In the 21st century, undocumented immigrants are put into a sphere created by the state and then punished for being in such a sphere. Margaret Fuller reminds us that the 19th century woman was put into a sphere created by men and then punished for not being a man. ~ Rev. Nate Walker, First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.
SEPARATE SPHERES THE LIVES OF MARGARET FULLER & EMMA GRANT
A sermon offered by Reverend Nathan C. Walker at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia on the 200th birthday of Margaret Fuller, May 23, 2010.
*Introduction* Today Unitarian Universaslits throughout the globe are celebrating the bicentennial birthday of Margaret Fuller, a literary genius whose advocacy laid the foundation for women’s liberation. Today Unitarian Universalists also gather to make final plans to descend upon the Arizona state capital on Saturday to condemn SB1070: legislation that permits the police to harass, detain and discriminate against racial minorities regardless of their citizenship status – a clear violation of the Constitutional guarantee to due process and equal protection. My sermon is designed to achieve two goals: first, to help us understand how a series of privileges, opportunities and allies helped give birth to one of the most prophetic voices of the nineteenth century; and second, to ask whether a young girl in the twenty-first century will ever be liberated from the state’s invidious discrimination when she may never have comparable privileges, opportunities and allies. I will do so by sharing two biographies. The first is about a public intellectual who according to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “possessed more influence on the thought of American women than any woman previous to her time.” The second is about a fifteen-year-old girl whose parents were lured into the states by American capitalism only to remains undocumented immigrants for nearly fifteen years. My hope is that you will listen for Margaret Fuller’s privileged upbringing; listen for the opportunities she had and the powerful allies that legitimated her cause in the nineteenth century. Then ask yourself, whether this young girl in the twenty-first century will ever have the same.
*Margaret Fuller* We begin exactly 200 years ago today, on May 23rd, 1810, when Sarah Margaret Fuller was born at home in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts. Her ancestors immigrated to the colonies from England. Her father Timothy Fuller went on to become a member of Congress and Speaker of the House. He put Margaret through a rigorous education, starting at the age of four, which sparked her lifelong pursuit of intellectual honesty. At the age of fifteen she wrote to a friend about her daily routine: rising before five in the morning, walking an hour, practicing the piano, studying English grammar, mathematics, history, French, Greek, Italian, metaphysics and philosophy. She said, “I feel the power of industry growing every day, and, besides the all-powerful motive of ambition… I have learned to believe that nothing, no! not perfection, is unattainable.” Described as socially awkward and unpopular, her childhood peers often “responded to her with a mixture of awe and ridicule.” The year after her father died of cholera she spent a summer with the Emersons where Ralph Waldo gained respect for Fuller’s intellect, which eventually led him to invite her to join the Transcendentalist circle. She soon became the first editor of their journal, the Dial, with contributions by Emerson, Ellery Channing, Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Parker, Elizabeth Peabody, and other intellectual giants. Emerson later took on the role as editor and published her groundbreaking essay The Great Lawsuit: Man vs. Men and Woman vs. Women. In it, she effectively describes the separate spheres between men and women by asking, “Have you asked her whether she was satisfied with [the] indulgences” of the cradle and the kitchen hearth? She said, women were lured to be “too amiable to wish” for the rights of men and “too judicious to wish to step beyond the sphere of her sex.” In her landmark book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, she writes, “Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another… There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman. We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down,” she writes. “We would have every path laid open to Women as freely as to Man. Were this done… [w]e believe the divine energy would pervade nature to a degree unknown in the history of former ages, and that no discordant collision, but a ravishing harmony of the spheres, would ensue.” These words are but a glimmer of the prophetic legacy left by Margaret Fuller. She went on to work for the New-York Tribune where she wrote sympathetically about the downtrodden, including the Irish, the Native Americans, and slaves; she also publicly denounced Texas’ annexation and the U.S. war with Mexico. Fuller was known internationally for standing on the side of the marginalized. She used her privileges, her opportunities and her allies to give voice to the voiceless, to give power to the powerless. Interestingly she seemed to use these privileges to move seamlessly among and between nations. For example, her writing career led her to immigrate to Italy where she became the “first female foreign correspondent for a leading American newspaper.” She married an Italian and gave birth to a son and considered herself a dual citizen of both Italy and America. In route to the states with her husband and child, Margaret Fuller died in a shipwreck at the age of forty. We close this first biography with the words inscribed on her cenotaph, which reads, “Born a child of New England, By adoption a citizen of Rome, By genius belonging to the World.”
*Emma Grant* Our second story is of a girl born to migrant workers, a girl who adopted by a U.S. citizen, a girl who longed to be a citizen of the world. Let us begin exactly fifteen years ago today, on May 23, 1995, when Emma Rodríguez was born in a trailer park outside of Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. A year before she was born, the NAFTA agreement went into effect, which eventually resulted in 1.5 million Mexican loosing their jobs . Her father, who was previously a corn farmer in Mexico, was recruited by a U.S. meatpacking company, Smithfield Hog Processing Plant for an extremely dangerous job few would take. A Smithfield company-bus transported him and his pregnant wife across the border. Despite being tax-paying workers and despite multiple attempts to work with Smithfield’s human resources department, Emma’s parents remained undocumented workers for over a decade. Two years ago Emma’s father contracted an infectious disease he caught at the processing plant and without access to healthcare died at the age of 40. Emma never liked to speak of her father’s job at the largest slaughterhouse in the world. The last time she did Emma learned that they slaughtered 32,000 hogs every day . In her journal she wrote, “I feel the power of Smithfield growing. I have come to believe that nothing, nothing is attainable.” Emma was educated at the lowest ranking schools in the city of Fayetteville. Described as socially reclusive and unpopular, her peers often respond to her with a mixture of suspicion and disgust. Her closest friend lives in the same trailer park and at night, they discretely chat about the all too common experience of awaking at four in the morning to screams of parents being separated from their children by immigration officers. They are not aware that Smithfield and the immigration authorities agreed get rid of 15 workers per day, so as to neither have massive raids or to affect the production line. Emma asks her friend, “Is that what the government does, break up families? Why not go after Smithfield? They hired them to slaughter the hogs. They work for nothing so the entitled can have their cheep bacon and holiday ham.” At the age of fifteen she couldn’t tell the difference between her anger and her grief. Emma found relief when her mom remarried a local cashier named Stew Grant. Thanks to the legal protections marriage had to offer, her mom would never be taken in the night like that. She gained confidence with her new last name, but feared being racial profiled. So she, along with her mom, altered their public appearance and bleached their hair and spoke in a southern accent. Yet, privately Emma continued to ask the state provocative questions in her journal. “Have you asked Emma if she ever accepted the death of her father, the death of her culture, the death of her identity?” She wondered, “Will Latino farmers continue to be charmed by U.S. companies who make promises of the American dream only later to find themselves being abused by the state that protects capitalism more than the tired, the hungry the poor. No,” she sighs, “the migrant workers are too smart to come near Lady Liberty’s lamp and too dumb to confront the man with the pen who refuses to step beyond the sphere of his nation state.” As you may have guessed, Emma Grant is not a single girl in a single time and place. Rather she is everychild, everywoman, everyman who has crossed into this land; she is the spirit of all those whose dreams were encouraged by the corporate man and crushed by the discriminatory state. The ancestors of liberty cry, “When will this Union learn to be united? No one is illegal; no human being can ever be deemed illegal – an identity, a race cannot be legislated out of existence. We hold these truths to be self-evident,” cries the spirit of the justice! “All humans are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights.”
*The Biographical Nexus* And such is the nexus between Emma Grant in the twenty-first century and Margaret Fuller in the nineteenth century. One true story is about a public intellectual who took the world stage by articulating a vision for the equality of women. This was made possible because Fuller was empowered by a politically connected father, who gave her access to a rigorous education and to a network of intellectual elites. The fictitious story of Emma Grant, based on many true stories, is about a girl whose family received mixed messages from the United States. They were told, “Come and live the American dream, but do it while slaughtering hogs. And by the way, never miss your payment to Uncle Sam despite our unwillingness to give you a fair wage, health insurance or citizenship.” Emma’s story leads us to ask the state: are undocumented workers really the enemy? Are all people with brown skin and an accent to be treated with suspicion and denied their rights to due process and equal protection? No. The undocumented are put into a sphere created by the state and then punished for being in such a sphere. Margaret Fuller asked similar questions about women, who were put into a sphere created by men and then punished for not being men. She said, “I have urged on woman independence of man, not that I do not think the sexes mutually needed by one another, but because in woman this fact has led to an excessive devotion, which has cooled love, degraded marriage and prevented it her sex from being what it should be to itself or the other. I wish woman to live, first for God’s sake. Then she will not take what is not fit for her from a sense of weakness and poverty. Then if she finds what she needs in man embodied, she will know how to love and be worthy of being loved.” Fuller said, “There exists in the minds of men a tone of feeling toward women as toward slaves.” In later writings, she went on to make pleas of equality for both slaves and for Native Americans. “Yes! slave-drivers and Indian traders are called Christians, and the Indian is to be deemed less like the Son of Mary than they! Wonderful is the deceit of man’s heart!” she exclaimed sarcastically. When speaking of the United States, Fuller said, “My country is at present spoiled by prosperity, stupid with the lust of gain, soiled by crime in its willing perpetuation of slavery, shamed by an unjust war, noble sentiment much forgotten even by individuals, the aims of politicians selfish or petty….” Despite such a critique, which strikingly captures my observations of our country today, Fuller says, America “is not dead, but in my time she sleepeth, and the spirits of our fathers flame no more, but lies hid beneath the ashes. It will not be so long,” Fuller implores, “bodies cannot live when the soul gets too overgrown with gluttony and falsehood.” Emma Grant’s story illustrates the falsehood in making a separation between the wholly naturalized citizen and the so called illegal human. Emma Grant’s story reveals the gluttony of what industrial farming will do for the privileged consumer who demands cheep bacon and holiday ham. We remain asleep to a simple truth: whether an animal, or an undocumented worker, a woman or a man, all human and non-human animals have inherent worth and dignity. This is the great moral challenge, called upon by many of the great reformers of every age. There should be no separation in the way we treat one another and the way we care for the Earth and all its inhabitants. There is no stranger. There is no alien.
*Conclusion* In closing, Margaret Fuller’s words still call to us today: “Let us once and for all have every arbitrary barrier thrown down.” Let us once and for all live these words here and now by granting the same opportunities for the tax-paying migrant workers in North Carolina as freely as to the tax-paying legislators in Arizona. Were this to be authentically achieved, the American dream will someday crystallize into, as Fuller says, a “kind of beauty unknown in the history of former ages… ravishing the harmony of these spheres.” So on the bicentennial birthday of Margaret Fuller let us re-imagine a promised land by collectively closing our eyes to make this wish: may it not take another two-hundred years for our nation to honor the inseparable spheres of mutuality, of which we are all a part. Amen.
Fuller, Margaret. Memoirs, unit I, pages 52-54, as published in Bell Gale Chevigny’s The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller’s life and writings, pages 55-56.
Goodwin, Joan (2010) Margaret Fuller, Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography, accessed on May 20, 2010. Smith, Bonnie Hurd (2010) Chronology compiled for the Margaret Fuller Bicentennial Committee. Campbell, Monica and Tyche Hendricks (2006) Mexico’s corn farmers see their livelihoods wither away: Cheap U.S. produce pushes down prices under free-trade pact, San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 2006 Accessed on May 20, 2010 at http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_1371.cfm Kernner, Robert (2009) Food, Inc. Magnolia home entertainment, www.foodincmovie.com The Auman Elementary and the Seventy-First Classical Middle School are rated as the worst schools according to http://www.cityrating.com/school/citySchools.asp?City=Fayetteville&State=NC Food, Inc., Ibid. Fuller, Margaret, (1848). At Home And Abroad: Or, Things And Thoughts In America and Europe. Letter XXIV, 19 April 1848, p. 352
Ibid, p. 326
Bureau of Labor Statistics , U.S. Department of Labor. “Industries with the Highest Nonfatal Total Cases, Incidence Rates for Injuries and Illnesses, Private Industry, 1998.” U.S. Department of Labor. 1999. US Department of Labor, “Total recordable cases, Rate of injury and illness cases per 100 full-time workers by selected industry, All U.S., private industry, 2003-2007: Animal slaughtering and processing (code 311600).” Bureau of Labor Statistics Database. (data extracted online November 4, 2008). See http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/processing/#fn17