The Ordinary Burden of Being Extraordinary
As we grow up, much of our history becomes revisionist. We glean over the decades of colonialism, killing of Native Americans, and even celebrate Thanksgiving - a holiday reframing our beginning in the Americas as something celebratory and communal. We learn more everyday, however, this is far from what happened during the real events that have happened in our growth as a country. We know our nation was built on the backs of slaves, who still have yet to receive reparations for their labor. Black American ancestors were brought here as slaves, against their will, to work for white colonizers. Because of this, Black Americans have historically been held back through stereotype, prejudice, and archaic belief systems.
Jeffery Robinson cites a Martin Luther King speech that outlines how economically disadvantaged Black Americans have been since the time of slavery: “King addressed the issue directly in speaking about [the] government’s failure to give freed slaves any land while it used affirmative action to help whites take ownership of 50 million acres of land formerly occupied by Native Americans.”
Martin Luther King addressed this by saying:
Back in the 60s, redlining disallowed Black Americans to buy homes in nice neighborhoods. Redlining continues today and is only one of the myriad of ways Black Americans are perpetually positioned in disadvantageous ways. While our country has been on a roller coaster of industrialized progress since the 1800s, we still have a long way to go. The beauty created out of this deep-seated pain is that Americans are slowly realizing that black women are the backbone of this country.
The beauty created out of this deep-seated pain is that Americans are slowly realizing black women are the backbone of this country.
It seems almost like new knowledge in 2018, though it was right there all along. The #MeToo movement was born from black activist Tarana Burke, who started the movement 10 years ago, and stated, “[This is] why I believe healing is radical. And ‘MeToo’ is a movement to, among other things, radicalize the notion of mass healing.”
Writer Corinne Purtill in her essay entitled, MeToo Highjacked Black Women’s Work On Race and Gender Equality states, “Women of color fought the battles that brought society to this point, where even the faint hope of change seems possible.” Her specific examples include payroll clerk Paulette Barnes suing the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1975 when she was fired for declining her direct superior’s “advances;” Purtill also mentions US Justice Department employee Diane Williams filing a similar claim in 1976, and law professor Anita Hill’s claim against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s lascivious behavior in 1991. And there are so many other cases of sexual harassment and assault brought forward by black women, perhaps too innumerable to count (not to mention those which are never claimed).
One of the most interesting points to note about black women’s activism is how subtly it promotes intersectionality and improved race relations. As the aforementioned Newsweek article notes, when Doug Jones was voted into office on a Tuesday, that same day #ThankBlackWomen started trending on Twitter and Facebook. While a social media hashtag isn’t reparations, it’s a small step in the right direction.
In terms of social media, one point we can correct as a society is to acknowledge the work Elder black women have done in the past, even if they have passed away - we do not have to forget them, and we shouldn't. This Black History Month, let's honor the Elder black women who marched in the streets, who raised children through the Jim Crow South, who became executives, who still fight everyday for the rights of the disenfranchised. Without them, we'd be nothing.
Anita Hill, Paulette Barnes, Diane Williams, and so many others have paved the way for women today to fight for their inherent rights. This Black History Month, let’s honor the Elder black women who marched in the streets, who raised children, who became executives, who still fight every day for the rights of the disenfranchised. Without them, we’d be nothing.