Monday, June 22, 2020
Law professors and moviegoers may associate the phrase "Get your feet off our necks" with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In both the documentary "RBG" and the movie "On the Basis of Sex" we hear Justice Ginsberg say "I ask no favor for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks." Many readers may not appreciate that Justice Ginsberg was quoting Sarah Grimke, a 19th century southern abolitionist who relocated to Philadelphia along with her sister, Angelina. Following the end of the Civil War, Ms. Grimke turned her attention to feminist issues. In that context, she said: "But I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright …”
The current demonstrators incorporated the slogan substituting "knees" for "feet". Appropriately so. While the Grimke sisters were dedicated abolitionists, who themselves were criticized and threatened, they did not promote equality between Blacks and Whites. Paraphrasing Sarah's statement expands the work of the Grimke sisters. The revised phrase is apt. Not only does the Floyd video show the perpetrator's knee as the deadly weapon, but more reports have surfaced supporting that police have used the same deadly technique on other black people.
Demonstrators using the paraphrased words of Sarah Grimke to reflect current reality may finish what the abolitionists left undone. Enslaved people were legally freed but then the law was used to continue their enslavement in different forms. Equality and equity were never achieved. Now is the time to make this right.