Friday, November 4, 2011

RIP Rudolph Byrd

Pardon me for being a little late with this, as I've been struggling to keep my head above (grading) water, but I'd be remiss if I didn't post a short note in honor of great Emory University professor, Rudolph Byrd, who died two weeks ago.

Here's an excerpt from his obituary in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Mr. Byrd, an Emory professor for two decades, died Friday at Emory University Hospital after a long-running fight with cancer. He was 58.

He had just finished writing a series of lectures about race and sexuality to be presented at Harvard University. He was writing a biography of author Ernest Gaines, developing a monograph of the early novels of Alice Walker and collaborating with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. on an anthology of African-American poetry.

You can read the rest of his AJC obit here as well as an additional obituary and slide show (the latter put together by my father) here.

I'll leave you with this:

In his moving and powerful essay, "On Becoming a Feminist," Byrd writes,
My commitment to feminism thus began with resistance to the abuse of women. When I ordered my father at knife point to leave our home, asserting “Get out and leave my mother alone,” I was uttering one of the oldest sentences in the world. Other boys had said such things to their fathers. I did not want my father out of our lives because I loved him and needed his protection and guidance; what I wanted out of our lives was the violence. As I would come to realize, it was in that moment that my commitment to gender equality crystallized. Such a commitment placed me, inevitably, in opposition to my father, who held—like many men of his class and generation—deeply flawed, patriarchal views of family and society. Views that he wrongly thought entitled him to abuse, physically and psychologically, my mother and doubtless other women.


My mother also reared me with a deep sense of egalitarianism. I regarded my siblings as equals in all things while I also fully acknowledged their complexity as individuals. Moving from boyhood to manhood, I valued the insight this rearing produced, especially in relationship to my two sisters who were, like my mother, all women to me. Reconstructing this early period in my life, I understand that my respect for women began with my respect for my mother—an abiding respect born of her feminist consciousness.

I believe that I would have resisted this vital principle, like other men, had it not been for my mother’s instructive, inspiring example and also for my ability to transfer and apply knowledge from the domestic sphere to the public sphere. Always the questions were these: Even though they are strangers, why would you treat women beyond your kinship group any differently from your mother and sisters? Even though they are strangers, why would you not wish these women to have what you wish for your mother and sisters: a life free of male domination and violence? Then and now, I understood that these questions bore the imprint of my mother’s hand, that is, the imprint of her feminist consciousness. And while she did not call herself a feminist, she understood, like all feminists, that the personal is political. For me, this is an insight, born, in part, of family life.

If only more people--men and women--remembered these simple principles about egalitarianism and basic humanity. RIP.

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