Black women rising despite decades of bias, by Julianne Malveaux
8/13/2020, 6 p.m.
Women won the right to vote a century ago. On Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment passed. The white women’s equal rights struggle began in 1776, though, when Abigail Adams, the wife of our second president and member of the Constitution-drafting Continental Congress, sent her husband a letter. She urged him to “remember the ladies.” She further wrote, “All men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
The Continental Congress did not remember the ladies, and it reduced enslaved people to a fraction of a person for census and political representation. The National Woman Suffrage Association was started in 1869 because white women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony refused to support the 15th Amendment that gave Black men, but not women, the right to vote.
“Ain’t I A Woman,”thundered Sojourner Truth. The battle lines were drawn between Black men and white women. And few were willing to notice the Black women on the sidelines.
It reminds me of a Black Enterprise cover circa 1980 where a Black man and white woman were arm wrestling, presumably over who should benefit from affirmative action. There was no Black woman on that cover, not even standing on the sidelines.
Black women cheered the book “All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave” edited by Akasha Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith. These sisters realized that with race and gender conflict, Black women are too often discounted by Black men, but especially by the white women who purport to be allies.
History will reveal that white women have used their whiteness as a shield against both Black men and women, especially as they have falsely accused Black men of rape. Their false accusations resulted in the destruction of several Black communities. Very recently, the Women’s March leaders asked Tamika Mallory to step down from their board because she embraced the intersectionality of unapologetically Black activist and gender-affirming warrior. She stayed until her term was up. In this era of racial reckoning, white women have much to explore and grapple with. Too many of them are so myopic that they don’t get it.
Black women get it. Gwen McKinney, Patricia Ann Ford and a coterie of their friends have launched a great website, srpunerased.com, that explores the intersection of suffrage, race and power and the ways that the majority narrative has too often erased the contributions that Black women have made to suffrage and justice. Their initiative is called “Suffrage. Race. Power: (S.R.P.) Black Women Unerased.”
Most feminists know about Susan B. Anthony, but how many white feminists know of Nannie Helen Burroughs or Ida B. Wells? Black women often advocated for the same rights that white women did, but in protest. Thanks to Southern women and their racist mindset, Black women were excluded from public activity or asked to march at the end. That nonsense did not discourage the women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 1913 when they pushed their way into the center of the march.
Even as Black women are rising, ugly racism too often attempts to put us in our place. In Aurora, Colo., Brittney Gilliam had planned a girls’ afternoon with her sister, nieces and 6-year- old daughter, Instead, they were confronted by the police because they mistakenly identified her car as stolen. Law enforcement officers pointed guns at the young, innocent Black women and girls, and they were forced to lay, face down, on hot asphalt as they were handcuffed.
Later, the police tepidly acknowledged their “mistake.” Later, Police Chief Vanessa Wilson apologized and offered therapy for the children. Ms. Gilliam told a CNN anchor that the chief could “shove it” as she found it insincere. Incidentally, Chief Wilson is a white woman who beat out three Black men for the job. Would they have handled this differently?
Black women are rising politically, but some things change slowly. Would the Aurora police have treated a white woman with four young people in the car that way?
Ain’t I A Woman?
The writer is an economist, educator and author.