Women's History is Black Women's History
It’s Women’s History Month! It feels like Black History Month was just days ago. Before you know it, it will be April—Autism Awareness Month—and on to Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, among other things.
It’s wonderful that we have these dedicated times when we highlight and learn about identities, perspectives, and histories of people society has marginalized for too long. And, I’m finding myself thinking about what Audre Lorde said: “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
As we pivot from Black history to women’s history, I want to highlight where those two identities overlap. Throughout history, Black women, as a group, have had a different experience than white women—and they have made history too. Let’s celebrate a few:
Writer and orator Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was one of the first to point out what we now call intersectionality back in 1866. She admonished suffragists for missing the human rights crisis Black women were enduring, saying, “You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs.”
Mary Church Terrell and other Black women organized the National Association of Colored Women to focus on the issues especially relevant to that group. They campaigned for voting rights, education, and childcare, and against segregation and lynching.
And in the 20th century, Pauli Murray formulated the legal framework that fueled the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 60s. But she also argued that gender discrimination was equally unconstitutional, calling it “Jane Crow.”
These pioneers teach us that diversity is more complex than single labels. Being a woman myself doesn’t automatically give me an understanding of every other woman—or even every other Black woman. Wealthier women are going to have interests that are different than women who are poorer. I don’t have the same lived experience as a trans woman, or a Muslim, or any of the infinite other intersections.
So this month, think about how you are creating space in your organizations for everyone who identifies as a woman. Acknowledge the diversity within that category, and foster conversations about the unique concerns that multiple identities bring out.
And, if you want to support a present-day organization that creates more inclusive spaces for women of color, check out YW Boston, an organization which is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Can’t argue with that!