“Black women are the touchstone by which all that is human can be measured” – Toni Morrison.
This quote by acclaimed novelist and essayist Toni Morrison encompasses all that is inherent to Black women from their work to their personal lives. Throughout history, Black women have taken on additional roles, outside of their careers, as protectors and leaders for their family, friends and community.
“Black women are often the backbone of their families and communities. Historically, people of the African Diaspora are a matrilineal people and honor the women and maternal figures,” Dr. Jameka Hartley, a faculty member of the Gender and Race Studies department, said. “There is no aspect of Black culture that hasn’t been touched by a Black woman. Literally, Black culture was birthed by Black women as each Black person is built and birthed by a Black mother.”
“Throughout history we’ve seen so many different examples of Black women healing, protesting, resisting, teaching, organizing, reimagining, curating, collaborating, writing, directing and producing,” states Dr. Alexis McGee, an Assistant Professor of English at The University of Alabama.
McGee’s comment showcases the myriad of roles that Black women inhabit as creators and defenders to carry the proverbial weight of their communities’ issues and ultimately be the individuals who solve them.
An example of Black women solving issues would be past elections, specifically the 2020 presidential race. Black women advocated and greatly contributed to the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Additionally, two Democratic senators were elected in Georgia which turned the state blue for the first time in 25 years. This was thanks in large part to Stacey Abrams and the work of her organization Fair Fight which helped combat Georgia’s voter suppression tactics. According to polling from American Election Eve, Black women made up more than 90% of Democratic votes. The work of Abrams helped speak to a demographic that was largely overlooked and at times forgotten. Abrams focused on issues relevant to the Black community, showcasing their worth and importance to a country that viewed them as an afterthought.
The work of investigative journalist and activist, Ida B. Wells continues in the same vein of advocating for the rights of the Black community. Wells was outspoken when reporting in the Memphis newspaper, Free Speech. She reported on lynchings of Black men and women that were often swept under the rug. One editorial highlighted the lynching of her friend, Thomas Moss, who was a business owner. Well’s reporting also urged Memphis citizens to leave and boycott trolley cars. 20% of the Black population left and trolley cars remained empty for a year. Wells continued her investigations and published her research in Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (1892) and The Red Record (1895). Her work shined a light on the dark secrets within the nation.
The work of Black women creates a domino effect that can be felt for lasting generations.
“Black women’s lives are impacted by being both raced and gendered and it is this embodied oppression that moves us towards pathways of liberation,” Hartley said. Working within the frame of racism and sexism acts as a driving force for Black women who are often the shield against attacks, the bullhorn for justice and the trailblazer on unventured paths.
Many fail to realize just how tiring and taxing the load that Black women take on can be. Black women are often expected to balance the needs of others.
Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, spoke about her own struggle with Imposter Syndrome in a Time issue with former First Lady Michelle Obama.
“Speaking in public as a Black girl is already daunting enough, just coming onstage with my dark skin and my hair and my race—that in itself is inviting a type of people that have not often been welcomed or celebrated in the public sphere,” Gorman said.
Having to contend with the additional scrutiny of self-image and inhabiting a space that is not inclusive is a daunting task that Black women have taken on and continue to take on.
“We see all these different ways that Black women engage with liberating, whether that be to change the law, create space for oneself or validate the experiences of Black women,” McGee said.
All that has been achieved and continues to be achieved speaks to the resiliency of Black women along with the importance of every Black woman’s story regardless of their background, appearance or education. There is space for every Black woman’s courage and vulnerability. For all of this we sing their praises.
Dr. Jameka Hartley, email@example.com
Dr. Alexis McGee, firstname.lastname@example.org