“And I know that when I wrote “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” that I wrote it with a feeling of hopelessness. I was very emotional when I wrote it. I was on the verge of crying about what I was writing about. And I was trying to explain what seemed to me impossible to explain. Gloria T. Hull, Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith had come out with the collection All the Blacks Are Men, All the Women Are White, but Some of Us Are Brave, and that was the situation that I was trying to describe. Conceptually and theoretically. What was that like? I had an urge to find a category that respected history. I wrote it with a sense of urgency, with a need to tell something that had been told over and over again—I knew that none of it was new. But what was new was that I was trying to bring the language of a postmodern academy to a very old problem, a problem that historians had been writing about for at least fifty years at the time that I was writing this piece. And so I was trying to ask the question again, ask it anew, as if it had not been asked before, because the language of the historian was not telling me what I needed to know. Which is, what is it like in the interstitial spaces where you fall between everyone who has a name, a category, a sponsor, an agenda, spokespersons, people looking out for them—but you don’t have anybody. That’s your situation. But I am like the white elephant in the room. Though you can’t talk about the era of sound in the U.S. without talking about blues and black women. You can’t talk about the eras of slavery in the Americas without talking about black women, or black men without black women and how that changes the community—there is not a subject that you can speak about in the modern world where you will not have to talk about African women and new world African women. But no one wants to address them. I felt that in 1986 and 1987 no one wanted to put a theoretical spin on this, I mean we really are invisible people. And I just kind of went nuts. And I am saying, I am here now, and I am doing it now, and you are not going to ignore me. And so all of those essays are saying—I am here now, “Whatcha gonna do?”—Hortense Spillers. 2006. ‘Whatcha Gonna Do? —Revisiting “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” A Conversation with Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Shelly Eversley, and Jennifer L. Morgan.’ Women’s Studies Quarterly 35.1-2: p. 308. (emphasis added)
When W. E. B. Du Bois founded The Crisis in 1910, as the house magazine of the fledgling NAACP, he created what is arguably the most widely read and influential periodical about race and social injustice in U.S. history. Written for educated African-American readers, the magazine reached a truly national audience within nine years, when its circulation peaked at about 100,000. The Crisis’s stated mission, like that of the NAACP itself, was to pursue “the world-old dream of human brotherhood” by bearing witness to “the danger of race prejudice” and reporting on “the great problem of inter-racial relations,” both at home and abroad. The magazine thus provided a much-needed corrective to the racial stereotypes and silences of the mainstream press—publishing, each month, uplifting accounts of achievements by African Americans, alongside stark accounts of racial discrimination and gruesome reports of lynchings. In the twelve years that will be covered by the MJP edition (from 1910 to 1922), The Crisis also addressed most every facet of life for blacks in America, devoting special issues to such topics as women’s suffrage, education, children, labor, homes, vacations, and the war. From the start, the magazine actively promoted the arts as well, and is deservedly recognized as an important crucible for the Harlem Renaissance. Among the notable authors who published in The Crisis during the MJP years is Jessie Fauset—who began contributing in 1912 and became the magazine’s literary editor in 1919—as well as William Stanley Braithwaite, Charles Chesnutt, Countee Cullen, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Angelina W. Grimke, Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, Arthur Schomburg, Jean Toomer, and Walter White.