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Yuri Kochiyama

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[A beautiful photo of Yuri Kochiyama in later years, found on the fantastic blog http://blog.angryasianman.com/2014/06/legendary-activist-yuri-kochiyama-dies.html that everyone should check out. Photograph by AnRong Xu, http://www.anrongxu.com/]

As I’m sure many of you have seen, Google recently dedicated the “Google Doodle” to Yuri Kochiyama in commemoration of what would have been her ninety-fifth birthday. This decision has been met with praise, spurring the writing + reposting of countless articles and blog posts on her life, and with an unfortunate amount of scorn from those who disagreed with her radical politics. We here at the Historical Hotties Blog decided to take this opportunity to add one more post in celebration of her life, in defence of her beliefs + activism, and in praise of the types of solidarity she engaged in with Black communities as a non-Black person of colour (NBPoC).

Kochiyama was born ninety-five years ago to two Issei* in California. During the Second World War, herself and her family along with 120,000 other people of Japanese descent were forcibly uprooted and imprisoned in concentration camps. It was during her time spent in a camp in Arkansas that she began to see the similar ways in which people of colour, in this case Black Americans and people of Japanese descent, were treated by the American government and broader American society. It was also during this time that Kochiyama met her husband, a Nisei* American soldier named Bill Kochiyama.

Although initially involved in more mainstream Civil Rights activism, Kochiyama went on to become involved in the Black nationalist struggle, Puerto Rican independence, and various other interrelated causes. In 1960, Yuri and Bill moved to Harlem with their six children. By this point, Yuri Kochiyama was already in her mid-40s – definitely not the type of person that is commonly imagined as the “politicized young activist” that many associate with the 1960s. In 1963, Kochiyama met Malcolm X and developed a close friendship with him, involving her in the ongoing struggles of Black liberation and against American imperialism. Kochiyama went on to befriend and support the struggles of Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and many other radical activists of colour and working class activists across the United States. Due to her political beliefs, Kochiyama was under constant surveillance by the American government, which she was aware of and was conscious to “not bring heat on certain activists in the black liberation movement” (Kochiyama, 1972). By being aware of how her surveillance was affecting Black activists, Kochiyama exemplifies ways in which NBPoC can work with, for, and (when appropriate) on behalf of Black activists without causing further harm to Black communities. Kochiyama’s activism, as an Asian American woman, was therefore never at the expense of Black Americans – an important point to make note of as the “model minority” myth associated with many (East) Asian Americans has been propagated as a form of anti-Black racism.**

Yuri Kochiyama was a controversial figure, to say the least. While many conservatives paint her as an unpatriotic communist and terrorist, I think she embodies what solidarity and active support can look like from a NBPoC with Black communities in the United States. Kochiyama was a self aware freedom fighter who understood the power behind anti-Black racism and how she needed to actively fight against it as a Japanese American woman. She was someone that built ties with people of colour around the world struggling against imperialism, oppression, capitalism, and suffering brought on by systems of power beyond her control. Kochiyama continues to inspire us to this day, and provides us with just one “jumping off point” from which to understand the ways in which we can build community and struggle with each other across different ethnic and racial divisions.

In the words of Yuri Kochiyama, “I didn’t wake up and decide to become an activist. But you couldn’t help notice the inequities, the injustices. It was all around you.” Thank you, Yuri, for fighting against the injustices that surrounded you and continue to exist today.

~ M

* Issei is a Japanese word that refers to people of Japanese descent who immigrated to other countries, such as the United States, Canada, Brazil, Peru, and beyond. Nisei refers to the second generation – the children of Issei – in Japanese diaspora communities.

** For more on the model minority myth and anti-Black racism, please check out this articlethis other article, and lastly this great article as an introduction to why the model minority myth is important to understand in relation to anti-Black racism in the United States.

Bibliography

Kochiyama, Yuri. “The Impact of Malcolm X on Asian-American Politics and Activism.” In Blacks, Latinos and Asians in Urban America: Status and Prospects for Politics and Activism, edited by James Jennings, 129-141. London: Praeger, 1994.

Ross, Janell. “Google commemorates a very controversial civil-rights figure, Yuri Kochiyama.” Washington Post. May 19, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/05/19/google-commemorates-a-very-controversial-civil-rights-figure-yuri-kochiyama/

Woo, Elaine. “Yuri Kochiyama dies at 93; civil rights activist, friend of Malcolm X.” Los Angeles Times. June 3, 2014. Accessed May 20, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-yuri-kochiyama-20140604-story.html

Yuri Kochiyama

Sarah Paine, Dorothy Palmer and the Child

This week I am featuring three young women/girls who all lived at the end of the 17th century, but who probably never knew each other, Sarah Paine, Dorothy Palmer and “the Child.” Sarah, Dorothy and the Child all charged men with rape, and all three of their accused assailants were found not guilty of the charge.

In 17th- and 18th-century English society, one’s credibility was determined by one’s reputation—or character—and this was especially true in the courtroom. In the case of women, character was inextricably linked to their sexual reputation.[1] Rape trials from this era (during which it was a capital offence, and therefore one that courts were hesitant to convict) demonstrate the importance of chastity in the courtroom, as the female victims/prosecutors in such cases found themselves in a double bind, wherein they had to convince the court with their testimonies that ejaculation had occurred during penetration, but speaking about sex, even in euphemistic language, caused the jury to believe that they were sexually knowledgeable, unchaste, and therefore not credible.[2] Heartbreakingly, in describing the act, female defendants implicitly displayed sexual knowledge, which had the undesirable effect of making them appear unchaste.[3] Since their chastity, and thus their credibility, was tarnished in the eyes of jurors, and since juries were hesitant to convict in cases of apparently questionable evidence, the vast majority of rape cases ended in acquittal.[4] Rape had one of the highest acquittal rates in this period.[5]

Sarah Paine’s attacker, William Woodbridge, was found not guilty on the grounds that the witnesses he produced convinced the jury that Sarah’s charge was “a Design to get Mony.”[6] Dorothea Palmer’s attacker, Samuel Smith, actually confessed, but the court found him not guilty anyway because they apparently remained uncertain about “whether the Girl did consent or not.”[7] The Child, whose name was kept out of the record, had an aunt to testify as a witness to the aftermath of the attack. Despite her aunt’s evidence, Edward Coker was acquitted on the grounds that the “Circumstances thereto [were] not being so direct as to prove a Rape, according as the law directs on those case.”[8] Coker was subsequently charged with and found guilty of assault and “fined 25 Markes” because the court believed the crime had taken place but had not adequately been proven. [9]

I don’t know anything about Sarah, Dorothy or the Child outside of the records of these rape trials, which, it should be noted, are very brief summaries rather than detailed transcripts. What I do know is that they (almost certainly with the aid of their families) prosecuted their attackers even though the odds of securing a conviction were low and the very pursuit of legal action would damage their reputation in the eyes of their contemporaries. This definitely qualifies as the action of a historical hottie.

~S

[1] Laura Gowing, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 2.

[2] Anna Clark, Women’s Silence, Men’s Violence: Sexual Assault in England, 1770-1845 (London: Pandora, 1987), 55-58; Garthine Walker, “Rape, Acquittal and Culpability in Popular Crime Reports in England, c. 1670-c. 1750,” Past and Present 220 (August 2013): 115-116.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (OBO) (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 13 May 2016), December 1681, trial of William Woodbridge (t16811207-1). http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t16811207-1-off1&div=t16811207-1#highlight

[7] OBO (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 13 May 2016), February 1681, trial of Samuel Smith (t16810228-10). http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t16810228-10-off43&div=t16810228-10#highlight

[8] OBO (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 13 May 2016), January 1675, trial of Edward Coker (t16750115-3). http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t16750115-3-off15&div=t16750115-3#highlight

[9] Ibid.

Sarah Paine, Dorothy Palmer and the Child

Terri-Jean Bedford

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[A fantastic photograph of Terri-Jean Bedford with her iconic black riding crop, retrieved from her personal website www.http://terrijeanbedford.com/%5D

Terri-Jean Bedford is a name that many in Canada might recognize, and whom many might question as to whether or not she might count as an “historical hottie” or a contemporary one. We here at Historical Hotties hope to constantly push the boundaries of what constitutes “history” – and that includes forcing us to rethink the lines between past and present, historical and contemporary.

Bedford was born in October 1959, and has spent a large portion of her life working in the sex work industry, most notably as “Canada’s most famous” (in her words) dominatrix and as the former owner/operator of Madame de Sade’s House of Erotica in the Thornhill neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario. In 1994, fifteen police officers stormed Madame de Sade’s, arresting Bedford (along with several other women) while committing acts of police violence including “pushing and shoving the female dominants, demanding that the accused call them ‘master,’ asking for a demonstration of boot licking, […] ridiculing the sadomasochistic props and clothes” and strip-searching the employees of Madame de Sade’s (Khan, 168). The arrests led to charges of keeping a bawdy house for Bedford. As defined by the Criminal Code, a bawdy house is “a place that is (a) kept or occupied, or (b) resorted to by one or more persons for the purpose of prostitution or the practice of acts of indecency.” However, Bedford and the accused insisted that the legal definitions of prostitution in Canada did not apply, as Bedford specifically mandated that no vaginal or oral sex could take place on the premises (in order to adhere to the law!). During the several trials that resulted from the 1994 arrests made in relation to Madame de Sade’s, Bedford only made legal appearances with her black riding crop in tow, dressed in black leather (like the total boss dom she is).

Bedford has gone on to become prominent in sex work advocacy in Canada and,along with Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch, was involved as an applicant in the high profile case Canada (AG) v Bedford, [2013] 3 SCR 1101. In Canada (AG) v Bedford, Canada’s prostitution laws were struck down, with bawdy house provisions being deemed unconstitutional.

Bedford is known in Canada as a vocal advocate for the rights of sex workers, working tirelessly to ensure that sex workers are treated with dignity and respect both in the proverbial eyes of the law and amongst the general public. Terri-Jean Bedford challenges us to reevaluate how we define whether someone is an historical personage or a contemporary one, and whether or not this distinction even matters. Furthermore, her work and the way she has been treated by the law and broader Canadian society forces us as historians to confront how we deal with questions surrounding desire, sexuality, consent, and sex work that bleed from the past into the present day. Bedford is most definitely a Historical Hottie, and one that makes us especially aware of the role “hotness” plays in different historical contexts of desire and (supposedly) deviant sexualities.

~ M

Bibliography

Canada (AG) v Bedford, [2013] 3 SCR 1101.

Khan, Ummni. “‘Putting a Dominatrix in Her Place’ The Representation and Regulation of Female Dom/Male Sub Sexuality.” The Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 21 (2009):  143-177.

Terri-Jean Bedford