If there was ever one month in the school year that meant anything, it was February. Nothing was more alluring than the haven of black pride in the midst of European conquests. It was my moment to shine. To cling to grace and call upon the contributions of the greats. I waited all year for this. Even when we only danced in dreamy speeches, I reveled in the resilience. Black History: The Story of Unbeatable Odds.
Long before the cries of black lives, strange fruit, and wading waters, melanated moxy graced our grounds with fervor. The struggle is deep rooted. Make no mistake, this battle is long winded. It is complex and rigid. And the one thing it is not is mentioned. Never have I seen such a backhanded compliment. Gifting celebration one month a time after centuries of damnation, how insulting. But, I digress.
I am not here today to condemn the incompetence of our forefathers. Rather, I am here to bring light to our mothers. Our black mothers. The women who birthed backbone while carrying this country on their own. Those who mix fight in their cooking and call it home.
They are home. They are honeycomb hips and bleeding fingertips. They are knee buckling spite and gut wrenching might. They are women. Black women. The calm and the storm. The reapers of justice and receivers of outrage. They are ignored. Beaten to the core of nonexistence, they are scorned. Rejected, neglected and disrespected, they are the light we love to dim.
Black women: the pivotal, yet forgotten. Though outstanding members of society, they stand to be overlooked, disregarded, and erased from history altogether. Arguably the largest and most active group in the fight for civil liberties, the blatant absence of their acknowledgment is telling of both their perseverance and the societal viewpoint. They choose to stand anyway. Be it to fight for themselves, their family, or their freedom, black women exemplify what it means to pursue justice regardless of recognition.
This is their story…Or at least part of it anyway.
In the blazing summer of ‘55, fourteen year old, Emmett Till, was brutally murdered after reportedly whistling at a white woman*. His mutilated body blanketed in the stench of American racism would soon act as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. And while his face told the story, Mamie Till-Mobley fought the fight. Refusing to let her son’s death go unnoticed, she spoke loud and proud in any way she could, even if it meant baring her mostly decomposed son for the world to see. She became an inspiration not only for black women, but also for the entire country. Had she chosen to close the casket and succumb to grief, there is no telling where we would be. Even so, very few are aware of such heroism.
*Carolyn Bryant Donham recently admitted to lying about this occurrence.
From the forgotten few to the famously known, Rosa Parks was yet another black woman fighting for a cause that was only half recognized. To this day, the unwavering soul has been depicted as a fatigued and feeble older woman too tired to stand up, let alone stand for another moment of oppression. While the latter may be true, Parks was quite the opposite. On all accounts was she both vibrant and strong. Failing to recognize this only strengthens the notion that ambition in a woman, specifically a black woman, was too great to bare.
And she was not alone. In similar misconstrued fashion, the March on Washington was wrongfully depicted. Despite its extensive media coverage, we fail to acknowledge how remarkable this event truly was. Contrary to popular belief in which it was merely a gathering for Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a movement for a better quality of life. In saying so, the biggest misconception of all is that men were in the front lines as opposed to women. Discounting black women’s efforts only contributes to the misunderstanding of the movement, and as a result, the miseducation of future generations.
It is imperative to understand that at a time when ignorance was pervasive, black women speaking out against the norm was the ultimate act of rebellion. Their contributions were vital to the movement and to that of the black community.
Thus, the question of how such courage can go unnoticed is raised once again. The answer is as simple as the simple-minded people who allowed for such misinterpretation in the first place. Regrettably, ignorance and pride has always been and still is the cause for a black woman’s downfall and ultimate overshadowing. This is prominently seen within the juxtaposition of white femininity and black femininity.
In the event of Emmett Till’s death, it is clear his whistling at a white woman was the incentive for his ruthless murder. This act, while minor, was perceived to be offensive strictly because of Till’s skin color. At the time, white women were considered pure in all sense of the word. From the color of their skin to the fragility of their soul, their femininity stood as a token for all that was wholesome. With this, is the additional excuse to belittle the black being as much as possible.
As shown through his murder, white men actively exercised their right to protect their women’s purity. Had a black man come into any contact, the woman would be corrupted. And so, an inferiority complex is revealed. The reality is white men and women were so intimately insecure in their standing, they created godlike perceptions of themselves in order to justify and inflict pain. Thus, leaving no basis for justice or even mindful thinking, white femininity was merely a means to an end.
Conversely, black femininity was generally an incentive to inflict further pain on the black community. For black women, sexual violence was a frequent occurrence of which spoke to the unconscious mindset of the American people. Most notably discussed in At a Dark End of the Street by Danielle L. McGuire, rape was used as a “weapon of terror” instilled upon black people. While a white woman’s angelic perception was to be kept sacred, a black woman was degraded into silence. Had a black man approached her attackers, a lynching would most likely transpire. And so, a vicious cycle would form and “a woman’s body was never hers alone”. Or at least, that is what they were told.
It is a misconception that black women stood in the background as their own were callously mistreated, raped, and murdered. However, the fight against sexual violence was equally a part of the Movement as anything else. Countless protests and events were dedicated to the victims of sexual assault in addition to the lynching that would soon emerge thereafter. This is not to mention that Rosa Parks, America’s supposed “one trick pony”, created the Committee for Equal Justice just moments after meeting a young woman who was ganged raped by seven white men in broad daylight. As a notion of man’s ego, the brink of political manipulation, and the result of women being subject to sexism, the substantial involvement and contributions of black women were not only downplayed, but completely disregarded as a whole.
In the event that racism transcends to modern day lives through police brutality and passive aggressive discrimination, black women once again rise to their profound excellence and fight for their people. This is seen everyday, however, it is most notably demonstrated through the efforts of the founders of Black Lives Matter (BLM). Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, all black queer women, created this movement as a reaction to the unjust death of Trayvon Martin and countless other members of the community. Once more, black women are being forgotten in both the backlash and celebration of the movement. Additionally, rather than wrongfully appointing a man to be the poster boy as done so many times in the Civil Rights Movement, many sleeplessly believe that the BLM is leaderless. Not only are the leading ladies being ignored, but an impactful movement is being wrongfully perceived as unorganized and frenzied.
Along with this misconception is the emergence of feminism and how it is becoming accepted at a national level. While this may appear exceptionally progressive, yet another issue of misinformation is presented. The idea of white feminism, in which gender equality is accepted, but certain marginalized people are hypocritically excluded, has caused for further misrepresentation. This concept is increasingly problematic for black women as they stand to be overshadowed and belittled once more. So, while their contribution to black history is distorted, we put upon the additional burden of being a black woman in a now white woman’s world.
Though it is beneficial to recognize black women’s struggles and constant oppression, it is imperative to acknowledge their perseverance and growth in spite of it all. Through their endless contributions, black women assure spectators that black excellence has and always will be prevalent due to the simple fact that they pushed the black community to thrive even when thought to be unimaginable. In more ways than one, they have not only raised awareness of oppression, but they have also compelled others to pursue movements for change. For them not to be recognized is a tragedy and thus, when the stereotype of an angry black woman presents itself, know she has every right to be.
The contributions of black women are not limited to politics. Though we love women such as Ella Baker and Angela Davis, we also have women like Serena Williams, Solange Piaget Knowles, and Laverne Cox. These are all women who take pride in their blackness and express it in the most beautiful, intelligent, creative, and strong ways. Because we are all so different, it is essential to raise each other up when ever we can. With that said, be black. Be bold. Be you.
Embrace your skin for it is magic.
Every Month is Black History Month: Support Black Excellence
Celebrate Black Owned and Curated Beauty
- ColoringPins: Quirky, yet powerful pins, patches, and accessories
- Black Beauty: Black Opal, Shea Moisture, Juvia’s Place, Black Radiance, and more
- Visit the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture
- Join the Revolution that is Black Lives Matter
Some Food for Thought
- Collier Meyerson provides in depth think pieces relating to race and politics.
- Shaun King’s twitter covers heavy and informative topics regarding the black community.
- Rian Phin is a YouTuber who manages to break down complex concepts such as feminism and fast fashion all while doing their makeup. I highly recommend the ‘Critical Thought’ Playlist.
- sensitiveblackperson: As co-creator of the Art Hoe Collective (a movement dedicated to providing a creative space for people of color), this gem is the definition of progression.
- #blackgirlmagic on Twitter: A beautiful celebration of the many forms of black women.