to reimagine equality. Hill offers a twenty-first-century vision of America—not a vision of migration, but one of roots; not one simply of tolerance, but one of belonging; not just of rights, but also of community—a community of equals.
From the Hardcover edition.
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From the Hardcover edition.
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"Home: The place of one’s dwelling or nurturing, with the conditions,
circumstances, and feelings which naturally attach to it and are associated with it . . . not merely 'place' but also 'state.'"
The Oxford English Dictionary
This is a book about home.
As the first decade of the new millennium came to a close, the country was still reeling from a housing crisis that caused both physical and psychological distress. The centrality of home to individuals of all stripes was never more apparent. Millions of Americans, male and female, of all races, had been set adrift as a result of reckless personal and institutional financial behavior, the precipitous decline of manufacturing industries, and in the case of Hurricane Katrina, an unprecedented natural disaster. And whether as a place or as a state of being, the significance of home to neighborhood, city, and national well-being was becoming clear. Moreover, the crisis raised questions about whether our country is indeed a welcoming location of endless possibility to those seeking the American Dream. Our national identity was being challenged by the home ownership crisis.
Many have lost faith in homeownership, a bedrock of the American Dream. This loss is further complicated by the role of the home in defining equality and democracy—a role that is often overlooked, even though where one lives determines school assignments, voting opportunities, and often the availability of jobs, goods, and services. Yet little attention is paid to the complicated interrelationship between where one calls home, what happens inside the home, and equality outside the home.
I plan to examine home as a place and a state of being by interweaving discussions of law, literature, and culture with stories of individuals, focusing on women, and African Americans, in search of equality. These stories reflect each woman’s experience in finding and shaping a home where she could achieve some measure of equality for herself and her family. Beginning with my own story, I invite readers to think about their experiences and yearning for home, even as they read of others whose experiences are different but who share a desire to be equal participants in our democracy. The women featured and I have learned over the course of our lives that home, as well as equality, need to be reconceived as our worlds change.
These stories of gender, race, and finding home guide us through a history of imagining and reimagining equality. They also address issues that have long been neglected in this country but must be grappled with in order to ensure that every American has the opportunity to achieve the sense of belonging that comes from being at home. As black women have come to head the majority of black households, they have become the primary “homebuilders.” They have also become dominant forces as community builders in African American neighborhoods. Their determination to build their lives, their families, and their communities, despite harsh perceptions of them, is evidence of their belief in the promise of America, even in times when that promise may seem irreparably broken. Their struggle points to an important lesson: we may have reached the limits of current rights legislation’s ability to assure liberty and equality for all. For these women and others who have yet to be perfectly at home in our nation, we need to find other strategies.
Black women know what it means physically, socially, and economically to possess a gender and a race. They know that race and gender equality must both be realized if either is to be achieved. Like other women, they struggle to balance work and family obligations, and they suffer from violence in their homes and on the streets of their communities. Along with African American men in many racially isolated neighborhoods, they endure crime, inadequate schools, and a lack of public and private amenities. With all women and black men, they face limited employment and educational opportunities, as well as underrepresentation in political arenas. We have passed many laws to try to address these inequities, to level the playing field, and yet we have not finished the work. They struggle, as millions do, to find home in America.
How one conceives of home is deeply personal. As the poet T. S. Eliot wrote, “Home is where one starts from.” For me, home is inextricably linked to the story of how my family, in one generation, went from being property to owning property. In the first two chapters, I will explore the beginnings of the meaning I give to home by tracing the path that three generations of my family took to leave behind slavery and its vestiges. Their journeys kept them searching for an attachment to the land, their symbol of survival and belonging.
Mollie Elliott, one of my maternal great-grandmothers, was seventeen years old and a slave in 1864, when she gave birth to my maternal grandfather in Little River County, Arkansas. That son, Henry Elliott, went on to homestead eighty acres of land at the turn of the century, only to lose them. Nevertheless, he and his wife, Ida, summoned the courage to move, along with seven of their children, to Oklahoma. They settled very near the farm on which I and my twelve siblings were raised by Erma, their youngest daughter, and her husband, Albert Hill. From the bucolic vantage point of the small, rural community of Lone Tree, our family experienced sweeping social change—from Jim Crow to the civil rights era. My parents remained on the farm well into the 1990s, beyond the time when many Americans had left rural life for a more promising, urban existence. But being well into their sixties by the time the law’s protections began to take hold, they saw the promises of equality not so much for change in their lives, but for the potential to transform the lives of their children. In particular, the advances ushered in by the civil rights and women’s rights movements offered women born in the 1950s and ’60s the kind of independence that Erma Hill could never fully imagine, much less realize. But this much she knew: neither the land, nor a house full of children, nor even a husband would define the place or the state of her daughter’s home.
With the rights movements, my path to equality followed an entirely different trajectory from my mother’s. Yet in 1973, Erma Hill approached my departure for college with optimism and with little thought of the challenges inherent in imagining a life not only outside rural confines, but also without the constraints of overt discrimination. And why not? The country was on the verge of a new day. A generation of children was making its way into the world to live out America’s promise of equality, and she would enjoy a front-row seat knowing that she had prepared me to be a part of it.
As personal as the concept of home is, within its contours are principles with universal application. In chapter 3, I explore the history of how home became a preponderant symbol of race and gender advancement in the United States, simultaneously denoting belonging and independence. In 1776, likening the tyranny of husbands in the home to the tyranny of King George over the colonies, Abigail Adams implored her husband, John, to “Remember the Ladies” by including protections for them in the “new Code of Laws.” At the turn of the twentieth century, the African American leader Booker T. Washington urged fellow former slaves to abandon the “hovel” and establish respectable homes as evidence that they had earned the right to be recognized as citizens. Washington’s contemporary Nannie Helen Burroughs established a school for workingclass African American girls, using the home as the foundation for their intellectual and economic enterprises. Renouncing both gender and race subservience, she encouraged her students to be wage earners and “professional” homemakers.
To Adams, Washington, and Burroughs, home stood as a reference point from which equality and civic and economic participation sprang. Piercing the veil between the public and private spheres, Adams imagined women’s equality as safety at home, which could be secured only by recognition in the Constitution. For Washington, African Americans’ citizenship would emanate from their ability to establish homes that would affirm them as neighbors in the word’s fullest and most meaningful sense. The keys to Washington’s ideas for equality were community and interconnectedness. In Burroughs’s vision, the economic recognition of work that women did in the home rightly established their social and political worth outside the home. In a society dominated by men, Burroughs saw and advocated the dignity and value in women’s contributions and in women themselves. Home, a critical component of the American Dream, was at the heart of the quest for an inclusive democracy as pursued by women and people of color.
Through the stories of Adams, Washington, Burroughs, and others, I hope to show how home became a positive symbol of advancement. Advocates of equality took a concept that had represented gender and racial oppression and transformed it into a means of empowerment. Eighteenthand nineteenth-century activists argued that liberation required society to reimagine the home, and that the freedom to choose where and how one lives was a vital component of a free society. Moreover, they laid the groundwork for aligning the interests of women and blacks with those of the entire society. Their ideas and their work would take root and develop into twentieth-century migration patterns and equal rights movements.
Nothing better represents the twisted path to racial and gender equality in America than the search for home as a place of refuge, financial security, and expression. At the end of the Civil War and well into the twentieth century, for African American families, the search for roots that had been lost to slavery became a search for land, a place where they could earn a living and escape the vestiges of bondage and the brutality of Jim Crow laws. Beginning in about 1915, during what is known in American history as the Great Migration, black men and women began to leave the rural South and make their way to northern industrial cities to find work and a new home. Despite racial restrictions in the North, the bright lines drawn by segregationists were starting to blur. Black women who were domestic workers started to form enclaves in rental housing in affluent neighborhoods. As the number of blacks in the North grew, the demand for housing began to exceed the supply of homes unencumbered by racially restrictive covenants. The idea of challenging those covenants by buying homes in white neighborhoods took hold; purchasing a home in a racially restricted neighborhood became a symbol of racial equality, a way for blacks to realize the desire of all Americans to find a place to belong. Litigation in the 1930s and forms of civil resistance to discrimination ultimately led Congress to pass equality-promising, antidiscrimination legislation in the 1960s.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Home: Survival and the Land
Chapter Two: Belonging to the New Land
Chapter Three: Gender and Race at Home in America
Chapter Four: Lorraine’s Vision: A Better Place to Live
Chapter Five: Blame It on the Sun
Chapter Six: Lessons from a Survivor: Anjanette’s Story
Chapter Seven: Home in Crisis: Americans on the Outside of the Dream
Chapter Eight: Home at Last: Toward an Inclusive Democracy
What People are Saying About This
“An eloquent continuation of her giving voice to the invisible, the voiceless, the undocumented, the hopeless and, yes, the all too literally homeless.” —Patricia J. Williams, The Nation
“This ambitious book provides just as dignified and well intentioned a performance as the one she gave at those hearings.” —Megan Buskey, The New York Times Book Review
“Hill superbly articulates the nuanced spaces inside the home where gender inequities might be present, and outside the home where gender and race disparities create barriers to housing stability. She concludes with a call to US leaders and citizenry to proactively engage as partners for a more just society. Summing Up: Recommended. All academic levels/libraries.”—Choice
"Serious readers of all kinds, especially those interested in current affairs and social policy, will appreciate a book that is both highly readable and deeply analytical.”—Library Journal
“In the first sweeping history of Parks’s life, Theoharis shows us a long-time activist committed to fighting white supremacy from her earliest days. From underground investigations of white-on-black rapes in rural Alabama, where no law respected or protected black people, to her work alongside Robert Williams, Malcolm X, and Queen Mother Moore, Rosa Parks not only sat down on the bus; she stood on the right side of justice for her entire life.”—Julian Bond, chairman emeritus, NAACP
“With extraordinary grace and clarity, Anita Hill weaves the story of her family with that of other American families struggling to find and define homes for themselves. What emerges is a powerful story of our nation’s ongoing quest for equality of opportunity, viewed through the eyes of the people who have been deeply engaged in that quest. Beautifully written, elegantly seen, compellingly argued.”—Robert B. Reich, author of Aftershock
“It has taken an astute author to find the real Rosa Parks. . . . Parks was no accidental heroine. She was born to it, and Theoharis ably shows us how and why" —Kirkus Reviews
“Her book, lucid about law, lively with smatterings of history and reminders of cultural markers, may open that conversation.”—Publisher's Weekly
“Combining the sincerity of memoir and the rigor of sociology, Anita Hill looks at home as a physical space, but also as a microcosm of American society. The women profiled in this engaging and moving book illustrate the challenges of living in America as a raced and gendered person while simultaneously demonstrating the beauty of resistance and the triumphs of family, community, and faith. Hill connects the dots between the home-making efforts of African Americans just after Reconstruction and the heartbreaking (and enraging) consequences of the subprime mortgage scandal. After reading this book, you will never see a house as just four walls and a roof. It is a dream and we, as Americans, are the dreamers.”—Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow
“Anita Hill’s bravery, intellect and commitment to justice galvanized a generation of women. If that weren’t enough, it turns out she’s also a wonderful story-teller. Re-Imagining Equality will change your ideas about home, race and gender—and it’s also great fun to read.”—Peggy Orenstein, author, Cinderella Ate My Daughter
"In a book that is rigorous and heartfelt, sharply analytical and deeply moving, Anita Hill examines the idea of what 'home' means to Americans. Bringing to bear her formidable skills as a scholar of American law, history, and culture, Hill has produced a personal narrative that reaches across color and class to explore how our family homes and our national home are inextricably linked to how we understand achievement, opportunity, and equality."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
“In her new book, Reimagining Equality: Stories of Race, Gender, and Finding Home, Professor Anita Hill has written a sobering and compelling book about the plight of woman historically and now. This book is a must read for anyone who is committed to gender equality, and will be invaluable to those who are trying to understand many of the burdens that women, black and white face, in their everyday lives. An easy read, this book has both tragic and triumphant stories and covers the life of women through slavery, and those who now live in the Obama era. They remind us that we still have to come to grips with issues of race and gender, and that we need to re-imagine the question of equality for all. I recommend it with great enthusiasm and excitement about its value to a large audience of readers.”—Professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr., author of The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Race, Class, and Crime in America
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I highly recommend everyone reading this piece of work by Anita Hill. Anita takes no prisoners in putting this piece of work together. This is an excellent book and should be read by everyone. William B. Turner Author
This book pretty much just changed the way I think about so many things. I am definitely richer for the experience.